§ Mr. David Martin
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when the Government response to the Environment Select Committee report on pollution of beaches will be published; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Trippier
The Government response is being published today and a copy has been placed in the Library. We welcome the report as pollution of beaches is a matter of great public concern and is something that we are taking active steps to combat.442W
The Government are committed to improving the quality of bathing waters. In 1990 77 per cent. of our 446 identified bathing waters met European standards compared with only 51 per cent. in 1986. A major investment in the sewerage system around our coasts of £1.4 billion was announced last year to bring all our bathing waters up to European standards.
The Select Committee report coincided with a major Government review of their policies on disposal of sewage to sea. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in March that the discharge of raw sewage from coastal towns is to be banned. Over £2 billion is to be spent on additional treatment and £600 million of this will be spent on bathing waters over the next five years.
The Select Committee has also focused on the relationship between risks to health and sea bathing and concluded that the risk of contracting serious disease is minimal. The Government accept that more research is necessary into the risks of contracting minor infections and, with the National Rivers Authority, will fund a continuation of the existing programme.
We also believe that the public should be better informed about bathing water quality. I announced an initiative earlier this year for a voluntary scheme for local authorities to publicise, at the beach or at other prominent sites, up-to-date information on bathing water quality which will be provided by the National Rivers Authority. The local authority associations in England and Wales have endorsed the idea and we are pressing ahead finalising the arrangements for the scheme to be ready for the start of next year's bathing season. A poster is being developed for local display which will give easily understood information on bathing water quality as part of our policy on improved access to environmental information.