HL Deb 21 November 1985 vol 468 cc691-715

5.26 p.m.

Lord Nathan rose to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on the Discharge of Dangerous Substances (15th Report, 1984–85, H.L. 227).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The title of our report sounds forbidding and the subject esoteric and highly technical. It is; but issues arise of broad significance, and it is to these that the report primarily relates. We are dealing here with the most dangerous substances, generally referred to as "black list substances", which, by definition, are toxic, persistent and bio-accumulative. They present particular dangers to the environment when discharged to water. DDT is a good example, particularly of persistence. Although it has not been manufactured and used in the United Kingdom for some time, it may still be detected in surface waters. The greatest care therefore needs to be taken in the use of these substances and the control of discharges to water.

The draft directive considered in this report is intended to create the general framework for the control of discharges of the dangerous substances set out in List 1 in the annex to the directive made in 1976: that is, 76/464/EEC, which I will call the "parent directive". These are the substances generally referred to as black list substances. It was intended, when the parent directive was made, that the control of discharges of black list substances would be the subject of later directives. A list of around 50,000 substances falling within the black list originally existed, but procedures have been adopted to reduce these to 129 priority substances based principally on chemical structure, level of production or use and evaluation of risks to the aquatic environment. "Daughter' directives have been made on mercury, cadmium and hexachlorocyclohexane (lindane).

In order to speed up the slow progress thus far made the Commission has proposed this present directive (4519/85), which contains provisions for control of substances as they arise for consideration. It is intended that the draft directive should be supplemented from time to time by annexes containing technical provisions relating to specific substances. Indeed, annexes related to the first four substances to be regulated by this new procedure are published with the draft directive. The provisions include regulations for new and existing industrial plants and monitoring requirements for areas affected by industrial discharges; and they require member states to draw up programmes for the elimination of pollution from multiple sources. The annexes thus far published relate to chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, DDT and pentachlorophenol.

The draft directive preserves the option instituted in the parent directive of adopting the "limit value" or "environmental quality objective" approach to controlling discharge of dangerous substances to water. In essence, the difference is this. The "limit value" approach involves the establishment of permissible limits of discharges to water, according to quantity and concentration of the substance to be controlled. The "environmental quality objective" approach, on the other hand, involves the establishment of a standard of water quality to be achieved and the control of discharges of the substance accordingly.

In the report, the committee has looked afresh at this option and the problems to which it gives rise, and recommends that for each substance the most appropriate techniques for the control of pollution should be used and that these should be applied uniformly in respect of that substance throughout the Community. We have been prompted to look at the position afresh, because the draft directive will apply to further black list substances as they arise for consideration, and it will therefore be the framework by which they will be governed—a framework which will be with us for many years—governing the control of the whole range of black list substances, apart from those few to which the existing specific directives already made relate.

We have also borne in mind what was said in the Tenth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, of which both the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and I have the privilege of membership. The Tenth Report's reference is Cmnd. 9149, and that report says at paragraph 3.26: If only in the interests of international co-operation, the United Kingdom must respond to the views of its European Community partners and it should do so in a way that ensures that constructive criticism is not mistaken for obstructiveness. Foresight and prudence also suggest that the United Kingdom should re-appraise its stance on irretrievable discharges to the sea of toxic substances which are unarguably persistent and bio-accumulative, and which provide the justification for the 'black list' and 'List 1'.

The dispute which gave rise to the compromise in the form of the option to adopt the "limit value" or "environmental quality objective" approach was one in which the Commission and all other member states of the Community preferred the former, and indeed insisted upon it, while the United Kingdom alone stood out for the latter. If, therefore, a change is to be made, it is fitting that the United Kingdom should initiate it.

The 129 priority substances vary in their toxicity and persistence and in the extent of bio-accumulation. Further, the predominant sources from which they are discharged to the aquatic environment differ for each substance. Some enter the aquatic environment in substantial concentrations, primarily from a few industrial units; others, in greater dilution, from a number of small industrial discharge points where the substances are used or handled; and yet others from diffuse sources such as run-off from agricultural land or in the form of leachate from waste landfill sites. No one approach is, therefore, appropriate.

The adoption of "limit value" or the "environmental quality objective" approach or, indeed, limitation of use—or a combination of some or all of these—must be adapted to the substance in question, its use, the manner in which it is discharged and the techniques available for monitoring. It follows that each substance under consideration must be assessed in relation not only to its characteristics, but also to its use and the predominant source of discharge, and action taken in accordance with that assessment uniformly throughout the Community.

The draft directive should be so framed as to permit this to be done. By incorporating this flexibility into the draft directive, due regard can be given not only to the current environment but also to the future environment. The future environment is liable to be especially affected by substances which are particularly persistent, or which accumulate in organisms or food chains to a high degree. The sea is the ultimate repository and discharges to inland waters and estuaries should be treated accordingly.

The merits and demerits of any particular approach to controlling pollution are not determined by national boundaries, but are related to the environmental behaviour of each substance and its pattern of production and use. It does not, therefore, seem sensible that the approach to control should be left within the discretion of any particular member state, as allowed for in the parent directive, and now in the draft directive under review. Further, the option to adopt one or other of the two prescribed approaches has led to suggestions, by those who prefer the "limit value" approach, that the "environmental quality objective" approach is a soft option, while those who prefer the "environmental quality objective" approach suggest that what is in issue in the case of all member states is the determination of water quality standards and that only one, the United Kingdom, adopts them. Friction is, therefore, created by the very existence of the option in relation not only to environmental theory but to the economic consequences which some perceive.

In the course of our study and through the evidence we have received, we have become seriously concerned about the procedures adopted by the Commission in obtaining and evaluating the scientific evidence that it has sought. We believe that these procedures should be revised to ensure that the scientific committee advising the Commission is fully aware of the purpose and context of the advice which is sought from them, and that this advice is far more widely disseminated among the scientific community than has hitherto taken place, so that informed comment from those qualified to do so may be taken into account by the Commission before making a recommendation.

The confusion, to which we refer in our report, between the contents of the explanatory memorandum issued in conjunction with the present draft directive and the scientific reports which were obtained by the Commission, indicates to us the urgent need for the Commission to have available to it scientists who are able to interpret and evaluate the advice which the Commission receives. These matters become of particular importance if the recommendations we have made, to which I have referred. were adopted; for it is a consequence of these recommendations that priority should be given to substances not only according to their intrinsic properties, but also to their use. This means that they must be kept under review as demand and use change. There is the further matter, that if the Commission were adequately equipped with scientists, it might be easier for it to assess which of the 129 priority substances should be given the greatest priority, which is clearly a matter of considerable importance and concern.

We recognise that negotiations on this draft directive have already reached an advanced stage, and that it might therefore prove difficult on this occasion to achieve the fundamental revisions of policy which we consider necessary. If this should be the case, we propose that our recommendations should be agreed on the next occasion when further black list substances are considered.

When this draft directive first came before us it seemed, if I may use the phrase, a rather arid subject, yet it appears that in the past—and many of your Lordships have far longer experience of this than I—much heat has been engendered.

For the reasons I have mentioned, I believe that publication of this draft directive presents an opportunity for a radical review of the current approach to the control of pollution by the black list substances, and that the uneasy compromise in the parent directive in 1976, which it is now proposed should be continued, should be displaced by a new approach on the lines I have indicated.

It is a great disappointment to me, and I am sure to other Members of your Lordships' House, that the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, is unable to be present, for he played so large a part in the development of the "environmental quality objective" approach to pollution control and its place at the centre of thinking and practice concerning water pollution in this country. The noble Lord was of course a member of the committee whose report we are now considering and endorsed the recommendations which we made and to which I have referred. It is right that I should tell the House that I have his permission to confirm to your Lordships his full approval of the recommendations.

In a broader context, I believe this new approach would in a small way help to bring the Community a sense of unity which it so sorely needs. I hope the Minister will be able to respond positively and that the Government will initiate discussions with the Commission and our partners in the Community to secure agreement on the lines set out in our report, and thus eliminate a cause of friction which has gone on far too long. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on the Discharge of Dangerous Substances (15th Report, 1984–85, H.L. 227.)—(Lord Nathan.)

5.43 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I am very happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, in supporting this report which the noble Lord has already described with such lucidity and some very penetrating comments. I should certainly like to join him in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, who has had such an invaluable influence on the evolution of the prevention of pollution policy in this country. I hope that we may yet see him with us again quite often.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, about the need to strengthen the Commission's procedure, particularly with regard to the scientific advisory committee, and about the desirability of its advice being made known to member states. As the noble Lord has said, the directive proposes a new approach to the 1976 directive and to speed up the control of sources of dangerous substances. This seems in every way desirable, as all we have today are the first four of the 129 substances. There must be a need for an accelerated approach to this important subject. The four we have are not tremendously important—chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, DDT and pentachlorophenol—so that the actual intrinsic significance of this draft directive is not really epoch-making, to say the least of it. By far the most important aspect of the draft directive is in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Community itself.

As the noble Lord said, this directive proposes that the member states should have the option of establishing control over these dangerous substances and any subsequent candidates, either by the system of limit values or by a system of environmental quality objectives. We were certainly persuaded by the evidence we received that a system of limit values alone would not be sufficient. It is adequate obviously for major discharges, but there is often pollution from a number of diffuse sources such as toxic rubbish tips and, as the noble Lord said, agricultural run-offs, and so on. The total effect of those in a stream could be determined only by monitoring in the water itself and therefore in relationship to an environmental quality objective. Thus we were convinced that full control can be achieved only by a combination of both methods, and that is what we have recommended.

This has a very important extrinsic significance because it could be seen, if our recommendation is accepted, as a reconciliation of the long-running difference of opinion between the United Kingdom and the Commission about the correct method of controlling the discharge of dangerous substances. The story starts from the 1976 directive, which specified the groups of substances regarded as particularly dangerous on grounds of persistence, toxicity and bio-accumulation. In the event, that directive gave member states the option of controlling either by limit values or by applying environmental quality standards.

The council's decision to allow the option to member states of methods of control resulted from the insistence of the United Kingdom that limit values alone was not the best system of control. Here in the United Kingdom we have traditionally fixed discharge standards by a relationship to the quality of the water into which the discharge was to go. This seems only commonsense. I am not saying that in past decades this method may have allowed some pretty black spots, but following the Water Act 1973 the 10 regional water authorities had such complete powers of control over all discharges—indeed, they were responsible for all sewage works themselves—that by 1976, when we were talking about this, rapid progress was being made in reducing pollution, and the National Water Council, of which I was then chairman, was about to introduce a system of environmental quality objectives for every river in the country.

As chairman, I had to give a very strong lead to my colleagues in the regional water authorities to persuade them that they should accept the major financial commitment that this involved. However, they did accept it after a certain amount of arm-twisting, and progress has continued rapidly since then, including now on the estuaries, which are more difficult and expensive. Since last summer an extra stimulus has been added by the implementation of Part II of the 1974 Act. It is also at work on coastal waters, with the installation of the long-distance discharges out into the sea in order to deal with the many short discharges we have, almost at the tide level. It was against this background in the water industry that United Kingdom Ministers confidently stood their ground in 1976 and insisted that environmental quality objectives should be accepted as at least as effective as limit values.

The EC Commissioner, Mr. Carpentier, who some of us will remember with great pleasure—one could not have a more charming and more intelligent man—visited us, and the National Water Council gave him a presentation of our methods, both in theory and in practice, which I think I conducted myself. I think we convinced him of the validity of the United Kingdom position—that this was not just a device, as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, put it, to give ourselves a soft option. Hence the 1976 directive gave member countries the option of limit values or environmental quality objectives. But unfortunately our European friends have not had quite the intimate knowledge of the situation that Mr. Carpentier had, and they certainly suspected that the United Kingdom approach was giving us a method of conforming with the 1976 directive on the cheap, compared with themselves on limit values; that is, we were a rather substandard partner.

I know the water scene pretty well, especially in Italy and France. I have swum for many miles round the coast of Italy and can give personal testimony of the conditions of some of the coastal discharges there and the absence of treatment of any kind. So I am confident that the rate of progress in reducing pollution in the United Kingdom, both in our rivers and in our coastal waters, compares favourably, if not very favourably, with our European partners. I might possibly yield pride of place to Holland, but not to anyone else.

It is against that historical background that I feel a special satisfaction that we recommend, in connection with this draft directive, that the correct answer is to apply both systems on control—limit values and environmental quality objectives. That would bring us completely in step with our partners in Europe and give them a better system of control than they have now. I hope that the Commission and the council will recognise the cogency of our recommendation. If that is not possible, as the noble Lord said, for this directive, I hope it will be possible for the future.

5.51 p.m.

Baroness White

My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Nathan and Lord Nugent, in saying how sorry I am that the Noble Lord, Lord Ashby, is unable to be with us for today's debate. As the first chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, he led the way in the early 1970s in considering how best we in the United Kingdom should tackle the problems of water quality and pollution control. He subsequently took the lead in the relevant subcommittees of the Select Committee on the European Communities of this House in scrutinising the scientific justification for the proposals relating to pollution emanating from the Commission in Brussels.

The lay members of the relevant committees, of which I have been one for a number of years, rely greatly on Lord Ashby's knowledge and judgment and have deeply appreciated his continuing interest in this subject over the years. It would have been particularly appropriate for him to have joined us this afternoon when, after a decade or so of experience, your Select Committee, following the 10th Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Control, to which the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, referred, is suggesting some modification in the United Kingdom's approach. We would hope to inspire some corresponding modification in the attitudes of at least some of our European partners.

The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has already outlined the main recommendations of the committee included in our brief but, I think, lucid report. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, from his great experience, has elaborated on them. I am hoping that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, in particular will analyse further the scientific basis of our recommendations. I propose, therefore, to concentrate on a narrow but important aspect referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan: that is, the method by which the Commission and the member states determine the priority to be afforded to the different substances potentially concerned in this exercise.

As we have been told, a list of originally some 1,500 chemical substances has been reduced to a list of 129, of which some 20 have been studied in more or less adequate depth. Of those, only about half a dozen have reached the stage of being the subject of draft directives. One of those proposed drafts, dealing with what are familiarly known as the "drins" has, so far as I can establish, been relegated to limbo. However, we have tried in the report that is before your Lordships to deal with the current draft directive.

While I assume that we are all anxious to secure a satisfactory scheme for pollution control, there should be no dodging the fact that it can be laborious, expensive and a burden on industry and on the water authorities to monitor a long list of substances unless there is a genuine, proven need. So it is worth checking to see how satisfactory is the present system of selecting relevant toxic substances and allotting their place in the list of priorities.

Those who have read our report—in particular, paragraph 21 and those paragraphs which follow—will have gathered that the committee was not happy about at least some of the present arrangements. Frankly, we were shocked by the evidence of the two United Kingdom members of the EC Advisory Committee on Toxicology and Ecotoxicology. Dr. John Brady and Professor Conning gave evidence which can be found on pages 56 and 57 of the report, and I am sure that their serious allegations of inadequacy in the organisation of the scientific advisory service will have been noted in Brussels. After so many years, we should certainly have devised something better. That situation is unsatisfactory in itself, and it appears to waste the time and energy of the experts called in to advise. The Minister may be able to pick up this point and give the House some indication of whether any other representations have been made through official channels in respect of the evidence that was submitted to the committee.

The Commission does not rely exclusively on the Advisory Committee on Toxicology and Ecotoxicology or on the work of its own in-house staff. It also contracts some of the work on scientific evaluation to suitable outside contractors. That pattern has been followed in relation to dangerous substances in the aquatic environment. Following the original list of 1,500 substances, consultants were engaged to reduce the list to more manageable proportions. In 1980, SRI International, the consultants selected, submitted to the Commission a list based on an algorithmic method for determining priorities. I have a copy of their report, which indicates to the lay reader a conscientious effort to achieve their goal. However, the consultants were careful in their conclusions not to claim more for their results than they thought was justified. They say: Our own assessment of the success of this ranking effort is that it provides useful insights into the relative importance of discharges limitations for the ranked compounds". They conclude: On the other hand, our results are based in large part on fragmentary data and highly simplified models of environmental behaviour. We recommend that further effort be devoted both to improving the quality of the data input to the current algorithm and to testing alternative structures and parameter values for the ranking algorithm"; that is to say, the algorithm used for ranking the substances in order of priority. Again, it will be interesting to know whether the Government have done anything to encourage adequate research and study of the still extremely long list of substances potentially subject to regulation. We are justified in asking what further progress has been made in defining and improving the exercise.

In paragraph 21, the committee emphasised that it was not satisfied with the degree of openness in making known the way in which scientific conclusions are reached. Nor were we content with the arbitrary way, as it seemed to us, in which the application factors were applied. We refer to this point in paragraph 24. In the SRI International report which I have just mentioned, I was struck not only by the consultants' reservations about the adequacy of the basis of their calculations but also by the way in which they indicated some of the assumptions on which their conclusions rested. For example, they said quite categorically that, the algorithm does not model the geographic distribution of the pollutants, and therefore they could not take particular geographic conditions into account. They said also that they, discount measured ambient concentrations because of uncertainties on method, time, place and relevance of measurement", but suggest that they should be used when calculated concentrations are suspect, and so on.

The point I am endeavouring to make is that in this exercise, which is extremely important, we are still working in an area in which there is a great deal of scientific work and monitoring to be done if we are not to embark on certain very expensive processes which may or may not be fully justified. In particular, I am concerned about one point in the SRI report—and I use its words, not mine. The report states: We de-emphasise indirect discharges such as agricultural runoff". In certain areas in the United Kingdom—in particular, I suppose, East Anglia—agricultural run-off is one of the greatest problems in water pollution. One cannot just dismiss it by saying, as the report does, that they have been able to de-emphasise or discount it. Can the Minister say anything further about that?

This particular matter is one of the aspects which is at the heart of the difficulty in reconciling the discrepancies between the environmental quality objective method and the limit value method. As we indicate quite clearly in our report, and as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, indicated, one cannot deal with diffuse sources of water pollution by limit values. Therefore, if one is to have an adequate totality of control the environmental quality method must be employed. This involves the comprehensive monitoring of water courses and estuaries, not just checking at the point of industrial discharge.

One cannot help asking: are all our European partners willing and able to undertake this type of monitoring? As far as I know some do, in certain circumstances at least, and others, on the whole, do not. I believe I am correct in saying that the United Kingdom is the only member state which has a completely comprehensive monitoring system based on the environmental quality method.

If one is to insist, as I think we must where diffuse points are concerned, that a comprehensive monitoring system is established, various other questions arise. For example, to what extent is any member state under an obligation to monitor, sometimes by very expensive sophisticated methods, substances which are not manufactured or formulated in their territories? In its most important submission the Institute for European Environmental Policy suggested that there should be one system for all member states. But in those circumstances I suppose they would admit certain derogations.

I refer to a particularly interesting report which came out in March of this year from our own Water Research Centre on Priorities for Study and Action on the List I Substances, of which the directive we are discussing today includes four from the priority list. The WRC report points out that 20 of the compounds in the list of 129 are produced at one plant only within the entire European Community and that over half the compounds in that list are not produced in the United Kingdom at all. The major producer, covering by far the largest number of the potentially relevant chemical compounds, is, of course, the Federal Republic of Germany. One must ask how far other member states and the Commission itself are taking considerations of this kind on board. I believe they are very relevant to the development of the administration of the draft directives which will no doubt follow the one before us, which is one of the daughter directives of the main directive on dangerous substances in the acquatic environment.

There are many other comments that one could make on this subject. I have gone into detail on the aspects I have touched upon this afternoon simply to indicate that, while we did not go into such detail in our own report, these matters are very relevant to the attitude which those who represent Her Majesty's Government in the discussions and negotiations in Brussels will have to adopt.

I conclude by saying that I believe the report is a very important advance, not only in the administration of our own pollution control arrangements in this country but also, I hope, in our relationship with our colleagues. This has been a very long-running story, as some of us are aware, and I am happy that we break new ground in the report. I hope that further progress, based on this revision of what has appeared to some of our colleagues to be our rather intransigent attitude, will help progress in general in the Community.

6.7 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, speak with great knowledge and authority in these matters. I cannot claim any similar expertise, but as a member of the sub-committee I wish to pay particular tribute to our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. Again and again when some of us felt that we might sink below the surface in a sea of technicalities he kept our deliberations sequent and intelligible. He guided our work with great skill, and we are very much indebted to him.

As a consequence I hope our report is clear. I should like to emphasise only one or two points in it. First, I support the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, in what they said about the need for the Commission to make more sensible use of its Scientific Advisory Committee on the toxicity and the ecotoxicity of chemical compounds, referred to in paragraph 23 of our report. This was brought out very emphatically in the evidence given to us by Dr. John Brady. It seems to me important—indeed, fundamental—that this distinguished committee should be used more sensibly.

My second point is to emphasise the particular dangers in the persistence of certain substances mentioned in paragraph 28. As the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, pointed out, we cited the example of DDT which, although it has not been manufactured or used in the United Kingdom for some time, can still be detected. Residues still exist. This shows how careful we must be in using these persistent substances.

In the past we have, I think, been a little reckless. I remember being somewhat shocked to find that after we had stopped using DDT in the United Kingdom we were still sending it out under our aid programme for use in Africa. I think we should be as careful with the environment of the third world as we are with our own. Though it was not within the terms of reference of our sub-committee, we are discussing the question of persistent and dangerous substances reaching the aquatic environment and therefore I propose to mention a closely related problem, which is that of high nitrate levels in our water supplies.

I should like to ask the Minister, to whom I have given notice that I would raise this point, whether it is correct that the Thames and Anglia water authorities are having difficulty in keeping below the danger level set for nitrates by the European Community, and whether there is substance in the view that nitrates now in our water may in part have been spread on the land many years ago. I should also like to know whether the Government think that there are serious risks to the health of adults and babies from nitrate in water and what steps they are proposing to take to avert such risks.

I should like to join in stressing our conclusions that a control system should be adapted to each particular substance, that there should be comprehensive monitoring and also that there should be control of diffuse sources such as the run-off of pesticides from farms, which in my view is a particularly important point. This problem of preventing dangerous substances getting into lakes and rivers is of course not confined to us or to Europe. I remember that when I was in Canada I learnt that the Ottawa river by my window was full of tritium, and it was considered unsafe to eat fish taken from Lake Ontario because they were full of dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls. The problem is international but it is especially important for us, so I hope that those concerned, particularly those in the Commission, will take our report seriously and adopt the measures we have proposed.

6.12 p.m.

The Earl of Cranbrook

My Lords, I should like to join with previous speakers in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, on his very able chairmanship of the sub-committee and on his excellent introduction to the report this evening, which I think leaves nothing further to be clarified. It was fascinating to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, of his own personal recollection of events surrounding the beginning of this saga. None of your Lordships will have been deceived by the noble Baroness, Lady White, who has a deep expertise, in calling herself a lay member as a preface to an extremely thoughtful and very well-researched speech.

What I shall do is draw attention to a matter that is lightly touched on in the report yet is one that I regard as fundamental to the political issue and therefore central to the political resolution of the friction between the United Kingdom, the European Commission and other member states. This is a subject which was raised in evidence before the Select Committee by the Chemical Industries Association, and will be found on page 13 of the report. The CIA interpreted remarks in the explanatory memorandum to the draft directive as evidence that those Commission officials who prepared the text believed that all discharges of black list or List 1 substances as far as possible should be eliminated. I feel that perhaps this is an over-sensitive interpretation of the actual words of the explanatory memorandum; nonetheless I agree that such beliefs are genuinely held by at least some of the personnel in the Commission, and such beliefs are undoubtedly shared by many water authorities in member states.

This attitude reflects the experience in our fellow member nations of the Community—those nations which share international rivers and/or have coasts washed by the enclosed waters of the Mediterranean or the Waddensee or the Baltic. Such an extremely strong position is justified, in the eyes of the water authorities concerned, by the defined nature of black-list substances which the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has already briefly mentioned. Black-list substances are defined as being poisonous, as being persistent—that is to say, not being naturally degradable in the environment—and by being biocumulative, which means that they are concentrated in the food chain. Low initial concentrations in the environment taken into prey organisms are ultimately concentrated and can become lethal in the tissues of top predators such as predatory fish or raptorial birds, which have given us a number of examples. There is also the characteristic of black-list substances that they are carcinogenic in or through the aquatic environment.

I think that every one of us must recognise that any substance that meets all these criteria is genuinely an extremely unpleasant material. Any rational person would want to take every possible step to guard society and the environment from the effects of such a chemical, if necessary including as near possible total prohibition of voluntary discharges to the surface waters. But such gut feelings (if your Lordships will excuse my language) have been developed within the Community and the member states into a more sophisticated philosophy. This finds its most refined expression in the Federal Republic of Germany's environmental protection policy as summed up in the German word Vorsorgeprinzip, which literally translated means the "precautionary principle"; but by the German authorities this is generally translated as the "anticipation principle".

A convenient summary of the anticipation principle can be found in the 1980 report of the Federal Republic of Germany's Council of Environmental Advisers, commonly abbreviated by its German initials RSU, which was reporting on the environmental problems of the North Sea. I think it is worth reading these words to your Lordships, because they have a tremendous impact: The anticipation principle tries to prevent the emergence of environmental risks and deterioration by means of emission-oriented measures. This means to avoid the input of such substances, whose harmful effects are to be feared, but cannot be proven; … the anticipation principle would find its clearest expression in the obligation for all (potential) polluters to apply the best available technology, even when a concrete probability of danger or damage cannot be proven. Binding emission standard would have to be set for all polluters and the objection that a concrete danger is not to be discerned would be inadmissible. in certain respects the anticipation principle may be interpreted even more stringently: any disturbance of the metabolic equilibrium, the energy cycle, or the structure of species of an ecosystem would be prohibited, especially the input of anthropogenic substances which are persistent, difficult to degrade, or accumulate in organisms. Whether a substance is toxic, would be disregarded". My experience on Sub-Committee G, on our excursions to Brussels, and at one time when I served as chairman of the jury of the International Water Tribunal, convinces me that such opinions expressed in those terms are held rather widely in member states by people charged with the duty of devising and enforcing measures to protect the aquatic environment. I emphasise to your Lordships that such sentiments have the imprimatur of the RSU, which is a highly respected and influential body with status equivalent to our own Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

Against this background, when I go to Europe on such cases I cannot avoid a certain frisson of embarrassment or transferred guilt when I hear oft-repeated references to the beneficial effects of the United Kingdom's "short, fast rivers" and "turbulent and tidal seas", or perhaps more guardedly, "the incentives to industry to site plants on the coast where the effect of discharges can be reduced by turbulence and dilution"; or, more cryptically still, reference to the "rational use of natural resources". I apologise for the fact that I find all those remarks in the evidence of the Department of the Environment, on page 78 of our report.

As your Lordships will realise, the anticipation principle—and here perhaps I ought to apologise to my colleagues overseas, especially in the Federal Republic and the Netherlands—is not good science. It is atrocious science. First of all, organic compounds are not eternally persistent. Some, such as DDT and its derivatives, as we have already heard mentioned this evening, are very slow to break down, but given time they will do so ultimately to harmless components. There may be a difference with inorganic components. Some metals are more stable as salts or oxides than in the pure, elemental state, and toxicity is related to the presence of the metal ion. But to devise controls based on harmful effects that are feared but cannot be proven is not science but a challenge to science to investigate and to establish the truth.

Despite those criticisms, I think that Her Majesty's Government and the industrialists of the United Kingdom must realise that it is no longer acceptable to the wider society of the European Community simply to ensure that preventable emissions of black list substances are adequately mixed with the receiving waters—washed away from British soils by our short rivers and rapidly stirred into our turbulent tides. As the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, said just now, the sea is the ultimate repository of poisons which are not degradable, and so substances which are genuinely persistent, toxic and bioaccumulative will remain in our European waters, will accumulate in our European top predators, and, if the worst fears are realised, will ultimately pollute and degrade what is our European environment.

The right response must be to counter that non-science with good science. The noble Baroness, Lady White, has already referred to the work of the Water Research Centre on the black list substances, listing them against production arisings and toxicity. But more investment is needed now in a strong programme of ecotoxicological research. Money spent in that way is money well invested. It will be amply repaid by future economies through the obviation of unnecessary pollution control measures which are imposed through inadequate knowledge and excessive caution.

We need to know more about the environmental behaviour of potential black list substances—whether the number is 129 or 50,000. It may be a useful guide to predict their behaviour from chemical formulation, but in practice in the real world we need to answer such questions as: what is the environmental half-life of a given substance; what are the bioaccumulation routes, if any; what exactly is the toxicity of a substance to an appropriate range of organisms and not simply to a trout in a tank? We need to acquire those data, and we also need to refine the methods of transforming such data to quality standards and ultimately to appropriate emission limits. I believe that Her Majesty's Government and the chemical industry both have strong incentives to promote such research. I call on both parties to intensify present programmes and to inject new funds into joint projects.

In general, armed with the results of such research, as the Select Committee has pointed out, the EQO approach must be the only effective way to ensure that an environment is adequately protected. But in the end I believe we must accept that substances which are proven and genuinely deserving of being included on the black list for their toxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation must be differently treated. Our environment extends beyond our coasts and beyond the seas of our EEZ, if we declare one. Our responsibility extends beyond now to future generations. It is very laborious, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, has emphasised, and it is expensive to monitor sufficiently widely to detect dangerous accumulations of poisonous substances. If they are black list substances, by the time they reach such concentrations it is too late to respond. It is safer and more economic to take every possible step to prevent discharges, if necessary, following the best technical means to eliminate them as far as possible.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Rugby

My Lords, it is as a layman that I took part in the deliberations of the committee, and so it would be inappropriate for me to say anything scientific, especially in view of the high quality of the speakers who have preceded me. I should like to say a word of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, and his team. They have concentrated our minds very well on a most important subject.

There is perhaps a note of indictment in the report. It is that the Commission is not grasping the issue as fundamentally and as realistically as it should, and is treating it not so much as a wind of change that is needed but rather as a sweet zephyr which one of these days might result in a hurricane of change. It is most important that we should concentrate our minds on the possibilities; unless they are properly tackled they will ultimately have such an effect.

Let me draw the Minister's attention to my layman's approach to the report. The nub seems to be in paragraph 29, which states: The 129 substances vary in their toxicity, persistence and extent of bioaccumulation. Further, the predominant sources from which they are discharged to the … environment differ for each substance.". That means that they all need to be treated in their own right and differently; and that brings us to the fact that we must have not only an environmental quality objective but also a limit value running in conjunction with each other.

Finally, I should like to remind your Lordships of the ultimate responsibility for these highly toxic and dangerous substances which are now finding their way into the sea, as has been stated. That must be monitored most carefully for the future of the world and for the sake of us all. That is all that I have to offer after so much has been said in your Lordships' House.

6.27 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I happily associate myself with the laymen on the committee. The standard of debate tonight has been extremely high, and I hope that the Minister will be able to take a lot of new ideas back. First of all, may I join in the remarks about the noble Lord, Lord Ashby? It is very sad indeed that he is not here with us this evening. I am sure that we all send him our good wishes and hope that he will be back with us soon.

I should like to express special thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. Not only has he been an absolutely splendid chairman: his clear and precise explanation tonight was very helpful indeed and a lesson to all of us on how to present a report. The previous speakers have covered practically all the points that I intended to mention, and your Lordships will be pleased to hear that I have spent the past 10 minutes crossing out most of what I had to say. But I think that a few points should be emphasised.

I first remind your Lordships, if noble Lords need reminding, of the case for pollution control which is summed up in the tenth report of the Royal Commission, which has already been quoted a little tonight. I should like to read the final paragraph because I think it sums up our attitudes. It is paragraph 7.109, and it says: Control of environmental pollution is not an optional extra; it is a fundamental component of national, economic and social policy, and has many international implications. Pollution control policy, and environmental policy generally, should be accorded the priority and resources adequate for their integration in the national decision-making process, so that their potential benefits can be realised to the full and at least cost.". That is, I believe, the creed by which we try to live, and certainly in Sub-Committee G it is, I think, constantly before us.

The Government response to that particular report seemed to accept the findings, and I hope that this is the Government's line. I must say that, so far, I can find little hard evidence of a changed attitude since the emergence of the report. The long discussion over the choice between environmental quality objectives or limit values simply serves to show that what is needed is a flexible approach. This is one of the most important recommendations that the report puts before your Lordships. The approach must be tailored to the nature of the substance and the local conditions. The committee were unanimous in this, and they have remained unanimous this evening. Clearly there are circumstances in which both approaches are necessary.

There is a need, too, to devise and maintain an effective monitoring system. This is something that both my noble friend Lady White and the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, have touched upon. They have also mentioned the cost. I am not clear how the monitoring system is being financed, whether it could be financed better or whether the Minister has any views to offer on where finance might be forthcoming so that we can have an overall standard monitoring system that will ensure that our objectives are kept. Without that it does not matter how much we do along the way. Unless we can measure as we go along that we are achieving our objectives, we are wasting our time. I should therefore like to hear from the Minister whether or not the Government have strong views on whether there might be central finance forthcoming either from our own Government or from the EC for a monitoring system.

There may be different views on the legitimacy or the moral standing of an environmental policy coming from the Treaty of Rome. But since 1972 the existence of such a policy has been accepted, however grudgingly, by all member states. Although reasons for acceptance may vary and none may be the same as ours, those of us who are concerned for the protection of the environment must take this or any other opportunity that presents itself to further the cause of pollution control. I shall quote once more, and for the last time, from the RCEP tenth report. Recommendation 7.19—it is actually a conclusion rather than a recommendation—says: We believe that the United Kingdom should be less on the defensive and should play a more positive role in promoting environmental matters in the European Community". That is something that we should like to see.

As for the subject of the report before us tonight, we can argue, as the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, has said, about what should or should not be on the list. We can seek to clarify the text of the draft directive. But if we are sincere in our aims we can interpret, amend and persuade and, at the same time, pursue our own objectives while doing all that. I understand that discussions on the responses to the draft directive are to start next Thursday; that is, 28th November. It would be to our credit if we could make a positive response at those discussions. Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has indicated, that response has probably already been drafted, it would be encouraging to hear from the Minister that it is a positive document and to be assured by him that all the valuable comments this evening will be reflected in that document.

I support the findings of the committee. I am sorry indeed that it has been a solely committee exercise tonight, speaking in support of it. But that only serves to show how dedicated all of us are to what we said.

6.34 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, two days ago the House approved the annual Motion to set up our Select Committee on the European Community. Since this is the first EC debate since then, I should like to start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, her confrères and her consoeurs, on the able way in which they have carried out their roles and the detailed studies that they have put in hand. I would also, on behalf of this Front Bench, like to welcome my noble friends Lord Middleton and Lord Rodney, the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm and the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, to the committee and to wish them well in their future work. I should also draw attention to today's Motion and to the replacing of the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oram, with that of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. We also welcome her to the ranks of the committee as a full, rather than, as I understand was the case previously, a co-opted member.

This debate originated in a long discussion in Sub-Committee G, of which I was once privileged to be a co-opted member, which has taken place over a period of nearly 10 years on the subject of the purity of water, especially, but far from exclusively, drinking water. In 1976, the framework directive on the discharge of dangerous substances to water was adopted. Since then, several man-decades, if not man-centuries, across the Community must have been spent in negotiating directives on only three specific substances; namely, as we have heard today, mercury, cadmium and lindane.

Earlier this year, the Commission came up with a proposal for a general framework directive to back up the 1976 original and make it speedier to operate. As such, the Government, like the Select Committee, welcome this step which should save a considerable amount of time and effort, to say nothing of expense in future negotiations.

If I may return briefly to Tuesday's annual Motion, it will be readily seen that the Select Committee's duties are not confined to obtaining all necessary information about Community proposals, but—and this is the important bit: to make reports on those, which in the opinion of the Committee, raise important questions of policy or principle, and on other questions to which the Committee consider that the special attention of the House should be drawn". From what I have said already, it is quite clear that this directive is a proper subject for debate in your Lordships' House, because it does raise questions of policy and principle, and the House will therefore be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, for introducing this very wide-ranging debate this afternoon.

Although it is perhaps a dangerous thing to do, I should like to start by disagreeing with the noble Lord. This subject is far from esoteric. I would remind him that still waters, whether polluted or not, run deep. The House will realise that it would have been unusual for the United Kingdom and indeed any member state to welcome a proposal in its entirety, and this was no exception. The weakness of the original text was, we felt, that it did not take sufficiently into account the nature of the substances which in future we shall be considering for List 1 status. The draft was based on previous daughter directives and in particular that on cadmium. But whereas discharges of cadmium and mercury arise primarily from industrial point sources, the input to the aquatic environment of many candidate List 1 substances, particularly pesticides and fungicides, stems mainly from diffuse sources.

We have therefore urged our partners to agree to adapt the proposal so that it copes more effectively with diffuse sources, and have succeeded in securing significant changes to the text which will be of benefit to the environment. In particular, the current wording now makes clear that all member states, including those applying limit values, are required to carry out monitoring of the environment affected by discharges from whatever source and to submit the results to the Commission. We are pleased that there seems to be a large measure of agreement on the revised articles. We hope this will be confirmed at the Environment Council on 28th November.

This, then, is the current state of the proposal on which the Select Committee has made its report. The text has changed somewhat. But it is still based on the so-called dual approach, that is, the choice for member states to apply either limit values or quality objectives. It is on this aspect of the proposal that the committee has concentrated.

Much has been said today about quality objectives. I hope that your Lordships will forgive my adding to it. The policy of applying environmental quality objectives often gets a bad press abroad and sometimes at home too. I think it important that we all understand exactly what we are talking about. Everybody knows that the United Kingdom applies quality objectives. It is not always appreciated how we apply those objectives, and indeed what they mean.

It is a basic principle of United Kingdom policy on water pollution that the control of effluent should be related to the desired quality of the receiving environment. Thus we decide for a particular stretch of water the objective that we wish to achieve—that it be suitable for bathing, for the protection of salmonid fish or whatever. The quality standard—that is, the concentration of particular substances that must not be exceeded if this objective is to be met—is then determined and the sources discharging those substances controlled to ensure that the quality standards are not exceeded. In the case of point sources, the effluent will be controlled by emission standards; in the case of diffuse sources, some other means of control—for example, restrictions on use—will need to be considered.

I trust that my last few sentences will not be regarded as teaching my grandmother to suck eggs. I am concerned that in paragraph 29 of the report the committee seems to suggest that quality objectives and standards are inappropriate to the control of point sources. The truth of the matter as I see it is that the use of quality standards is the only means of ensuring that the environment is adequately protected from discharges from point sources. Nor do the Government believe (as is sometimes thought) that emission standards may be relaxed simply because the quality standard is easily met. It is firm Government policy, backed up by our general obligations under the Water Act 1973 to maintain and improve water quality, that the United Kingdom does not permit standards of effluent control to be lowered in this way.

What the policy on environmental quality objectives means is that scarce resources can be most efficiently used for the protection of the environment. Dischargers are not required to install sophisticated and expensive pollution control equipment where this is unnecessary. At the same time, there is an incentive to the discharger to site his factory or plant where the effect on the environment will be least. The securing of the environmental quality objective option in the framework directive of 1976 is sometimes seen as a British victory: I see it as a victory for the environment.

Other member states have chosen to apply a system of limit values. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook calls this a political decision. I am not so sure. I know that international logic is very hard to find. The system of limit values means that discharges from point sources have to compy with emission standards which must be set within maxima or limit values set by the Community on an industry basis taking into account the best technology available to that industry. Thus an industrial plant on the Atlantic coast of France would have to comply with the same emission standards as a similar plant discharging into the head waters of the Rhine. This is a simple system which can in certain circumstances be useful. For example, to apply a single emission standard on a long international river which receives many industrial discharges may be a sensible and effective first step towards the control of pollution. But there is no guarantee that this will be the case, and in the longer term it is unlikely to be an efficient system. Either it will not protect the environment because there are simply too many discharges, or it will lead to unnecessary expense on effluent control in some places and too little in others. And limit values cannot of course be applied to diffuse sources.

Moreover, I cannot accept the justification for limit values that some member states put forward: that is, that they are a means of eliminating distortion of competition. Other member states may be tired of hearing the United Kingdom talk about the sunshine in Italy, but the argument remains a valid one. Different member states enjoy different natural advantages. Italy has its sunshine; Germany is situated at the centre of the European market. We have a long coastline and a large number of short, fast-flowing rivers. Again I tell my noble friend Lord Cranbrook that this is what my department's evidence was intended to convey. I am sorry that this was not made clear to him at the time.

To attempt to harmonise the pollution control costs of industry would be a nonsense. It would create, rather than eliminate, distortion of competition. The function of an efficient, Common Market is to see that the right things are done in the right places for the right reasons.

The choice of the United Kingdom to apply quality objectives and other states to apply limit values has led to a polarisation of views within the Community. I believe that it is one that is unfortunate and sometimes exaggerated. For example, as I have already pointed out we in this country do not pursue our application of quality standards to the logical extreme and other member states take more account of the receiving environment than a rigid adherence to limit values would suggest. There is nevertheless a basic difference of approach which has concerned the Select Committee, and my noble friend Lord Nugent referred to the fact that it has recommended that the United Kingdom should take the initiative in proposing a single Community approach to the discharge of List I substances. This is, as the noble Lord has said, such a radical change of approach that I hope that I have understood it properly.

As I understand it, the committee has suggested that for substances confirmed as List I, first, all member states should apply the same system of control: and, secondly, that this should be either limit values or quality objectives or both. The choice would depend largely on the nature of the discharge of the substance concerned. For substances for which there were few diffuse sources, limit values might be sufficient, but should be backed up by environmental monitoring—which would in fact amount to a form of quality standard application.

It seems to me that the committee have developed their recommendation on the basis of two principles: First, that the quality of the environment is paramount—thus monitoring of the environment, with or without the application of a quantitative standard, is essential; I agree. The proposal has been modified to reflect this. Second, that there are some substances which are so dangerous that, however low the concentration in the receiving water might be, we should limit discharges as much as we possibly can. Again, I agree. As an example of the latter, I would cite the example of polychlorinated biphenyls and polychlorinated terphenyls, which we accept should not be allowed to enter the aquatic environment at all and we have severely restricted their use, but what I think we must pause to consider is whether the idea of a very restrictive approach for a particularly nasty group of substances accords with the way in which substances are classified in the Annex of the 1976 framework directive. This attempts to divide a vast range of substances into two lists. This serves a purpose, but the division is somewhat arbitrary. The substances do not divide neatly into two groups but range across a very wide spectrum. PCBs and PCTs are at one end, but because the directive only allows of two categories, these are bunched together with substances which, though requiring strict control, are naturally occurring elements and not dangerous in low concentrations. I would have doubts about the justification for applying too restrictive an approach to these substances, and to many others that we may be urged to accept as List I substances. I note that the committee, in another context, make the point that unduly large safety factors impose unnecessary burdens on industry.

In this connection I would like to refer also to the committee's recommendation that, Where List I substances are particularly persistent in the environment or accumulate in organisms and food chains to a high degree, 'best technical means available', should be used in new plant however low the concentration of the substances in the receiving water. The problem is again one of criteria. For certain List I substances, it might be necessary to prevent discharges altogether. The difficulty lies in agreeing with other member states, whose objectives in controling the discharge of dangerous substances may not always be the same as our own, where one should draw the line between those substances, which ones industry should not be allowed to discharge, which ones should be severely controlled on a precautionary basis, and for which ones the quality standard approach is entirely adequate, and therefore most efficient.

The House will realise that the Government have already given serious thought to the committee's recommendations. We shall examine them further. No one enjoys our present position of isolation on the use of quality objectives—least of all my colleagues and officials in the Department of the Environment who have the task of defending United Kingdom practice in Brussels. We therefore look carefully at all proposals that might reconcile the differences between ourselves and other member states. However, the implications—environmental as well as economic—of an approach that involved the use of limit values could be far-reaching. We should need to think very carefully before making any change in our present approach, which we have had to work hard over the years to safeguard and is firmly embodied in the present proposal.

I have already touched on the problem of selection of substances for inclusion in List I. This is of course a matter that the committee also considered. I should like to offer my wholehearted support to their recommendation that the European Commission should review its procedures for the preparation of draft directives, and should reveal its ideas and evidence to a wider scientific community.

I should like to associate myself with all noble Lords who have referred to the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby. Had he been present, no doubt he would have repeated his clarion call on this matter. We too find it most unsatisfactory that the Commission should decide which candidate substances should be selected for examination, and that its consultation, both with national experts and its own expert committees, should be at best superficial. The United Kingdom then finds itself in the unenviable position of disputing the inclusion of a particular substance when a lot of work has been put into preparing a formal proposal. I can promise the noble Baroness, Lady White, that we shall continue to press the Commission to improve its procedures.

The prime example of this has been the case of chloroform and carbon tetrachloride. The evidence given to the Select Committee suggests that consultation between the Commission and its own experts was carried out in a very cursory fashion. Consultation with member states was no better. We wrote twice to the Commission explaining why we did not believe inclusion of the two substances in List I was justified. We received no reply.

The situation is not helped by the fact that the grounds for inclusion of chloroform and carbon tetrachloride have become somewhat confused. First of all, the Commission said the two substances did not meet the normal criteria of toxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation. They argued that the substances should be included in List I on the grounds of their relationship with cancer. Other member states also argued on this basis. But, as the committee's report points out, the authors of the ecotoxicological report on the substances considered them to be toxic and persistent and the Commission are now arguing that they ought to be included on the basis of these criteria.

We have looked carefully at the evidence. Carbon tetrachloride is persistent in the atmosphere. But neither chloroform nor carbon tetrachloride accumulates in living tissue, and they are toxic only in concentrations much higher than one would find in the aquatic environment; existing levels of the two substances in United Kingdom waters and, as far as we are aware, in other Community waters, are generally well below the quality standard proposed by the Commission. Then there is the question of their possible carcinogenicity. We accept that exposure to very high doses of the two substances can cause cancer in some rodents. But from the available evidence neither of the substances appears to be genotoxic; that is, the cancer is not caused by a direct effect of the chemical on the genetic material. The implication is that carcinogenic effects will only be produced if extremely high doses are given; low repeated doses could not—I repeat, could not—produce carcinogenic effects. My department has been advised that the prevailing levels of concentration of the two substances in the surface waters of the Community are many orders of magnitude below those that have been proven to cause, or would be expected to cause, hazard to human health or to aquatic organisms. Thus we do not believe that chloroform and carbon tetrachloride meet the criteria necessary for their inclusion in List I.

However, noble Lords might ask, if the proposed quality standard causes us no difficulty, could we not demonstrate political goodwill in Brussels by accepting it? It is true that we should have few problems in meeting the quality standards proposed by the Commission. The inclusion of such substances in List I does, however, raise an important issue of principle; that is, whether arbitrary relaxation of the criteria set out in the framework directive should be permitted. In our view, this would be most unfortunate; time and effort would be wasted on negotiation and application of limit values and quality standards for substances for which this was unnecessary and the water authorities in particular would have to accept a considerably increased burden of monitoring and control. Progress would be held up on those substances which do merit List I treatment. Moreover, we consider that it would be irresponsible of the Community to create concern among the public that a substance is particularly dangerous when that is not in fact the case.

The fact that the United Kingdom does not accept that carbon tetrachloride and chloroform should be included in List I does not mean that we intend to do nothing about the two substances. We shall in due course treat them as List II. We are well ahead in setting national quality standards for many List II substances. But we give priority to those List II substances which we think may be causing problems. I should like to emphasise that neither chloroform nor carbon tetrachloride is causing pollution in our water environment.

At this point, I should like to reply to the points on the importance of monitoring made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and others. The responsibility for environmental monitoring rests with the water authorities, which spend £20 million a year on exactly this. We believe that effective monitoring of the environment is absolutely essential to all pollution control activities, and I am pleased to say that there is evidence that the performance of the water authorities is improving as List I substances and List II substances are defined and quality standards applied.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, asked me about a substance that is well outside the subject of today's debate. However, tempted though I am to shelter behind a hackneyed ministerial phrase, the noble Lord gave me notice that he intended to raise the subject of nitrates, which it is true can take many years to reach the ground water. I should tell the noble Lord that neither the Thames nor the Anglian Water Authorities have any trouble in keeping below safe health levels. It follows, as our scientific advice shows, that there is no significant risk to human health.

The noble Lord was not alone, The noble Baroness, Lady White, has bounced me on several subjects which again are not strictly relevant to today's debate. However, I shall be drawn on one of them. Although I believe that we are absolutely right to blow our own trumpet when we have something to sound off about, 1 am not sure that we can pride ourselves on being either better or worse monitors than any other countries in the EC.

Despite our resistance to the inclusion of chloroform and carbon tetrachloride, our commitment to the principle of the current proposal is not weakened. It marks an important milestone in the control of List I substances and would be worth adopting at the Environment Council on 28th November even if the annexes were for the time being left blank. In fact, we hope very much that it will be possible to agree the inclusion of both DDT and PCP. We have not the slightest doubt that both these substances fulfil the criteria set out in the framework directive.

We shall, however, continue to press for scientifically-based quality standards for them. I note that the committee's report comments that as PCP is not manufactured in the United Kingdom, neither the proposed quality standards nor the limit values would be difficult to achieve. There are two points here. First, it does not follow that because we do not manufacture PCP we can necessarily meet the quality standard. PCP is quite widely used and there are both point and diffuse sources—hence the importance of not relying solely on limit values. Secondly, we would not wish to accept the implication that because a proposed quality standard could be met, we should accept it. Quality standards should not be set on the basis of existing levels; they must follow from a scientific determination of levels needed to protect the environment. Science is all too frequently forgotten in some of the debates that take place in Brussels, but we continue to do our best to see that it is not thrown out of the window altogether. We therefore welcome the support of your Lordships, many of whom have acknowledged expertise in this field. I have no hesitation in agreeing here with the noble Baroness, Lady White.

I am hopeful that at the Environment Council next week my honourable friend Mr. Waldegrave and his colleagues will be able to agree the present proposal with two substances in the annex. Looking to the future we hope to work with the other member states in the Community to include further substances in the annex to the present proposal. We think it ought, for example, to be possible to make fairly quick progress on the next two substances that we believe the Commission have it in mind to propose—hexachlorobenzene and hexachlorobutadiëne.

We have had a good debate today on a most interesting topic. The Select Committee have produced a report that I think we have all found thought-provoking. The House is grateful to the Committee for it and the Government, for their part, have noted the Committee's suggestions, will consider them carefully and will, of course, act upon them.

7 p.m.

Lord Nathan

My Lords, it may interest your Lordships to know that before putting into the report our recommendation that it should be debated, we ourselves had considerable discussion on the ground that this was a technical subject, and that perhaps it was of interest to rather few people, although we had no doubt as to the importance of the matters under discussion. But in the end we agreed that it was appropriate for debate, and I can only say that the debate which has taken place today seems fully to have warranted that conclusion including, if I may say so, the reply of the Minister.

May I refer briefly, and not by way of reply, to one or two things which the Minister has told us. First, it must be a great satisfaction to members of the committee as well as to him that there have been changes in order to bring about a closer measure of control of diffuse sources, which was so much emphasised in the Third Action Programme of the Community, approved not so long ago, and for which the absence of sufficient provision in the directive caused us considerable concern. Therefore, we shall look forward to seeing what has been achieved there; and that must be a great step forward.

So far as the quality objectives debate is concerned, of course we received the evidence of the department and considered it most carefully. We came to the conclusions of which your Lordships know. I would urge upon the Minister that, in considering our report further with his colleagues, he should give consideration not only to the present environment. to which a monitoring process alone relates, but also to the future environment 10 years, 20 years, 100 years hence in the case of these particularly nasty substances which, by definition, are persistent and accumulate. I was delighted to hear that if all our proposals—indeed I think the main proposals we make—did not meet with immediate favour from the Government, at least they will receive further careful consideration, and I look forward to the result of that.

May I refer, briefly at this hour, to the support which this debate has had from your Lordships. First, there was the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, who after all, in so far as water is concerned, I would regard as almost Father Thames. He knows more about water than I think almost any other Member of your Lordships' House. What he says in relation to water and pollution of water carries the most enormous weight, and his assistance on the committee was of infinite value.

The noble Baroness, Lady White, in her own specialty, has been in the environmental field for many years. Her experience and her great and wide knowledge of all matters relating to the environment have been of immense value to the committee, particularly in this study, and I was interested and glad that she emphasised, consequent upon the research she had made, the need for greater consideration of the choice of priority for the substances to be chosen, a matter to which the Minister himself referred.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, spoke particularly about the persistence, and the importance of the persistence, of the chemicals with which we are dealing. He strayed a little off the course, but was picked up by the Minister relating to nitrates. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, spoke with his enormous learning on the scientific aspects, and it was an enormous support to the committee to have his assistance as a scientist in the front of his discipline to help us in this matter. We were particularly grateful that he was able to do so in view of his engagements on the Local Government Bill, which took much of his time. What he was able to tell us from his great experience of the views and opinions held in Europe was particularly interesting, because they are highly relevant to what we ourselves should be doing.

I was grateful for Lord Rugby's emphasis primarily on the main principles we were putting forward. I would thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for the quotations from the Royal Commission's report and for her reference to the unanimity of the committee. I think it would be fair to say, and I think she would agree, that this was not a formal unanimity, that is to say that there was no dissent, but an extraordinary degree of unanimity of approach to the whole problem and to the conclusions we reached. It is highly significant that members of the committee of such high distinction should have reached unanimous conclusions in the form they did.

Therefore, all that remains is for me to thank your Lordships for your support in this debate, and for the interesting speeches which were made.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at seven minutes past seven o'clock.