HL Deb 30 March 1994 vol 553 cc1072-4

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the Reader's Digest/Marine Conservation Society Beachwatch Report which revealed that 11 per cent. of litter collected during a nationwide beach clean was sewage related, they intend to take action against local authorities who fail to maintain the standards of cleanliness required by law on Britain's beaches.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 local authorities are required to keep amenity beaches down to high water mark clear of litter and refuse between 1st May and 30th September.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very clear statement. Does he not agree that too many local authorities are failing in their duty to the families and young children who holiday on Britain's beaches? Does he agree that the situation is wholly unacceptable when volunteers in last year's Beachwatch campaign found that more than 3½ tonnes of the debris on our beaches was made up of used nappies, condoms. tampons and other even more unmentionable sanitary items which are a dangerous threat to the health of our young children and grandchildren and to the general public?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, of course I agree with my noble friend. It is an extremely serious matter. However, I have to say, as I said in my original Answer, that it is very much the job and responsibility of local authorities to consider how to carry out their duty in the light of priorities and the circumstances which prevail at the time. The Tidy Britain Group has surveyed all the resort beaches in Britain and will be reporting shortly with the publication of a league table. The local authorities would do very well to heed the results carefully.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, bearing in mind that some years ago the responsibility for sewage treatment was taken away from local authorities and placed with the new water companies, would it not be better if they were included in this Question as they are the biggest culprits?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the point is that they are not included in the Question. I believe that the noble Lord's question is for another day.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, would it not be more satisfactory to ensure that the debris did not reach the beach in the first place? Since we refer to 11 per cent. of visible rubbish, where does the remaining 89 per cent. come from? Who deals with that? Has anything been done about the great deal of rubbish which is thrown from ships at sea?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite correct. A considerable amount of debris is caused by dumping from ships at sea. As the noble Baroness is fully aware, the problem, as always, is the policing of and the detection of those ships. But each of the vessels which passes through the maritime waters of this country well knows the laws abiding in those waters. For instance, vessels are not allowed to dump or to discharge any garbage within a 12-mile limit; and they are certainly not allowed to discharge any garbage in the North Sea.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, in his comprehensive answer relating to Section 89 of the Environmental Protection Act, did not the noble Earl leave out the local authority duties? The important phrase is "so far as is practicable". If local authorities find the directive impracticable, that section is the let-out. Is it not therefore relevant to ask, as my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick asked, that we first stop the polluters? Therefore, is it not for the Government to make sure that the water companies—which are the sewerage companies as well—meet proper standards? The water companies will have to do so if they are to meet the requirements of the bathing waters directive by 1995.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, certainly it is very much the responsibility of the general public when visiting and bathing in these waters not to leave litter around. As regards the bathing directive, the noble Lord will know that, of the £30 billion being spent by the end of the century, £2 billion is being invested in clearing up the bathing waters in this country.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, that may be the case. But the fact is that the Government are committed by 1995 to meeting the standards under the bathing water directive. If the bathing waters do not meet those standards, they will be taken to court and there will be yet another mess which the Government will leave behind which we shall have to clear up.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Government do not leave behind messes for the Opposition to clear up. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that we shall endeavour under the European directive to fulfil the commitment by the year 1995.