HC Deb 09 July 1990 vol 176 cc28-71
Mr. Speaker

We now come to the debate on environmental policy in the name of Plaid Cymru. I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.57 pm
Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I beg to move, That this House condemns the current levels of pollution in the Irish Sea, particularly the dumping of industrial waste and sewage sludge, and the discharge of untreated sewage, and is not satisfied with current measures to tackle the problem; notes the decision of the European Court of Justice to prosecute the United Kingdom Government for failure to comply with European Community Directives on the quality of bathing water; and calls on the Government to commission an independent survey into the effects of pollution in the Irish Sea and to act on its findings without delay. As the House will be aware, the gift of these minority party debates is organised through our colleagues in the Ulster Unionist party. As hon. Members of that party sit behind me in the Chamber, I begin by thanking them, as members of the senior minority party in the House for helping to facilitate this debate.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

On a subject in which we have a common interest.

Dr. Thomas

Indeed—I want to explain why we selected environmental policy as the topic for the debate.

We believe that concern about the environment is the major issue facing the Government and the House. The House will notice that our motion concentrates on marine pollution in the Irish sea. We intend to ask for a response from the Welsh Office and from the Government about that tonight. We will be pushing our motion to a Division because of our concern about the inadequate response so far from the Government on that issue.

I might go so far as to suggest that the Government of the Isle of Man have shown greater initiative on that issue than the Northern Ireland Office, the Government of the Republic of Ireland, the Welsh Office, the Department of the Environment or the Scottish Office. That should get me into sufficient trouble with all the Departments and parties in the House.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland scientists are excellent people, and their work is very good.

Dr. Thomas

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for defending the integrity of the Scottish Office. I should not want to impugn it. The scientists have been very good. Marine scientists have provided us with excellent advice on the issue. We need intergovernmental action. The hon. Gentleman will agree that this is an ideal subject on which to convene an intergovernmental conference similar to the one on the North sea. It would provide a forum not only for scientific opinion to be presented on the extent of chemical, sewage and radioactive pollution of the North sea but to initiate joint action.

Marine pollution is a sensitive issue in terms of the marine ecosystem. It clearly relates to food safety and the fishing industry and to the sensitive issue of bathing safety and the health of swimmers and tourists on Welsh beaches. That has clear implications for Ireland, Wales and the English coastline because of our emphasis on tourism and marine recreation. Members of Parliament, scientists and others who highlight marine pollution and dirty beaches are often accused of making political points that can appear negative in terms of marketing our tourist industry. I put that matter straight once and for all. We are deeply distressed about the level of pollution in the Irish sea and other coastal waters around Wales, and we shall not cease to draw attention to the issue as long as there is clear scientific evidence that such pollution exists and that it creates a potential risk to health.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Is not it a matter of shame that only one bay in Wales, Pembrey, has merited a European Community blue flag?

Dr. Thomas

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I had the misfortune to officiate at the opening ceremony of a sewage outfall in my constituency last year. At that ceremony, I was faithfully promised by the water authority, now Wales Water—Dwr Cymru—that, within a year at the most, a blue flag would be flying over that beach. I have not yet seen it. I emphasise that point because there is a clear obligation on the Government to clean up marine pollution, as it affects the tourist industry. Indeed, there are international obligations on governments that are responsible for maritime pollution. We look not only to the Government but to statutory undertakings such as the National Rivers Authority for their assessment of the pollution in our estuaries and rivers, which lead into the seas and cause maritime pollution. In that context, we should look to the Welsh Office, in particular, to take a firmer lead on maritime pollution and other related pollution issues in Wales.

Maritime pollution is a good example, because all the rubbish that we produce, dispose of and dump ends up in the sea. I refer not only to the rubbish that we produce but to the rubbish that other maritime countries produce. I am not suggesting for one moment that the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) is more susceptible because it is an island, but my hon. Friend feels strongly about the issue. He hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to concentrate further on his proposals for cleaning up the Irish sea. Maritime pollution provides us with a case study of all the environmental problems that we face in Wales. I am concerned that we are not doing our bit to help to prevent the major international ecological disasters that now face us.

The Welsh Office has not done its bit in terms of environmental policy. The Welsh Office has been with us for 25 years—we often imagine where we might be without it—yet it has not had a Minister responsible for the environment who would give his or her time and energies completely to that issue. Indeed, at official level, the Department does not have a co-ordinating mechanism to bring together all its responsibilities for the Welsh environment. I invite the Secretary of State, in his first major public response to us in the House, to acknowledge that he is the Secretary of State for the Welsh environment and that, along with his hon. Friends the Members for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts), and for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist), he will take seriously his responsibilities for the Welsh environment. I hope that the Department will produce an initiative on environmental policy that will co-ordinate all the activities of the Welsh Office. The Secretary of State for Wales must see himself as the guardian of the Welsh environment in all its aspects.

I should like the Welsh Office not merely to contribute to the general debate on environmental issues, which is conducted at the level—

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

On the point about the responsibilities of the Welsh Office for the environment, and especially for the aquatic and coastal environment, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a disgrace that the Department of the Environment and the Crown Estates Commissioners have sanctioned the use of dredgers off the Welsh coast, which is causing the beaches from Southern Down to Sker Point in my constituency to be denuded of sand, leaving nothing but mud heaps?

Dr. Thomas

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) for raising that issue, which shows yet again the lack of co-ordination between Government Departments on activities that affect the marine environment.

I hope that this debate will establish that the Secretary of State is taking overall responsibility for this matter. It is not enough for the Department to contribute to the current process of producing a White Paper for the Government as a whole; I expect to see the Welsh Office produce its own equivalent, as happens in other areas of policy, such as education, social policy and—dare I say it—for the health service. There is a Welsh Office face in all those spheres—although it is not always an acceptable face—but the same is not true for the environment. That Welsh Office face would enable those who are concerned, such as the statutory bodies, the local authorities and those involved in the strong environmental movement in Wales to make their representations directly to the Welsh Office and to ensure that the Department is fulfilling its statutory responsibilities.

After all, the Welsh Office is the Department of the Environment for Wales. It has most, but not all, of the relevant functions of the Department of the Environment. However, it is also the Department which is responsible for the national parks. At the moment, the Countryside Commission is undertaking a major review of the national parks. Although the initial report will be made to the Countryside Commission, it is important that the Welsh Office should be seen as the Department that takes any decisions that affect the structure of the national parks in Wales.

The Welsh Office is also the Department responsible for the activities of local government. Its role is therefore to give a lead to local government in Wales through its policies on the environment. I am thinking especially of waste disposal in local areas, the separation of waste and the availability of waste for recycling. The Welsh Office should be giving a lead to the local authorities and providing small-scale funding to encourage projects that will enable local authorities to tackle such responsibilities in their localities.

More than that, however, the Welsh Office should be giving a much higher priority to environmental policy in its own research budget. Much excellent environmental research is already carried out in Wales. Happily, a great deal of it is done at my University college of North Wales at Bangor. I welcome the announcement last week by the Minister of State that the new central administration of the Countryside Council for Wales will be located at Bangor in the offices of the Nature Conservancy Council. There was great demand to locate the offices in other parts of Wales. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) would have loved to have it at Aberystwyth. I can tell him that the town council in Dolgellau wanted it.

Mr. Anderson

Bala wanted it, too.

Dr. Thomas

I should not speak about Bala, although it is relevant to the debate on the aquatic environment because it has the largest inland lake in Wales. I must get on with my speech.

I welcome the announcement that the centre will be at Bangor. It will enable the centre to work alongside the excellent unit at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology which recently produced a document on pollution in Wales for those of us who attended its official re-launch earlier this year. Research has been carried out into acidification, deposition of nitrogen and other aspects of environmental pollution. Those studies represent a high quality of international research in Wales which is relevant to Wales and beyond Wales.

The scientists who work at the unit at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology and other experts on environmental policy with whom I have spoken emphasise that they are always short of funding. They often operate on short-term contracts. Where they have longer-term contracts, funding is sometimes inadequate to maintain existing databases. In environmental science where short-term projects produce interesting results it is important to maintain the database perhaps for 10 years. That is the time scale on which interesting, relevant scientific results may appear.

I ask the Secretary of State specifically to examine the research budget of his Department and its priorities. He should ask himself whether the minuscule proportion of his Department's budget which is spent on research is adequate. He knows the figures, because he and his colleagues have answered parliamentary questions on the matter recently. About 1 or 2 per cent. of the Department's budget is spent on research. For a Department which spends £4 billion of public money in Wales, clearly that is not enough. The Department cannot simply say that the Department of the Environment already funds research in Bangor. That is true and we are grateful for it. The Scottish Office has funded other aspects of hill farming in Wales and we welcome that. But as the lead territorial Department, the Welsh Office should increase its research budget.

In the present context of high priority for environmental issues, a doubling of the Welsh Office budget for research on the environment is the least that we can expect in response to the debate. I know that the Secretary of State is about to respond to me, and I am sure that he will take that suggestion on board.

It is important not only to examine the Welsh Office programme of research but to consider how the research that we undertake in Wales can be valuable in understanding the international implications of environmental changes. The nature of the country, its geology and topography makes Wales an ideal area in which to study climatic and environmental changes.

The Secretary of State will be aware that, within a radius of 30 or 40 miles of the new office of the Countryside Council for Wales, there are major sites of special scientific interest which include marine sites and sites where alpine ecology can be studied, such as Snowdonia and other upland areas. Within Wales it is possible to study the impact on the Welsh environment of overall climatic changes. For that reason, it is important that Wales should make a direct contribution to international research.

It is a matter not just of contributing to environmental research and assessing our environment, but of action research—in other words, of changing the form of activity which is polluting. I want to consider several sources of pollution. In recent years the farming industry in Wales gradually but continually has been reducing its fertilisers to prevent pollution. Only last week, at the royal show at Stoneleigh, we were discussing the substantial shortfall inorganic produce from the farming industry to supermarkets and the food industry.

Mr. Anderson

Organic food is too expensive.

Dr. Thomas

It is true that there is a 15 per cent. mark-up on premium quality organic Welsh lamb. If the hon. Gentleman were to taste it more often, he would understand why. It is tastier than the lamb that I suspect he usually eats.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

What if my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) is a vegetarian?

Dr. Thomas

The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) is a vegetarian.

Dr. Howells

I did not say that I was a vegetarian.

Dr. Thomas

Let me get on with my speech.

There is an opportunity for a substantial switch to organic farming in the hills in Wales. There is an opening in the market. The Minister has an opportunity to improve the perceived quality of Welsh products. After all, much of our farmland is grassland with a low level of fertiliser input, so the step to a greener farming industry in Wales is only a small one. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North will have something to say about that if he has the chance to speak. We have an opportunity to reduce soil pollution from nitrogen fertiliser at the same time as developing quality products from our agriculture industry.

All our manufacturing and extracting industries, particularly quarrying and mining, have a strong negative impact on the environment. Wales has put up with industrial processes which have created employment and unique communities—certainly in mining and quarrying—but which have also created environmental hazards and caused disasters with a cost to human life and young lives. Wales has a legacy of environmentally damaging industries in our economy.

I say advisedly to Welsh Office Ministers and the House that when in future we look for inward investment in Wales we must ensure that we expect standards of environmental cleanliness as high as those that would be expected elsewhere. The old argument that it is tolerable to place environmentally unfriendly activities, such as nuclear activities, in remote areas or chemical reprocessing in not-so-remote areas because of the levels of employment and unemployment has gone. We must ensure that we have a green environment which is resource balanced and economically active, based on the ability of the environment to attract industries which are themselves environmentally friendly.

Dr. Kim Howells

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is just such an urgent case before us now? If the Secretary of State for Wales looks north from his window in the great fortress of the Welsh Office, he will see the first hills of Wales at Taffs Well. There is a historic site of special scientific interest which at this moment is under threat from quarrying. That is repeated right through Wales. I hope that the Secretary of State will take that matter seriously when it is put before him, because it is a precious area of scientific interest.

Dr. Thomas

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I may have visited that place during a recent by-election in which he was involved. I am aware of the impact of opencast quarrying because there is a lot of opencast slate mining in my constituency. I appreciate the impact that it can have not just on the immediate level of waste disposal, but on the landscape's overall shape.

Where there are sites of special scientific interest or environmental destruction caused by noise pollution to communities and localities, the Secretary of State, as planning Minister, must consider the issues carefully. I know that the Secretary of State may tend to say, as his colleagues do on planning matters, that he does not want to talk about specific cases because he has to determine individual cases. However, surely he and his team are determining such individual cases in the context of environmental policy. Our frequent complaint is that we do not hear what that policy or strategy is. Where there is a conflict of interests or policy objectives between environmental conservation—whether in national parks or on the borders of urban areas—

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

Or Cardiff bay.

Dr. Thomas

—or in Cardiff bay, as the hon. Gentleman says—wherever there are major individual projects and conflicts involving environmental policies, the Department's duty in that case is—if I may coin a phrase—to come clean and spell out clearly to the public its thinking in such matters. If there is a conflict of interest between the various duties of the Secretary of State and his Ministers according to which hats they are wearing, it is better that it should be known and debated in a public forum, rather than hidden behind closed doors in a castle at Cathays park.

We have to consider not only the global effect on our Welsh environment, the contributions that we can make and the sensitivity of the marine environment, but the way in which the Welsh countryside is affected by changes in planning policies. This is an important opportunity for the Secretary of State to show himself to be the greenest Secretary of State there has ever been. I mean Green with a big "G", not a small "g". We know that he is not green in other senses, because he has had a hard training in other Departments. We also know that he has lived for part of his career in a Welsh environment and enjoyed visiting it.

I know that he has a love of the Welsh landscape. But we want to see the practical consequences of that and hear him declare himself a green Minister in planning terms.

We need to protect the integrity of our national parks, environmentally sensitive areas, sites of scientific interest and designated areas and we need a coherent countryside planning policy. The areas represented by many of my hon. Friends present today include valley communities and the fringes of urban industrial south Wales, as it used to be called, and industrial north-east Wales. In those areas we can see the result of over-development, whether commercial or housing, that is out of character with the landscape and would not be permitted in a national park, where there are strict guidelines controlling the appearance of properties and estates.

We need to adopt the same kind of sensitive approach everywhere in the countryside. We might spend a lot of public money trying to re-create an attractive atmosphere in the inner cities, such as the marine districts of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea, attempting to renovate districts with old industrial heritages and make them into conservation areas, conserving old buildings or landscaping away the effects of mining and quarrying, but it does not make much sense if we are destroying our landscape and heritage at the same time because of new development. We need consistency of approach by the Department.

We need to set Welsh environmental issues in the global context of the threat to the ecosphere, with all its moral, ethical and—for the benefit of the hon. Member for Swansea, East—theological implications. We need to adopt a global approach when scrutinising the micro-environment in Wales—and we need coherence in policy. We must assess the implications for our environment of all policy decisions, and we look to the Secretary of State for Wales, as the new green Minister, to respond to all our points.

4.25 pm
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)

I beg to move, to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'welcomes the major programme of investment to be undertaken by the privatised water companies to improve the quality of water and the comprehensive measures outlined in the Environmental Protection Bill; congratulates Her Majesty's Government on the positive lead it is giving in areas of environmental concern; and looks forward to the publication of the Government's White Paper on the Environment later this year.'. I certainly regard environmental policy as my responsibility as Secretary of State, assisted by the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State. Environmental policy is vital. The environment is one of the most important policy areas, and my objective is and will remain to improve the quality of life in Wales, with particular reference to the environment.

We certainly inherit problems from the past, but, equally, we are trustees for the future. Although we may be able to point to actions in bygone years that have caused the situation today, that is no excuse and no alibi for not ensuring that we take the most urgent and positive action to overcome the problems of our inheritance—so that we can hand over a heritage of an improved quality of life.

I must also respond to what the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) said about farming. Agriculture is vital to the future of Wales, and a strong and healthy agriculture is crucial to the quality of life there. We must ensure an improvement in that quality of life so that we have an even better environment in which to work and live.

As we draw together the policies for the 1990s, towards the year 2000 and beyond, I should have thought that there would be almost unanimous agreement in the House that the environment is one of the key areas on which we must make our policies relevant to the needs of today and to those of future generations.

Today's debate could be seen as part of the long-running campaign designed to draw attention to the perceived problems of the Irish sea, but despite the wording of the motion the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy drew back from such a confined analysis, and I welcome the fact that he widened the debate; such was the purpose of our amendment. I readily accept that we have pushed him in the right direction, and I welcome the way in which he responded.

When dealing with the environment no single section of society and no single political party has a prerogative; we are dealing with a vital component in the thinking of us all. Environmental issues matter not only because they have an impact on us but because whatever we decide will have a major impact on future generations, too. In that sense we are the stewards of the future and must exercise our stewardship judiciously and with care and prudence. In every possible sense we must take account of the importance of environmental issues. We must be aware of what we are doing and the effects, and we must consider all the evidence before deciding how best to proceed. We must appreciate the damage that can flow from certain policies because such damage is often long-standing. Some problems can be corrected only at enormous cost and with great difficulty. The Government are conscious of the need to care for and protect the environment and of the need to devise policies to ensure that what we value today is available to future generations.

Mr. Dalyell

I am grateful for the way in which the motion is worded, which shows that this is a United Kingdom debate. What do the Government propose to do about new modern trawlers that hoover—there is no other word for it—the sea bed, and especially the beds of the Irish sea and the Minches? Those trawlers drag dumped material to where it should not be, as ICI found in a recent explosives case. The actions of such trawlers lead to the destruction of many breeding grounds of fish and creatures on the sea bed. Serious damage is being caused. The problem has grown in the past four or five years. I am not attacking any Department, because the problem is not of the Government's making, but what do they propose to do about it?

Mr. Hunt

The problem goes back much more than four or five years. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will be aware of the positive approach adopted by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the way in which he has raised such matters in the European Community. I do not want to go into great detail about those discussions, but if the hon. Gentleman has been present for debates and questions about fisheries, he will know that we are expressing serious concern about the need to ensure that not only are quotas strictly observed but that the breeding grounds are protected for future generations. I am pleased at the way in which the hon. Gentleman approached his question and I reassure him about the Government's intentions as expressed in the robust language of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Many of the policies to which the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy referred are being implemented and will continue to be implemented to meet the concerns that have been expressed. Caring for the environment requires constant assessment of the relative costs of what is proposed and the benefits that will follow. The environmentally preferable solution is often the most costly. We must be sure that we are prepared to meet such costs, and we must be mindful of their extent in areas which I shall discuss later.

Judgments must be made between environmental costs and environmental benefits. For example, we hear much about the cost of dumping sewage at sea, but little about the disbenefits of alternative methods of disposal. We must look at the whole picture. We have already taken some steps, but economic growth is needed to meet the cost of improving the environment, and such growth often causes other environmental problems.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

The Secretary of State refers to the disbenefits of certain matters. If the long sea outfall is long enough for two tides, will not that sometimes be preferable to trying to absorb the chemical effluent from a sewage disposal plant?

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend has hit on an important point. As I said earlier, experts believe that long sea outfalls can—if judiciously managed—be an effective means of disposal. A report by Consultants in Environmental Sciences has examined the assessment.

Often, we must examine the environmental consequences of the alternative means of disposal. I am not aware of an urgent wish on the part of people living in certain areas to have a sewage disposal improvement plant adjoining their houses, or of any who are urging that we should allow effluent from sewage disposal plants to be injected into the sea near where they live. We must always ensure that we examine the total picture before reaching decisions about part of it, especially when that part has given rise to a pressure point from a section of public opinion.

Mr. Anderson

Is not that debate already closed as the result of pressure from the European Community? Did not the Government announce on 27 June that any long sea outfalls yet to be put into operation must include a treatment plant? As I understand it, no timetable has yet been announced in respect of Welsh areas such as Swansea bay. When will the Minister be able to announce that timetable, which is the subject of considerable concern in a number of Welsh coastal areas?

Mr. Hunt

I shall respond in more detail to the hon. Member's point in a moment.

In working out any timetable, we must be aware of the costs, and also the relevance of the alternative means of dealing with the sewage. The sewage will not go away; we must find a better method of dealing with it. We must bear it in mind that alternative means of disposal can carry with them equally problematic difficulties for the environment. We must think through the consequences before embarking on the tight timetable that certain sections of public opinion are urging us to adopt.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

I am sure that the Secretary of State will accept—given where his constituency lies—that the fact that a quarter of all the sewage sludge that is dispersed into the waters around these islands is dispersed by the North West water authority into Liverpool bay can cause an enormous localised problem. Given that the Irish sea turns over its water only about twice a year—a very low turnover—that may not be the most appropriate way of disposing of sewage in that location.

Mr. Hunt

I am well aware of the consequences of over-disposals into an area that does not have the necessary turnover of fresh water, although I do not accept the double mechanism to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I have not seen that statistic verified, but if it is correct it is equally relevant to the problem that we are discussing.

We must be aware of the environmental impact of alternative methods of disposal when we embark on assessing the costs and benefits. As I said, the problem is that we need the economic growth to pay for improvements in the environment. The Government must provide the means for securing economic growth, while developing environmental policies to ensure that what we have and value remains for succeeding generations. Equally—as our environment is affected not only by what we do but by what other countries do—we must do our best to promote sensible environmental policies, not just in this country but in the wider world.

I hope that it is accepted in the House, because I believe that it is widely accepted outside, that the Government have done a tremendous amount to promote and develop environmental policies. Let us take one or two examples. In 1974, a Conservative Government introduced the Control of Pollution Act, but there was a long wait until, under another Conservative Government in 1983, the benefits of that Act were put into operation. Last year, the Government established the National Rivers Authority, which was generally acclaimed as an effective way to improve the water environment. This year, we have in the throes of the parliamentary process the Environmental Protection Bill, which will provide us with the basic framework for our pollution control well into the next century.

Mr. Dalyell

I do not hesitate to ask this question as the university of Cardiff, with Professor Michael Claridge, who is president of the Linnean Society, and Professor Pritchard, has one of the most distinguished schools in this subject in Europe. The professors made the strongest representations about the natural history museum and the consequences of the changes there for research into all these matters. Will the Welsh Office use its influence to help those who are trying to help the museum to get proper funding for its worldwide responsibilities?

Mr. Hunt

I shall let the hon. Gentleman have a detailed answer to that point, but the policy is that the Welsh Office does not fund museums and galleries, with the one specific exception of the national museum. We shall certainly do our best to help and encourage funding for the museums and galleries in Wales.

Not only has this Conservative Government introduced these Bills and developed major environmental policies, but we have produced the economic climate that allows us to make the investment necessary to implement the Bills when enacted.

Water pollution problems are not new. They are not the result of the policies of, or of any recent activity or inactivity by, the Government. Nor did they suddenly appear when water plcs were created. Water quality problems result, in some cases, from industrial and agricultural policies that go back for decades and from a lack of investment by water authorities in relatively unglamorous sectors such as sewage treatment.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

As a former member of a water authority, I do not feel that we should take all the blame for that, because the previous Labour Government slashed half the investment programme of water authorities. We should have happily spent the money if the Labour Government had given it to us.

Mr. Hunt

I am grateful for that intervention. If the last Labour Government had a record, it was in the size of the cuts imposed on water authorities. I agree that there were serious economic problems, and the IMF had been asked to come in and bale out the Labour Government, so there are understandable reasons why the investment programme was cut. However, it produced the serious problems with which we are now dealing.

It has been common practice in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world to discharge sewage effluent into the sea with only the most preliminary treatment to remove litter, rags and large solid particles, because it had been taken for granted that the size of the sea and the dilution that it provides, and the effect of the sun and the waves, would be sufficient to allow it to continue. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) that, in many cases, it is.

Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)

Is not one of the fundamental difficulties the fact that, when the European Community introduced the bathing waters directive in 1976, the Department of the Environment deliberately chose to interpret "bathing beach" in such a way that not a single bathing beach in Wales fell under the definition? As a consequence, the Government were able considerably to delay the implementation of the directive.

Mr. Hunt

I did not wish to be drawn by my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) into criticism of the last Labour Government, and equally I should not be drawn into criticism of them by the hon. Member, although it may be attractive to do so to prove my point. The 1976 bathing waters directive was not observed by the previous Labour Government. I do not want to get drawn into the past, because I have a lot to say about what we are doing now, and what we propose to do in the future. I am responding to an intervention. I did not introduce this lengthy look into the past.

Water pollution problems result from practices that have been going on for a considerable time. I remember reading the report, published by the Consultants in Environmental Sciences, of a study for the Department of the Environment of large domestic sewage discharging into coastal waters via a properly designed long sea outfall. It observed little environmental impact. Beyond 50 to 100 m from the point of discharge, the survey failed to detect measurable impacts. Outside the immediate mixing zone, the study said that it would be difficult to detect differences in sea water quality resulting from discharges of treated effluent, or screened raw sewage.

The point is that this Government have tackled the problems of water pollution. The Water Act 1989, with the consequential establishment of the National Rivers Authority, and our recent policy announcements are the pivots of our policies on water pollution and show clearly our commitment to resolving the problems. We are determined that the water environment should be improved by all practical steps and in the shortest time scale commensurate with the available technology and resources.

Mr. Holt

As my hon. Friend will know, the Select Committee on the Environment recently carried out a detailed examination of long sea outfall, and its report will be published next week. I cannot say what is in the report, but I can hint that the long sea outfall will be given a fairly clean bill of health.

Mr. Hunt

I am grateful, and I look forward to reading the report.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy spoke about quality. The last national survey took place in 1985 and these are the latest figures that I have been able to find. They show that river quality in England and Wales is such that 94 per cent. of Welsh rivers were in classes 1 or 2, and 83 per cent. were in class 1. Some 98 per cent. of estuarial waters in Wales were in those categories. A report published by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea said that, apart from Liverpool bay, where the mercury levels were close to the European Commission limit, although they are now declining, the problems of the Irish sea are essentially minor and short-lived.

The Government are also doing more about river quality. One aim of the National Rivers Authority is to achieve a continuing improvement in the quality of rivers. Good quality river water is essential for environmental improvement, and polluted rivers are one of the main sources of sea pollution. This year, the authority is conducting a survey of river quality in England and Wales. When it is published, it will form the basis on which I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will set river quality objectives. Those objectives will be the parameters within which NRA policies and decisions on matters such as discharge consents and abstraction licences will be founded.

With regard to Wales, the advisory committee that I established under section 3 of the Water Act 1989—and which will advise me on NRA matters—will be meeting shortly. It will closely study NRA policies and will give me the benefit of its advice on how best I can ensure that the NRA implements its policies in Wales. I shall certainly give the NRA every possible encouragement to take positive action to secure improvements in water quality in the Principality.

Mr. Gareth Wardell

I am glad that the Secretary of State is setting improved standards. Will he ensure that the NRA has a better record for prosecutions, especially for industrial pollution, than did the former water authorities, as shown in the statistics recently produced by the Department of the Environment? Some water authorities did not initiate a single prosecution when rivers were polluted in 1988.

Mr. Hunt

Although I did not attend all the debates, I should have thought that it would have been made clear that one of the main reasons why it was thought right to introduce changes was the lack of positive prosecution. We separated the different responsibilities so that there could be an effective prosecution service. One of the first prosecutions by the NRA was for the Shell spillage last year into the River Mersey. The NRA acted with commendable speed and considerable effect in that case. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has rightly highlighted one of the main reasons why the Government thought it right to introduce that legislation.

The 1985 survey gave a number of reasons why river quality was not as good as it should be. The primary reasons were sewage effluent and agricultural pollution. That is why, in the next 10 years, sewerage undertakers in England and Wales will be spending £12 billion on sewerage services, including sewage treatment works and sea outfalls. Dwr Cymru will be investing £400 million during the next five years, including £140 million on sewage treatment works, and a further £300 million in the following five years. Work on some of the worst plants will be completed by March 1992 and will have an immediate impact on the rivers into which the works discharge.

I have been concerned about the overall increase during recent years in the number of agricultural pollution incidents. In 1988 there were more than 4,000 reported incidents of pollution by agriculturalists, almost all from silage or slurry liquor. Both are far more effective than raw sewage in damaging the aquatic environment. Last year, the number of incidents fell by 30 per cent., which appears to be a good record, but which I regret was more likely to be caused by the exceptional summer than by good housekeeping. Later this year we shall introduce regulations setting minimum standards for the construction of silage, slurry and agricultural fuel oil stores and given the NRA the power to require improvements to existing structures. That will go a long way towards reducing the devastating effect of such pollution.

The Government have also taken a number of policy initiatives that will have a direct impact on the sea. The North sea conference agreements, in which we played a leading role, are generally welcome and the Government have scrupulously abided by them. Not only that, but we took the decision to extend the agreement for the North sea to all other seas round the United Kingdom, including the Irish sea. All the agreements reached in the North sea conference have been applied to the Irish sea. That was clearly set out in the guidance note on the second North sea conference in 1988, which said: In the Government's view … other seas around the kingdom require an equal degree of environmental safeguarding and the changes of policy implied by the declaration will in general be applied consistently throughout the United Kingdom. That we have now done.

Particular policy agreements reached in the second North sea conference include, first, that the dumping of polluting material should be ended at the earliest practical date; secondly, that as from 1 January 1989 no materials should be dumped unless there are no practical alternatives on land and it can be shown that the materials pose no risk to the marine environment; thirdly, that sea disposal for sewage sludge be retained as an option, but that urgent action be taken to reduce the concentrations of certain dangerous contaminants and to ensure that the quality of such contaminants disposed of should not increase above 1987 levels; fourthly, that marine incineration be substantially reduced by not less than 65 per cent. by 1 January 1991; and, fifthly, that the practice be phased out by 31 December 1994. We have abided by the North sea agreement.

On 22 February, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced that industrial wastes were not to be dumped at sea after the end of 1992. The 1987 agreement accepted that wastes such as those licensed by the United Kingdom could continue to be dumped at sea, provided that they did not harm the sea and that there was no practical means of land-based disposal. Nevertheless, we have gone further and, with the co-operation of the companies concerned, we will end dumping of all such industrial waste.

Mr. John D. Taylor

The right hon. Gentleman referred to industrial waste being dumped at sea. Does that include waste from Sellafield?

Mr. Hunt

It does not. Industrial waste is carefully defined. I used that definition, and it was accepted, in the conference at which that was decided.

On 5 March, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced that by the end of 1988 the United Kingdom would end the dumping of sewage sludge at sea. At present, some 70 per cent. of sewage sludge is disposed of on land. We have continued to encourage sewerage undertakers to develop land-based disposal methods for the remainder of the sludge. As a result of significant advances in incineration techniques, we decided that the disposal of sewage sludge to sea should end. The time lag is required because of the substantial programme of work and capital investment required to implement alternative disposal methods, including obtaining planning permission.

On the same day, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced that we had concluded that a case could be made for treating all substantial discharges of sewage. We have decided that, in general, municipal sewage should receive secondary treatment, but that primary treatment would be more appropriate for discharges to coastal waters where it can be shown that that would not adversely affect the environment. It is estimated that introducing that level of treatment will cost about £1.5 billion, which is additional to the investment currently programmed to improve the quality of our bathing waters. That in itself will cost £1.4 billion, of which £100 million is to improve bathing water quality in Wales.

In the third North sea conference in March, further agreements were reached that will again be applied to all waters round the United Kingdom, including the Irish sea. It was agreed to end sewage sludge dumping by 1998; to cease dumping industrial waste by 1992; to destroy PCBs by 1995 if possible, and by 1999 at the latest; to reduce by 50 per cent. or more by 1995 some 37 key hazardous substances coming from rivers; to reduce from 1995 by 70 per cent. or more emissions to rivers or to the atmosphere of cadmium, lead mercury and dioxines; to reduce by 50 per cent. atmospheric emissions of 17 dangerous substances by 1995, or at the latest by 1999; to halve from 1985 levels the input of nutrients in sensitive areas by 1995; and to strive for a substantial reduction in pesticides, with control of their use and application by 1992. Those are important agreements, and as those policies come into effect, they will make a considerable impact on the seas round our coast.

We have not finished there. The Environmental Protection Bill, now passing through another place, will provide further assurances of a cleaner, safer environment. We shall introduce the concept of integrated pollution control with, for the first time, a single regulatory body controlling emissions to land, water and air. In that respect, as in others, we are ahead.

Our initiatives in recent years, and our continuing efforts in pollution control and environmental improvement are, by any standards, a considerable achievement. They demonstrate our total commitment to the improvement and protection of our environment and give impetus to other countries to follow suit. But we have not finished there. In the autumn, we will publish an environmental White Paper that will bring together in one document our achievements and will also set out how we intend to move forward with setting an environmental agenda for the rest of the century and beyond.

The Environmental Protection Bill's 147 clauses cover much territory, but they are united by one goal—a cleaner and safer environment. Far too often these days, people come near to discrediting what is fundamentally a good cause. The best way of avoiding that is to provide more information, not less. The Bill will give the public more access than ever before to information on industrial pollution and on how individual firms will be obliged to clean up their operations. The Government have pressed for a Europewide agency to monitor environmental quality in every member state.

The view is commonly held that environmental issues will play a prominent part in national and international political debate in the last decade of this century. Therefore, it is appropriate to begin with a Bill which will, whatever arguments may be made about it, provide a secure framework for much of our pollution control well into the next century.

Control and regulations are vital for improved environmental quality, just as they they are important to the raising of health standards and securing safety at work. However, they provide only part of the means of enhancing environmental quality. Our unequivocal view is that the best way of achieving that objective is a judicial mix of government regulation and market economics. The market and private enterprise are often challenged by regulation to achieve higher technological standards and better performance, and that is right. The environmental history of eastern Europe in particular demonstrates that state control does not go hand in hand with better environmental standards and regulation.

I do not know where the Opposition would strike the balance, but I trust that they accept that such controls are not without cost, and that incentives other than controls are often the best means of achieving environmental goals cost effectively. Whatever may be the Opposition's views on that point, they must share our belief that sensible and sustainable growth is the friend, not the enemy, of a cleaner and greener environment. It is vital that the coherent and sophisticated system of pollution control that we are introducing in the Bill is credible. Credibility requires that such a system is operated by strong and effective institutions, and that it should be open to public scrutiny.

We are to some extent still in the early stages of establishing some of the institutions that will monitor and control pollution. For example, the National Rivers Authority has only recently started operating, and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution did not come into being until 1987. Institutional questions will inevitably take some time to get right, and we shall consider them in the context of our work on the White Paper to be published later this year. There would be little point in establishing an excellent system of pollution control without a means of implementing it.

I referred to the history of pollution, and we are dealing with problems that have their origins a long way back. Others were created in the 1960s and 1970s. We have reduced the discharge from Sellafield to 3 per cent. of what it was in 1979, for example, so there have been major advances.

The Environmental Protection Bill is far from being our last word on our environmental policies. It would be ludicrous to try to solve all the problems in one Bill—doubly so in respect of environmental issues, which require the most up-to-date scientific information and unparalleled international co-operation to resolve. We will set out in the White Paper our environmental policy for the United Kingdom for the rest of the decade and into the next century. It will bring together a strategy for the environment in a single, comprehensive document dealing with all aspects of environmental work. It will confirm that we as a nation are prepared to play our part in creating a preferred environment, and that we shall fully discharge our obligations as trustees for future generations.

5.7 pm

Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen)

Before I comment on the speech of the Secretary of State for Wales, on behalf of the Opposition I welcome back to the Government Front Bench the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist), with my best wishes for his full recovery. I cannot give the same welcome to the hon. Gentleman's beard, but that is a matter of taste.

We welcome this opportunity to debate environmental problems, particularly in respect of the Principality. The Government amendment allows more scope for debate than does the Plaid Cymru motion. The Secretary of State made several references to the Environmental Protection Bill. The Government were so concerned about that legislation and its impact on Wales that not one Minister from the Welsh Office or even one Conservative Member from Wales served on the Bill's Standing Committee—despite the fact that the Bill contains matters of considerable importance to Wales. The Minister from the Scottish Office did his best, but they were really matters for the Welsh Office. Doubtless that issue will be raised again.

Although the motion concerns pollution levels in the Irish sea, it touches on an issue of significance for the Principality. The Secretary of State referred to the benefits of water privatisation, but were he to undertake a survey in north, mid or south Wales, he would find almost universal condemnation of it. That is not simply because the people of Wales will have to pay a horrendous water poll tax in the next few months. They have other bills to pay, too, because they have, rightly, concentrated on improving the quality of the water in their rivers and reservoirs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) asked in a recent parliamentary question about the quality of drinking water in Wales. The answer that he received was that 21 of the 34 water works in Wales have failed the Government's tests for aluminium in water. Our beaches, which are so vital to the tourist industry, especially in the north and west of Wales, stand condemned in the eyes of the world because of the dirt and filth that pollute them.

Our marine environment is precious to us all. We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for having referred to the cuts in the natural history museum's budget. In answer to an intervention by my hon. Friend, the Secretary of State said that the Welsh Office does not deal with the funding of museums outside Wales. However, the Welsh Office funds research. Research at the natural history museum in London could play a large part in helping to solve the pollution problems in the Principality. I hope that when the Secretary of State returns to Wales he will arrange a meeting with Professor Claridge and discuss these important issues with him.

The drinking water inspectorate and the National Rivers Authority will become part of a new environmental protection agency when there is a Labour Government. The agency would be mirrored at both regional and local government level. It would have an important role to play in determining and monitoring pollution in the Principality.

I am also grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) for having pressed the Welsh Office—it has been hard to do so in recent months—about the sewage outfall at Lavernock in south Wales. Only reluctantly did they receive the answer that it would be fully treated before it entered the Bristol channel.

Mr. Holt

The hon. Gentleman puts faith in the ability of local authorities to deal with waste. I remind him that local authorities in this country as a whole were given 10 years in which to submit their plans for waste disposal to the Department of the Environment. During that 10-year period, fewer than 50 per cent. of them bothered to do so.

Mr. Murphy

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Were he to read the response given by the previous Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), to the Association of District Councils, he would find that the Secretary of State said that, in exercising their functions as waste disposal and collection authorities, Welsh district councils were doing an extremely good job. The main problem, however, is lack of resources. It is ironic that after more than 10 years of Conservative Government hardly any of the money that has come into our coffers from North sea oil has been used by the Government to deal with pollution, or with waste collection and disposal.

The debate highlights the problems connected with waste collection and disposal in Wales. The problems are different in Wales. The district councils are both collection and disposal authorities. They face new problems over recycling industrial hazardous waste coming to Wales from eastern Europe via West Germany and other countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) will, I am sure, refer later to the landfill tip in Swansea which deals with waste from eastern Europe.

The Government have agreed to retain the existing structure in Wales. During the passage of the Environmental Protection Bill the Government assured us that Welsh district councils will still be the collection and disposal authorities. The same will apply to Scotland. Scottish district councils will also be exempt from the private competition regulations that are to apply to England, but the Government are unwilling to exempt Wales, even though the position in Wales and Scotland is exactly the same. The last thing that Welsh district councils want when they are burdened with the collection and disposal of waste is to be still further burdened by having to compete with private industry.

Waste disposal by private industry is exemplified by one firm in my constituency, ReChem International, which is a blight on Wales because of the pollution it causes. Last week the financial press referred to ReChem as a good investment; its profits were soaring, despite a slump during the past 12 months on account of bad publicity. Most of the company's profits are made from imports, most of which are polychlorinated biphenyls. The toxic waste trade is suspect and bitterly disliked. My constituency is the centre for the disposal of much of the world's most deadly poisons. That is wrong. Labour will end the commercial trade in toxic waste.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

This is an important matter. All of us are guardians of the world environment. What does the hon. Gentleman think that third-world countries should do with their PCBs if they are not allowed to export them to be destroyed by the countries which often provided them with the PCBs in the first place?

Mr. Murphy

That is an important point, but ReChem International does not import toxic waste from many third-world countries. I am glad that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) intervened, because it allows me to tell him that the industrial waste comes from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. None of those is a third-world country. The figures provided to us by the Welsh Office suggest that the vast bulk of the trade in toxic waste coming to the ReChem incinerator in Pontypool is from developed countries. Our view, which I am sure is held by many parties, is that each developed country should look after its own toxic waste.

It will be of interest to those hon. Members with port constituencies that the following ports have been used to import toxic waste: Chatham, Dartford, Dover, Felixstowe, Gravesend, Harwich, Immingham, Ipswich, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Seaforth and Tilbury. Toxic waste comes to Wales for disposal from each of those ports.

We all welcome the report by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. Recently it recognised for the first time that people in south Wales are genuinely concerned about having the ReChem incinerator in their midst. The Select Committee's recommendations amount to a first step towards a major public inquiry into what should happen to that plant.

The Secretary of State has made much of the provisions in the Environmental Protection Bill and of what the White Paper will contain. However, that will have no significance unless appropriate resources are provided to deal with the problem. During the past few years, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution has been seriously under-resourced throughout Britain, but particularly in Wales. There are not enough inspectors. The Government must give a full commitment to increase substantially HMIP's resources, to ensure that there is proper monitoring of pollution in both Wales and the country as a whole.

The most significant underfunding has been the underfunding of local authorities. We look to them not just to dispose of waste but to keep our streets clean and to ensure that litter is cleared away from our town centres. Throughout the past 10 or 11 years the Government have systematically robbed councils of rate support grant, which has made it increasingly difficult for Welsh councils to deal with litter. Although the Bill imposes a duty on local authorities to collect litter, it does not provide them with a single extra penny with which to carry out that duty. Therefore, that duty is bound to be empty and meaningless.

I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales will battle with his Cabinet colleagues to ensure that the Welsh local authorities—which have a good record in local government—have more resources put at their disposal. If the right hon. Gentleman spent more time exercising his mind about putting resources into the local authorities instead of wasting millions of pounds on administering the poll tax, he would be thanked by the vast majority of people in Wales.

The fundamental problem lies with the Government. They dislike local government, and that has been evident from the number of Acts of Parliament affecting local government—more than 50 in the past 10 years. The Government are obsessed with privatisation and ideology. I suspect that that is why they have abandoned the pledge on the privatisation of electricity—that they would ensure that there are flue gas scrubbers in our coal-fired power stations. That is a major problem. The Government do not realise that there should be a proper mix of public intervention, regulation and bans and private sector intervention, in the form of the market, the price mechanism and green taxes. Opposition Members are at one in believing that, until Wales is rid of the Conservative Government, our environment will not get much better.

5.21 pm
Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)

I welcome the debate, even though it is inspired by the Opposition, because I welcome any debate on the environment. This is an issue that is so important that it needs to be kept at the top of our agenda but unfortunately, all too often, we naturally become obsessed with inflation, interest rates, mortgage rates, the community charge, defence and so on. The environment tends to be lost from our sight.

It is important to give credit to the Government for what they have done well, as well as to demand action from them. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales and for the Environment are to be congratulated on the immense strides that they have made recently on the environment. I am delighted about that.

Suffolk, Central is landlocked and therefore has no coastal problems. My excuses for intervening in the debate are that I am especially fond of the sea, one of a declining breed of sea bathers, and an extremely keen sailor, and, perhaps more important—I hope that the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) will forgive me—I have been visiting the island of Anglesey for my holidays almost every year for more than 50 years. I am very fond of it and extremely anxious about what happens to it. The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed the matter in the past.

I was in Anglesey at Whitsun, as were many other folk. The weather was quite good. I went, as I always do, to my favourite beach, Traeth Bychan. When I drew my curtains on the first morning, I was horrified to see my favourite bay looking as though it was full of brown Windsor soup. That is the only way that I can describe it. It remained like that for several days, during which families and young children wanted to go for a paddle or a swim and to enjoy the sea. The shallow water where children would paddle was even worse. To continue my culinary comparison, the shallow waters were more like chocolate mousse.

I took my own samples and sent them off. I do not yet have the results. I do not know the reasons for the appearance of the sea. I have made inquiries at the university at Bangor—to which the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) referred—and elsewhere. I hope that I will receive some satisfaction and help from the university. From what I have been able to discover, it is almost certain that sewage will be implicated one way or the other.

Mr. Anderson

I warn the hon. Gentleman to be aware that the scientists may claim that it is only algae that is at fault. We had a similar problem with the sea in south Wales which, with the sun, went brown. We thought that the problem was caused by "Douglas Hurds", but it was not. Whatever they were, they had the same effect. There was a direct correlation with pollution, although a form of algae was responsible.

Mr. Lord

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Algae has been talked of as a possible culprit in the case to which I referred. Certainly, much of what I saw and waded into briefly did not smell like algae.

I have quite an intimate knowledge of the local sewerage system in that part of the world. When, as an undergraduate, I had to earn some money to keep myself alive during the long summer vacations—like many other people—I worked for the contractor who installed the two outfalls in nearby villages—Benllech and Moelfre. I was involved there, albeit only as a labourer or a hod-carrier. There was a huge debate at the time about whether the outfalls would do the job, how long they should be and whether land-based treatment would be more satisfactory. Everybody who was concerned about the standard of water at that time was assured that all would be well.

I cannot tell hon. Members precisely how far beyond low water mark the outfalls go, but my guess is that it is no more than 100 m. That means that their effectiveness depends on the correct use of tide flows, wind direction and so on. Bearing in mind those factors, it is not unlikely that whatever is realised from the outfalls may find its way back to our beaches—possibly just at the wrong time of year when people wish to enjoy the beaches. It has been suggested that Liverpool bay is implicated, and that may be so. One cause of the pollution could be discharges further up the coast in Wales and up the Lancashire coast, which may come back down to cause the damage.

No one can be really sure of either the cause or the long-term effect. But when our oceans are so precious, why take the risk? The only way to eliminate the problems in the long term is to deal with all our sewage on land. That is perhaps a radical solution, but I believe that we shall come to it eventually. I am concerned that, in all the huge projects that we are now discussing, the immense amounts of money involved—if not misspent—could perhaps be better spent. With hindsight we will wish that we had thought the matter through more carefully and seriously considered the possibility of treating sewage on land.

I know that there are difficulties. Every day, 300 million gallons of sewage are discharged to our rivers and seas. I know what an enormous task and challenge it would be to deal with that sewage on land. The Secretary of State has pointed out all the difficulties—the costs, the burden on industry and the possible environmental effects on the land as well as on the sea. I believe that the challenge is worth taking up.

For industry, necessity is the mother of invention, and I believe that industry would respond. When faced with the threat to the ozone layer in recent times, industry has responded rapidly to the problem of chlorofluorocarbons. In a more minor way, industry has solved the problem of the rings on Coca Cola cans which used to cause so many problems when they were thrown away or used to fiddle parking meters. The cans are now made so that the rings cannot be detached from them. Those are two examples—one major and one minor—of the way in which industry will respond to problems when forced to do so.

Mr. Holt

Has my hon. Friend read the report by the Select Committee on the Environment on land pollution, especially the part of it dealing with the problem that the Dutch have experienced because they simply do not have enough land to dispose of all the slurry? Their solution has been to cull some of their cows. Does my hon. Friend suggest that we start culling some of his farmers' cows in Suffolk so that we do not overdo the pollution that could be caused on the land? Perhaps my hon. Friend is not taking into account the fact that we should be incinerating a great deal of waste.

Mr. Lord

My hon. Friend has made a valid point. I am not suggesting that I have all the solutions to those problems. However, industry is working on them at the moment. For example, ICI is developing new plants to try to accelerate the process of treating sewage. It has also developed a product for treating the water that is released into our rivers after sewage has been treated. Although we can remove 90 per cent. of the bacteria that cause problems later, when the water is discharged to our rivers and seas, 10 per cent. of the bacteria remains. That is a major problem, although I understand that ICI has developed a system which eliminates that difficulty. It is an enormously beneficial move.

Mr. Holt

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Lord

With respect to my hon. Friend, I think that I should make progress. I am conscious that I do not represent a Welsh constituency, so I am imposing on the House tonight.

I appreciate that my remarks may be rather more emotional than scientific. In an age in which we can put a man on the moon, when it takes four hours to get from London to New York by aeroplane and when satellites allow us to sit in our homes and watch what is happening on the other side of the world, I cannot believe that it is right to simply discharge our waste products into the ocean. Time does not allow this evening for detailed technical arguments like those which my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) is encouraging me to enter into.

Anyone who has paddled or swum in the sea, sailed on it or fished it, thrown a pebble into it or simply sat and looked at it—that is, every one of us—must be aware of the physical and emotional importance of that hugely important asset and must accept that it should not be damaged or risks taken with it. I am aware of the difficulties, but as there is a White Paper in the offing I urge my colleagues on the Government Front Bench to consider the possibility of a commitment at some point to treat all our sewage on land.

5.31 pm
Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

Many of my parliamentary colleagues from Wales travel weekly to London. When I left Cardiganshire today to motor over the Plynlimon mountains to join the InterCity train at Caersws to take me across the border, I took a look at the environment. The countryside from Cardiganshire to the border is worth looking at at this time of year.

Dr. Thomas

And then?

Mr. Howells

I will come to that later.

That environment was so beautiful, green and healthy-looking. Trees have been planted everywhere, perhaps with the help of the Forestry Commission, which planted many trees on the Plynlimon mountains 30 years ago.

I then asked myself, "Who has been responsible for our wonderful environment in mid-Wales?" I suppose the answer is the farming fraternity, the agriculturists and our fathers and forefathers who, over many generations, tilled the land and planted the trees. I also asked myself whether I could find any fault with the environment as I see it today. I could not find any faults. It all looked so beautiful.

I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) and by the Secretary of State that agriculture plays a major role in our environment. However, we must remember that agriculture is in dire financial straits at the moment. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that our industry does not have the opportunity to compete on equal terms with its counterparts in Europe. It should be the Secretary of State's top priority over the next 12 months to try to ensure that our farmers compete on equal terms. For example, with regard to the ewe premium, there is a variation between Ireland and Wales. In Wales, the premium is £7 per head, while I am told that in Ireland it is £18 per head.

Confidence in our industry is at its lowest ebb. When I was a little child, there were about 30 full-time farmers in my village. They were all viable. They were all self-contained, and farmers' sons stayed at home. However, there are only three full-time farms in my village today and the rest are all part-time farmers like me. The others work in Aberystwyth and other areas. I am not against part-time farming. It is a wonderful achievement to farm 20 or 30 acres and also be employed in industry or in a profession of one's own choice. That is a wonderful life.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Meironnydd Nant Conwy on introducing this debate on the environment. I will not disagree with him, but I hope that, when we next have tea together, he will define what he means by an organic Welsh lamb. I am sure that there are quite a few of them in Meironnydd and Cardiganshire, but unfortunately for his constituents and for mine, the majority of all those small lambs that are born on the hills are being exported to Italy. I am afraid that he has not eaten an organic lamb yet, but time will tell.

What advice can the Secretary of State offer to the silage farmers, the majority of which are dairy farmers, some of whom unfortunately are breaking the law? That is a major problem in many parts of Wales, especially in Anglesey, the vale of Clwyd, Carmarthen, Pembrokeshire and my constituency. I hope that the Minister will be able to offer advice to some farmers who may be flouting the law unintentionally.

This motion is welcome. It focuses on an important problem. With concentration on the North sea, it is some times forgotten that similar, or in some cases greater, problems exist in the Irish sea. The condemnation in the motion is, if anything, too mild. The Government have no answer to the charges, as can be seen from the fact that their amendment does not mention the Irish sea, but provides the usual self-congratulatory, wishy-washy generalisations which are the hallmark of the Government's approach to the environment.

The Irish sea is gigantic proof, if any of us needed it, of the cavalier and irresponsible approach adopted by this Government and the previous Labour Government towards the environment. The Irish sea is shallow and slow to drain, and it will harbour some of its poisons for thousands of years.

I want to consider now some of the specific problems. Since Sellafield opened, half a tonne of plutonium has been discharged into the Irish sea, making it the most radioactively contaminated—not radioactive—sea in the world. There are more nuclear installations bordering the Irish sea than any other sea.

Britain's dirtiest estuary, the Mersey, drains into the Irish sea. In the recent Mersey clean-up campaign, the Government took steps to limit sewage discharges into the river. They shipped it all out to sea and dumped it. In other words, they made themselves reliant on sewage sludge dumping, which every other country has phased out. However, the Government intend to continue with such dumping until 1998. The Irish sea contains the second biggest sewage sludge dumping ground for the United Kingdom.

The biggest industrial dump site in the north Atlantic is in the Irish sea, just off Cork. Each year, millions of tonnes of untreated sewage and industrial wastes are dumped in the Irish sea. The Irish sea is heavily contaminated in certain coastal areas with synthetic materials and heavy metals, especially mercury from the ICI works at Runcorn, although, thankfully, that company has at last stopped that practice.

I now give some of the alarming facts. The Irish sea contains more man-made radioactivity than any other sea. It is bordered by more nuclear installations than any other sea. I have just mentioned Cork. Also, 250 chemicals were found in a single sample taken from a discharge into the River Mersey. Three hundred million gallons of sewage go into the Irish sea every day, and 80 per cent. of it receives no treatment or is only screened.

Whales and dolphins are now rare, but I have a dolphin family in my constituency. The other dolphin family lives on the north-east coast of Scotland. We are proud of our dolphins, as they have been with us for a long time. Let us hope that, in their wisdom, the Government will safeguard their interests as well as those of our constituents.

After 1990, only two nations in the EC will be committed to dumping industrial waste into the sea. Those two nations are Britain and Ireland.

On swimming, there is a message about the North sea—swim at your own risk. Nine million holidaymakers visit the coast of the Irish sea, yet not one beach has a "blue flag" to show that it is clean. Eighty per cent. of sewage outfalls into the Irish sea receive no treatment, or only a simple screening. Seventy per cent. of the pipes discharge at or above the low water mark. Untreated sewage discharged into bathing water brings the risk of illness, ranging from salmonella poisoning to hepatitis. Full sewage treatment would virtually eliminate those risks.

I could go on for a long time, but the message is clear. I urge the Government to give extra financial aid and resources to research and development. It is a great pity that the Countryside Council for Wales is going to Bangor. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and I agree on nearly every issue, but the council should have been in Aberystwyth, the agricultural capital of Wales. I ask the Minister and the Government to do what they can to safeguard the coastal belt. The National Rivers Authority will need more financial help in the years to come. Our rivers, whether they start in Plynlimon, Snowdonia or Cader Idris, all flow gently and take everything with them to the sea. We must do all that we can to ensure that our rivers are made clean for the next generation.

As I said, mid-Wales is a beautiful area. I thank the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), who, as Secretary of State, established the Mid Wales development board. It is now 14 years later. I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman because that board has done excellent work in mid-Wales. It is a great pity that the present Secretary of State cannot extend the boundaries of that rural board for mid-Wales to include areas in my constituency in north Pembroke, because we have an important link with Ireland at Fishguard and Goodwick. It would be a wonderful achievement if we could give the same facilities within the board area to that part of the country, which is in dire need of financial help.

5.44 pm
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

I, too, thank the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) for giving hon. Members this opportunity to talk about the environment. This is not my first chance to discuss Welsh matters with him. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his sensible remarks. When we consider the environment and pollution, we must remember that man-made problems are subject to man-made solutions. We should remember that substantial costs are involved in dealing with alleged forms of pollution. Therefore, we must be sure that the pollution that we identify is real and is as important as we see it.

The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members talked about pollution of the seas and of the land because of mineral extraction and, in particular, the application of fertilisers. He did not talk a great deal about pollution of the air, which is of great significance to people in Wales, especially because of the alleged global warming and greenhouse gases. Dealing with that problem could have a profound effect not just on the environment but on jobs and industries in the Principality. We should deal with that issue at a little more length.

If we had been debating this matter in the 1970s, we would probably have been talking about acid rain. Our concerns for the environment tend to go in cycles. There are fashions—issues come and go. We are very concerned about them at the time, but they pass as scientists bring a new issue to our attention. In this case, we are discussing issues that affect Wales in particular. We should talk about the effect of the carbon dioxide scare and its relationship to industry and life in that part of the world.

Mr. Wigley

Although those matters certainly got more attention a few years ago, regrettably in Wales the problem has not gone away. In western Wales, there are 200 lakes in which fish life has died because of the acidity of the water. We are still struggling with that problem.

Mrs. Gorman

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I commend to him a paper written by Professor Sir James Beament of Queen's college, Cambridge, in which he analyses the acid rain problem and casts grave doubts on the suggestion that sulphur dioxide is the cause of it. He identified leaching of the soil, magnesium and so on. I shall not go into the scientific details now, because of the time available, but there are other causes. We often identify the wrong cause and then set about dealing with it. In fact, we offer wrong solutions, and, in doing so, we can cause grave damage to industries and jobs and spend a great deal of taxpayers' money.

One of the important points that have been raised so far is the need to make sure that the scientific evidence on which we base some of our policies is accurate and valid. Many of our concerns in the recent past arose as a result of a conference called Global 2000, which was staged by the American Government in the 1980s. Many scientists got together to survey the future, and they came up with many apocalyptic scenarios, one of which included global warming and greenhouse gases. It was suggested that that problem was largely caused by carbon dioxide and other carbon gases being released into the atmosphere.

The conference neglected to consider other atmospheric gases, such as water vapour, which has important heat and radiation effects in the atmosphere, and oxygen. We all know that oxygen is never talked about in terms of radiation and global warming, but it is of great significance. Furthermore, the effect of the sun and our proximity to it was hardly mentioned. The sun is the great engine of our climate, as are sun spots, and both affect global temperature.

Such things tend not to be covered in scientific papers, because we cannot legislate to do anything about our position in relation to the sun or the occurrence of sun spots. We can, however, legislate to cut our use of carbon dioxide. That means that we place increased restrictions on the coal industry and on the manufacture of motor vehicles. In so doing, we may be over-reacting to the effect of carbon dioxide on what is only a small part of global warming.

Hon. Members who represent the Principality know of coal's importance as a mineral. It is one of the most important minerals in all economies, and generates 40 per cent. of the world's electricity. We are all concerned about wasting energy and talk about putting tea cosies on our houses to keep them warm. However, we do not necessarily pay enough attention to making energy production more efficient.

That brings me to the role that Governments can play in reducing alleged pollution. That could sometimes take the form of backing research and development into making energy production more efficient, instead of concentrating on saving energy at the level of using insulating devices in our houses, which results in only a small saving when compared with what we could do in terms of improving energy production.

We must keep an eye on scientists. There have been scares throughout history. At the time of the millenium of the 10th century, people castigated themselves and their leaders because, according to the Book of Revelations, the earth was about to warm up and we would all frizzle and die. That apocalypse came and went, and nothing very much happened.

The earth is the most amazing self-correcting organism. When there are changes in the balance of minerals, atmosphere and temperature, the earth generally corrects them. The carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, which is produced partly by the coal industry, is a fertiliser and can be absorbed by plants and the ocean. The more carbon dioxide there is, the more plant growth there is and, as a result, there is sometimes more animal growth. Throughout its enormously long history, the earth has corrected the imbalances that occur in nature. Therefore, before embarking on costly and often ineffective methods of dealing with today's pollution, we should try to keep the scale of the problem in perspective.

The earth is a water organism—70 per cent. of it is covered by water. The tides and the movement of water have enormous significance for our coasts, and for other coasts around the world. Humanity clings to only about 15 per cent. of the land mass. If we keep in mind that percentage of human activity on our globe, and compare it with the effect that the evaporation of water and the formation of clouds has on radiation and with the absorption of heat from the earth, we begin to see that many of the problems that have been identified have far less significance than we may believe. We tend to measure things against the scale of humanity. We tend to measure pollution within our own immediate geographical areas. We then extrapolate from those facts and produce great proposals for legislation and to change industrial processes way beyond what is necessary or important.

Therefore, I urge my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales and for the Environment to keep the problem in perspective and to remember that, for every scientist who holds one view, another will hold a balancing view. The smaller voice may well be the voice talking the truth. Galileo's time did not believe that the earth went round the sun, but he could prove that it did, and he said so. His views were so welcome that he was forced to recant by the Church and ended up denying that solution.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I am following my hon. Friend's argument with interest. I would not choose to cross swords with her about Galileo, who I assume is Welsh. I remind her of an old northern saying, "Where there's muck, there's brass." It therefore follows that, where there's brass, there's muck. Does she agree that, by creating lots and lots of brass, we have created infinitely more muck, which, however one sees it, cannot be to the advantage of Wales, the United Kingdom or anybody?

Will she accept that the real problem is to reduce the amount of muck—or its modern version, "pollution"—and to ascertain how we can do that without having too great an economic effect on the industries that produce that muck or on the taxpayer? There is no point in going around saying, "It it not this or that," because there is too much muck and we want to achieve the same amount of brass with less of it.

Mrs. Gorman

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am sure that he agrees that we do not want to tear up what we have achieved in industry and in the progress in people's standards of living for what could well be false hypotheses. There are plenty of false hypotheses in the scientific world, one of which is the greenhouse effect and the amount of attention that we pay to that effect.

As and when we identify real problems, such as industrial waste being poured into rivers, where we can see that it is killing our fish, we must make those industries stop such practices. We have laws to do that. Where we can be sure that savings in energy can be made by more efficient energy production and new methods, clearly we should do so and the Government should encourage that. However, we should not spend billions of pounds of taxpayers' money and do great harm to industry without knowing what we are doing.

The earth is not a delicate and fragile thing that is difficult to damage. It is resilient and has lasted for thousands of millions of years. A little alteration in terms of earth or water pollution—or even air pollution—will not destroy our planet as the greenmongers would have us believe. There have always been natural climatic changes. I refer now to the dinosaurs—but not those in this place. Dinosaurs are evidence that the climate of the earth changed naturally over time. Our greenhouse effect here and now is tiny in comparison. [Laughter.] I give up.

5.58 pm
Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

I am glad of this opportunity to raise the problem of environmental policy as it affects my constituency in the context of the administration and control of pollution in Wales. I join all those who have expressed their concern about the level of pollution in the sea. However, in the few minutes available to me I shall concentrate on the Government's amendment with its strange and nauseating phrase that Her Majesty's Government and Minister "congratulate" themselves on the positive lead it is giving in areas of environmental concern". That was the very Government who slaughtered the Clean Air Council which I chaired 25 years ago as a young Minister, and the Noise Abatement Council. It is late in the day for the Government to start putting the environment first.

It is my privilege to represent what I regard as an important industrial constituency. Without industry it is nothing. We have two major plants. Employment at the Port Talbot steelworks has been savaged. Enormous efforts have been made by the unions, the management and me to ensure that the plant survives and investment in the harbour, the concast plant and the new mill flourishes and provides opportunities for my constituents and others to work.

The other major industrial plant is BP Chemicals, which is much newer. It provides employment for a large number of people but on a smaller scale than the steelworks. We are an industrial constituency and I hope that we shall continue to be so. In future, industry must conduct itself in such a way that people's lives are not made a misery. I appreciate that large sums of money have been spent and will be spent locally by management to redress the balance and reduce pollution. However, my constituents continue to be dissatisfied with what they see, feel, smell and hear around them. The result must satisfy them, and that is what worries me about the smugness of the Government's proposals.

People simply will not put up with the standards of yesterday. Children must be able to play in gardens. People must be able to hang washing on lines and leave windows open at night. Cars must not be smothered with soot and the air that we breathe must not be as polluted as it is now. Air pollution is far to frequently a problem in our major industrial areas, and it is certainly a problem in my constituency.

After the problems of last year, I hoped that the problem at BP chemicals at Baglan, which persisted for so many days a few weeks ago, would not be repeated. The House can imagine my horror when I read the strongly worded letter from the chairman of the local authority's environmental committee expressing his anxiety and dissatisfaction. The local authorities in my constituency and elsewhere will do what they can, but the basic problem with pollution is the division of power and the ineffectiveness of existing powers. I fear that, if industry cannot come up to the required standard, it will have to compensate the locality. Compensation will have to be paid for each hour during which standards are transgressed.

We do not live in the era of the pre-Aberfan syndrome, when people were resigned to living in bad conditions. After Aberfan, a programme of land clearance began with which I was proud to be associated later. Before Aberfan, we simply put up with the tips. The same applies today to air and general environmental pollution. Today people simply will not allow the clock to stop in the pre-Aberfan era.

How can standards of pollution below which industries must not fall be measured? What is the acceptable norm? There should be public participation and consultation in making that decision. The standards are not necessarily the same everywhere. I wish that they were. Anyone who has had to spend time in London, even with the successful clean air policy in place, knows that. I pay tribute to the clean air policy. People such as Sir Gerald Nabarro and Mr. Harold Evans, when he was editor of The Northern Echo, played a formidable role in telling people about the importance of clean air and pushing for a clean air policy.

After it got rid of the smog, London made great progress. But even today, if one leaves one's shoes out for two days, there is a layer of dust on them. Unhappily, the standard of the air varies. I wish that the standard was always as good as that in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells). It is entirely different from the environment in our industrial constituencies and in London.

Therefore, we must tackle clean air and the environment with the same energy as our predecessors did—I played a small part in it—in tackling problems of burning smoking fuels in our industrial conurbations. The same energy must be applied to find acceptable standards which accord with a reasonable quality of life in our industrial areas.

The basic problem of dealing with pollution is the division of control over it. Local authorities have limited powers. I wrote recently to the chairman of the Health and Safety Executive, who took over three weeks to refer my letter to Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. The time of the inspector responsible for Wales and the west was so precious last year that no power on earth, not even the private office of the Minister for the Environment and Countryside, could make him change the day of his visit to my council. I willingly postponed my holiday to ensure that I was present when the great man arrived from his business in Nottingham or wherever it was. That showed the pressure on that inspector.

Underfunding and undermanning of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution is a major scandal. It is peculiar that the inspectorate does not come under the control of the Secretary of State for Wales. I doubled the size of the Welsh Office and ensured that a vast amount of responsibility was transferred to the Welsh Secretary, so I was particularly sorry to learn that he had no control over Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. I had to go to the Department of the Environment.

Wales is part of the south-western region. The number of inspectorate personnel based in Wales was recently depleted. The Cardiff headquarters has become little more than an outpost of the south-western region which includes the whole of the Principality and a substantial part of south-western England. The number of inspectors who administer control of pollution measures in Wales was recently reduced effectively from three to one. The obvious result was a deterioration in the inspectorate's response. One gentleman from Cardiff has been seconded to a special project for an indeterminate period, so we shall not have a great deal of help from him. Is the Minister aware of what is happening to the inspectorate in Wales? It is simply not good enough. It is a major step backwards. My constituency and other industrial areas of Wales require the constant vigilance of an effective authority to minimise and control the effects on the population and the environment.

I wish to propose some ideas for the Government's White Paper to be published in the autumn. First, supervision and overall responsibility for pollution and the environment in and around Wales should come under the direct responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales. I do not understand why it is not already his responsibility. Perhaps he is not aware of it, but precedents have been set in other areas of policy. The Manpower Services Commission is part of a national body, yet the commission for Wales is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales. The Secretary of State could attend to that matter in the White Paper.

Secondly, the number of staff in the Cardiff branch of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution should be increased immediately. Thirdly, local authorities should be given a new role as agents for the inspectorate on a day-to-day basis with statutory powers to impose restrictions on behalf of and in accordance with the policy of the inspectorate. That should ensure a more speedy response when it is needed.

Fourthly, there should be an immediate plan to assess and examine the worst areas of Wales to reach a view on a reasonable standard of and target for clean air in our industrial areas. It would start in the worst areas and be a sort of pollution Domesday book. What is wanted is an assessment of the position and a determination of what standards should be. We can then build on that and we could have a major breakthrough on improving the environment. I concede that it may take a little time to set the right standards and get the right machinery.

The Secretary of State mentioned the 21st century. As we approach the 21st century, people will not accept the standards of yesterday. For too long, fathers and mothers have put up with low standards which are no longer acceptable. We must put all our energies into ensuring that the quality of life is improved everywhere, taking into full account, as I did in my opening remarks, that we live in and represent industrial areas. Ideally standards should be the same everywhere, but I fear that that cannot be achieved.

A great deal could be done, if the Government ceased to adopt the smug attitude reflected in their amendment. Then we could at least target the main areas and have plans to counteract the worst difficulties.

6.11 pm
Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

Before I make a brief contribution, I apologise for my late arrival. I was at a meeting of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs which had to approve our report on sea defences in advance of tomorrows' estimates debate on sea defences and the avoidance of sea flood damage in Wales.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) and his two colleagues on enabling us to have this debate. I am sure that we would agree on one thing—that we have debates on Welsh affairs on the Floor of the House too infrequently. It would be in the interests of the Principality if we had more. Equally, the hon. Gentlemen will acknowledge that much useful work on Welsh affairs goes on outside the Chamber, because all of them at one time or another have been members of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs.

I declare my interest as parliamentary adviser to Welsh Water plc. I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Water Bill. The Bill provided a much tougher regulatory framework than was hitherto in place. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was speaking, the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) asked him to ensure that the National Rivers Authority brought far more prosecutions against those who break the law than the water authorities did. In doing so, he acknowledged what we did in the Bill. That acknowledgement was confirmed by the moderate and basically sensible speech of the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy).

We recognised that the water authorities were both poachers and gamekeepers—both dischargers of sewage and monitors of sewage disposal. The hon. Member for Gower, who is Chairman of the Select Committee, is particularly aware of that, as the Committee undertook an inquiry into the coastal sewage pollution in Wales. 'The separation of those powers is one of the great provisions of the Water Act 1989. We now have a much tougher regulatory framework than we had before.

Even my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench may acknowledge that the Government learned from previous privatisations and regulatory frameworks which might have been better than they were. As we progressed with privatisations, our approach to regulatory frameworks became more professional, more specific and more effective.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Torfaen acknowledged that by saying that the Labour party would keep the NRA. I know that he did not serve on the Standing Committee, but his colleagues on it also said that. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who was the Opposition Front Bench spokesman from Wales on the Bill, will confirm that.

Apparently a Labour Government would subsume the National Rivers Authority and the drinking water inspectorate in an environmental protection agency, but Labour always wants to subsume things in huge bureaucatic agencies. Why cannot Labour leave something in embryo—I do not want to get into an abortion debate or a debate on embryo experimentation, so I shall say instead, something which has just been born—to develop and get on with its job, instead of planning to reorganise it, should the nightmare occur and a Labour Government take power? They should leave it to get on with its job effectively. I am glad that Labour Members have at least acknowledged that we have done the right thing. Obviously, they themselves had the opportunity to do what we have done in the past, but they did not take it. At least they have graciously conceded that we have done the right thing.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred in passing to pollution in eastern Europe, he was his usual generous, gentle self. He did not labour the point, although it could be laboured. In the past year. I have travelled to Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Hungary. Anybody who drives through what were the great and glorious forests of Bohemia and Moravia will see instantly the damage wreaked by acid rain. Anybody who goes to East Berlin will see the pall of smoke hanging over that once great city—hopefully soon to be reunited with West Berlin as a great city again—as soon as they step off the train. The appalling pollution there comes largely from those ghastly Trabant cars—amazing plastic vehicles which do not seem to go anywhere very fast, yet create a huge amount of pollution in the process.

The same is true of Budapest. The two-and-a-half hour train journey from Vienna to Budapest takes one from one of the cleanest urban environments in western Europe to one of the dirtiest and most polluted in eastern Europe. State control and state socialism are no guarantors of a clean environment. The Opposition have evidence of that before their very eyes.

I have alluded to the inquiry into coastal sewage pollution in Wales. I was already a member of the Select Committee when it undertook that inquiry in 1985. One of the points that came out of it was the large number of sea and coastal outfalls in Wales. We have a quarter of the total for the whole of England and the Principality put together.

Mr. Wigley

indicated assent.

Mr. Raffan

I see the hon. Gentleman nodding vigorously. He sat next to me during many of our evidence sessions. He will remember as well as I do the damning statistics that emerged. Only 6 per cent. of the sea outfalls in 1985 were less than 10 years old, 75 per cent. were over 20 years old and 40 per cent. were over 40 years old. I well remember the hon. Gentleman intervening, rightly, to ask the chairman of the Welsh water authority, Mr. John Elfed Jones, about the size of his capital programme—and the time scale of it—to remedy this appalling situation. The hon. Gentleman was told that £75 million would be spent over 15 years. I subsequently asked the chairman: Perhaps you would rather be in the position of a private company so that you would then be able to borrow according to your needs and accelerate that capital programme. Mr. Jones replied: The proposition has immediate appeal. That is precisely what has happened. The £75 million over 15 years has been replaced by a capital programme for Welsh Water of £500,000 every day every year for the next 10 years. That is a massive capital programme. Would that capital programme have taken place under nationalisation, under Welsh Water in the public sector? That is the crucial question.

Welsh Water plc is no longer subject to external financing limits. It can go to the City, borrow more money more cheaply and accelerate its capital programme—something that all hon. Members are united in wanting. It can bring forward the day when the 40 per cent. of sea outfalls which are over 40 years old, can be replaced. The basic achievement of privatisation is that Welsh Water can now undertake such a massive capital programme.

Welsh Water is no longer subject to external financing limits. If the Labour party were to have its way and return the company to public ownership—should the nightmare occur and it returns to office—the water industry would once again have to compete with housing, education and social services for its share of resources.

Mr. Wigley

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with considerable interest. If the borrowing level is taken up by Welsh Water to the extent that he suggests—a level of £150 million to £200 million a year—the interest paid by the authority will have a considerable impact on the Welsh Water ratepayer—hence the £200 per household that they are now being billed. That is the bottom line of the policy advocated by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Raffan

The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that Welsh Water is now a commercial company. He will know as well as I what it has achieved in the past six to nine months. It has embarked upon a massive capital programme; it has taken over Wallace Evans, the biggest civil engineering firm in Wales, so that it can commercially exploit its unique expertise, not just in this country but in many countries around the world. I think that Wallace Evans has 50 offices worldwide. Together with the French water company SAUR, Welsh Water has set up a subsidiary, Cambrian Water, of which it owns 50 per cent.—yet another commercial waste disposal venture. Welsh Water is already becoming a much more commercially orientated company.

The cost of the capital expenditure to which I referred will not fall soley on the ratepayer—far from it. I do not want to compound the embarrassment of the Opposition, particularly the Labour party, about privatisation by alluding to Welsh Water's results last week, but the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) will be aware, as I am, that they have been extremely well received in the financial press and elsewhere, and have met with a long silence from the Opposition. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Caernarfon for giving me the opportunity to make those additional points about the benefits of privatisation. It is a great tribute to Welsh Water that it has adapted so swiftly and effectively to the new commercial environment in which it operates.

The hon. Member for Torfaen was gracious enough tonight to concede the importance and effectiveness of the National Rivers Authority and the drinking water inspectorate, saying that they would be retained by the Labour party, albeit subsumed in an environmental protection agency. Will the Opposition give a public commitment in the House that, should the nightmare occur—I do not believe that it will, but perhaps we can ask this as a hypothetical exercise—and the Labour party were to return to power in a year or two, Labour will ensure that, if Welsh Water is brought back into the public sector, its capital programme will not be curtailed?

Can a commitment be given that a Labour Government would not indulge in the sort of cuts they indulged in pre-1979, when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) said, they slashed capital expenditure on sewage and water works by a massive 50 per cent.? If Welsh Water is brought back into the public sector, a Government would be able to do just that. I hope that the Opposition will be able to give that commitment, because it will be of great interest to the House and of great importance to the people of Wales.

It is always interesting to see the Labour party turn green. I am not sure that its members have not turned green with envy at the Government's environmental record and the fact that we have, through the success of our economic policies which have all owed vastly increased capital expenditure in the water and sewage industries, begun to undo the damage that the Labour party wrought when it was in office. I think that Labour Members may also be slightly sickly green as they contemplate the, albeit remote, possibility of their party returning to office. They must be understandably nervous about how they would begin to compete with, let alone match, our record.

I assure Labour Members that that event will not occur; we will save them from first night nerves, because their first night will never come—the election victory will be ours, and we shall continue the excellent programme that we have carried out so far. Privatisation has accelerated the water industry's capital programmes, our environment cleaner day by day. A capital programme spending £500,000 a day for the next 10 years in Wales is ensuring that the Principality has a much better environment than ever before.

6.24 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) spoke of our being green with envy and embarrassment. If there is a clash of interest between the Welsh water authority, for which he gave a great hymn of praise and the interests of his constituents in terms of the £200 poll tax being imposed on them, will he speak for Welsh Water or his people and the people of Wales as a whole? We deserve an answer to such questions.

I wholly agreed with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said about the smugness of the Government amendment. We do not perceive in that amendment the Government who are seen in Brussels as the dirty old man of Europe. We do not perceive in it the reductions in Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and its low morale, evidenced by the number of resignations.

I wholly concur with the spirit of the speech made by the hon. Member for Meirionnyd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas). I congratulate him and fully accept what he said about the need for much greater research funding on pollution from the Welsh Office. I welcome the fact that we in Wales give much greater priority to pollution. When I first came on the political scene, the emphasis was on jobs at all costs. I saw that when Carbon Black polluted my constituency—jobs were then the high point of the agenda. I welcome the change, whether it be that Carbon Black no longer exists or the fact that people revolted against opencast mining, which their predecessors had been prepared to accept.

I accept what the Secretary of State said about the improvements in Wales. That can be seen in the greening of our valleys post-Aberfan, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon, a former Secretary of State, said. We can also see that improvement in the greening of corners of our cities. I congratulate my own city council of Swansea on the tree planting programme that has so transformed the city. The lower Swansea valley was once the most concentrated area of industrial dereliction in the United Kingdom, but improvements have been made.

However, who can doubt that, in many respects, the pollution is much worse? Most people are not worried about the great subjects of the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect, but local issues. In Swansea, the issue under discussion is the Cwmrhdyceirw quarry already mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), and the pollution in Swansea bay, mentioned in the report of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell).

As a boy, I spent most of my summer bathing on the beach at Swansea bay, and used to collect cockles there with my family. Now, no one would dare eat them, even if they were to be found. On the only occasion last year when I ventured on to that beach from my house, which adjoins it. my throat was immediately affected, which is evidence of the bay's deterioration. We accept that Welsh Water and the Government have plans, largely thrust on them by the European Commission. Only one beach in Wales, Pembrey, has been given the European Community's blue flag, and we wish to know more about the timetable for the others.

The Cwmrhydyceirw quarry poses an environmental nuisance, and I agree wholly with what my hon. Friend the Member for Gower and his colleagues said in the Select Committee report, at paragraph 41. For reasons of time I will not go into the report in detail, but it is clear that Welsh Water expressed anxiety about its lack of powers in this area. It is also clear that the quarry has not been and is not being properly managed, and that the local authority has insufficient powers. I am glad that, under the Environmental Protection Bill, licences can be revoked or refused if the licensee is deemed not to be a fit and proper person. I also welcome potential regulations under the Bill on the import of direct landfill substances. I hope that the Government will respond speedily when the Bill becomes an Act.

It is bizarre that imported heat-treated dried sludge from Switzerland—not, I hasten to add for the benefit of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), from a third-world country—has been imported and sold to farmers as soil conditioner—at a time when sewage sludge from Mumbles is sprayed on land and when such sludge from other local works is dumped in the Bristol channel. Why the difference? Is it because of inadequate resources, or do we lack the technology that must be available in Switzerland?

For most of our people, the environment means whatever has the most immediate impact on them. That puts me in mind of Dylan Thomas's "Return Journey" in which he said that in the first world war people talked about casualties at the front, but the only front that he knew was just in front of his house. The same applies to most of my constituents, who are not concerned with the rather grand subjects of the ozone layer, although they may be worried about Swansea bay. What concerns them more are areas such as Penlan, where motor cycle scrambling makes so much noise that it is hell for the residents. I hope that the Government will put a curb on some of these activities; certainly the police have not given enough priority to tackling this sort of nuisance.

For many people in Portmead and Blaen-y-Maes the immediate environment is menaced most of all by stray dogs and horses. I ask the Government to accept the Lords amendment in respect of dog registration, because of the health hazards of dogs fouling the environment. Environmental health officers in my local authority do not know how many dogs there are or hence how to plan their resources or allocate money for wardens. Horses tend to congregate near schools because of the green areas nearby which provide cheap feed, but they are an immense danger to children: they can stampede, for instance. At present, the local authority can charge only for the bare cost of feed and for vets even when the horses are in a compound. The authority should be given penal powers to cover its full and real costs.

I am delighted that we in Wales are giving environmental matters a higher place on the national agenda, and we shall help to keep them there. We shall press for the resources and equipment which we believe have not yet been fully forthcoming.

6.34 pm
Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)

That was the first I have heard about horse droppings from Swansea polluting the Irish sea.

I must agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) that the terminology of the Government amendment is nauseatingly self-congratulatory. I should have had the utmost difficulty supporting it had I not listened to the persuasive and reasoned speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in which he convincingly set out the steps that the Government are taking. There is still a long way to go, and I am anxious to see that they keep travelling down the same road.

The Government claim—backing up that claim with statistics—that our rivers are among the cleanest in Europe. Anyone looking over the Terrace would find that hard to believe, but the statistics prove it. Our rivers are a great deal cleaner than those that flow through most continental countries.

Our beaches are a different story. It is not good enough to claim that we have no dirty beaches on the ground that we have no beaches at all. To refuse to classify beaches as bathing beaches because they are too filthy to bathe from is a dishonest way of evading our responsibility to clean up. I am sick of being told by one expert after another that Mediterranean beaches are filthy. I was unlucky enough to find myself in Benidorm at the end of August last year for one night. I bathed on the pocket hankerchief of a beach in spotless, crystal clear water. At Villefranche I was able to read the front page of a newspaper lying under four feet of water at the quayside—I doubt whether I could have done that at many of our beaches. We do not keep them clean and it is time that we did.

Anyone alighting from the train at Colwyn bay will find a delightful innovation—a restaurant set up at the edge of the station and serving food of the highest quality. It has a fabulous view over the beach; at high tide the outlook is pleasing, but at low tide it is a good deal less so. One can see the short sea outfalls discharging at what is optimistically called the low water mark, which appears to be about 100 yd above the point to which the sea recedes at low tide. The beach is littered with supermarket trollies. For the life of me I cannot imagine why Britain does not adopt the practice of most continental countries and require a £1 coin to be deposited in the trolley, to be retrieved when it is returned. The beach, in any case, seems a favourite place for leaving them. There are other even less attractive things littering the beach, too.

It will be difficult to persuade my constituents that long sea outfalls, even properly screened, are the answer. They may well be, but people will have to be persuaded that whatever goes out through them has been properly screened and treated.

I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) said about full inland treatment. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I find it hard to argue against water authorities when they tell me that inland water treatment has its own serious drawbacks; it usually results in extensive leaching into the water courses nearby. If we went over to such treatment we might have cleaner beaches but even dirtier rivers, so we would not have made much progress.

The costs of all this cleaning up have been bandied to and fro, as have the failures of the local authorities—a long time ago—and then of the nationalised water boards to take the necessary measures to clean up. Hon. Members who were in the House 10 or more years ago will have to acknowledge that the extreme unpopularity of the water rates featured in a great deal of the mail that we received. Rates were bad enough: water rates were regarded as intolerable. Regardless of party, we have a duty to make people aware that cleaning up the environment will be an expensive business.

I am not enthusiastic about the privatisation of water, but, whether it is privatised or not, we do our electors a disservice if we encourage them to believe that, because of or despite privatisation, water has suddenly become expensive. The plain fact is that it will have to be expensive to pay the interest charges. Whether it competes with other priorities in the Treasury or for money on the London money markets, water is going to cost us an awful lot of money and we must face up to that.

6.39 pm
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

The debate has shown how well advised my party was in its choice of topic. I congratulate all hon. Members who have contributed to the spirit of this interesting and in parts well-informed and constructive debate because the subject is not partisan and was chosen in an effort to draw attention to major problems affecting our coasts. Many hon. Members have spoken about their constituencies, and such matters are also relevant to the debate.

People are becoming increasingly concerned about the effects of pollution at sea. The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Sir A. Meyer) and other hon. Members mentioned that. Public awareness is so high that people are rightly demanding action. In recent years the quality of our bathing water has deteriorated and the effects of pollution can be clearly seen. Sea discolouration is apparent along the north Wales coast and it is accompanied by a nauseating stench. There are also vast areas of rotting vegetation.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

I agree that we have much to do to improve the quality of our beaches. However, what evidence has the hon. Gentleman to support the idea that the quality of our water has deteriorated over the past 10 or 15 years?

Mr. Jones

I shall not go down that road now, except to say that the European Commission has prosecuted the United Kingdom over the quality of our bathing waters. The Government have had 10 years to solve the problem and have failed to do so. I shall return to that.

The hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) need not worry about gatecrashing the debate; he made a valuable and constructive speech and I and my colleagues agreed with most of it. As he said, regular visitors see a deterioration in the environment. I shall try to deal with some of the problems that have been mentioned.

A letter sent by Llandudno town council on 28 February 1989 to me, other hon. Members and Welsh local authorities galvanised many of us into doing something about the issue. The letter states: The Llandudno Council is becoming increasingly concerned about the continual pollution of the North Wales Coastal Waters: the Irish Sea and Liverpool Bay. Despite concern and outrage prompted by the recent scientific reports, action has not been taken by the Government to prohibit, or even substantially reduce, the practice of dumping human and industrial waste into these waters. It is hoped that as many MPs as possible will be prompted to ask questions in Parliament and saturate discussion with this issue. We cannot say that we have saturated discussion with the issue, but at least we have had a debate about it and tried to respond constructively to concerns expressed by many people in our part of Wales.

I have been in touch with most local authorities in north Wales about the issue and every one which has so far responded has expressed the same concern. The problems have been highlighted in the debate and I shall try to sum them up. The first problem is the raw sewage that is discharged into the sea and its effect on bathing amenities. Water turbidity causes problems in the Menai straits because raw sewage is not diluted and dispersed as quickly as in other areas, where it is washed out to sea and does not come back for a long time.

Hon. Members have mentioned sewage sludge. North West Water plc dumps 85,000 tonnes of sewage sludge into Liverpool bay every year, and there is evidence that such sludge contains unacceptably high levels of heavy metals which can have toxic effects on living organisms. Industrial wastes may contain mercury. Off Ynys Seiriol in my constituency, a cormorant was found to have died from a high concentration of mercury in the brain. Nitrates, phosphates and other chemicals are discharged into our rivers from the land and then reach the sea. Sunlight may react with those phosphates and nitrates to create algae on our beaches. Such matters worry our constituents, but they are not just local or minor matters; they affect both sides of the Irish sea and all countries in Britain. Such problems are not exclusive to Wales. I hope that the experience of people who live in all parts of the United Kingdom can be highlighted to galvanise the Government into further action.

We acknowledge that the Government have responded to the North sea conference. However, that was a reaction to international concerns that were expressed by countries in the European Community. The Government are occasionally prepared to bow to international pressure, but they do not seem to be so ready to bow to pressure in the United Kingdom. That is why we have used the debate to introduce local issues. As my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) said, the Government could demonstrate their concern about pollution by agreeing to an intergovernmental conference at ministerial level on problems in the Irish sea. Because of the pressure resulting from such a conference, the Government would have to act much more quickly.

No doubt the Welsh Office is aware of research by the north Wales marine study group which has conducted important surveys in recent years. It is worried about the effect of pollution on sea life. Its members have conducted underwater observations and have been able to highlight some of the problems. The Government amendment has enabled us to widen the debate and that has been to everyone's advantage. However, as hon. Members have said, the amendment is extremely complacent. It is not good enough to place responsibility for cleaning up pollution purely and simply on the shoulders of private industry. The issue is wider than that.

I hope that Welsh Water and other water authorities, whether privatised or not, will spend money on cleaning up our beaches and on providing proper sewerage works. The matter cannot simply be left to private industry. Resources must be devoted to research which will show that work has to be undertaken. When that happens, the Government will have to face their responsibility and work alongside industry. The commitment is enormous and we have discussed a range of issues that require investment. My biggest charge against the Government—especially in terms of their amendment—is one of complacency. It seems to me that they are not prepared to work alongside private industry.

The proliferation of marine algae has caused much local disquiet. We are not sure where it comes from or what causes it, but there should be an in-depth survey, and the Government should fund independent research. If that research shows—as many of us believe that it will—that we still need to take action, I will then demand from the Government a commitment to play their part and provide resources to clean up our beaches, rivers and environment.

6.50 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ian Grist)

This has been an interesting short debate, and I congratulate Plaid Cymru Members on tabling the motion: this is a subject that interests all hon. Members. Hon. Members who come from the country—as I do—will remember that 20 years ago trout could be seen swimming in roadside streams. Now, although the water may be clear, there are no trout swimming in it. I am pleased to see poppies growing on the roadside again: many hon. Members will remember when they could be seen in the corn, although that is bad farming. It is a joy to see colour in the countryside again, as it is to see some hedges.

I am afraid that the debate has brought forward some of the old scare horses about the environment. I shall use this brief opportunity to knock some of them on the head, at least partially.

The hon. Member for Ynys Môn, for instance, referred to mercury in Liverpool. Trace levels of mercury in sewage sludge licensed for sea dumping have fallen from less than 4.2 tonnes in 1976 to 1.1 tonnes in 1986. Mercury concentrates in Liverpool bay fish have fallen substantially, and are within international environmental quality standards.

Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) used the debate to mount a small political attack. I thank him for his welcome of my return—although I did not appreciate his non-appreciation of my beard, of which Mr. Speaker seemed to think rather more highly. Nevertheless, he should know that Government policy is to allow the wastes about which he complained to be imported only for specialist treatment or incineration, and that transfrontier movement for direct landfill should be exceptional and take place only when permitted by the importing country.

We believe that advanced industrialised countries—those belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development—should deal with their own wastes, and that is the line that we are taking in international discussions. It is now Community policy that the Community as a whole should be self-sufficient, as should individual countries. Our intention is to reduce the volume of waste to the environmentally justified minimum.

It is our clear intention that the volume of waste brought to this country—although small when compared with imports by other countries—should be reduced. To that end, enabling powers to prohibit or restrict waste imports are included in the Environmental Protection Bill. The powers are enabling because of the need to agree the detail in negotiations still under way in the EC and the OECD.

The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) spoke of the living conditions of some of his constituents. I came to know that area when I was a candidate in his constituency 20 years ago. I remember listening to a broadcast on Welsh radio about a year ago: a gentleman from Blaengwynfi was speaking about a visit from the then Secretary of State for Wales—my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). He said that my right hon. Friend had done more for the Afan valley than any previous Secretary of State for Wales, including presumably his own constituency Member. When asked whether he would be supporting the Conservative party he replied, "Good heavens no, I'm a communist." That is the thanks we get, but never mind.

The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon also referred to the staffing of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. At present there are three HMIP officers in the Welsh Office, and another who is based in Cardiff and involved with air pollution. The HMIP office was created in 1987 and originally had 148 staff in post; it now has 211. It is recruiting hard. The complement has been raised to 250, and inspectors' salaries were increased by 20 per cent. last autumn. They are being kept under review, and we are recruiting actively. Therefore, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's fears are misplaced.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) referred to dolphins. It is known that persistent organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls—PCBs—accumulate in the blubber of dolphins, and they were identified in the body of a young bottle-nosed dolphin found in 1988 in Cardigan bay. However, the general background level of pollutants in the Cardigan bay area was very low, with PCBs below detectable levels. Therefore, there is no obvious source of contaminants.

The other day my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)—the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—announced a project to fund analytical work related to the post mortem of cetaceans. The project will run for one year, and the Welsh Office is contributing to the cost. Hon. Members will know that, at the third North sea conference this year, it was agreed to destroy PCBs by 1995 if possible, and definitely by 1999 at the latest.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North also referred to the Irish sea in general. In 1988, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas—a highly regarded international scientific body of the kind to which the hon. Member for Ynys Môn and others have referred, and which is concerned with all aspects of marine environment in the north Atlantic area—undertook a review of current knowledge of human influences in the Irish sea. His message was clear: it argued that, while there were localised pollution problems in the Irish sea, they were essentially minor, and the resulting problems short-lived. It described the claims of abnormal plankton blooms caused by human activity as unconfirmed or speculative, and said that it had no reason to suppose that observed fluctuations and change in plankton and zoo-plankton were anything but natural. Examination of seal carcases found that seals were accumulating heavy metals and other persistent contaminants, but not at levels likely to cause death.

In what he referred to as a rather emotional speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) referred to a brownish slick which everyone has seen off Anglesey. There have been reports from local fishermen about this brownish discoloration. As we have heard tonight, it is alleged to have been caused by sewage sludge or by waste from the road construction project at Conwy—the remarkable tunnels for the A55.

An analysis commissioned by the agricultural department at the Welsh Office through MAFF's Caernarfon office ruled out sewage pollution. As for the road construction theory, no dumping has taken place within the past 12 months. The National Rivers Authority is exploring the possibility that the discolouration has been caused by an erosion of boulder clay during the exceptional winter storms, the clay having been kept in suspension. The results of the authority's investigations are awaited.

The motion begins by deploring the dumping of industrial waste and sewage sludge in the Irish sea. No industrial waste is dumped in the Irish sea, nor will any be dumped in any of the seas round Britain by 1992. Sewage sludge from north-west England is dumped in the Irish sea under MAFF licence, and that will end—as announced—by 1998. I should point out that assessments made by MAFF about the impact of dumping show that it has no implications for the ecosystem of the Irish sea.

Many, if not all, hon. Members will have felt concern about the pumping of untreated sewage into our seas—more particularly when the outfall is close to the shore, but even when there is a long sea outfall. That is why last year the Government announced a £1.4 billion programme to improve our bathing waters, and why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced, on 5 March, a new additional programme costing £1.5 billion, whereby all sewage would be treated before being discharged to estuarial or coastal waters. Current measures involve the ending of sewage sludge dumping, and the treatment of all sewage discharged to sea. Some works, such as those at Lavernock—to which the hon. Member for Torfaen referred—will change, because of the change in design, from the proposed long sea outfall to one where sewage will in future be treated.

We shall give priority to introducing treatment for bathing waters that fail the bathing water directive. Hon. Members will be pleased to know that the remaining Welsh beaches at Llandudno west shore will comply with the directive by 1993, Rhyl and Kinmel bay by 1994 and the remaining Welsh beaches by 1995. That is an extraordinarily good change. The House will note the enormous sums being invested in cleaning up what we have inherited, and the new freedom that the establishment of the private water companies has given us. We are set for a clean environment under the Government.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 156, Noes 297.

Division No. 285] [7.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Blunkett, David
Allen, Graham Boyes, Roland
Alton, David Bradley, Keith
Anderson, Donald Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Armstrong, Hilary Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Canavan, Dennis
Ashton, Joe Carr, Michael
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Clay, Bob
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Clelland, David
Beckett, Margaret Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Beggs, Roy Cousins, Jim
Beith, A. J. Cox, Tom
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cryer, Bob
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bermingham, Gerald Dalyell, Tam
Darling, Alistair McNamara, Kevin
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Madden, Max
Dewar, Donald Mahon, Mrs Alice
Dixon, Don Marek, Dr John
Dobson, Frank Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Doran, Frank Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Duffy, A. E. P. Meacher, Michael
Dunnachie, Jimmy Meale, Alan
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Michael, Alun
Eastham, Ken Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Faulds, Andrew Morgan, Rhodri
Fearn, Ronald Morley, Elliot
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fisher, Mark Murphy, Paul
Flannery, Martin Nellist, Dave
Foster, Derek O'Brien, William
Foulkes, George Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fyfe, Maria Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Parry, Robert
George, Bruce Pike, Peter L.
Godman, Dr Norman A. Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Graham, Thomas Primarolo, Dawn
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Quin, Ms Joyce
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Radice, Giles
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Redmond, Martin
Grocott, Bruce Reid, Dr John
Hardy, Peter Richardson, Jo
Haynes, Frank Robertson, George
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Rogers, Allan
Henderson, Doug Ruddock, Joan
Hinchliffe, David Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hood, Jimmy Short, Clare
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Skinner, Dennis
Howells, Geraint Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Hoyle, Doug Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Soley, Clive
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Steinberg, Gerry
Illsley, Eric Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Janner, Greville Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Turner, Dennis
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Vaz, Keith
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Wallace, James
Kirkwood, Archy Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Lambie, David Wareing, Robert N.
Lamond, James Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Leighton, Ron Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Lewis, Terry Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Litherland, Robert Wilson, Brian
Livingstone, Ken Wise, Mrs Audrey
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Worthington, Tony
McAllion, John Wray, Jimmy
McAvoy, Thomas Young, David (Bolton SE)
McCartney, Ian
McFall, John Tellers for the Ayes:
McKelvey, William Mrs. Margaret Ewing and
Maclennan, Robert Mr. Dafydd Wigley.
Aitken, Jonathan Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Allason, Rupert Benyon, W.
Amess, David Biffen, Rt Hon John
Amos, Alan Blackburn, Dr John G.
Arbuthnot, James Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Body, Sir Richard
Arnold, Sir Thomas Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Ashby, David Boscawen, Hon Robert
Atkinson, David Boswell, Tim
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Bottomley, Peter
Baldry, Tony Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Batiste, Spencer Bowis, John
Bellingham, Henry Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Bendall, Vivian Brazier, Julian
Bright, Graham Hampson, Dr Keith
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hanley, Jeremy
Browne, John (Winchester) Hannam, John
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Buck, Sir Antony Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Budgen, Nicholas Harris, David
Burns, Simon Haselhurst, Alan
Butcher, John Hayes, Jerry
Butler, Chris Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Butterfill, John Hayward, Robert
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Carrington, Matthew Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Carttiss, Michael Hill, James
Cash, William Hind, Kenneth
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Chope, Christopher Holt, Richard
Churchill, Mr Hordern, Sir Peter
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Colvin, Michael Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Conway, Derek Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Cope, Rt Hon John Hunter, Andrew
Cormack, Patrick Irvine, Michael
Couchman, James Jackson, Robert
Cran, James Janman, Tim
Critchley, Julian Jessel, Toby
Currie, Mrs Edwina Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Curry, David Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Day, Stephen Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dorrell, Stephen Key, Robert
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kilfedder, James
Dover, Den King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dunn, Bob Kirkhope, Timothy
Durant, Tony Knapman, Roger
Dykes, Hugh Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Emery, Sir Peter Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Knowles, Michael
Evennett, David Knox, David
Fallon, Michael Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Favell, Tony Lang, Ian
Fenner, Dame Peggy Latham, Michael
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lawrence, Ivan
Fishburn, John Dudley Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Fookes, Dame Janet Lee, John (Pendle)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Forth, Eric Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fox, Sir Marcus Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Franks, Cecil Lilley, Peter
Freeman, Roger Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
French, Douglas Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Gale, Roger Lord, Michael
Gardiner, George Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Garel-Jones, Tristan Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Gill, Christopher Maclean, David
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian McLoughlin, Patrick
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Goodhart, Sir Philip Madel, David
Goodlad, Alastair Malins, Humfrey
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Mans, Keith
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Maples, John
Gorst, John Marland, Paul
Gow, Ian Marlow, Tony
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gregory, Conal Mates, Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Grist, Ian Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Ground, Patrick Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mellor, David
Hague, William Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Miller, Sir Hal
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mills, Iain
Miscampbell, Norman Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Squire, Robin
Mitchell, Sir David Stanbrook, Ivor
Moate, Roger Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Steen, Anthony
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Stern, Michael
Morrison, Sir Charles Stevens, Lewis
Moss, Malcolm Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Moynihan, Hon Colin Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Neale, Gerrard Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Needham, Richard Stokes, Sir John
Nelson, Anthony Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Sumberg, David
Nicholls, Patrick Summerson, Hugo
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Norris, Steve Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Oppenheim, Phillip Temple-Morris, Peter
Page, Richard Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Paice, James Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Patnick, Irvine Thorne, Neil
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Thornton, Malcolm
Pawsey, James Thurnham, Peter
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Porter, David (Waveney) Tracey, Richard
Portillo, Michael Tredinnick, David
Powell, William (Corby) Trippier, David
Raffan, Keith Twinn, Dr Ian
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Viggers, Peter
Rathbone, Tim Waddington, Rt Hon David
Redwood, John Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Walden, George
Rhodes James, Robert Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Riddick, Graham Waller, Gary
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Ward, John
Roberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Rossi, Sir Hugh Warren, Kenneth
Rost, Peter Watts, John
Ryder, Richard Wells, Bowen
Sackville, Hon Tom Wheeler, Sir John
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Whitney, Ray
Sayeed, Jonathan Widdecombe, Ann
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Wiggin, Jerry
Shaw, David (Dover) Wilkinson, John
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Wilshire, David
Shelton, Sir William Wood, Timothy
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Yeo, Tim
Shersby, Michael Young, Sir George (Acton)
Sims, Roger Younger, Rt Hon George
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Tellers for the Noes:
Soames, Hon Nicholas Mr. David Lightbown and
Speed, Keith Mr. John M. Taylor.
Speller, Tony

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the major programme of investment to be undertaken by the privatised water companies to improve the quality of water and the comprehensive measures outlined in the Environmental Protection Bill; congratulates Her Majesty's Government on the positive lead it is giving in areas of environmental concern; and looks forward to the publication of the Government's White Paper on the Environment later this year.