HL Deb 08 April 1986 vol 473 cc75-8

2.39 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that beaches used by holidaymakers at resorts in the United Kingdom are free from pollution.

Lord Elton

My Lords, about half the United Kingdom bathing waters meet the exacting standards set out in the EC bathing waters directive. Some £200 million has been spent on relevant schemes in the last five years and the authorities plan to spend about £150 million more in the next five years. A survey is being made of more than 350 of the most popular bathing waters in the United Kingdom. That will be published and will provide a basis for planning any necessary further actions.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply, which is reassuring to some extent. However, why are only 27 of our beaches (which is considerably less than half) designated as being free from pollution in accordance with the EC criteria? And apparently none of them is in Scotland. Can the Government dispel the impression that the other beaches are below standard or are unsafe, because they surely cannot be worse than some of the beaches in the Mediterranean, which is a closed sea?

Lord Elton

My Lords, as to the first of my noble friend's supplementary questions, the directive does not set out precise criteria for the indication of beaches. It was considered appropriate to base selection on the use of bathing water rather than the use of the adjacent beach. Most bathing waters are relatively lightly used compared with the use made of beaches. As to the other beaches, I am advised that even where the waters do not meet the standards there is no health risk. Many schemes to bring about further improvements are nonetheless in progress.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the beaches on the west coast of Wales are in a disgraceful state? I saw them for myself over the Easter Recess. The noble Lord told us of a very large sum of money that is being spent in various ways, and there is a further £150 million to come. Can he say how that money is being spent; through which agencies it is being spent; and precisely on what it is being spent? Can he further say whether the places that are now vacant on the Lancashire and Western Sea Fisheries Committee following the dismantling of the metropolitan authorities have been filled by the successor district councils?

Lord Elton

My Lords, as to the noble Lord's first supplementary question, I was not aware until he told me that the beaches of West Wales were in a disgraceful condition. The European directive is concerned with the biological state of the water in which the swimmers swim and not with the aesthetic condition of the beaches above the bathing line, if I may so phrase it. The money is being expended through the agencies of the authorities responsible for the quality, among other things, of outfall waters.

The joint committee to which the noble Lord referred was funded in part by two of the metropolitan county councils; namely, Greater Manchester and Merseyside. He is correct in his belief that a great number of the districts in Greater Manchester and in Merseyside do not feel that the condition of fisheries on the west coast is their direct concern. Therefore, they have decided not to continue with the funding. That is of course a decision for them.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, the noble Lord will recollect that I put questions to him on this specific matter in a debate in your Lordships' House very recently. Is he yet in a position to say whether the Government will now take over the very important role of monitoring coastal pollution in an area from Cardigan Bay to St. Bees Head, which includes discharges from Sellafield and which was formerly being undertaken by the body to which he has just referred?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I respectfully remind the noble Lord that the Question is about beaches used by holidaymakers at resorts in the United Kingdom, whereas the joint committee is a committee examining the quality of water and its effect on fish and shellfish, which is a different matter.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend to ensure that the beaches at West Cumberland are made as clear of pollution as is possible because of the very special risks there from pollution from Sellafield and surrounding works? There is considerable anxiety in that neighbourhood and I should like to feel that people are free from anxiety as well as from the actual pollution.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the Government are aware of and, or course, share the concern about the Sellafield question. My noble friend will be aware of the vigorous steps we have already taken on that matter.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, is not the reply that the noble Lord gave to my noble friend Lord Cledwyn one of great concern? Is not this a matter of seriousness that arises from the abolition of the metropolitan county councils? Do not the Government have some responsibility to do something about it?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the facts are as I stated. The decision rests with the districts, as I stated that it did, and they have taken it in the sense in which I said that they had. My understanding is—and I have to say that I would need to take advice on the detail—that the staff of the joint committee is likely to be reduced but that the work will not cease.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that for the large majority of United Kingdom beaches it is sewage that is the polluting substance which is being assessed and not radioactivity from man-made sources, which is infinitesimal in comparison?

Lord Elton

My Lords, my noble friend is perfectly right. I should like to repeat the assurance I gave earlier that the quality of bathing water polluted by sewage does not become a health hazard until it becomes such aesthetically that one would not wish to take the risk anyway.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, can the noble Lord say just when, approximately, we shall be able to meet the EC quality objectives on most of our beaches? The noble Lord gave the money which is to be spent, but how long will it take to clear up the rest of them?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think it will take a considerable time. I cannot be more precise than that.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, will the noble Lord indicate what the Government are doing about the report of the Keep Britain Tidy group on the deposition of litter at sea and the consequent littering of beaches? Is the noble Lord aware that this report was referred to with some concern in the last report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing attention to the valuable work of Keep Britain Tidy. I have to say that the clearance of litter from beaches is, of course, the responsibility of the local district councils.