HC Deb 28 April 1993 vol 223 cc955-6
12. Mr. Michael Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many bathing waters were designated by Her Majesty's Government for the purposes of the 1975 EC bathing waters directive by May 1979.

Mr. Howard

No bathing waters had been identified by May 1979 as within the scope of the bathing waters directive.

Mr. Brown

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the position has changed, although Cleethorpes is not yet up to standard? Perhaps he might like to consider taking one of his holidays in Cleethorpes. The Prime Minister has already said, in a reply to me earlier this year, that he hopes to visit Cleethorpes. Can my right hon. and learned Friend, if he comes to Cleethorpes, hold out the prospect that, by 1995, there is every probability that our beaches will be able to hold their own with the rest of the United Kingdom? Can he also confirm that, this year, Cleethorpes expects to receive the greatest number of tourists ever? Clean beaches would put the icing on the cake of that great tourist achievement.

Mr. Howard

I very much look forward to visiting Cleethorpes, although my hon. Friend has a somewhat exaggerated notion of the number of holidays that I take during the year. I can confirm that we expect the bathing beaches of Cleethorpes fully to meet the standards of the European bathing waters directive by 1995. I am delighted to hear what he has told me about the number of tourists that Cleethorpes intends to entertain over the summer and I am sure that they will benefit from all the facilities that the resort has to offer.

Mr. Dafis

Does the Secretary of State accept that it is unreasonable for funding for the kind of environmental improvements covered by the directive to be provided in such a way as to have a terrible effect on water bills, with the impact that has on low-income families? Would not it be reasonable for at least some of that funding to come from the public purse? Is such funding already given or would it be possible?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman must accept that the resources for the public purse come from his constituents, just as much as the money for the bills that they have to pay for improved water systems. It is no use the hon. Gentleman or other Opposition Members proclaiming the need for higher standards without being prepared to make available the resources necessary if those standards are to be achieved.

Mr. Allason

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that Torbay enjoys the cleanest beaches and quite the best bathing water in the country. Is he aware also that a large burden is placed on South West Water chargepayers, who are obliged to pay for what is, in effect, a national asset? Will my right hon. and learned Friend kindly visit Torbay this summer, swim in our water, and then examine our water charges?

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to all hon. Friends who want me to spend an ever-increasing number of holidays in their constituencies. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's remarks about the excellent quality of Torbay's beaches, and I know of, and have some sympathy with, his concerns about the level of bills in the south-west. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated recently that we are examining those matters.

Ms Short

Does the Secretary of State agree that of interest is not whether he is willing to visit Cleethorpes but whether he is willing to swim there—and whether he is worried that he might be swimming in sewage? That is the issue of concern to people throughout the country. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman have any plans to enforce the directive's guidelines, rather than just its minimum standards? There is evidence that enforcing only the minimum standards still leads to sickness caused by sewage problems. Will the Secretary of State confirm that Britain's 400 designated areas will reach the minimum standard by 1995 or will he renege on that standard? Does he agree with the Marine Conservation Society that it would be reasonable to ask the big 10 privatised water companies to reduce their returns to shareholders, to achieve decent minimum bathing standards?

Mr. Howard

I am not persuaded that the present mandatory—not minimum—standards are in any way inadequate to provide the quality of bathing beaches that we require. We are making excellent progress. Very few of our bathing beaches no longer reach the standard, and I hope that they will all meet it in 1995. Perhaps the hon. Lady will come with me to Cleethorpes.

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