HC Deb 04 December 1991 vol 200 cc246-8
4. Mr. Alan W. Williams

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the condition of Britain's rivers following the 1990 river quality survey conducted by the National Rivers Authority.

The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Trippier)

I understand that the National Rivers Authority intends to publish the results from its 1990 river quality survey shortly.

Mr. Williams

When the Minister reads that report, which has already been widely leaked, he will discover that 11 per cent. of Britain's rivers have improved in quality since 1985, but that 15 per cent. have deteriorated. From 1958 there was a steady improvement in the quality of Britain's rivers, but since 1980 there has been a net deterioration of 6 per cent. Is not that an appalling commentary on the Government's record of caring for the environment?

Mr. Trippier

No, it is not. First, the hon. Gentleman has suggested that the report, which he says has been leaked, is accurate, but I suggest to him and to the House that it is not. That will be revealed by the time the report is published by the NRA. Secondly, the fact that 90 per cent. of river water in the United Kingdom is judged to be of a good or very high standard is something of which I am enormously proud. That contrasts with the rest of the European Community. where 75 per cent. of river water is judged to be of good quality. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that our record is the best in the European Community.

Mr. Dunn

Is my hon. Friend aware that large sections of the River Darent, which runs through the constituency of Dartford—hence the name Dartford—have largely disappeared? Will my hon. Friend therefore give me an undertaking that he will visit Dartford early in the new year, or on Christmas day if need be, to see for himself the damage that has been done to our river and how much has been lost? My hon. Friend should bring with him members of the NRA so that they can provide best advice on how we can give our river back to the people of Dartford.

Mr. Trippier

I am happy to give an undertaking to my hon. Friend that I would be only too delighted to visit his constituency, but I should be grateful if he would release me on Christmas day.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Does the Minister realise that his attitude on river quality is incredibly complacent and that the condition of Britain's rivers is causing great concern to many people, from anglers and recreational users of rivers to the chief scientist of the NRA? Why has there been a downturn in river water quality under the Government which has reversed the trend since the mid-1950s? That downturn is all the more remarkable considering the damage that the Government have done by reducing British industry.

Mr. Trippier

It is brass cheek for the hon. Lady to refer to the Government's record on river quality and water in general when one remembers that the Labour Government cut investment in water quality by 30 per cent. It would have taken a considerable amount of time for any Government taking over their shambolic performance to improve the quality of just about everything in the environment, as we have been doing. I remind the hon. Lady who set up the National Rivers Authority. She at least praises the National Rivers Authority on every conceivable occasion. We invented it and set it up—the Labour party did not.

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