HC Deb 06 November 1991 vol 198 cc435-6
6. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress is being made towards achieving EC directives on cleaning up beaches by 1992.

Mr. Baldry

The £2 billion programme of improvements for bathing waters identified under the directive is on target to bring virtually all bathing waters into compliance by 1995.

Mr. Jones

As the seaside holiday season is so short, does the Minister agree that, in view of the quality of many of our beaches, the work must be done quickly in time for the next holiday season? Is not it time that the Government took the lead? A vast amount of resources is required to clean up our beaches and much of the work is done by privatised water companies, local authorities and volunteers.

Mr. Baldry

As I have made clear, a substantial sum is being invested by the water companies. About £2 billion is being spent on improvements to ensure that our beaches are brought into compliance with the directive as soon as is humanly possible.

Mr. Michael Brown

Will my hon. Friend note that, contrary to what the hon. Gentleman has just said, only last week the Anglian water authority launched a massive investment programme for the specific purpose of cleaning up the whole of Cleethorpes beach, thus ensuring that Cleethorpes can go forward as a tourist centre worthy of its name?

Mr. Baldry

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Every water company with coastal waters is spending millions upon millions of pounds on ensuring that all our bathing waters comply with the directive as soon as is humanly possible.

Mr. Gareth Wardell

The Minister knows that there are two compliance standards under the European Community directive: one, for total coliforms, is 10,000 per 100 ml of water; the other, for E Coli, is 2,000 per 100 ml of water. According to the latest information for summer 1990, the figure for the bathing beach at Aldingham near Barrow-in-Furness was, for the filthiest sample, over 1,600,000 E Coli per 100 ml of water and, for the same beach, over 1,800,000 total coliforms. Does the Minister bathe there often?

Mr. Baldry

The method for testing bathing water here is exactly the same as the Commission uses to assess compliance in all member states. The method that we use to test water was fully supported in recent reports by the National Rivers Authority and the Select Committee on the Environment. We have the most comprehensive sampling regime in Europe and look at bathing water quality throughout the year.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the level of investment by the water industry, now that it has been privatised, is very much greater than when it was under public ownership? Does my hon. Friend agree that it is hypocritical of Opposition Members to call for more investment without saying how they would pay for it?

Mr. Baldry

Yes, Sir. It is worth recalling that the Labour party so mismanaged the economy that at the behest of the International Monetary Fund it had to slash, overnight, investment in the water industry.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Will the Minister admit that the privatised water companies are diverting the funds that they have available into buying hotels and waste companies instead of speeding up the implementation of the directive? The construction industry is in such a bad shape that there are plenty of opportunities for speeding up the programme to clean our beaches. Is not it important to make sure that annex 5 of the international convention on the prevention of pollution from ships is properly policed—in British waters at least?

Mr. Baldry

I am not confident that the Opposition understand the concept of £2 billion. Millions of pounds are being spent by the water companies. To take only a 40-mile section of the Yorkshire coastline, £30 million is being spent at Scarborough, £15 million at Filey, £9 million at Sandsend and £6 million at Robin Hood's bay. Millions of pounds are being spent to enhance and improve water quality and to ensure that our bathing waters comply with the European Community directive as soon as is humanly possible. The expenditure of a sum of money as large as £2 billion would not have been possible under a state-controlled nationalised industry.