HC Deb 26 July 1989 vol 157 cc1012-3
7. Mr. Speller

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will seek powers to enable him to override those local authorities which permit new outlets for the discharge of raw sewage into the sea.

Mr. Howard

Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution is responsible for granting authorisations for the discharge of sewage into the sea, although this responsibility will transfer to the National Rivers Authority from I September 1989.

Mr. Speller

May I ask my hon. and learned Friend, who represents Folkestone—another seaside town—how long it will be before his Department accepts responsibility for what goes into the waters around our coasts? Does he recall that, over the past four weeks his Department has told me in answer to questions first, that there is no target date for our beaches and water meeting the EEC standards; secondly, that all planning requirements are the responsibility of local government; thirdly, that all matters relating to pollution are matters for water authorities, but those concerning new pollution are within the responsibility of Her Majesty's barely formed inspectorate of pollution; and, fourthly, that all new sea outfalls are to be considered as the logical way of disposing of raw sewage? May I finally ask my hon. and learned Friend——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That will be the fifth question.

Mr. Speller

Fifthly, may I ask my hon. and learned Friend whether, in answer to my question, which he has not answered, he will seek to revoke the permission whereby Welsh Water, Wessex Water and South West Water may each pollute the Bristol channel over the next 12 months? Will my hon. and learned Friend stop that happening?

Hon. Members


Mr. Howard

The accelerated programme of dealing with bathing waters is intended to achieve compliance with the European Community's directive by the mid-1990s. Although we are always prepared to examine new evidence that will help us assess the effect of the schemes to which my hon. Friend referred, all the evidence, including that of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, suggests that dealing with sewage by long sea outfalls at coastal resorts is in many circumstances the most effective way of dealing with the problem. If my hon. Friend has fresh evidence to bring before us, of course we will be happy to consider it.

Mr. Loyden

Does the Minister agree that in most cases we are talking the lack of investment in what amounts to a massive slum below the surface for almost every major city and town? When will the Government recognise that only by tackling this problem will they begin to deal with the pollution of rivers and streams?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman will remember, no doubt, that the Government that he supported cut investment in sewerage services by 50 per cent. The Sandown dock scheme in Liverpool, which will shortly be in operation, will provide a method of treating sewage produced in Liverpool which, until now, has been pumped into the Mersey—not through long sea outfalls but in a way that I imagine no hon. Member would condone. Vast improvements will be achieved as a result of the Sandown dock scheme. That is an example of the investment in these facilities that has taken place under the present Government.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Does the Minister realise that the majority of the British public cannot accept his complacency on this issue and that they believe that the Government should take a lead? Is it not a fact that at present only the British EEC representatives object to an EEC proposal for a directive that will prevent the dumping of sewage sludge at sea and long sewage outfalls for raw sewage being put into the sea? Why is Britain out of line, given all the recent evidence on this subject? Do the Government object because they favour the dumping of sewage at sea, or because they do not want the privatised water companies to have to pick up the bill for compliance?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Lady is wholly wrong; we are not objecting. We have yet to see the text of the draft European Commission directive on these matters because it has not yet been published. The hon. Lady should recognise that there is no easy solution to the problem and that many people would regard with dismay a requirement to construct sewage treatment works on the front at every seaside coastal resort with the consequent lorries going to and fro taking sludge away from the works. Perhaps the hon. Lady would prefer an incinerator with all the environmental consequences which would follow from that method of dealing with the matter.