HC Deb 16 July 1992 vol 211 cc1050-1W
Mr. Michael Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether, following the outbreak of cryptosporidosis in Hull, he has decided to prosecute Yorkshire Water Services Ltd. for supplying water unfit for human consumption.

Mr. Howard

I have now received the recommendation of the chief drinking water inspector following his investigation of the outbreak of cryptosporidosis in the Hull area in December 1989 and January 1990.

Section 54 of the Water Act 1989—now replaced by section 70 of the Water Industry Act 1991—made it a criminal offence for a water undertaker to supply water unfit for human consumption. It is, however, a defence under the Act for the undertaker to show that all reasonable steps were taken and all due diligence exercised to secure that the water was fit for human consumption.

The inspectorate's investigation was based on the report of the outbreak control group—made up of representatives of the health authorities, the local authorities, the water company and the Public Health Laboratory Service—which was completed and made available to the public in March 1991. The inspectorate then sought advice from the Government's Chief Medical Officer, from independent experts on epidemiology and water treatment, and from leading counsel.

The inspectorate's investigation of the Hull case has been extensive and thorough, and carried out in a professional manner. I have accepted the chief inspector's recommendation that, in the light of best expert advice available, the evidence is not sufficient to form the basis for a successful prosecution. I have asked the inspectorate to prepare a report on any lessons to be learned from the incident and for the report to be made public.

There are a number of gaps to be filled in scientific knowledge about cryptosporidium and, in accordance with the recommendations of the expert group chaired by Sir John Badenoch, a collaborative research programme co-ordinated by the inspectorate is seeking to do that.

The inspectorate is continuing its investigations of certain other incidents, and in some of these cases is considering the possibility of prosecution.