HC Deb 19 July 1989 vol 157 cc390-435 6.33 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1147), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following motions: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Surface Waters (Classification) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1148), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Controlled Waters (Lakes and Ponds) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1149), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Control of Pollution (Consents for Discharges etc.) (Secretary of State Functions) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1151), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Water and Sewerage (Conservation, Access and Recreation) Code of Practice Order 1989 (S.I., 1989., No. 1152), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Director General of Water Services' Register (Inspection and Charges) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1154), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Water Reorganisation (Pensions etc.) (Designated Persons) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1155) dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Trade Effluents (Prescribed Processes and Substances) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1156), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Control of Pollution (Discharges by the National Rivers Authority) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1157), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Control of Pollution (Radioactive Waste) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1158), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Water Supply and Sewerage Services (Customer Service Standards) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1159), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Control of Pollution (Registers) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1160), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Water Reorganisation (Pensions etc.) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1161), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Water Appointment (Monopolies and Mergers Commission) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1162), dated 7th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Control of Pollution (Revocations) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1150), dated 6th July 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July. be annulled.

Mrs. Taylor

The motions relate to the regulations that the Government are introducing following the passage of the Water Act 1989. We are debating—yet again in rushed circumstances—important regulations that the Government are seeking to push through with the minimum time for consultation and discussion. So great was the haste of the Government to introduce the regulations that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments had to insist on its right of proper scrutiny when the Government tried to bounce the Committee by presenting 15 sets of regulations and asking the Committee to deal with them within five days. That would have enabled the debate to take place last week, with even less time for consultation and discussion with outside groups.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said earlier, the Joint Committee had time to consider only three of the 15 sets of statutory instruments in detail. When the Committee had examined the three sets, it issued a pretty damning report in which it outlined the major defects and drew attention to sloppy drafting which should not form the basis of legislation. I hope that the Minister will clarify some of the issues that have been raised by the Committee. Its comments on the regulations are significant and important.

Everyone will agree that the water supply and water quality regulations, which relate to EC standards, are important. The Joint Committee reported that the drafting is defective and that there are unexpected uses of powers or provisions that give rise to doubt as to the vires of the regulations. Various examples are given.

The Committee queried regulation 3(6) with the Department's officials and witnesses. The Department's witnesses admitted that the drafting of the regulations was not successful. Similarly, the witnesses admitted that the drafting of regulation 6(2) was defective and confusing. They agreed that the drafting of regulation 8(1) was deficient. The Committee asked the witnesses for the meaning of some of the phrases contained in the regulations. The witnesses confessed that the meaning was not revealed in the text because after the making of amendments there had been an accidental failure to make consequential amendments in the text of the instrument. It is obvious that the Government have yet again put their haste to rush these regulations through before the quality of the legislation that they have enacted. I could produce further examples, but I do not wish to detain the House too long.

The Joint Committee has drawn the attention of the House to the fact that, on the basis of its discussions and investigations, it has found an unusual and unexpected use of powers. The same criticisms are made of the water supply, sewerage service and customer service standard regulations.

When the Joint Committee was discussing these matters and taking evidence from departmental witnesses, the Department gave some assurances that amending regulations to rectify some of the drafting omissions would come into force on 1 September. We are nearing the summer recess and I ask the Minister what opportunity there will be for parliamentary scrutiny of the amendments. We have precious little time today to discuss 15 sets of regulations. If they are all as defective as the three that the Joint Committee identified, a host of defective regulations will be introduced while Ministers and their officials talk about possible consequent amendments that it will not be possible to subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I hope that the Minister will clarify the position. It is not good enough for Parliament to be asked to pass defective regulations which the Department has admitted that it intends to amend before they come into operation.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Does the hon. Lady agree that in these matters a balance must be observed? She will note that SI No. 1159 provides for the payment of penalty charges for unsatisfactory service. Is it not entirely desirable that the payment of such charges should become possible at the earliest date? Would not the course that she has outlined, where we might have to wait quite a long time for minor and technical defects to be rectified, prevent customers from availing themselves of the benefit of an entirely positive regulation?

Mrs. Taylor

The customer will not get the so-called benefits of the system in September. It will be quite some time before it takes effect. The problem is that the Government are intent on pushing ahead with privatisation as quickly as possible. That being so, they are not willing to consider the interests of consumers or of others. Our discussions on the Water Bill, as it then was, have been marked at every stage by the ridiculous haste and curtailment of debate which have been imposed by Ministers.

Fortunately, the public are not as naive as Ministers would wish and they have rumbled the consequences of privatisation despite, or perhaps because of, the Government's panic. There is no doubt that Ministers are longing for the recess so that they can make even more statements relevant and important to privatisation—perhaps on debt write-off or the value of the K factor—without even the degree of parliamentary scrutiny being allowed today. Given all the current speculation, it appears that Ministers responsible for the bad handling of the Act are likely to be out of the Department, even out of the Government, before the policy is out of the woods.

By allowing only three hours debate on 15 regulations, is the Minister saying that they are not sufficiently important to warrant more time? I believe that they are potentially very important. They could have helped to protect us from the worst consequences of privatisation—the threat to land, the problems that consumers will face in dealing with a private monopoly and problems with access to information.

A whole stream of regulations must be debated today in a short time. For example, there are the Surface Waters (Classification) Regulations, which comprise one group that we are happy to accept. I wonder why the Government accept 50 mg of nitrate per litre as an appropriate minimum standard for surface water extracted for drinking water when they opposed a draft EC directive set at the same limit. Is it simply that the Government are schizophrenic and will not agree to limits for Europe that they will agree to in Britain, or has there been a mistake and we are to have standards higher than some parts of the Government might wish? Of course, we do not make any complaints about that. I hope that the Minister will answer one important question: to which waters will the regulations apply? Will he give us a straight answer? I hope that he will confirm that they will apply to all waters where there is abstraction for drinking water. I hope that he will tell us tonight and not say that we will have an answer in a few weeks when everyone is on holiday.

Another set of regulations that cause concern, and that are certainly not adequate to give the protection that we need post-privatisation, are the Control of Pollution (Registers) Regulations. We acknowledge, even if the Secretary of State does not, that the public wants proper access to information and will increasingly demand it. The regulations are inadequate because they do not make it easy—indeed, they make it difficult—for the public to have meaningful access to critical information. Information is to be stored in a few places, in a technical form only, and there will be a charging system for access. That makes it difficult, to say the least, to obtain the information that the public may require. In addition, some water authorities define certain samples as operational and omit them from the register. That creates a huge potential for abuse.

We know that the Secretary of State has a new-found concern for accurate information. However, even before his statement this afternoon the Opposition had concluded that the old adage should be rewritten and that we should now say that there are lies, damn lies, statistics and Ridleys. The accuracy of the Secretary of State's information is—if I can say it—rather far from accurate.

We are not surprised that the Secretary of State and the Minister have not taken the opportunity provided by the regulations to improve public access to verified information. I hope that the EC directive on access to environmental information will ensure that information is not only available, but available in a form that can be readily used and readily understood by the public. It is a shame that the EC appears to be giving protection that should more appropriately have been provided by the Government.

The EC plays the same role in the drinking water regulations. It goes without saying that we welcome the transposition of the 1980 EC directive on drinking water quality into British law. After all, we pressed for that in Committee. We are concerned about the sloppy drafting referred to by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The transposition of that directive into British law takes us no further forward in the implementation of the directive. Only last week the Secretary of State pleaded with the European Commission for more time to implement a directive that the Government signed in 1980 and that should have been implemented by 1985. The Secretary of State said during the debate on Lords amendments to the Water Act that he could not accept the House of Lords deadline for compliance by 1993 because it was against Community law which gave a deadline of 1985.

We learned today that the Secretary of State was no more successful in pulling the wool over the eyes of the Commissioner than he has been in persuading the British public of the virtues of privatisation. No doubt he put the case badly. The basic position remains, and all outstanding action against the United Kingdom remains active. The Commissioner, despite the Secretary of State's comments to the contrary, is still not satisfied that the British Government have produced a reasonable timetable for compliance with the drinking water directive. The European Commission will take action against the United Kingdom on a variety of issues.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Given the Opposition's feeling about this matter, is it not possible that, far from the Government taking a negative stance on the purity of water, they are in fact ensuring that any standards that are adopted are applicable to this country and its rivers and geological strata, which are not similar to those in the European Community? Are not the Government defending the British people, including my constituents, to ensure that there is water purity consistent with what we need?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman's statement astounds me. The Government signed the 1980 directive and agreed to the standards and parameters laid down in it. Ministers have not said that they do not intend to implement the directive; they have simply failed to make any progress. Do the Government now intend to change their policy and, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, say that they should not implement the directive?

The Minister for Water and Planning (Mr. Michael Howard)

The hon. Lady has failed to deal with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). Of course the Government intend to comply with the directive, including in the area represented by my hon. Friend, but we are not prepared to comply with it using technology that is unproven and may, in itself, lead to health risks for my hon. Friend's constituents.

Mrs. Taylor

That is complete nonsense. The Minister is looking to make excuses, because he wants to go hack on Government assurances on compliance. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) mentioned geological problems. There is scope in the directive for derogations where such problems exist. Earlier, the Minister accepted the need to implement the directive. If he is going back on that, the Commission will be very interested to hear about it.

Mr. Howard

I am not going back on it, but I hope that the hon. Lady is not challenging the bona fides of the advice on which we are acting, and which we put in detail to the Commission, on the denitrification technology that is necessary to comply with the nitrate directive in two areas of the country, including that represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford. That technology is not yet proven, and we cannot be satisfied that it would not itself pose risks to health. Is the hon. Lady challenging that evidence? If so, on what basis?

Mrs. Taylor

I am making the point that the Government are looking for excuses to delay action yet again. The Government have had since 1980 to produce their plans, but they deliberately prevaricated and delayed. They are now looking for even more excuses.

Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)

It would be of great assistance to many right hon. and hon. Members if the hon. Lady would answer precisely the question just put to her by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister.

Mrs. Taylor

The Government obviously decided that they need to look for new excuses. When we debated the Lords amendments, the Secretary of State told the House that there was no need to worry about the problems surrounding nitrates because he would secure relaxations of the directive from the EC. Obviously he has not done so, so the Government are trying to change their tactics. We should be clear where responsibility lies. The Government signed the directive in 1980 and had nine years in which to come up with a method of dealing with the problem. Instead, they sat on the problem, and now refuse to deal with it because they want to prepare the water industry for privatisation.

Mr. Howard

I shall deal with that point in due course, but will the hon. Lady stop prevaricating and answer the question that I put to her? Is she challenging the scientific basis on which we have yet to test the technology that is necessary to achieve compliance in respect of Stafford? If so, on what basis? Such matters are far too serious to be dealt with irresponsibly, as the hon. Lady is doing.

Mrs. Taylor

I am challenging whether the Government are serious about their intention to comply with the drinking water directive. The EC has been compelled to take action against the British Government in many areas. I refer to the lax interpretation of the lead parameter in Scotland, nitrites in Norwich, levels of aluminium and bacteriological standards in Bradford, levels of aluminium, lead, polyforms and high pH2 in Calderdale, nitrates in Redbridge, aluminium in Birmingham, and illegal derogation from the required aluminium levels in Yorkshire. Time and time again, the Commission asked the Government for their plans for complying with the 1980 directive. I repeat that, after nine years, the Government have still not come up with any.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor

I have given way on a number of occasions, and I have revealed exactly what are the Government's intentions.

Contrary to the Secretary of State's statements when the Lords amendments were debated, there is no prospect of a general relaxation of the directive. The regulatory committee established to monitor compliance with the directive is charged with the responsibility to improve and accelerate practical implementation of these Directives, and while retaining the protection provided to man and the environment … As the Minister and his officials know, the only likely change will be a more comprehensive specification of the parameters for pesticides. Any other changes are likely to involve the setting of higher, not lower, parameters for substances such as aluminium.

The Water Supply and Sewerage Services (Customer Service Standards) Regulations 1989 have been proclaimed by the Minister as giving the consumer a better deal. However, by comparison with the consumers' charter that we advocated in Committee, the regulations are pretty meagre, and they are totally inadequate for the dangers posed to the consumer by privatisation.

The Minister consulted on those regulations, but unfortunately ignored many of the representations he received. Certainly he ignored many of those made by the National Consumer Council, though he may have listened to the people who hope to run the industry post-privatisation. The National Consumer Council, like ourselves, welcomes the basic principle of a guaranteed standards scheme and of a compensation scheme, but there is much that the council would like to change. It points out that the arrangements for consumer redress are complex and not comprehensive, when they should be simple and easy to understand and use. The NCC also comments: Because the balance of power between individual consumers and a monopolistic supplier"— such as the water plcs will be— is weighted in favour of the industry, we believe the burden of proof must rest largely with the water and sewerage companies. The council has many arguments with the Secretary of State and with the Minister for Water and Planning, and is disappointed that its representations were not taken on board.

The regulations lay down the arrangements that should be observed if appointments made by the undertakers are not kept, yet such appointments will be imposed by the undertakers and will not be the subject of agreement between the company and the customer. Moreover, the customer will have to prove that the record of an appointment made by the company is incorrect, which it will be very difficult for the individual customer to do.

As to the interruption of water supplies, obviously the hon. and learned Gentleman listened to the industry rather than to the consumer organisations. The draft regulations stipulated that there should be 24 hours' notice of an interruption of supply, but now the Minister proposes no minimum period of notice. The regulations incorporate a number of glaring anomalies. They include the provision that anyone in debt to a water company will not be entitled to compensation. That is likely to create problems, especially if one bears in mind what is likely to happen to water charges and that the prospect of metering is looming. Both will lead to an increased number of debts and a higher percentage of disputed bills. All in all, the regulations do little to strengthen the hand of the consumer, and I hope that the Minister will think again about them.

Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will this evening answer the question asked of him by a number of consumer organisations. Will he confirm that any undertaker that breaks the code of practice and does not follow the regulations' guidelines will be liable to lose its licence? As even some Conservative Members said, one is dealing with a private monopoly which will pose many dangers to the consumer.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

This is a matter of grave importance to my constituents as I represent an area that has been accused of being high in nitrates. I hope that the hon. Lady will answer my question; she has not done so yet, although she has been given many opportunities. If she has her way tonight, my constituents may be put at risk.

Mrs. Taylor


Mr. Leigh

I do not want any more prevarication. My constituents may be put at risk if Labour's proposal is implemented, because the necessary technology is not available. It is about time that she answered.

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman is scaremongering yet again. He knows very well that his Government signed that directive and agreed the limits on nitrate. The Secretary of State may think that he knows better than the EC and the health organisations what constitutes a safe nitrate level, but I assure him that his consumers would like the 1980 water directive to be implemented.

Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor

No, I have already given way far too many times.

Let me say a little about what many consider one of the most important of all the regulations, and one of the most controversial. It is controversial because the Minister has been very misleading. I refer to what will happen to the land owned by the water authorities. What are the implications for conservation, access and recreation after privatisation?

Throughout our discussions the Minister has tried to play down the problem of the protection of public land—for, until privatisation, it remains public. We all know that he faces a dilemma. The water authorities own nearly half a million acres of land—much of it in areas of outstanding natural beauty, even if not all of it is formally classified as such. The Government have bowed to different pressures at different times. In the House of Lords they introduced first one and then another set of amendments, and then came up with the proposal that a share of the proceeds would go to the public. That was, at the least, an admission that land sales would result in a gain.

The Minister's basic problem is that if he places too many restrictions on the use of the land he will send what are, from his point of view, the wrong signals and messages to the City. He must keep open the prospect of money to be made from the development of the land. After all, the water industry is a no-growth—or, at least, low-growth—industry, and such industries are not usually very attractive to the stock market. The land represents the "carrot". That is why the code of practice on conservation, access and recreation is full of pious intentions but is, as a whole, almost unenforceable.

The Minister is paying lip service to the protection of public access. He recognises that he must say something about it, but he is not doing anything. Neither the Water Act nor the codes of practice will necessarily prevent the water undertakers, their subsidiaries, holding companies or subsequent owners of the land from blocking public access.

That is a deliberate policy. The Minister had a choice: he could have written into the legislation real constraints on the use of land and access to it, but he chose not to. The cash-register mentality has prevailed. That is the problem with all the regulations—the interests of the new public companies come before those of consumers. That is why we shall vote against the regulations tonight.

7.4 pm

The Minister for Water and Planning (Mr. Michael Howard)

The speech of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) typifies the approach to the legislation that the Opposition have adopted from the outset. It was full of wild statements and allegations which the hon. Lady, when questioned, was completely unable to substantiate, although they were bound to give rise to considerable concern in her constituency as well as in those of my hon. Friends. These are serious matters, and they deserve to be dealt with seriously rather than being made the subject of the kind of trivial scaremongering that we have heard from the hon. Lady.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Is the Minister saying that people are not concerned about the quality of their drinking water? If they are not concerned, why is the Commission receiving more and more complaints from areas where nitrates and aluminium are causing problems?

Mr. Howard

I shall be dealing with the views of the Commission. The fact remains that the hon. Lady made specific allegations about the quality of drinking water in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), and entirely failed to substantiate her challenge to the explanation that has been given of why we may not be able to comply with the Community's nitrate directive in my hon. Friend's constituency by 1993. She maintained her position with a series of generalisations that did not back up her point. That is a disgracefully irresponsible attitude, and the hon. Lady ought to be thoroughly ashamed of herself.

Mrs. Taylor

Does the Minister accept that neither I nor any other Opposition Member is taking action against the Government because of the standard of British drinking water—that it is the European Commission that is doing so?

Mr. Howard

The Commission recently issued a reasoned opinion in respect of drinking water in some restricted areas of the country. The first point to appreciate—this is something that Opposition Members do their utmost to conceal at every opportunity—is that practically every member country of the Community has already been taken to the European Court for breach of the directive. We are the only member country that has yet to appear before that court for breach of an environmental directive, and I am confident that we shall maintain our good record.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Is there not something odious and wrong about the fact that an unelected body like the European Commission can lay obligations on a sovereign country such as the United Kingdom—obligations that will cause the Government and people of this country great trouble and cost—when that body has no democratic credentials and is responsible to no one but itself? It can make these statements and make others bring forward commitments, and it is no water off its back, to coin a phrase. Is that not democratically odious, and, when he is being frank, does not my hon. and learned Friend have the strongest reservations about it?

Mr. Howard

I think that it would be unwise to travel down the road along which my hon. Friend has tempted me. He used the word "odious", however, and what I find odious are the remarks of people such as the hon. Member for Dewsbury, who, in a broadcast earlier today, welcomed the fact that this country was being taken to the European Court. That is both odious and disgraceful, and another reason for her to be thoroughly ashamed of herself.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

What I said was that I was sorry that it had come to this, and that I wished that the British Government had taken action. If the British Government are not willing to protect drinking water standards in this country, we need to use the Commission to do so. It is the Government who are acting disgracefully.

Mr. Howard

If the hon. Lady checks the transcript of her remarks, she will find that she did indeed welcome the fact that the Commission was proposing to take us to court.

Mr. Knapman

I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). Will my hon. and learned Friend therefore speculate on why the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) takes no notice of the letter dated 16 May 1989, which is available in the Library, from the gentleman who purports to have powers over this country, Carlo Ripa di Meana, who said: I am pleased to say that these discussions have now come to a satisfactory conclusion. The amendments … along with the statement which I understand to have been made when introducing these amendments in the House of Lords, satisfy me that the UK Government intends to rectify any deficiencies in water supplies as quickly as possible taking certain practicalities into account. Is there not an inconsistency in EEC matters?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right to identify the substantial progress that we made during our discussions with the Commission. However, I want to deal with the one outstanding issue which relates to the nitrates directive and to the fact that we have said that we shall comply with it by 1993, the deadline which the Commission has set for us in all areas except two. We cannot guarantee that we shall be able to comply by 1993 in those two areas because we are not yet certain that the technology exists that can be used without risk to the health of those who live in those areas. These matters are still under discussion with the Commission. Detailed technical discussion of those matters is due to take place tomorrow between officials of the Department and officials of the Commission. I am confident that when the Commission learns at first hand of the technical details as to why it is simply not possible to give a guarantee that we shall comply in those two areas by 1993 it will see the overwhelming good sense of the British Government's case and we shall hear no more about the matter.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

The Minister has had eight years to explain the technical difficulties to the EC. What has kept him?

Mr. Howard

If the hon. Gentleman had been half as assiduous during our deliberations on the Bill as he purports to be now, he would know the answer to that question because it has been given many times. The drinking water directive came into effect in 1980. As the hon. Member for Dewsbury suggested, it is perfectly true that we signed it in 1980. We, in common with many other member states, assumed that compliance with the directive would be assessed on the basis of the average of the samples that were taken. We wrote to the Commission in 1982 and set out our understanding of how compliance with the directive would be assessed. We received no answer. We assumed that we should be entitled to proceed on the basis that that would be the way in which compliance would be assessed.

Having written in 1982, we received no answer until the end of 1987 when, for the first time, we received a letter from the Commission which said that it proposed to assess compliance with the directive not on the basis of the average of the samples that were taken but on the basis that each and every sample that was taken had to comply with the directive. We are prepared to comply on that basis. We have not sought to challenge that interpretation of the directive, but any reasonable person must appreciate that, since that letter arrived only at the end of 1987, to comply with the directive on that basis would inevitably take a little longer than would have been the case if compliance could have been assessed on the basis of the average of the samples, which is what we had assumed to be the case during the long period from 1982 to the end of 1987.

That point arose during our discussions last week with the Commission. The version that I have put to the House is in no way in dispute. When I put this version to the Commission, there was no riposte, or come-back, or any attempt to suggest that it was inaccurate in any way. That is the answer to the question of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). It is also the answer to the question that was put more than once by the hon. Member for Dewsbury. That is the reason why we have not yet fully complied in every respect with the European Community's drinking water directive.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)

My hon. and learned Friend deserves the sympathy of the House for having to deal with a Commission that is so lax in the way that it operates. I hope that he will bear in mind in his dealings with the Commission the profound dissatisfaction that many Conservative Members feel about the way in which detailed legislation that is proposed in this country is interfered with. I hope that he will do his best to ensure—as I am certain that he will—that the Commission bears fully in mind the needs of each member state when considering such detailed proposals.

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Perhaps the last observation that I need to make on the matter is that I am confident, as I have already said, that our discussions with the Commission will lead to a satisfactory resolution of the problem without the need for the Commission to take us to the European Court. If the Commission were, notwithstanding all these matters, to take us to the European Court on the issue, I can think of few things that would be more calculated to bring the Commission into disrepute.

As for the remarks of the hon. Member for Dewsbury, is so far as they concern the regulations that are before the House and the Opposition prayer that the regulations should be annulled——

Mr. Marlow

Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Howard

Before I deal with the hon. Lady's remarks, I shall give way again to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Marlow

I should like my hon. and learned Friend's views on one other subject. Is it appropriate that a European institution should be responsible for deciding the quality of the drinking water that comes out of the taps in each member state? Should not each member state be able to decide for itself? My hon. and learned Friend has said that he is confident that we shall meet the standards and that we always do, whereas other countries do not. Is he confident that the Portuguese, the French and southern Italy will be able to meet those standards? Are we being picked on? Is there some degree of political spite by the Commission?

Mr. Howard

I can reassure my hon. Friend on his last point. There can be no question of spite. It is certainly not true that we are being picked on, because practically every other member state in the Community has already been taken to court for breach of this directive. My hon. Friend mentioned Portugal. Portugal is a shining exception. It has not yet been taken to the European Court. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that the regulations do not yet apply to Portugal since it became a member of the EC only recently.

Mr. Lord

Before my hon. and learned Friend leaves the question of nitrates, is it not the case that throughout most of the country there is no difficulty in meeting the standards but that, in some parts of the country, because of unusual agricultural conditions due to soil types and agricultural practices over the years, many of which are extremely complicated and will take quite a time to sort out, there are peculiar problems as a result of nitrates? They can be removed from drinking water by means of blending and diluting the water in other ways, and that is what we do when we can. However, in order scientifically or chemically to remove nitrates from the water we need new technology which, as yet, we cannot be certain about. Therefore, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, it would be dangerous for us to proceed too quickly. The Government are looking at agricultural practices in those areas with a view to doing something about them, but will if not take some time? Is not my hon. and learned Friend moving forward as fast as he possibly can, given those limitations?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I agree entirely with what he has said, and I am grateful for his intervention which has entirely accurately expressed the position. There is only one important point that I ought to add to what he has said before we leave the subject completely. It is important that people should not be alarmed by the Opposition's scaremongering tactics and their irresponsibility. Even in those few areas where the directive's nitrates level is exceeded, it is important to appreciate that all our advice is to the effect that there is no danger whatever to people's health.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury used generalisations about the regulations and repeated the criticisms of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. We accept its valuable criticisms. We shall put those matters right by means of amending regulations as soon as possible. We have not heard from the hon. Lady any reasons why the House should strike down these regulations. That is what the debate is about and what the Opposition's prayer asks the House to do—to strike down these regulations, which put in place the detail of the regulatory structure that is to be provided under the Water Act 1989 and provide the means of achieving those fundamental environmental improvements to which we are completely committed and which will secure for our people the cleaner water environment that they want.

We spent over 300 hours debating the Water Bill. Hardly one of those hours passed without our being told by the Labour party how keen it was to see environmental improvements put in place. At every turn Labour Members assured us that they recognised the mistakes that their party had made and that their record in government was lamentable. They said that they now wanted to improve matters and put those improvements into place. At the first opportunity of translating those words into action in respect of these regulations, their reaction is to pray against them, strike them down and deny our people the means of improvement that the regulations represent.

What do the regulations achieve? To what do the Opposition object so violently that they wish to strike them down? Are they the water drinking regulations? For the first time, they incorporate directly into the law of England and Wales the European Community's drinking water directive and, in many respects, go beyond it, imposing standards more stringent and demanding that those in the directive. Our view—this may be of interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow)—is that the Commission should not be the final arbiter of drinking water standards in this country and there are respects in which we should go further than the Commission's directive would suggest. When that is the case, we do not hesitate to do so, and that is what the regulations provide.

For hour after hour during our debates on the Water Bill, the Opposition told us how keen they were to see the drinking water directive incorporated into our law. We were criticised for not incorporating it directly into statute. Now we have brought forward regulations that will achieve the incorporation of the drinking water directive, and more, into our law. What on earth are the Opposition doing voting against it, seeking to strike it down, seeking to deny our people the benefits that this provision will secure?

Why do the Opposition want to strike down the regulations that will give effect to customer service standards and the payments that the new companies will have to make when they breach them? The regulations provide for the £5 cash payment or credit for each occasion or day on which certain standards are not met. Why do the Opposition want to deny that benefit to customers of the privatised water industry?

Why do the Opposition want to strike down the regulations that provide for some of the details of the operations of the National Rivers Authority, increasingly recognised as the strongest environmental protection agency in Europe? Hour after hour in debate on the Water Bill we were told that the NRA lacked teeth. In many respects, these regulations give it those teeth. The Opposition's immediate reaction is to seek to extract them by striking down these regulations.

Mr. Cash

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, contrary to the views that are consistently expressed by the Opposition, including the Front Bench, on matters relating to water and water pollution, Conservative Governments have consistently—all the way through, from 1875, to 1936 and 1974—introduced legislation to improve trade effluents and deal with pollution? The whole of the Opposition's policy is constructed on a consistent policy of hypocrisy.

Mr. Howard

I know far better than to take issue with my hon. Friend on any matter relating to the 19th century, but I am happy to be able to agree fully not only with his reference to what happened in that century but with his more recent references. He is right; we have always taken these matters seriously. One need look no further than the history of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and the Labour Government's shameful neglect to implement it and do anything that would have enabled the public: to play a part in monitoring water pollution. Labour's record—or lack of it—speaks for itself.

Why does the Labour party wish to strike down the provision for the code of practice on conservation, access and recreation? This document, in draft, was described by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), whom I am delighted to see in his place, as fine in principle and welcomed by many organisations. Since then it has been further improved. It is an important step in ensuring that the privatised water industry acts in accordance with the considerable duties laid upon it in the Water Act. What on earth is the Labour party doing in seeking to strike down the order that gives effect to that code of practice? Labour's attitude passes all comprehension.

I shall explain to the House exactly what the regulations and orders will achieve and why it is so important for the future of our water environment that they be approved by the House. The drinking water quality regulations are perhaps the most important of all these measures. If there were any doubts about the Government's commitment to high quality water supplies and to full implementation of the Community's drinking water directive, those doubts must surely now be laid to rest. The regulations comprise a comprehensive system for safeguarding the quality of our water supplies.

Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)

My hon. and learned Friend has just said that the regulations are a comprehensive scheme for protecting our water supply. I understand that the regulations relate only to drinking water. As he knows, the Environment Select Committee was concerned with wider problems of water quality. Can my hon. and learned Friend say when those other matters—for example, river quality—will be tackled and, in particular, give the timetable for laying down water quality objectives under section 105 of the Water Act?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend will appreciate that I am dealing with the measures that cover the drinking water regulations. Other regulations before the House touch on those wider matters, including the powers of the National Rivers Authority and the extent to which the public will have access to records on river water quality. My hon. Friend is right: the regulations do not deal with river water quality standards.

We want to deal with those matters as soon as we reasonably can, but I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that it would be sensible to await the NRA's advice before these standards are set. That is one of the more important functions of the NRA. It will advise the Secretary of State on the setting of the standards and, when they have been set, the NRA will have the important task of regulating discharges to ensure that those standards are met. We are some way off putting those standards into place, for the good reason—which I hope that my hon. Friend will accept—that it is important to have the NRA's advice before we take that step.

The drinking water regulations fully incorporate the stringent requirements of the Community directive directly into our law and go well beyond it in a number of important respects. They make it absolutely clear that all water supplies must comply not only with the European Community's quality standards but with 14 additional national standards. These include controls on certain chlorinated solvents, copper and zinc and acidity. The lead standard is also tighter than the one set in the directive. We believe that it is important to continue reducing people's exposure to lead from any source.

The regulations provide for frequent monitoring and analysis. They lay down minimum sampling frequencies far higher than those in the directive. For example, the regulations specify monitoring frequencies for aluminium, iron and manganese at least four times higher than those in the directive. They require sampling normally to be done at the consumer's tap and impose requirements relating to the collection and analysis of samples, with laboratories subjected to independent quality control checks. In addition, the drinking water inspectorate to be established shortly will check on the water undertakers' monitoring and analysis.

There are a number of new requirements for water treatment. All water supplied will have to meet certain minimum treatment requirements. Many more water supplies than now will have to be treated to reduce plumbo-solvency. No new chemical or product will be able to be used in treatment or mains relining unless its use has been approved by the Secretary of State.

The availability of information on water quality is crucial. People are entitled to full information about the quality of their water supply. For the first time, comprehensive information on water quality will be published regularly in a way that highlights whether supplies are complying with the quality standards and, if they are not, what is being done about it. A public record containing information about analytical results for every water supply zone will be established from next January. It will show clearly whether samples comply with the standards set in the regulations, particulars of any relaxations from the standards granted by the Secretary of State, details of any undertakings given under section 20(5)(b) of the Water Act for each zone and progress with those undertakings.

The public record will be held at all water offices normally open to the public, and the address and telephone number of one of these offices will be on the annual water bill sent to each customer.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Will the Minister confirm that there will be a charge for access to that information?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Lady made that allegation in the course of her remarks. She is wrong about that as she has been in so many other respects. No charge will be made for access to that information.

Mrs. Taylor

Is the Minister saying, therefore, that there will be completely open access to and complete accountability of all information? Can the Minister go further and say whether that information will be presented in a form that is understandable by the layman, or are we to see computer print-outs such as the present print-outs, which are coded and virtually unintelligible to the layman? That is not proper access to information, is it?

Mr. Howard

Here again we see the Labour party's attitude——

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Answer the question.

Mr. Howard

We see it at its most unattractive. Information will be available in the form in which it becomes available to the water undertakers. They will provide information about the samples that they take. Is the hon. Lady suggesting that someone else should edit the information and put it in a manner that, she says, would then be understandable by the public? Who would be the first to complain in that case that the figures were being doctored, if not the hon. Lady herself?

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Does the Minister want the public to have access to meaningful information or not?

Mr. Howard

I do, and that is why the information is being made available in the way in which I have suggested.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

My hon. and learned Friend will probably know that in the gas industry, for example, consumers are entitled when they receive their hills to tick a box saying that they want a declaration of calorific value supplied to them. Will my hon. and learned Friend examine the method used in the gas industry to see whether it might be a useful way for consumers to ask for information about water supplies? Does my hon. and learned Friend also agree that the Opposition are talking sheer rubbish? I doubt whether one in a million people want to waste time on this. Only those who are stirring up this nonsense will want to. Those of us who have been drinking tap water for many years are surviving perfectly safely and do not want this nonsense perpetrated.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is correct in describing the Opposition's remarks as absolute nonsense. I cannot make an estimate of the number of people who will want access to these records and information, but I am determined that anyone who wants to should be able to gain access and see the information. That is what the regulations provide. On my hon. Friend's first point, I will study the matters to which he referred. However, he will appreciate that there are considerable differences between the gas and water industries and it may not be possible to adopt the precedent in the way he suggested.

Mr. Raffan

Does not the performance of members of the Opposition Front Bench on access to information contrast sharply with their behaviour when in office when they kept details of discharge consent applications secret from the public? They prevented the openness and access to information that this Government are now providing.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right. It is a bit rich for the hon. Member for Dewsbury to complain about the fact that the information will not be comprehensible when the Government whom she supported—and she was a Member of Parliament at that time—denied the customer access to that information altogether. It was not a question whether the information was comprehensible. The information was not available as a result of a deliberate act of a Government whom the hon. Lady supported day in and day out in the Division Lobbies.

Local authorities have a continuing interest in the quality of water supplies. The regulations will help them by requiring the water undertakers to send them additional information about supplies in their area at regular intervals. There is also a duty on water undertakers to notify both the local authority and the health authority immediately anything happens to a water supply that could be a significant health risk.

The principal task of the new drinking water inspectorate will be to check compliance with these regulations. It will have access to all the undertakers' records and will carry out a technical audit of its results, sampling and analysis arrangements, progress on its compliance programmes and action taken where a standard is breached. If the inspectors find any shortcomings, they will need to discuss corrective action with the undertaker and advise the Secretary of State on the use of his enforcement and prosecution powers. They will also produce regular published reports on their activities.

All these measures add up to a first-class system for ensuring that the high quality of water supplies in England and Wales is maintained and further improved. Tight legally enforceable standards, full disclosure of information, Government commitment to full compliance with the Community directive and a new team of inspectors provide the proof. Perhaps the hon. Lady will explain to the House what precisely she objects to in these regulations and why she will recommend the House to vote them down later this evening.

The second group of instruments is concerned with the control of pollution. They carry forward the updating and strengthening of the pollution control system in the Water Act and give immediate effect to the new systems from the transfer date. These instruments put in place from transfer date the essential regulatory mechanisms required to maintain and carry forward the basic element of the pollution control system—the regulation of effluent discharges.

In addition to this essential structure, the Act provides new powers for pollution control, including those for setting up protection zones, and further precautions in respect of dangerous substances. It introduces systems classifications and provides the basis for the system of statutory water quality objectives to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir. H. Rossi) referred. We shall be bringing forward further statutory instruments under these new powers when we have been able to complete the detailed preparations necessary. These will include, most crucially, taking advice from the new expert body and the strongest environmental agency in Europe, the National Rivers Authority. These instruments will be available to be taken into account in the river quality survey beginning in 1990.

Let me make clear the fundamental principles underlying the regulations. The first is openness and public accountability. In the Control of Pollution Act 1974 public registers, Britain already has a notably open and accountable system of water pollution control. These regulations extend it. They provide, for instance, for the inclusion of additional material, including in due course relevant river quality objectives and other data. In addition, they remove anomalies and loopholes in present arrangements and notably they require that in future the time limit for inclusion of data on the registers is to run from the taking of the samples rather than the receipt of the analysis by the registrar. We have recognised that consent arrangements could allow excessive delay in inclusion of results on the register and we are remedying that.

The second key principle is the absolute separation of poacher and gamekeeper. The NRA will itself make few discharges, but it will make some—for instance, from fish farms. In all the circumstances, it is clearly appropriate that some authority other than the NRA should be responsible for authorising them. Accordingly, one set of regulations modifies the Act to cover these circumstances.

The third key feature of the regulations is their rigour and comprehensiveness. It is obviously of the greatest importance that there should be public confidence in the probity and effectiveness of the system for granting applications for discharge consents. The regulations provide full and formal arrangements on such matters as public representations, appeals, and treatment of commercial confidentiality.

I ask the hon. Member for Dewsbury again—although her attention seems to have wandered from the serious matters and from the regulations, which are so important to the future of our water environment—which of these principles and which aspects of the regulations the Opposition object to.

Let me deal with the regulations on surface water classification on which the hon. Lady asked a specific question. She seems to be wincing. She took the trouble to ask a specific question and I take it that she wants it answered. If she contains herself for a moment, she will have the answer. As I said, I shall deal with the regulations on surface water classification and the associated order in respect of ponds and reservoirs. Together, they provide for due implementation of an important Community directive, directive 75/440 on the quality of surface water for drinking, and a critical link between the quality of water in the environment and in supply. They involve a first and preliminary use of the powers to introduce systems for water quality classifications, which will be used in due course for the general classification of surface waters for the establishment of quality objectives. These general classifications will cover not only standards necessary for abstraction of drinking water but also for fisheries, conservation, irrigation and other purposes.

It is, however, necessary to put in place now the system for the classifications in respect of abstraction for human consumption so that the level of treatment required for different qualities of water entering the supply system may be determined. That is so that we can put in place a regulatory framework for the new water supply companies and can give effect to the EC surface water abstraction directive. The regulations incorporate the mandatory EC values. Water authorities have already classified the waters from which thy abstract on this basis, but monitoring for compliance with the classifications will in future be a matter for the NRA.

The relevant lakes and ponds order is required simply to ensure that pollution controls apply to all waters from which water is abstracted for supply purposes. The hon. Member for Dewsbury has the answer to her question. Without that, we could not guarantee that all abstracted waters were properly classified and regulated.

A final measure concerned with the control of pollution deals with the discharge of trade effluent to sewers. Where these contain dangerous substances, they will be subject to authorisation by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

The Minister will recall that in Committee I asked about the pollution of rivers from old mine workings and referred to the fact that the Act would remove British Coal's responsibility in respect of polluting rivers. When we produced evidence of the problem and asked for certain assurances, Ministers told us that they would consider the matter and give assurances, before the Bill became an Act, that grants to local authorities would, or could, be made to overcome the problem. Are we to get that assurance before this legislation leaves this place?

Mr. Howard

I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said that he would consider the nature of the grants available and draw them to the hon. Gentleman's attention. We shall ensure that that is done, if it has not already been done. My inquiries suggest that the water authorities are concerned about the problem; they are aware of it and are considering ways in which they can contribute to dealing with it.

An important element of the environmental package within the Water Act is the code of practice on conservation, access and recreation. I do not intend to say much about the code itself, which we debated at length in Committee. Its scope, its detail, and the fact that in our view it embodies the very best available guidance on these matters speak for themselves, but I ask the House to note three points.

First, the code was laid before Parliament within an hour of the signalling of Royal Assent to the Bill. That is a measure of our determination to take the code seriously and to put its provisions into effect at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Mullin

Does the Minister agree that the real measure of the Government's determination will he whether the code of practice is enforceable?

Mr. Howard

Of course the code of practice will be enforceable, and of course it will be taken into account when decisions are made about the extent to which the undertakings are carrying out their statutory duties, which are specified in some detail in the Act. Has the hon. Gentleman already forgotten the many hours that we spent in Committee debating these measures? He knows perfectly well that the code is enforceable. That is why it is the subject of the regulations. That is why it is given statutory force.

The Opposition continue to claim that the code will have little effect. When we put the draft before them in Committee, they claimed that the original draft would be diluted and weakened. In fact, it is fuller and stronger. We took the consultation process very seriously. We have taken on board many of the points that were made during the consultation exercise and the draft, which was commended by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe during our deliberations in Committee, is now even better than it was when it attracted his complimentary attention.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

I shall deal with this matter later in the debate. I think it fair to say, however, that the code before us now is not, in essence, the same as the draft code, which, while I felt it was good in principle, had many weaknessess in practice.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the code is not the same as the draft code. It is better than the draft code, it is stronger than the draft code, and it is more complete than the draft code was. It has been welcomed by the environmental organisations, which we consulted in detail on it. I am happy to say to the hon. Gentleman, therefore, that the agreement between us about the excellence of this code is so far undisturbed—even after his recent intervention. Of course, our agreement may not survive his speech later in the debate. No doubt he has been got at by the hon. Member for Dewsbury and I have a nasty suspicion that we shall hear as churlish a speech from him as we heard from her. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will prove me wrong.

I do not propose to say more than a few words about the other measures before the House.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

If one accepts for one moment that the Minister is right and that the code is stronger than the original draft, could that not be because, despite what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, he recognises what Opposition Members and the associations of conservation groups outside the House know—that many aspects of the code are not worth the paper on which they are written because its terms are not enforceable? It is easy for the Minister to strengthen the code given that he knows that it is not important.

Mr. Howard

That is a most extraordinary statement. The House is debating regulations that will have statutory force. They will be debated in another place early next week and they will be part of the law of the land. The Secretary of State, on whom substantial duties are placed by the Water Act, will be obliged to take into account the provisions of the code in carrying out his duties. If he does not take into account the provisions of the code sufficiently, he will be subject to judicial review by the independent courts. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) must be aware of that. How can he possibly suggest that the code will not have any force? Of course it will have force, and it will act as a further powerful reinforcement of our determination to ensure that the legislation gives us the highest possible standards for our water environment.

The regulations are a necessary development of the framework for regulating the privatised water industry in the Water Act 1989 recently approved by Parliament. They are an important part of our policy to privatise the water industry as the quickest and most cost-effective way in which to ensure that we all benefit from even higher water standards. I am sure that their provisions will be welcomed by those concerned to achieve better standards in industry and, in particular, better environmental standards. I invite the House to reject the prayers of the Opposition.

7.49 pm
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

It feels like it has been a long day already so I will not delay the House for too long.

I shall vote against the regulations because of the discretionary powers that they give to the Secretary of State. Obviously we do not trust him, and after the debate on the poll tax his own Back Benchers do not trust him. When will the Conservative party realise that it is no good to Euro-bash any more? It tried that during the European elections and it was defeated. It is sad, and it brings no honour to the House, that a European Commissioner must protect our people because their Government have failed to do so. Conservative Back Benchers seem to take pleasure from criticising the Commissioner because he is not British, but that gentleman is doing a service to this country by ensuring that our water standards come up to a reasonable level.

In a debate earlier this month we learnt that 10.8 million people in England and Wales are drinking water that is not of a standard recommended by the EEC. The Government have been in power for 10 years, but after that time their record on water purity means that 20 per cent. of the population is drinking sub-standard water. Things will get worse rather than better.

Currently, because of privatisation, the Government are forcing water authorities to relax standards regarding the sewage that goes into our rivers and seas. In certain areas—my constituency is one of them—relaxation of standards at sewage works means that effluent will go into the river before water is drawn off to become drinking water for my constituents. Such is the policy advanced by the Government and it is little wonder that we are wary of anything that the Minister proposes.

The Minister said that information about standards would be made clear to the public. I have had an example of the simple approach that has been adopted by North West Water. As the Member of Parliament for Carlisle I properly asked that water authority whether it could supply me with the details of the sewage works in Carlisle for the last year. I was sent 10 pages of computer read-out. No explanation was given; instead, the pages detail such things as sussols, bods and Mg/Ls. The public will not know what they mean and it is clear that that water authority has no idea what the public wants to know. Fortunately, earlier in my life, I worked in a laboratory and therefore I could understand the information. That document shows that North West Water has been acting illegally in my constituency. It is clear that 8 per cent. of the effluent going into the River Eden, one of the finest salmon rivers in Britain, is above the acceptable standard.

What have the Government done about such things? The answer was given in a document published by the Friends of the Earth, which states: Your water authority has been discharging sub-standard sewage effluent. That's illegal. Selling off water companies that break the law is not easy … so the Government's solution is to relax the standards for over 1,000 sewage treatment works. That's legalised pollution". We shall vote against the regulations because we do not trust the Secretary of State. Alarm has been created in my constituency and I am sure that the Secretary of State has received many letters voicing that alarm. As late as Saturday I received one from the Rockcliffe parish council.

Mr. Howard

The point about regulations is that they become part of the law of the land, which must be obeyed by everyone, including any Secretary of State, whether the hon. Gentleman trusts him or not.

Mr. Martlew

Presumably the Minister believes that the 10-page document I received from North West Water abides by the law of the land. It may abide by the word of the law, but not the spirit of it.

I received a letter from Rockcliffe parish council which was odd because it is not part of my constituency and nor is it a hotbed of Socialism.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Given the hon. Gentleman's sophistry, I must tell him that my colleagues and I are rather concerned that the list that he flourished from North West Water is the pools results for the last available football Saturday. He is wrong to suggest the Government have lowered standards. For years there has been a derogation from standards, but it is untrue to say that the Government have lowered standards. The hon. Gentleman and I spent many months debating the Water Bill in Committee and surely he accepts that one of its important features is that it will raise standards?

Mr. Martlew

I agree that standards should be raised, and nothing would please me more than if North West Water wrote to me to say that it would stop polluting the River Eden. In fact it has increased the level of pollution by 25 per cent., and it will still be within the law. I am happy to put the document in the Library if the hon. Gentleman wants to look at it, if he has time after finishing a game of squash in the morning.

Rockcliffe parish council wrote to me because sewage from my constituency is polluting its lovely village. It wrote: The Council wishes to complain in the strongest possible terms against the proposal by the North West Water Authority to increase by 25 per cent. the amount of sewage released into the River Eden at Carlisle. It states that current standards are not good enough and that Rockcliffe has to put up with all sorts of terrible pollution. The parish council also mentioned Rockcliffe marsh, which is on the Solway, and which is one of the finest wildlife havens in the country. The council asked me what I would do. I am asking the Minister whether he will retract the instructions given to North West Water. If he does not issue such a retraction, will he turn down any subsequent applications from North West Water?

People are extremely concerned about their drinking water, about effluent and the state of our rivers. They do not want privatisation, but the debate is not about privatisation. It is a sad day when Europe must protect the British people from their Government. I hope that we will win tonight.

7.57 pm
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for his comprehensive and erudite explanation of the regulations, which satisfy all reasonable people, including my hon. Friends.

There are many regulations, but I shall restrict my comments to three that relate to drinking water quality, the control of pollution and access to land when owned by the water companies.

The regulations fully incorporate the requirements of the European drinking water directive into British law. In Committee it was suggested that either the regulations would not be introduced or, if they were, they would be literally watered down. The regulations, however, go well beyond the requirements of the drinking water directive. My hon. and learned Friend has said that there are 14 additional national standards. He mentioned industrial and chlorinated solvents, copper, zinc and acidity standards. Perhaps the most important of all in terms of public perception is the lead standard, which is also tighter than that allowed for in the directive. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will agree that that, coupled with tighter controls on vehicle emissions, will help to satisfy the public.

Timing is all-important and 1995 is a realistic deadline. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment said, the 1993 deadline is not. He said that the amendments proposing a 1993 deadline ignore the question of practicality. Large investment programmes cannot be carried out overnight for very practical reasons that have nothing to do with the money involved."—[Official Report, 3 July 1989: Vol. 156, c. 92.] My brother is a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the citizens of Wincanton and several other towns and villages up and down the country have particular reason to be grateful to him. Their effluent goes downhill and is treated in modern premises in an approved place. We are now in 1989. The companies have yet to come into being, and planning permission must be sought. Quite apart from the units having to be designed, planning permission will take some months.

The planning and building of sewage stations provides the opportunity to put modern pipes under most of the streets of each village and town in the locality, and that must be done with a minimum of disruption to the local population or the local Member of Parliament's life is not likely to be pleasant for some time.

It is no wonder that the European Environment Commissioner observed of Britain that no other country in Europe now has such a determined awareness of environmental problems. I am surprised that Opposition Members did not mention that. After all, that was printed in The Guardian, which is their bible, on 17 July 1989. I am sorry that they missed it.

The regulations lay down requirements under the Water Act in respect of sampling, analysis, treatment of water and available information to customers—all matters which were lacking under the previous Labour Government. In particular, they specify minimum frequencies for the sampling of supplies and require sampling normally to be done at the customer's tap. That is the most important point at which sampling should be undertaken.

The regulations impose requirements relating to the collection and analysis of samples and specify that the laboratories must be subject to independent quality control checks. All water supplies will have to meet several minimum treatment requirements. No new substance will be cleared for use in water treatment or for the relining of pipes unless it has been approved by the Secretary of State. That will reassure my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) who, a few months ago, spent some four or five hours on that subject. The public have to be reassured that additives to water supplies can be made only under the strictest of conditions.

Comprehensive water quality information will be published regularly, enabling customers to see which supplies regularly comply with quality standards and, where they do not, what action is being taken to remedy the situation.

The second group of statutory instruments deals with pollution. They carry forward the updating and strengthening of the pollution control system in the Water Act and give immediate effect to the new system from the date of privatisation.

Again the Opposition have said that 1993, not 1995, is a responsible deadline. But what credence can their proposals have when they have yet again failed to answer questions that we have put to them time and again? Can the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) explain why the Labour Government took no action to implement part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 which deals with river pollution? We await the answer to that. Why did the previous Labour Government prevent members of the public from initiating prosecutions of river polluters—a subject on which we heard so much in the Committee which considered the Water Bill?

Mr. Pike

Whatever the Labour Government did in the period up to 1979, is not the simple fact that the Labour Government were in office for four years while this Government have been in office for 10 years? The important point is what the Government have done in those 10 years.

Mr. Knapman

But on what basis can the Opposition say that the 1995 deadline is too late and that it should be 1993? The investment that is necessary can come about only through our proposals. It will never be achieved through the Treasury under a Labour or a Conservative Government.

Mr. Raffan

If the Conservative Government did what the Labour Government did when they were in power and cut expenditure on river infrastructure by 50 per cent. there would be an outburst of horror. The Government have increased expenditure, yet the Opposition still dare to attack us. Of course we shall remind them of their record because it is so deplorable and disgraceful.

Mr. Knapman

I am obliged to my hon. Friend who, as always, makes his point well. Outrage comes easily to Opposition Members. As the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) knows, Opposition Members do not like to be reminded of previous Labour Governments' records.

Opposition Members know well the questions that I have to ask, because we have asked them so many times. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) has asked them on occasions. He might care to take over for a moment or two. How did the previous Labour Government discharge their responsibilities for monitoring pollution by sewage treatment works when it kept no records of the adequacy of their performance? Will the Opposition explain why the previous Labour Government kept details of discharge consent applications secret from the public and refuse to let them participate in the process of granting them?

We have asked those questions before and we shall ask them again. I suspect that we shall get no answer, but that does not really matter, does it? With that record, what right do the Opposition have to lecture us on whether 1995 is a reasonable date for achieving those ends? They know well that if a Labour Government came to power again—an unlikely event—they would have no more chance of achieving those standards than they did in the past.

Water authority land was also a subject of protracted exchanges in the Committee which considered the Water Bill. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth for not suggesting that the proceedings have been truncated, as he did last week. I think that I heard my hon. and learned Friend the Minister say that we have now been debating these issues for 300 hours. I am not sure whether we are just coming up to 300 hours or have just exceeded 300 hours, but that is hardly truncated.

After privatisation, water companies will be under a duty to make their waters and associated land available for recreation so far as that is consistent with their other functions. My hon. and learned Friend has leaned over backward to oblige the persistent lobbyists on that matter. However, will he confirm that the main defence against unwelcome developers on water authority land must be the planning process? If something is wrong, the answer is not to introduce separate Acts of Parliament on every conceivable subject, but rather to ensure that any inadequate planning processes are changed.

I was born and brought up on the northern slopes of Dartmoor and I know that planning regulations in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are particularly strict and would prevent any unsuitable development on water authority land after privatisation, as they do now. The Government's proposal to give every district authority the duty to draw up local plans will strengthen the planning system further to protect against unwelcome development. I do not know whether the proposals are perfect, but they are far better than anything that has gone before.

I and, I am sure, my hon. Friends take what is possibly the last opportunity before the recess to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Minister and his colleagues on the splendid way in which they have taken the legislation through the House since the middle of December.

8.12 pm
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)

The substance of the regulations is an increase in the powers of the Secretary of State. Those powers have the potential to undermine some of the promises made during the passage of the Bill. We must welcome the adoption of the European Community directive on drinking water. However, we must ask when the proposals in it will be implemented. During the debate on the Lords amendments the Government defeated the amendment relating to implementation by 1993. Will the Government tell us when they propose to implement the directive?

The European Commission is to be congratulated on its insistence that the Government should stop ducking and weaving over the introduction of drinking water standards. The Commission has asked the Government to tell it within two months what they will do about implementing the nitrate directive. Will the Minister tell us when he will reply to that demand from the environment Commissioner?

Mr. Raffan

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could explain how the Government are ducking and weaving on the European Community directive when they have incorporated it in law and have imposed 14 additional national standards. That is an extraordinary way to duck and weave. Long may Governments continue to do that when it means improving on the standards that have been put to us by Europe.

Mr. Livsey

The hon. Gentleman does not say when the directive will be implemented. We are all waiting for an answer to that. We welcome its adoption but when will it be implemented? The European Commission has posed that question and so far we have not had a clear answer.

Mr. Howard

Was the hon. Gentleman not here when I dealt with this question earlier or was he here and asleep? Did he not hear me say that we shall comply with the Commission's nitrate directive in every area bar two by 1993? In the other two we expect to comply by 1995. I gave the reasons why we could not comply with those two by 1992. Is the hon. Gentleman claiming that he and his party were concerned about this matter and about the accusations that were made about delay in implementing the directive in the 1980s? What complaints did his party make in the 1980s about the progress being made in implementing the Community directive?

Mr. Livsey

We certainly complained on many occasions about non-implementation. In 1980, the Government acceded to the directive but they have taken nine years to bring forward legislation. Now they cannot clearly tell us when the directive will be implemented, although I gather from what the Minister said that some of it will be implemented in 1993 and the rest in 1995. That is not soon enough. The Commission wants to know why, and that is a reasonable question.

Mr. Howard

When exactly did the hon. Gentleman's party complain about the pace at which we were complying with the directive in the 1980s?

Mr. Livsey

I will not engage in debating points. The point has been made by my party a number of times and the Minister knows that. We need to move on.

Earlier in the debate the Minister tried to protect his position by talking about sample averages. I am sure that he is well aware that one definition of average temperature is a person with his head in the oven and his feet in the fridge. Water samples containing nitrate can be widely disparate. Is the Minister saying that samples with twice the acceptable level of nitrate are acceptable in terms of public health? What advice did the Minister's scientists give about the proposal that averages would be used for nitrogen content? How many scientists resigned from Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution because their scientific consciences cannot come to terms with the way that the Government are proceeding on environmental protection?

Statutory instrument No. 1147 deals with the definitions of wholesome water and incorporates EC directives. Part 3 gives the Secretary of State power to relax those standards, and that power needs to be probed. Under what circumstances would he relax the standards, and in what situation would such relaxation occur? The document says: Authorisation is necessary as an emergency measure". It also says that authorisation depends on the nature and structure of the ground in each area". Some matters relating to that must be clarified, in the public interest.

Statutory instrument No. 1151 is about consents to discharges and allows the Secretary of State to determine requests for discharges of effluent above the recommended levels. We had a long debate on the Lords amendments about the 1,000 works that have broken the consent standards. In the next 12 months the Department of the Environment will allow the water plcs to go beyond the limit. Will powers about consents for discharges above the recommended levels be invoked? The statutory instrument clearly confers such a power and it would completely undermine the National Rivers Authority. It makes a mockery of the new regulatory body because it gives the Secretary of State the final say. The National Rivers Authority has, rightly, been given high billing by the Minister as an important environmental protection agency. I certainly recognise and welcome that. However, if it is not adequately resourced and is undermined by statutory instrument No. 1151, will it be an effective body?

Statutory instrument No. 1154 deals with the right of the public to inspect the register held by the Director General of Water Services. I hope that the information on the register will be available at the weekends as well as during normal working hours so that people who are engaged in their everyday business during the week can inspect the register on, for example, Saturday mornings.

I welcome statutory instrument No. 1155 which deals with pensions. In my constituency Welsh Water will soon become Welsh Water plc. The pensions of its employees obviously need to be protected.

Statutory instrument No. 1156 is important because it empowers the Secretary of State to determine applications for discharges of dangerous substances above accepted levels. It includes chemicals that are persistent in water and could include materials such as aldrin or dieldrin. Although they have been banned, sadly, some irresponsible people are still using them. The substances include atrazine and simazine which cause great difficulties in water catchment areas. I find it somewhat intriguing that the acceptable level of dangerous substances can be raised.

Statutory instrument No. 1158 deals with radioactive discharges. It treats radioactive waste as ordinary waste. This is another example of mollycoddling the nuclear industry. At present, 808 premises in England are authorised under the Radioactive Substances Act 1960 to discharge liquid radioactive waste into the public sewers. This regulation appears to weaken the conditions of the 1960 Act by allowing the Secretary of State to bring such discharges within the scope of the Water Act 1989, and to treat them as normal. Perhaps the Minister will reassure the House on that.

Statutory instrument No. 1159 deals with compensation for customers who suffer at the hands of water companies. I suggest that £5 is insufficient and that the condition which gives the companies a let-out in cases of industrial action should be withdrawn.

In general, one should be critical of these statutory instruments because of some of the powers that the Secretary of State is taking to himself. He will be able to alter some of these regulations almost at will and some of the regulations act against the environmental quality of water.

The Minister should ensure that the proceeds of the sale of the industry are reinvested, for example, in the National Rivers Authority to ensure that it can function properly as an effective environmental protection body and to ensure that it is properly funded so that it can do its job properly.

There is no doubt that the basis of this privatisation is partly the sale of land. The flotation is made more attractive by this realisation. The water plcs are busy setting up subsidiary companies to exploit this asset.

Finally, I shall point out a technical matter to the Minister. The code of practice is already out of date in some of its wording because it refers to the Nature Conservancy Council when, only last week, it was amalgamated with the Countryside Commission. I hope that the drafters of the code will take account of that significant change.

8.23 pm
Mr. Gerrard Neale (Cornwall, North)

I remind hon. Members of the serious contamination incident that took place just over a year ago in my constituency. I speak the day before publication of the independent health panel's report on that incident. Various aspects of the regulations relate to it and I should like to make a few brief comments about them.

However, I should like first to refer to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey), who spoke on behalf of the Democrats. I do not know whether my colleagues share my view, but I am unclear whether the Democrats intend to oppose or to support these regulations. Hon. Members who represent constituencies that have an historic involvement with his party—under whatever name it trades—will not be surprised at that, because there has been considerable confusion about where they stand on a range of issues.

I say to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), in the absence of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who made a speech at the start of this debate, that there will be considerable astonishment in Camelford, given the interest that Labour Members appeared to have in the Camelford incident, and given the number of references that they made to it during the debate, that they intend to vote against these regulations.

The Opposition's constant criticism has left the clear impression that their sole objective is to stop privatisation. They want to find every possible accusation to level at the Government to try to stop privatisation, and they do not want to give credit for any of the regulations.

One need only take a cursory look through the regulations to see that they offer a range of measures which will be far more helpful to the consumer than any that existed before. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) in congratulating my hon. and learned Friend the Minister on his work to ensure that these provisions were brought before the House on behalf of the consumer.

As my hon. and learned Friend said, there will be far clearer powers over environmental health cover through local authorities. Water authorities will have to provide much more information about the way in which their laboratories are run. A series of provisions in the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 1989 are fundamentally helpful to the consumer.

Bearing in mind the fact that hon. Members on both sides of the House still wish to speak, I shall concentrate on one part of the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations. There will be great relief and pleasure because of regulation 30, particularly because of subsections (5) and (6), which, brief as they are, should be repeated. They provide: (5) A water undertaker shall notify a local authority and a district health authority as soon as may be after the occurrence of any event which, by reason of its effect or likely effect on the water supplied by it, gives rise or is likely to give rise to a significant risk to the health of persons residing in the authority's area. (6) An authority who have received a notification under paragraph (5) may require the water undertaker to provide them with such information relating to the event and its consequences as they may reasonably require. I have to tell my hon. and learned Friend, who has been exceedingly helpful throughout the Camelford incident and its aftermath, that it is astounding that, in this day and age, the House finds it necessary to include that provision in regulations. I do not deny that it is now essential that it should. At Camelford, 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphide were dumped into the drinking water and the water supply of 20,000 people was affected. Who would have imagined that the water authority would decide not to tell the public health authority and the environmental health authority the truth for some weeks?

My hon. and learned Friend will recall—he saw me then—that at the time I said that one of the most astounding features was that there was no statutory requirement on water authorities to inform the health authority and the environmental health officers. He said then that the Government would give the most serious consideration to this. I can only thank him for including these provisions in the regulations.

Given the criticism of these regulations, what my hon. and learned Friend said at the Dispatch Box is worthy of note. He is aiming for far greater honesty with the consumer. This is the whole purpose of the regulations. He does not want—no sensible person would—any of the information to be doctored. Any information obtained by consumers must represent a direct copy of what has been produced in accordance with the sampling processes under these regulations.

By providing that information and being honest with the public, we shall save ourselves from what has happened in north Cornwall over the past 12 months as a result of the deceit of the water authority, which did not release the facts about what had caused the incident. That deceit infected every honourable statement made subsequently by any organisation. No matter what the independent health panel says tomorrow—it is my sincere hope that it will have discovered that there is no permanent health damage, which has been the hope of all of us since the incident—and no matter the lengths to which it has gone to analyse what happened, great doubt was instilled in people's minds as a result of the water authority's inability to tell the truth.

Among the many welcome regulations, this one is vital in ensuring that should such an incident recur, through accident or whatever cause, the water authority concerned will make what has happened known to the environmental health office and the health authority. It should also make available every possible source of information that either of those two authorities needs to protect the health of the people in its area.

We have heard a great deal of criticism about the Government's desire to privatise the water industry If I had any doubts about this before the Camelford incident, I have not the slightest doubt now. That incident was caused by a public utility, a state-controlled body, which manifested the most shocking quality of management. It was able to exercise a monopoly not only over the supply but over the information processes, the responsibility for pollution and so on.

The Government's wisdom is shown in these regulations and in the Water Act itself. It is vital that we separate those processes and give the state, through the Secretary of State, clear-cut powers of control and of monitoring, through the drinking water inspectorate. The Camelford incident showed how welcome this move is. That should be separate from the supply of water, which must be carried out under stringent regulations laid down in the Act, in these statutory instruments and no doubt in subsequent measures.

Mr. Mullin

Who does the hon. Gentleman think will be in charge of the South-West water authority, about which he used the word "deceit", after privatisation? Will the same Mr. Keith Court be responsible, on higher pay?

Mr. Neale

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that that decision is not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He will also know, if he has studied the matter carefully, that at the time of the incident my view was that the chairman should have resigned. Everything that has happened since the incident has vindicated that view. I said then, and I still believe, that he could not possibly have known what was going on when it happened, but he did know shortly afterwards and he chose not to inform the public. Subsequently, to his credit, he apologised for not doing so.

For that reason, if for no other, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister deserves credit for making certain through these regulations that never again will it be possible for a water undertaking, whether inadvertently or negligently, to cause such an incident and then to avoid telling the health authority and the environmental health organisation what happened, and giving them all the information that they require. That offers far better protection than do many of the other elements in these regulations. My hon. and learned Friend will have the whole-hearted support of Conservative Members, and I congratulate him on introducing the regulations.

8.37 pm
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

I am honoured that the Minister thinks that any endorsement that I have given to the code of practice in the conservation, access and leisure regulation recommends it for public consumption. If the Minister accepts some of what I shall say, I shall be happy to give my whole-hearted endorsement to the code of practice. He can even stamp on the bottom, "As recommended by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe" if he deals with these points.

The main thrust of the measures in the code of practice is fine. They have been well thought out and well written, because they were recommended by the Nature Conservancy Council. That is a Government organisation for which I have nothing but the utmost respect. Therefore, it is a tragedy that the organisation in which the Minister was indirectly lavishing praise for drawing up this document is to be reorganised and broken up. One cannot have a great deal of confidence in a Government who treat one of their most effective bodies in this way.

As it is likely that the Secretary of State will no longer be in his position soon, I hope that his successor will think carefully about the way that the NCC has been treated. If the Government's commitment to conservation is to have any credibility, they need bodies such as the NCC, with its expertise, commitment and experience, to put a gloss on any Government measure dealing with conservation.

Let me deal with the reasons why I think that the regulation on the code of practice should be voted against unless it is changed. First, we see a great weakness in the enforcement of the code. Section 10(2) of the Act states: A contravention of a code of practice as for the time being approved under this section shall not of itself constitute a contravention of any requirement imposed by section 8 or 9 above or give rise to any criminal or civil liability, but the Secretary of State and the Minister shall each be under a duty to take into account whether there has been or is likely to be any such contravention in determining when and how he should exercise his powers by virtue of this Act. What steps would the Minister take in enforcing the regulation if it were found that a supplier was breaking it? The Minister would find that he had a bit of a problem. That is one of our main objections to the privatisation of water. Would the Minister take away the licence of the water plc? There would be nobody else or nothing else to replace the plc. Exactly what measures, hold, control or sanctions does the Minister have over the water plcs and how will he use them?

The Minister said that the code of practice is not the same as the measure that we were discussing and he argued that it has been strengthened. It is true that during the Bill's consideration in another place the Government accepted some sensible changes on the lines of amendments that we tabled in Committee. Everyone would have been saved a great deal of time and trouble if the Government had accepted amendments then instead of waiting until the Bill was considered in another place. I welcome the changes that have been made to the Bill, strengthening the code of practice, but parts of it have been changed for the worse and there are some serious weaknesses.

The priority given to nature conservation seems to have been lowered by the priority that has been given to leisure interests. I am not saying that nature conservation should always be put in the way of leisure interests and that there should be some special consideration that is not already present, but I think that the leisure organisations and groups would recognise that one of the great money-spinning potentials of privatising water is the commercial development of leisure facilities at reservoirs and on land that the companies own.

When the code of practice was in draft form, it suggested that if there were a conflict between leisure interests and conservation interests, conservation interests would be given priority. That is no longer clear in the new code of practice. There is a concern that when there is a conflict of interest the commercial leisure interest will succeed over the conservation interests. That is a real threat. We discussed in Committee examples which were set out in a journal entitled "Liquid Assets", which was published by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for Nature Conservation. The journal demonstrated that there are conflicts already at some of our major reservoirs.

Mr. Pike

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of the Ramblers Association's concern that North West Water is considering developing a theme park at Rivington Pike which will bring the commercial interests very much to the fore.

Mr. Morley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for providing that example. It shows that there is already a conflict between leisure and recreation interests, the commercial motive behind them, and conservation interests. Another example is Rutland water, where there has been a conflict involving the extension of fishing licences in various parts of the reservoir and the need to keep parts of the reservoir available for wintering wild fowl. There will be other conflicts. There is a clear conflict between the leisure use of power boats for water skiing, for example, and the interests of wildlife. There are conflicts about the siting of marinas and timeshare developments arid wetland habitats. The conflicts are numerous.

When there is a conflict, who will decide what come first—conservation interests or leisure interests? How clearly will attitudes towards zoning various water board lands and reservoirs for various interests and activities be taken into account? Once the water authorities have been privatised, what hold will the Minister have over them if they break the existing agreements—many of them are voluntary—with the various conservation groups in the management of their areas and the demands of their shareholders to maximise their revenue by developing commercial leisure interests? That is the major weakness in the code of practice and it is one which needs to be addressed. Unless the Minister can convince me that there are safeguards, I believe that we should reject the measure.

There are one or two smaller issues. We discussed the emergency operation procedure in Committee. The draft code of practice made it clear that when emergency procedures were being carried out by water authorities, the NCC would be consulted. I know that there are procedures for this when sites of special scientific interest are involved, but there are sensitive areas that do not have that status. There needs to be some protection for them so that the NCC can use its experience and expertise to advise water plcs on how to carry out repairs when there is an emergency. I have in mind drainage and the building of flood banks. We must ensure that there is the minimum amount of damage to sensitive areas.

In the draft document, plans were set out for annual consultation with conservation bodies. There is still provision for such consultation in the code, but it is no longer on an annual basis. I wonder why that alteration has been made.

The main conservation bodies are well known to the Government and they consult them, but in certain areas, on water board land, there are issues that require the attention of specialists. There is a need to involve various organisations that have a specialist interest, whether in orchids, moths or butterflies. I am not sure that in certain circumstances the consultation of specialists will take place and that we shall have the benefit of their advice.

There seems to be nothing in the code of practice that will make the water plcs take into account the effect of discharges on flora and fauna. Great damage can be caused in terms of the ecology of water courses if the nutrient enrichment of certain areas goes over certain levels. There are EC directives that cover the pollution of rivers and take into account wildlife. I suspect that the Government are in breach of some of the directives because they have given discharge consents to various sewage works without taking into account the effect that that will have on wildlife. The Government may find themselves in court on more than one issue if they do not take the effect of discharges into account.

I have raised some of the main issues that involve the code of practice, conservation and recreation. There are others that I know my hon. Friends will cover, especially the protection of access for ramblers. I do not believe that the code goes far enough in that direction. When it comes to nature conservation—I return to my original point—the code is fine in theory. It has taken into account many of the issues that I wanted to be considered, but I am not convinced that it can be applied successfully to ensure that water plcs take its provisions into account. With the conflict that will inevitably come between leisure and recreational use and conservation, I believe that there is a serious weakness.

8.49 pm
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

If we did not enjoy politics, most of us would not be here. However, certain issues are so important that politics should take a back seat, and one of those is public health and safety. That was very much on my mind during the quite disgraceful speech of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). I am sorry that she has not remained in the Chamber to listen to the debate because I wanted to tell her about what is happening in Lincolnshire over the issue of nitrates. Lincolnshire is in the east midlands, an area of traditional arable farming. There is considerable concern not just among the general public but among the farming community about the use of nitrates. The debate rages.

We are told that there is no hard evidence that nitrates are injurious to health—yet the Government are taking the issue seriously and, I have no doubt, will act. It may be necessary for denitrification plants to be set up in certain areas, such as my constituency. We are told that the technology is not yet proven. If the Labour party were to have its way—and on this issue I can assume only that it is playing politics—and we accepted its ludicrous suggestions, denitrification plants would be set up that might prove more dangerous than the possible dangers of the current position.

These are highly technical matters. I shall not debate tonight whether it was wise for Britain or other nations to sign the directive. I have my doubts about the wisdom of the Commission becoming involved in the detail of drinking water policy. My view is that it is par excellence—to use a French expression—a region where national Governments should take precedence over the Commission. Nevertheless, the directive was signed. The Government are arguing a fair case—that they signed the directive, intend fully to carry it out, but that there are certain difficulties in doing so, not least practical difficulties such as planning. It has nothing to do with money; in some cases it may be impossible to carry out the directive in time.

I can only assume that the hon. Member for Dewsbury was, once again, playing politics and was not really concerned with public safety when she suggested that we could implement the directive by 1993. I cannot believe that she was serious. As I understand it—of course, I may be wrong—we are actually going further than the original proposals. We are tightening procedures, but we are not carping or playing politics; we are simply trying to do our best for the British people. The Government should be congratulated on that. We are talking about sampling, treatment and controls that we have not previously had. We have never had a drinking water inspectorate.

During our last short debate on these matters my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) spoke at length on access to Barn Elm reservoir, a matter which greatly concerns him. I spent about 20 years of my life living only a few yards from that reservoir, so I know what access to it has been like over the years that it has been controlled by a nationalised industry. Quite simply, there has been no access; there has been no recreation. One of the advantages of bringing this sort of legislation before Parliament is that the scrutiny will ensure that access to reservoirs and land owned by water authorities will be better for recreational and conservation interests than it has ever been before—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) may laugh, but he must recognise what has happened over many years with land owned by water authorities.

Mr. Morley

I was mildly amused because I know that already fencing is being erected on land in the Yorkshire water authority area that has traditionally been walked over. That is being done in advance of this legislation. The land is being put into a wholly owned holding company ready for the Yorkshire water authority to cash in on privatisation—and it certainly will not be for conservation or leisure.

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman is always ready to produce anecdotal evidence, but he is not prepared to study the provisions in the legislation. For the first time, statutory requirements are laid down. The hon. Gentleman is not prepared to study the code of practice——

Mr. Morley

I am.

Mr. Leigh

I think not. All that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to do is to produce anecdotal evidence rather than deal with what is in the legislation.

I wish briefly to deal with the K factor. I have often argued the case with my constituents—and I think that I have convinced them—that we will achieve the best of both worlds because although we will have private water companies that will attract private investment, they will not be wholly independent. They can only set a price laid down by the indpendent director of water services. I know that there must be a balance with K, but I have been impressed with the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) that we should place more emphasis on ploughing back profits into conservation measures and improving quality.

The Government should explain—and they should begin now—that, unfortunately, charges will have to rise. There is no doubt about that. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I say that they have to rise because there has been gross under-investment in the water industry for many years. I shall not discuss what happened under the last Labour Government—we have had all those arguments—but we should now admit to the British people that we cannot escape an increase in charges. The charges are not related to the profit motive that Opposition Members claim to be the point of the legislation; they relate to improving quality and to ensuring that investment is ploughed back for the benefit of consumers. There will be a balance between the consumers and those who invest in the industry.

In the long term there will be a strong code of practice, improved access and recreation. For the first time, that code will set down the most rigid standards of wholesomeness and there will be a K factor that will ensure decent investment in the industry to the benefit of all. I should have thought that any objective observer, looking at the issue in that way, would conclude that we have it about right.

8.58 pm
Mr. David Hinehliffe (Wakefield)

The House is debating 15 sets of regulations concerned with various aspects of the new water industry, but I shall comment only on pollution. I question whether there is any meaning or relevance in regulations to control pollution when we are all aware that the Government effectively announced an amnesty on prosecutions for pollution in the run-in to privatisation.

I make no excuses for being somewhat parochial in my view of pollution. Water is a major political issue and a matter of deep concern for Yorkshire people because of the river pollution problems that Yorkshire has faced for a number of years. Earlier, the Minister accused Opposition Members of making wild statements and allegations. Recent press reports on the state of the Humber estuary cannot be said to be wild statements or allegations because they were backed by facts. It appears that the Humber is now polluting the North sea and many other rivers on the east coast. That worries not only my constituents but those of my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley).

As to the regulations relating to sampling, the recent National Rivers Authority working group report made the point that present analysis of the Humber estuary is of little value for the purposes of water quality management because some of the pollutants discharged into the Humber have not even been identified. Therefore, I question the relevance of the regulations to the problems of the Humber estuary. I question whether they give the NRA sufficient powers to prosecute those responsible for the Humber's major pollution problems.

Greenpeace estimates that discharges from no fewer than 1,500 pipelines are polluting the Humber, with complete immunity for those responsible. Those discharges come from sewage works owned by Yorkshire Water itself, metal smelting plants, oil refineries and chemical complexes. Numerous different types of discharges are all contributing to major pollution of the North sea, which is something that should deeply concern and worry us all. We should see what we can do to improve upon that appalling situation.

The Humber is a receptacle for 300 miles or more of class 3 rivers in Yorkshire Water's area and for 90 miles of class 4 rivers. They are the most appalling and dead rivers in the country. They emanate from south Yorkshire and were debated in Committee.

The end of the line has been reached for the policies of Yorkshire Water, whose incredible complacency towards pollution has led to the problems now facing the Humber estuary. In the run-up to privatisation, the policy of Yorkshire rivers has markedly deteriorated. The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), who earlier intervened but left the Chamber a considerable time ago, made the pont that the Government are not themselves responsible for the lower quality of river water. If, after 10 years in authority, the Government cannot be said to be responsible, who can?

I cite the example of Driffield canal, which is in a predominantly urban area and not one having many industries. In the course of a decade, that canal has been transformed from a pleasant waterway with an abundance of fish and wildlife to slow-moving, black sludge. The prime polluter of that canal is Yorkshire Water, which has allowed sewage consent levels to rise five times higher because its nearby sewerage works could not, some considerable time ago, meet the required consents. That led directly to the deterioration of that once beautiful waterway to what is now slow-moving, black sludge.

Few people in Yorkshire are celebrating the recent announcement by Yorkshire Water of a 27.5 per cent. increase in its profits to £56.5 million. Record profits were also recorded for the previous year. In the run-up to privatisation, Yorkshire Water is fattening up its organisation to attract investors. Imagine what could have been done with that £56.5 million in dealing with the problems of the Humber estuary, Driffield canal and Yorkshire's class 3 and class 4 rivers, as well as with the sewage works owned by Yorkshire Water. A good deal could have been done with it. The move towards privatisation has allowed pollution to continue.

What could have been done with the £700,000 that Yorkshire water has spent in the past financial year on paying advisers on privatisation? What could have been done with the money put towards the £20 million spent on the Water Authority Association's propaganda campaign—especially the £1.1 million spent in Yorkshire on regional advertising propaganda, a sum dragged out of Gordon Jones in recent days?

When we consider that a blind eye has been turned to the real cause of pollution in areas such as mine, the regulations become largely meaningless. I endorse the comments of my hon. Friends and others: this is a worrying situation, and news of a pollution amnesty gives me no great confidence that the regulations will improve it.

9.5 pm

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

Let me add my voice to the congratulations that have been conferred on the Department and my hon. and learned Friend the Minister on the able way in which a difficult Bill has been handled—and, moreover, on preventing the House from having to sit into the first week of August. I think that we are all very grateful for that.

I wish to speak only because I do not believe that the regulations cover a serious problem in the Southampton area. Part of the problem has been caused by a Greenpeace ship, the Moby Dick, which came up the Solent. The crew tied a wire around the propeller of the sludge vessel that distributes sewage—after some sort of treatment—into the Solent, and the Southern water authority warned that if it was not removed within three days raw sewage would go into the Solent.

Unfortunately, a different Department issues the licence. I think that there should be a gathering of great minds. The Ministry of Agriculture, which issues the licence for the dumping of sludge in an area just five miles south of the Isle of Wight, has been doing so for many years, and those who have monitored the site—certainly the Ministry's inspectors—have said that such dumping causes no harm either to the environment or to fish stocks. That may well be so, but will the Commission take it on board for another 20 years?

I believe that an industrial process is the answer. My constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, ltchen (Mr. Chope), the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, contain four depots. The reservoirs fill up quickly with raw sewage which, on being treated, takes on the consistency of a thick paste. It is then taken to an area south of the Isle of Wight and discharged. Quite often, human nature being what it is, the ship leaves a trail of sludge leading to the dumping area. I have already asked the Minister of Agriculture to ensure that the actions of the crew, the dumping process and the licences are well monitored.

When I met the chairman and directors of the Southern water authority on one of the sites in the sludge farm in Marchwood, I feared that they were in no way prepared to spend many millions of pounds on industrial treatment. Apparently a firm in the midlands—BVH—turns the sludge into oil or graphite which can in turn be turned into burning bricks for generating plants.

We must think again about the treatment of sewage. We can no longer, because of our Community connections, continue with the old methods of disposing of raw sewage, or partly treated sewage. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will bear that point in mind. However, with the privatisation of 10 water authorities, he is faced with a difficult problem, and I wish him the best of luck.

9.10 pm
Mr. Howard

With permission, Mr. Speaker, may I say that, rather against the odds, we have had an interesting debate? I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) and his brother. My hon. Friend made some powerful points. We have yet to get any answers to them from the Opposition. He put his points in the form of questions that have yet to be answered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) spoke, on the basis of his particular constituency experience, of the difficulties that can arise. At all times, he has been most assiduous and motivated by the determination to ensure that what happened in his constituency about a year ago should not, if at all possible, happen again but that, if it ever happened again, proper procedures should be in place to deal with some of the consequences. We have listened carefully to the points that he has put to us from time to time and we have been able to incorporate some of his suggestions in the regulations. I am glad to have this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the determination with which he has pursued those questions, not only on behalf of his constituents but also in the wider interests of all our constituents so as to ensure that incidents of that kind do not recur.

In a characteristically robust contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) made some important points about public health and safety. They, too, have not been answered by the Opposition. We look forward with great interest to the speech which is to be made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). I cannot say that the hon. Gentleman's track record in answering questions is such as to inspire confidence that we shall receive any convincing answers during his speech, but we always live in hope. He may be able to answer the legitimate questions that have been put to him during the debate about the Opposition's attitude. It is their attitude that has posed so many questions during the debate and they have been signally unprepared to answer them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) asked a number of questions which he recognised were the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

The Minister would have had those answers if I had been given a chance to speak.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is the Chairman of the Committee, but he raised a long point of order at the beginning of our proceedings.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend the Member for Test appreciates that those are questions that should be put to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I know that his questions will be considered seriously by my right hon. Friend, for I shall draw them to his attention.

Answers to questions have been requested.

Mr. Cryer

Yes, that is right.

Mr. Howard

I am very happy to answer them, as I did during my earlier speech. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) asked a large number of questions and I shall deal with the points that he raised. He asked about the medical advice that we have received about the nitrates standard on the basis of average samples which we originally understood to be the basis on which compliance with the European Community directive was to be assessed. I am happy to respond to that point. Our advice from the chief medical officer was that 50 mgl was the appropriate standard to be interpreted as an average, provided the concentration in any sample did not exceed 100 mgl. We acted on that advice and were convinced that it was sensible and reasonable to approach this matter on the basis that average samples were sufficient.

The hon. Gentleman made an assertion about the effect of these regulations on the radioactive waste regulations and the Radioactive Substances Act 1960. I am happy to tell him that these regulations do not affect the application of the 1960 Act. They deal with the radioactivity of the discharge. The radioactive properties of any waste will continue to be governed by the 1960 Act.

The hon. Gentleman asked also in what circumstances the relaxations that the Secretary of State would be empowered to give under regulation 4 of the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations might be granted. Those powers directly reflect those that are contained in the drinking water directive, which grants powers to make relaxations when there is a mechanical breakdown, when there are exceptional meteorological conditions or in circumstances arising from the nature and structure of the ground. The circumstances in which those relaxations are likely to be granted mirror those that are contained in the drinking water directive.

The hon. Gentleman said that Statutory Instrument No. 1151 allowed the Secretary of State to undermine the National Rivers Authority by granting discharge consents with lax standards. He is wrong. It does nothing more than set out the procedures for appeals to the Secretary of State as provided for under schedule 12 to the Water Act 1989. The hon. Gentleman's point was based on a misapprehension.

I was surprised to see the hon. Gentleman nod his head vigorously in agreement with a point that was made by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) about the Nature Conservancy Council. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe was complaining about the recent decision by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the NCC. One of the important effects of my right hon. Friend's decision was to make a separate Nature Conservancy Council for Wales.

Mr. Livsey

indicated assent.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman now shows from a sedentary position that he welcomes that decision. When the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe was criticising it, he vigorously nodded in assent. The hon. Gentleman must decide what his position is. I am glad that that decision has his support. I hope that it will have the support also of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, who perhaps will tell us whether he agrees with his hon. Friend and whether he thinks that it was a good or bad idea to have a separate Nature Conservancy Council for Wales. We look forward with great interest to hearing his answer.

The conclusion to be drawn from the Labour party's stance on these statutory instruments—the only one that can reasonably be drawn—is that it does not wish to improve drinking water quality standards or our pollution control systems, that it does not support the issuing of guidance on good practice in conservation, and that it does not want customers to have the right to compensation for breach of standards. The party that boasts about its support for open government does not want to support even the moves for greater accountability in the control of pollution provisions and arrangements for access to the register of the Director General of Water Supply. Perhaps the only form of open government that the Labour party is prepared to support is leaked documents and the information contained in them.

The Opposition have made no case for the annulment of the instruments. I invite the House to join with those who welcome the Government's prompt action to complete the new environmental regime needed before vesting and to reject this utterly irresponsible attempt to obstruct and frustrate the progress they will achieve.

9.20 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

The Government's plan to privatise water has long been recognised, in the words of a Conservative Back-Bench Member, as deservedly unpopular with members of the public of all political persuasions. During its passage, it has become increasingly complex, with a web of bureaucracy being woven to compensate for the manifest defects in the Government's plans. Today we come to the last legislative step in the process—or almost the last. I say that because, as the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has exposed, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) underlined in her opening speech, these statutory instruments need to be amended now, even before they are adopted, simply so that they will make sense. It appears that the Government intend to bring in those amendments during the recess and to discuss them only after implementing the regulations and after the House returns. What a mess. Is it surprising that we should pray against this unsatisfactory set of documents?

It is ludicrous to have three hours to debate all 15 documents, given the importance that we place on trying to rescue the water industry from this mess and building the best possible protection for the public into the system. Time is short, so I can touch only briefly on some of the important issues underlying the many contributions to tonight's debate, each of which is worthy of separate scrutiny.

Let us look, for example, at Statutory Instrument No. 1151—the Control of Pollution (Consents for Discharges etc.) (Secretary of State Functions) Regulations. Here we see the power of the Secretary of State to call in applications for consent if asked to do so. Can we trust the Secretary of State being set as an arbiter above the National Rivers Authority and able to override it? Let us consider the experience with planning powers over the past few years. The Government are increasingly using the powers of the Secretary of State to remove or override provisions that were enacted to protect the public. We cannot trust the Secretary of State and we cannot trust the Government.

Mr. Howard

Is the hon. Gentleman now suggesting that it is his party's policy to eliminate call-in powers in planning applications? If it is not his view that those call-in powers should be eliminated, why is it wrong to have comparable powers in relation to water control?

Mr. Michael

My case is that the call-in powers and the powers of appeal have been abused under this Government to a shocking extent. They have used those powers to undermine the decisions of this House.

When we turn to the statutory instruments on supply and sewerage services and customer service standards, we see the Government's innovation of the £5 fine. That sounded rather attractive when we started off. However, when one looks at it and at the application, it is, of course, nominal and surrounded by caveats. If the complaint is frivolous or vexatious", the fine need not be paid. That is necessary, but who decides?

The Joint Committee's findings are most telling of all. It said: Regulation 5(2) makes water or sewerage undertakers liable in ordinary circumstances to pay £5 to a customer who has made a complaint in writing … if they do not within 10 days send him either a substantive reply or an initial reply which explains why there cannot be an immediate substantive reply and says that a substantive reply will be sent within 20 days from the receipt of the complaint". The Committee points out that there was no provision for any payment if the promise of a substantive reply was not kept, and the Minister has not answered that point in today's debate. That is shirking. The prescribed standard requires the promise to be made, but does not require it to be implemented. That is complete nonsense. It is not a drafting error; it is a major basic defect which reflects the Government's grave concern about whether they will be able to con the City into buying what the public do not want to sell.

Mr. Cryer

That was one of a number of points made by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Officials from the Minister's Department promised several new amendments to the regulations that are to be laid, presumably when Parliament is not sitting, to correct the hastily drafted regulations that are being forced through Parliament. Parliamentary rights are being trampled on, and my hon. Friend has given an excellent example of our concerns.

Mr. Michael

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for supporting my point with such authority. It is a very serious point and the Minister completely failed to answer it during the debate.

Let us examine the Water Reorganisation (Pensions etc.) Regulations——

Mr. Howard

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Michael

No, the Minister has had his chance.

The Joint Committee drew the special attention of both Houses to the instrument on pensions on the ground that the drafting was defective. What have we heard about that?

Let us examine the code of practice on conservation, access and recreation. Time is so short that I cannot go into the details of its defects, but I shall answer one point that the Minister made. He mentioned a separate Nature Conservancy Council for Wales. That is less important than the Opposition's proposal, which Conservative Members voted down, for a separate Rivers Authority for Wales. We demanded subsequently that meat should be put on the bones of the committee that is to advise the Secretary of State on matters affecting Wales. The Committee appears in the Act, but there is no meat on its bones; it has no real powers and it has no real authority. It is a failure of will on the part of Ministers who should represent Wales.

As I said, the code on conservation, access and recreation contains several weaknesses. If the Government were serious about protecting and promoting public access, a number of measures could have a beneficial effect. The most important of those concerns enforcement. No matter how weak or strong the code is, section 10(2) of the Water Act makes it clear that contravention of the code … shall not … constitute a contravention of any requirement imposed by section 8 or 9 of the Act. That means that the water undertakers will be free to ignore the code completely and to have regard only to the duties in sections 8 and 9. The provision is the only sanction available and the Minister should have said that he intended to give some reality to the code by using that sanction. Only if the Government intended to use that sanction—because the Act is otherwise so weak—would there be any sense or meaning or depth to the code.

Then we come to the control of pollution registers on which many important points have been made. The regulations specify that information on derogations has to be made available to the public. The Minister and Conservative Members have said that time is needed to introduce schemes to put right the present illegal discharges. I use that term because a derogation is a sort of probation period for the polluter, during which specified time a scheme of works is to be undertaken to end the illegality.

Last week, like other hon. Members, I examined the details of the recent rash of applications for derogations—in my case, those in Wales. The information is available in St. Mellons which, while inconvenient for most of Wales, is relatively convenient for me as it is in my constituency. Like other members of the public who have been able to make the approach, I was received courteously and my questions were answered—at least until I asked for the information about the schemes of work. I was told that the information is not kept; it is not available; the Government do not require it.

I had previously asked the Secretary of State when each scheme would be started, when it would be completed and to what standard discharges would be improved. The answer that I received to all those questions was that the Department did not know. I thought that, given the Minister's claims that the regulations improve matters, we should find something in the regulations to deal with this. But the Government do not know and they do not care. To talk about meeting standards and then to take no interest in the method or the cost of doing the job is a failure. The Government are not demanding the appropriate records to be kept on the meeting of derogations and the schemes of work that are needed. That is a failure.

Let me deal with water supply and water quality, on which the Joint Committee's remarks are devastating. There is no doubt that in this case the regulations require elucidation. On the presence of coliforms, the Department's witnesses admitted that the drafting of the regulations was not successful. They admitted that the drafting of regulation 6(2) was "defective" and "confusing".

Mr. Cash

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Michael

The Government's regulations are defective and confusing. The accusation has not been answered by the Minister and I certainly shall not give way to hon. Members who cannot be bothered to be here for the debate when the Minister has failed in his task tonight.

Mr. Cash


Mr. Howard


Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) is not giving way.

Mr. Michael

Two weeks ago the Secretary of State took the word "wholesome" out of the Bill and, across the Dispatch Box, told me that that word meant nothing. It appears in the regulations. In addition, paragraph 3 of the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations represents an attempt to back off from the EC's 100 per cent. criterion on water quality. Paragraph 11 states: a water undertaker shall determine, in respect of each of its water supply zones, such number and location of sampling points as will in its opinion secure that analysis of samples obtained from those points in respect of the parameters listed in Tables A to E will, so far as is reasonably practicable, produce the data needed. The undertakers decide, and that is the weakness in the regulations.

Paragraph 23 contains the phrase so far as is reasonably practical the appropriate requirements shall be satisfied". Again, the requirements will not be enforced or pressed on water authorities. Paragraph 28 suggests that it should be a defence for an undertaker to show that it took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence". Who will decide? Subsection (4) says: Proceedings for an offence … shall not be instituted except by or with the consent of the Secretary of State or the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Director of Public Prosecutions cannot enforce the regulations; nor can a local authority; nor can consumers. What sort of regulations are these?

Tonight the Minister and his Back-Bench Members have followed the old Tory maxim, "If your case is weak shout a lot and be insulting," together with the new Thatcherite maxim, "If you are in trouble, pretend that the last 10 years did not exist." I shall make one point in response to questions asked by the Minister and others about Labour's record. From 1974 to 1979, average capital expenditure on water authorities was £1,254 million per annum. From 1979 to 1987, the Conservatives achieved an average of only £922 million. That is not a good record. That is a cut. In each debate the Minister has tried to move the goal posts and——

It being three hours after commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to the Order [14 July]:—

The House divided: Ayes 207, Noes 310.

Division No. 309] [9.32 pm
Allen, Graham Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Anderson, Donald Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Fisher, Mark
Armstrong, Hilary Flannery, Martin
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Flynn, Paul
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Ashton, Joe Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Foster, Derek
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Fraser, John
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Fyfe, Maria
Barron, Kevin Galbraith, Sam
Battle, John Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Beckett, Margaret Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Beggs, Roy George, Bruce
Beith, A. J. Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Golding, Mrs Llin
Bermingham, Gerald Gordon, Mildred
Bidwell, Sydney Gould, Bryan
Blunkett, David Graham, Thomas
Boateng, Paul Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Boyes, Roland Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bradley, Keith Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Grocott, Bruce
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Hardy, Peter
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Harman, Ms Harriet
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Haynes, Frank
Buckley, George J. Heffer, Eric S.
Callaghan, Jim Hinchliffe, David
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Home Robertson, John
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cartwright, John Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Howells, Geraint
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Clay, Bob Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clelland, David Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cohen, Harry Illsley, Eric
Coleman, Donald Ingram, Adam
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Corbett, Robin Kennedy, Charles
Corbyn, Jeremy Kilfedder, James
Cousins, Jim Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Crowther, Stan Kirkwood, Archy
Cryer, Bob Lambie, David
Cummings, John Lamond, James
Cunliffe, Lawrence Leadbitter, Ted
Dalyell, Tam Lewis, Terry
Darling, Alistair Litherland, Robert
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Livingstone, Ken
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Livsey, Richard
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dewar, Donald Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Dixon, Don Loyden, Eddie
Dobson, Frank McAvoy, Thomas
Doran, Frank McFall, John
Douglas, Dick McLeish, Henry
Duffy, A. E. P. McNamara, Kevin
Dunnachie, Jimmy McWilliam, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Mahon, Mrs Alice
Eadie, Alexander Marek, Dr John
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Fatchett, Derek Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Martlew, Eric Rowlands, Ted
Maxton, John Ruddock, Joan
Meacher, Michael Salmond, Alex
Michael, Alun Sedgemore, Brian
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Short, Clare
Moonie, Dr Lewis Sillars, Jim
Morgan, Rhodri Skinner, Dennis
Morley, Elliot Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Mowlam, Marjorie Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Mullin, Chris Snape, Peter
Nellist, Dave Spearing, Nigel
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Steinberg, Gerry
O'Brien, William Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
O'Neill, Martin Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Turner, Dennis
Parry, Robert Vaz, Keith
Patchett, Terry Wall, Pat
Pendry, Tom Wallace, James
Pike, Peter L. Walley, Joan
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Prescott, John Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Primarolo, Dawn Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Quin, Ms Joyce Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Radice, Giles Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Randall, Stuart Wilson, Brian
Redmond, Martin Wise, Mrs Audrey
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Worthington, Tony
Richardson, Jo Young, David (Bolton SE)
Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Robinson, Geoffrey Tellers for the Ayes:
Rogers, Allan Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Allen Adams.
Rooker, Jeff
Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Adley, Robert Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Aitken, Jonathan Buck, Sir Antony
Alexander, Richard Budgen, Nicholas
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Burns, Simon
Allason, Rupert Burt, Alistair
Amess, David Butcher, John
Amos, Alan Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arbuthnot, James Carrington, Matthew
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Carttiss, Michael
Ashby, David Cash, William
Aspinwall, Jack Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Atkins, Robert Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Chapman, Sydney
Baldry, Tony Chope, Christopher
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Churchill, Mr
Batiste, Spencer Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Bellingham, Henry Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bendall, Vivian Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Colvin, Michael
Benyon, W. Conway, Derek
Bevan, David Gilroy Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Cope, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G. Cormack, Patrick
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Couchman, James
Body, Sir Richard Cran, James
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Critchley, Julian
Boscawen, Hon Robert Currie, Mrs Edwina
Boswell, Tim Curry, David
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Day, Stephen
Bowis, John Devlin, Tim
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Dorrell, Stephen
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Dover, Den
Brazier, Julian Dunn, Bob
Bright, Graham Dykes, Hugh
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Eggar, Tim
Browne, John (Winchester) Emery, Sir Peter
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Evennett, David Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lang, Ian
Fallon, Michael Latham, Michael
Favell, Tony Lawrence, Ivan
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lee, John (Pendle)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fishburn, John Dudley Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fookes, Dame Janet Lightbown, David
Forman, Nigel Lilley, Peter
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Forth, Eric Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Lord, Michael
Fox, Sir Marcus Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Franks, Cecil Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Freeman, Roger McCrindle, Robert
French, Douglas Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Gale, Roger MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gardiner, George MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Gill, Christopher Maclean, David
Glyn, Dr Alan McLoughlin, Patrick
Goodhart, Sir Philip McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gorst, John Major, Rt Hon John
Gow, Ian Malins, Humfrey
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Mans, Keith
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Maples, John
Gregory, Conal Marlow, Tony
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Hague, William Mates, Michael
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Maude, Hon Francis
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hampson, Dr Keith Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hanley, Jeremy Miller, Sir Hal
Hannam, John Miscampbell, Norman
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Mitchell, Sir David
Harris, David Monro, Sir Hector
Hawkins, Christopher Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hayes, Jerry Moore, Rt Hon John
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hayward, Robert Morrison, Sir Charles
Heathcoat-Amory, David Moss, Malcolm
Heddle, John Moynihan, Hon Colin
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Neale, Gerrard
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Needham, Richard
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Neubert, Michael
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hill, James Nicholls, Patrick
Hind, Kenneth Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Holt, Richard Norris, Steve
Hordern, Sir Peter Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Howard, Michael Oppenheim, Phillip
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Page, Richard
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Patnick, Irvine
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Patten, John (Oxford W)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Pawsey, James
Hunter, Andrew Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Irvine, Michael Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Irving, Charles Porter, David (Waveney)
Jack, Michael Portillo, Michael
Jackson, Robert Powell, William (Corby)
Jessel, Toby Price, Sir David
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Raffan, Keith
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Rathbone, Tim
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Redwood, John
Key, Robert Rhodes James, Robert
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Riddick, Graham
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Kirkhope, Timothy Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Knapman, Roger Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Roe, Mrs Marion
Knowles, Michael Rossi, Sir Hugh
Knox, David Rost, Peter
Rowe, Andrew Thorne, Neil
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Thornton, Malcolm
Ryder, Richard Thurnham, Peter
Sackville, Hon Tom Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Tracey, Richard
Sayeed, Jonathan Trippier, David
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Trotter, Neville
Shaw, David (Dover) Twinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Viggers, Peter
Shelton, Sir William Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Walden, George
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Shersby, Michael Waller, Gary
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Walters, Sir Dennis
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Ward, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Squire, Robin Warren, Kenneth
Stanbrook, Ivor Watts, John
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wheeler, John
Steen, Anthony Whitney, Ray
Stern, Michael Widdecombe, Ann
Stevens, Lewis Wiggin, Jerry
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wilkinson, John
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Wilshire, David
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stokes, Sir John Winterton, Nicholas
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Wolfson, Mark
Sumberg, David Wood, Timothy
Summerson, Hugo Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Tapsell, Sir Peter Yeo, Tim
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Younger, Rt Hon George
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Temple-Morris, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley) Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and Mr. Tony Durant.
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

Question accordingly negatived.