HC Deb 13 May 1992 vol 207 cc602-3
1. Mr. Cran

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what percentage of sewage treatment works met their consents standards in 1979; and what percentage comply at the latest date for which figures are available.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Howard)

No records were kept centrally on sewage treatment works in 1979. The latest available figures show that, in 1990, 88 per cent. of sewage treatment works met the long-term performance measures specified in their discharge consents. That compares with 77 per cent. in 1986. I expect almost all sewage treatment works to be in a position to meet the required standards from the end of this year.

Mr. Cran

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bring pressure to bear on the chairman of Yorkshire Water, which is pumping raw sewage into the River Humber from the south end of my constituency? Yorkshire Water has not made the necessary investment in treatment works in that part of my constituency. Is that not a disgrace? Will my right hon. and learned Friend help me?

Mr. Howard

I understand the concern that lies behind my hon. Friend's question, but the discharge to which he referred does not significantly affect the quality of the water in the Humber estuary. Nevertheless, we are committed to ending such discharges. Yorkshire Water will be drawing up a programme to provide appropriate treatment for the discharges.

Mr. Sheerman

Is the Secretary of State aware of the massive sewage pollution in the River Calder, which has been added to by an enormous old tip that has slipped into the river, blocking it at one point? Very dangerous heavy metal contamination has been found in that slip. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give special consideration to Kirklees and the people who are trying to fight the real danger of a great deal of pollution in our water supplies?

Mr. Howard

I shall ensure that the relevant water authority is made aware of the circumstances described by the hon. Gentleman. He will know that £28 billion is being invested in improving our water standards through programmes that are being implemented throughout the country, of which about 50 per cent. is devoted to the treatment of sewage.

Mr. Bellingham

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, unlike the chairman of Yorkshire Water, the chairman of Anglian Water has done an excellent job? Anglian Water recently opened a new sewage plant—indeed, the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), had the pleasure of opening it last year—which cost almost £10 million. Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, without privatisation and access to private capital, that investment would not have been made?

Mr. Howard

I think that both the chairman of Yorkshire Water and the chairman of Anglian Water are doing a pretty good job. My hon. Friend is right in what he says about the current investment in improving our water environment. It did not happen when the industry was in the public sector, under Governments of both political parties. The record of investment in the water industry when the Labour party was last in power does not bear the skimpiest examination.

Mr. Skinner

Is not it significant that since the water authorities have been privatised, a number of Tory Members of Parliament—there will be more in future—are complaining about the state of the water? When will the Secretary of State clean up the River Doe Lea, where pollution is 1,000 times above the necessary safety levels? When will he clean up the dioxin at Bolsover? Why does he not respond to Bolsover district council's call for a public inquiry? Is not the truth of the matter that he knows all about sewage, which stinks along the Government Benches? That is why the Government are bailing out Olympia and York at Canary wharf.

Mr. Howard

The one thing of which I would never have accused the hon. Gentleman, although I might have accused many other Members of this particular failing, is a short memory. There was much more reason for concern about the state of our water environment when the industry was in the public sector than there is now. I urge the hon. Gentleman to see the massive improvements that have been made to our water environment as a result of the huge investment that has become possible following the privatisation of the industry.