HC Deb 17 July 1991 vol 195 cc223-4W
Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has now received the report of the drinking water inspectorate for 1990; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Heseltine

The chief inspector, Michael Healey, has submitted to me and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales his first annual report on drinking water in 1990. This has been published today, and I have placed copies in the Library.

Of 3.3 million tests carried out on drinking water during 1990, 99 per cent. came within the legal limits. The chief inspector has concluded that the water supplied to consumers is of high quality, and often of exceptionally high quality. Overall, the inspectorate has confirmed the safety of public water supplies.

The report is the first comprehensive description of drinking water quality in England and Wales, tested rigorously against the very demanding criteria of the Water Quality Regulations, which incorporate the limits in the EC drinking water directive. I am pleased that in this country we are leading the way in Europe by requiring such close scrutiny of our water supplies and the publication of a report of this kind.

Some supplies were found not to comply at some time with some of the standards in the Water Quality Regulations. These cases do not endanger health. Some companies have given my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Wales and me undertakings, in response to action by us under section 20 of the Water Act 1989, to remedy the position as quickly as practicable, and in most cases by 1995. Other companies will do so shortly. This remedial programme requires major capital investment by the industry, amounting to over £2 billion by 1995. The inspectorate has concluded that the programme is on schedule. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), the Minister for the Environment and Countryside, is however writing today to the chairmen of water companies to emphasise the importance we attach to this programme.

Furthermore, my right hon. Friend and I have asked the inspectorate to review the remedial programme. If the review shows that there is scope for remedying current breaches of the standards at an earlier date than hitherto planned, we shall consider to what extent water companies should be required to do that. This could mean that some companies would be allowed a higher limit on their charges, to reflect additional costs.

Finally, the report also refers to a small number of incidents notified by water companies to the inspectorate in which either companies have had to take special precautions or the inspectorate is considering enforcement action or prosecution.

In parallel with this major investment programme by the water industry, the Government are taking action on other fronts which will reduce the contamination of water sources by nitrate and pesticides.