HL Deb 07 March 1987 vol 487 cc244-5

3.22 p.m.

Baroness David

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, since the European Commission is expected to institute proceedings against them under Article 169 of the Treaty of Rome, they intend to conform to the standards of the drinking water directive 80/778/EEC.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, no water from a public water supply is a danger to health. However, a small percentage does fail one or more of the very stringent parameters in the directive. These are either covered by derogations or are being brought up to standard as quickly as possible.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and note what he says about derogations. Do Her Majesty's Government accept that the words "maximum admissible concentration" in the Council of the European Community's directive relating to the quality of water intended for human consumption mean "maximum"? Is the Government's current policy of interpreting "maximum admissible concentration" as a three-month rolling average thus a breach of the directive?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, breaches of the directive can be settled in the ultimate instance only by the European Court. As to the current position regarding the court, I accept that one, and only one, legal proceeding has been started by the Commission in respect of water in Tower Hamlets.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Anglian Water Authority is already having to import pure water in order to dilute the water it extracts because of the presence of an excessive amount of nitrates? Does he not think that he has given a rather complacent Answer about the quality of the water being produced for us to drink? Can he say what further action he proposes to take to ensure that the presence of excessive nitrates is guarded against in the future?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the general comment that I made at the beginning of my Answer— that no water from a public water supply is a danger to health—includes nitrates as well as any other of the masses of parameters within the directive. However, we are considering the recommendations for action, contained in the report of the nitrate coordination group, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. An integrated approach is needed, with contributions from both the agriculture and the water industries.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, can the Minister say more about the slightly disturbing reference to the water in Tower Hamlets where some of us have family members?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, again, I must reiterate the point that there is no risk to public health. A programme of improvements on nitrites is already well advanced and an application has been made to the Commission under Article 20. We hope to resolve this matter shortly with the Commission.

Baroness David

My Lords, can the Minister inform us where and when the meeting with the civil servants of the Department of the Environment and civil servants from other member states to discuss the Commission's proposals to deal with nitrate pollution is to take place?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, that is a detailed and specific question that I shall have to answer in writing. I assure the noble Baroness that I shall certainly do that.

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