HC Deb 21 June 1995 vol 262 cc335-6
4. Mr. Congdon

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress has been made in upgrading sewage treatment works which were in breach of their discharge consents at the time of privatisation of the water industry. [28030]

The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. Robert Atkins)

Of 918 sewage treatment works identified in 1989 as requiring investment, 95 per cent. are now compliant with their consents. Further investment is planned over the next 10 years.

Mr. Congdon

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having become my right hon. Friend. I welcome the improvements that have taken place in the treatment of sewage since the massive investment following privatisation of the industry, but does my right hon. Friend agree that there is more to be done to ensure that no sewage is discharged into the sea in an untreated state?

Mr. Atkins

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. The problem that he mentions has been around for a considerable time, and because of its size it is not likely simply to go away. However, since privatisation many companies involved in the disposal of sewage have spent vast sums on improvements. My hon. Friend's point is well taken, and I am sure that the water companies already spending that money will continue to do so, so that, in the not-too-distant future, the concerns that he has expressed will vanish.

Ms Ruddock

Does the Minister agree that the improvements to which he alluded have been made as much to comply with European directives as because of privatisation? Is he also aware that the beaches at the major resorts in this country are still being contaminated by the discharge of sewage into the sea, and that the European Commission's recent annual report placed Britain third from the bottom of the league table for bathing water quality? Is it not true that this summer holidaymakers should be given the health warning, "Bathing in sea water in Britain can damage your health"?

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Lady raises several points, although, as usual, she puts her finger on a problem that is easy to attack, but she does not understand the solutions. The fact remains that this country has spent more on cleaning up its beaches and providing sewerage facilities than any other country. That has happened as a direct result of privatisation, although the hon. Lady is right to say that the European Commission has played a part. Surely the point is that for years in this country we thought that poking a pipe into the sea off the coast to get rid of sewage was acceptable, but we now reckon that it is not. It will cost a lot of money and take a lot of time to redress that, and it does not help if Opposition Members such as the hon. Lady attack tourism, the towns that depend on it and Britain as a whole by suggesting that our beaches are unsafe, when they are not.

Mr. Hawkins

May I join in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his well-deserved advancement, which was particularly welcome among fellow Lancashire Members? Will he confirm that one of the best of the recent advances in sewage treatment is the splendid investment that North West Water is making to clean up the sea off Blackpool's beaches to ensure that our leading resort remains the best in the world? Is it not outrageous that the Opposition seek always to run Britain and its tourism down?

Mr. Atkins

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. Blackpool is arguably the most important tourist resort in Europe, and certainly the most important in the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend, and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson), speak firmly and regularly in favour of the town they represent. Anyone who attacks Blackpool and its contribution to the British economy through tourism does Lancashire and this country a grave disservice. We know who is doing that.