HL Deb 28 July 1988 vol 500 cc383-5

3.20 p.m.

Lord Campbellof Croy asked her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made to bring bathing beaches in the United Kingdom up to the standards prescribed by the European Community.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, we are making good progress in bringing our bathing waters up to EC standards. Results of the 1987 monitoring programme suggest that about 70 per cent. of UK waters now meet these standards, compared with 62 per cent. in 1986. This improvement will continue as water authorities replace unsatisfactory short sea outfalls. Water authorities are currently spending £70 million per year on bringing bathing waters up to standard. The Government are reviewing with them the scope for accelerating their programmes.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. However, before noble Lords depart tomorrow for their favourite watering places, ready after the last few weeks for a much needed summer break, can my noble friend assure the House that the recognised beaches around this country are entirely wholesome and salubrious, even if they are not on the EC's approved list?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, yes. We are naturally advised on the health aspects by the DHSS. The environmental health officers have not recommended us to close any beaches. So, my Lords, I wish you good bathing!

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the worst cause of pollution has been the 19th century practice of getting rid of urban sewage by driving it through pipes which are put along the sea bed for a distance of about 100 yards from the high water mark level? This practice should be discontinued. Can my noble friend say whether steps have been taken to achieve the end of that practice?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The short sea outfalls to which he refers have not proved satisactory. That is why the recommended solution which is approved environmentally is the long sea outfall.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether progress in this respect is as fast in Scotland as it is in the rest of the UK?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, not without notice, I am afraid.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am conscious that the noble Earl's responsibilities in the Department of the Environment now include housing, of which we are very glad, but they do not include water. Will not the noble Earl have the responsibility of piloting the Bill attempting to privatise the water authorities through this House? Can the noble Earl assure the House that any Bill for which he takes responsibility will have adequate safeguards to ensure that the new water authorities do not in any way damage the environment of our beaches but help to make it better?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord is looking forward to debating that Bill as much as I am. Doubtless we shall be looking at those clauses in particular.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, as a former chairman of the Sewage Working Party, may I ask the noble Earl whether he realises that if we put longer and longer pipes out into the Channel, the French will bring longer and longer pipes towards this country? When I was on that working party, we were told by the French, "The more rubbish you send to us, the more we will send to you!". Therefore the only answer surely is to deal with this problem at source. The effluent must not be allowed to go into the sea to begin with but must be dealt with at source.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Baroness is well versed in these matters. However, I can assure her that from an environmental point of view the sea is the most useful agent when a properly constructed long sea outfall is used. That is the environmentally beneficial way of dealing with the problem.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the critical point of the noble Baroness's question is that the industrial waste should be detoxified before it goes into the public sewer? As long as that is done, my noble friend is absolutely correct that the dilution and oxidation which will take place in the sea will safely dispose of the effluent.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. I know that the water authorities have been at great pains to make sure that any industrial effluent is taken care of before it reaches that stage.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, in the meantime can the noble Earl arrange to see that the seawater on our beaches is a little warmer?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, a moment ago the noble and learned Lords' noble friend the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, raised a question relating to the greenhouse effect, which might alter the temperature of the seawater in due course!