HL Deb 25 February 1997 vol 578 cc1031-3

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proportion of the recognised bathing beaches in the United Kingdom now meet the standards prescribed by the European Union.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, during the 1996 bathing season, 90 per cent. of the 472 United Kingdom bathing waters identified under the Bathing Water Directive met the directive's mandatory coliform bacteria standards. A full report of results for all the parameters under the directive for which sampling is required has been placed in the Library.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her reply and I welcome what appears to be a substantial improvement. Is it largely due to the installation of new treatment plants and more effective sewage outfalls? If so, will this process continue with the aim of 100 per cent. of beaches reaching the standard?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I am grateful that my noble friend has pointed out how good the improvement is, and that is the case. It is due to all the significant new sewerage plant that has been constructed and all the effort that has gone into that. Since the bathing water improvement scheme came about in 1989, there have been 117 schemes; 83 have already been completed. Another 12 are due to be finished soon and improvements are continuing.

As regards the figure of 100 per cent. mentioned by my noble friend, it is practically impossible to reach 100 per cent. because in order to pass the test the beaches are tested on 20 occasions. If they fail on even one out of the 20 tests, the beaches do not receive the 100 per cent. standard. However, we are delighted with the improvement.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, while we accept that the tide is turning on Britain's dirty beaches, perhaps I may ask whether the Minister agrees that one in nine of British beaches still fails to meet the minimum standards for bathers, particularly because of sewage problems. Bearing in mind the encouraging responses last year, when 31 UK beaches were awarded the European blue flag, does the Minister have any forecasts on how many beaches are likely to be awarded the European blue flag for 1997?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, in a way, if I may say so to the noble Lord, the European blue flag is a bit of a red herring. Perhaps a more polite way of describing it is to call it a misunderstanding, because 23 different tests are carried out, and from memory I believe that about 20 have nothing to do with water quality. The blue flag is only given where the local authority applies for it. So, frankly, the fact that we have only a few blue flags is no indication of the state of our beaches and bathing waters.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, first, does the Minister agree that the number of bathing places that have failed increased over the last year? It is merely because a higher total overall was identified that the proportion remained roughly the same. Secondly, does the Minister agree that it is only because of pressure from the European Union that we have progressed as far as we have in the improvement of bathing places?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

No, my Lords, I do not agree. I am pleased to tell the noble Baroness that since privatisation of water, the figures for our bathing waters that meet the requirements have increased from 68 per cent. to the 90 per cent. that I was glad to mention just now.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether our Department of Health still believes that the £13,500 million so far spent on the directive is largely wasted? Can she say how much our European competitors have spent on the directive and to what genuine effect?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I have no information on how much our European partners have spent on the directive. I know that we have spent £2,000 million, which accounts for the 117 schemes which I mentioned. We are pleased about it and feel that it is a good indication of a project where we work together to try to improve the bathing water quality of all countries across the European Union.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the Minister say how many bathing beaches in Britain reached the prescribed temperature at which people would like to bathe?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I am afraid that I am unable to help the noble Lord. As a non-swimmer who uses a rubber ring in the swimming pool, I have no information on the temperature of the sea water.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, from the work carried out by her department, can the Minister say how many cases of illness are attributable to beaches which do not reach EU standards?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

No, my Lords, I am unable to give my noble friend that information.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether there is any kind of league table of performance in the area such as exists for the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Baltic states?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, data are compiled on how European countries are doing, but there must always be a degree of caution used when trying to make direct comparisons because all the states have different sampling and analytical methods. So it is difficult for us to work out the figures. However, I am pleased to tell the House that we are placed in the middle of the table and are getting better all the time. We certainly produce better results than Germany, France or the Netherlands.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of a recent report which showed that the major pollution of our beaches is now caused by the users of the beaches?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I am not aware of that report; but that may very well be so.

Lord Pender

My Lords, is my noble friend interested to know that my home beach at Sandwich Bay has just had over £1.4 million spent on improving the foreshore and sewage treatment, and, having been red listed or contaminated listed, it now proudly flies the blue flag?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I am delighted to congratulate my noble friend on that excellent result for Sandwich beach.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that two causes of unclean beaches are garbage and debris from shipping, discarded and washed up on the beaches, and pollution from dirty rivers and estuaries? Are those two sources also being addressed?

Baroness Miller of Hendon

Yes, my Lords, they are.

Back to