HL Deb 01 March 1994 vol 552 cc931-4

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will give a commitment to implement fully the European Union Directives on bathing water quality and on drinking water.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the Government are fully committed to implementing the Community directives on bathing water and drinking water.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. In view of its positive nature, perhaps he will allow me to stretch the Question to include another directive, of which I have given him notice. Why are the Government seeking to delay the implementation of the urban waste directive? Will he explain the difference between the original cost of £ 2 billion which was attached to that directive and the increased cost of £ 10 billion which is now being quoted?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, £ 2 billion was the figure which, based on work by consultants, was accepted by the department. However, since then further costing work by the water industry as part of the Ofwat periodic review of K has produced a figure of more than £ 10 billion. That figure has been independently certified. Further costing work is continuing. Later this summer the regulator, Mr. Ian Byatt, will announce proposals on K factors. This is a very complex directive.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is the European Union insisting on the French cleaning up the absolutely filthy bathing water which is to be found all along the French Riviera?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper relates more to the bathing waters around our coastline.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that most of us will admire the Government's use of the term "Community" in reply to the Question, which contains the words "European Union"? Is it not the case that there is too much unauthorised and improper use of the term "European Union" as distinct from "European Community"?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, whether it is European Union or European Community we all know what we mean.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the health and safety of the British people is a matter for them and them alone and should be no concern of people living hundreds of miles away? Is it not a disgrace that a former British Government sanctioned interference into what is a purely domestic matter with no cross-border ramifications?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, will be pleased to hear that the subsidiarity report from the European Commission to the December 1993 European Council is passing to us a number of matters in respect of which we shall make our own decisions.

Lord Renton

My Lords, how many sewage works are discharging into the seas around our coast?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give my noble friend an answer to that question but I will write to him.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, the whole House welcomes the Government's Answer that they are fully committed to implementing the directives on bathing water quality and on drinking water. Will the Minister confirm the rumour that attempts are being made to dilute or to water down the directives? Will the Government assure the House that they will resist all attempts to dilute the effects of the directives?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, directives are directives and we will implement them fully.

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in view of the large number of tourists who come to this country, which is a matter of considerable importance, and the large numbers of people from this country who go not only to the French Riviera, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter reminded us, but also to other places in Europe, the matter is essentially one of European interest?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, as regards the United Kingdom, the bathing water directives are now fully transposed into UK law.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is considerable anxiety about rising water prices and that, therefore, speculation is inevitable that the directives might in some way be abandoned? Does the Minister agree that, as the nature of the capital investment in the water industry is long term and large scale, any attempt to abandon the directives on quality might not produce any reduction in water prices that is sought?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, as I said, this is an extremely complex matter. The noble Lord must be referring to the urban waste water treatment directive, which will entail a great deal of expense. As I said, we expect the regulator to report later this year, in the autumn, and we must await the outcome of his report.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House what steps the Government are taking to ensure that the directives are implemented to the same standard throughout the whole of Europe?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, we are required to implement the directives into United Kingdom law and must leave it to others to implement them into their legal systems.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I welcome the noble Viscount's assurance that the Government intend to implement in full the drinking and bathing water directives. However, can he explain why, on 13th December in another place [Official Report, Commons, col.696.], the Prime Minister said: The drinking water directive and the bathing water directive both need to be completely overhauled. They are over prescriptive and outdated scientifically."?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, we need to return to the subsidiarity report of the European Commission. We already know that the Council has indicated that the bathing water and drinking water directives will be replaced but there is no suggestion that the Commission has committed itself merely to repeal those directives without further action.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, will the noble Viscount give an undertaking that the same advice is given by local authority environmental health departments, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, local river authorities and the National Rivers Authority? When farmers inquired about how to dispose of their sheep dip, it seemed that each department had different ideas about what should be done. The National Rivers Authority has made excellent recommendations. Will the Minister undertake to inform all the other departments of the National Rivers Authority's recommendations?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the question is a little wide of the Question on the Order Paper. But I shall bring her remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Elton

My Lords, arising from my noble friend's answer to my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Swinfen, does not my noble friend accept that all the while we regard European directives as descending on this country uncontrollably from another place they will be regarded as hostile? The sooner we see that they are implemented equally throughout Europe, of which we are part, the better it will be.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend's question is a little wide of that on the Order Paper. I see no reason why we should not accept directives which are for the benefit of our bathing and drinking waters.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, will the noble Viscount reconsider his answer to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen? The Minister suggested that the British Government have no influence on the implementation of directives by other countries. Is he aware that it is open to the British Government to take other countries to the European Court and that, under the Maastricht Treaty, if they do not obey directives they can be fined?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I am sure that government departments concerned with those matters are fully aware of that.

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