HC Deb 15 October 1996 vol 282 cc844-5W
Mr. Meacher

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment he has made of whether the outcome of the review of the handling of incidents arid prosecutions by the drinking water inspectorate is consistent with the quality procedures manual and the code of enforcement. [40656]

Mr. Clappison

The review of incidents was carried out by a consultant on behalf of the drinking water inspectorate. It did not cover the inspectorate's handling of incidents, but was concerned with the lessons that could be learnt by the water companies in preventing incidents and their handling of them. The objectives of the review included: categorising the type of incidents, causes and frequency of occurrence; carrying out a critical appraisal of water companies' responses to incidents, including actions taken to protect and inform consumers, to communicate with health and local authorities and to prevent recurrence of incidents; assessing the effectiveness of water companies' arrangements for responding to incidents and the actions taken to rectify any faults in the treatment/distribution system, identifying areas of weakness; identifying those incidents which were outside the control of the company and those incidents which were avoidable; identifying those regulations which are commonly breached; and making recommendations appropriate to the findings from the above on any issues which warrant wider consideration.

The inspectorate is assessing the consultant's findings and will publish the main conclusions and lessons to be learnt early in 1997.

The drinking water inspectorate's quality procedures manual consists of a number of procedures covering the inspectorate's activities, including one on the handling of incidents and another on the handling of consumer complaints about drinking water quality. These procedures have been developed as part of the inspectorate's total quality programme. The one on handling incidents has been in operation since May 1996. This procedure is an important part in achieving a consistent and rigorous approach to the investigations of incidents.

The code for enforcement was introduced at the beginning of 1994. The code sets down how the inspectorate carries out its duties and sets service standards with response times. The inspectorate reports on its performance against the response times in its annual report.