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Column 946that we have just witnessed nothing more than a legislative farce. A debate on a major Welsh issue has been truncated from what should have been at least a two-hour debate, even under a guillotine motion, to 38 minutes. That is because other important business intruded into the time available under the guillotine motion. Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, draw Mr. Speaker's attention to that matter and ask him whether he will refer it to the Select Committee on Procedure so that it can consider whether debates under a timetable motion should be interrupted in such a manner and whether they should be protected business which cannot be eaten into by Government or any other business?
Schedule [Water Quality in Scotland] to this Act shall have effect to make provision for Scotland in relation to the quality of water.'.-- [Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Since we have only one and a quarter hours to debate three new clauses, would it be convenient to debate them all together rather than separately?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : That is a little hypothetical at the moment. I shall not be in the Chair throughout, but while I am I shall take a tolerant view, particularly over the first two new clauses, which are fairly closely related. The third new clause may be a little wide of those. However, in view of the time constraint, the Chair will be tolerant.
On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced that the Government would introduce on Report a limited number of amendments relating to drinking water and protection of the water environment. The amendments introduce new provisions on the quality of water supplies to the existing legislation in the Water (Scotland) Act 1980. The provisions have the same effect as the provisions already in chapter II of part II for England and Wales, and have been discussed in Committee. They are in the same terms as the provisions for England and Wales except where we have taken account of particular Scottish circumstances. The provisions are based on consultations which took place throughout Britain in 1986. We stated our intention then to use the Bill to apply a limited number of legislative proposals to Scotland in order to maintain a common line with England and Wales where necessary, especially in the context of EC obligations.
Column 947The provisions are evidence of our commitment to high-quality drinking water in Scotland. They will be backed up by strong regulations, on which we will be consulting soon, which will make it clear that all water supplies--public and private--must meet the quality standards in the EC drinking water directive and a number of additional standards, within agreed time scales. We propose to set down minimum sampling and treatment requirements which exceed those in EC directives, and materials and chemicals used in water treatment and distribution systems will be subject to a statutory approval process. Comprehensive information on water quality will be made available to the public to demonstrate whether supplies meet the standards, and, if they do not, what steps are being taken to comply.
Mr. Maxton : I am slightly surprised to hear the Minister say that draft regulations will soon be put out for consultation. My information is that that has already happened and many people already know the details of them.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman may be confusing the consultation to which I referred with the consultation last week on another document relating to land, whereas the regulations to which I referred deal with water and sewerage.
The amendments will also enable the Secretary of State to take action to ensure that a water authority complies with its duty to supply wholesome water if he is satisfied that it has contravened any of the statutory requirements.
I should emphasise that our water supplies in Scotland are generally of very good quality. The water authorities have already made good progress in improving supplies which repeatedly failed to meet the exacting standards of the EC directive. That progress is being maintained. The remaining improvement programmes are being completed as quickly as possible.
Until last year we had been working on the understanding that occasional failure to meet one of the directive's standards did not require action to be taken. However, the European Commission took the view that that interpretation was not correct, even where the standard had nothing to do with health, but concerned, for example, the colour of the water. The Government considered the matter further and have since adopted the Commission's interpretation.
The water authorities have investigated the implications of this new interpretation and are preparing improvement programmes for supplies which occasionally breach a standard. Those programmes will be discussed with the Scottish Development Department. They will relate mainly to factors affecting the appearance and taste of water, such as colour, iron and manganese.
To maintain and improve the quality of our water supplies requires investment. The Government have played their part through the expenditure allocations to the regional councils in respect of water and sewerage. In 1985-86 the capital allocation for the Scottish water and sewerage programme was £95 million. The original allocation to the authorities for 1988-89 was £107 million, but last November we made a supplementary allocation of £5.5 million to the programme. For 1989-90 the capital allocation has been set at £121.5 million, an increase of 14 per cent. over this year's planned provision.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : Let me direct the Minister's attention to the sewerage rather than water purity side of the figures. Strathclyde region will have £3 million extra for sewerage schemes in the coming year, for which I am grateful. I am also grateful for the courtesy with which colleagues and I were received by the Minister. However, £3 million is--if the hon. Gentleman will pardon the expression--a spit in the ocean compared with what is required. I am told that for just one of the sewage teams needed to clean up the Clyde it will take between £10 and £15 million. Clearly, the cleaning up of the Clyde will not be achieved on the basis of the kind of figures the Minister was talking about. I suggest it is really a test of the Government's green priorities whether they will make available serious resources for the cleaning up not just of the large beaches of the Clyde but also of the smaller beaches in the foreseeable future.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am grateful to the hon. Member, who came to see me with a deputation from Strathclyde region. I am very much in favour of a strong environmental policy, which is why we have had the 14 per cent. increase this year. There are, of course, a number of major schemes in hand now in Strathclyde aimed at improving the waters off the Ayrshire coast and off the hon. Member's constituency. Overall planned expenditure on sewerage is slightly over half of the total water sewerage programme. The capital allocation for the programme is about £40 million in 1988-89 and £45 million in 1989-90. Priority schemes include works at Troon, Barassie, Irvine harbour, Saltcoats and the Garnoch valley sewer, so a certain amount is happening.
Mr. Wilson : I accept that, but will the Minister accept my point that, with the current levels of increase, the time scale goes into the next century and that there is a serious problem which requires a different scale of resources altogether? Will he also accept the point that these beaches are the major beaches in Ayrshire which require cleaning up, but there are many smaller beaches on the Clyde which are not designated for European standards purposes, and they are falling through the net altogether? In places like Seamill, Fairlie and the Isle of Arran there is no prospect whatsoever, even within this programme, which reaches into infinity as it is, of anything being done about the problems in these areas.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I obviously take seriously what the hon. Members says, which relates to the next new clause. These are matters which take a certain number of years to resolve. I was encouraged to see that The Daily Record today said that in the war on water :
"Scotland shines at the top of the class. There's a sparkle in the seemingly endless floods of worldwide dirty water. Scotland's pollution control on our inland water has reversed a century of neglect. Our rivers and lochs are the cleanest in the world--an average 95.3 per cent. of our water is pollution free."
The point which the hon. Member has made will be borne in mind. Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) rose--
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am tempted to give way to the hon. Member. We shall take these matters into account when the next PESC round of public expenditure is considered and the priorities are worked out because we want a strong environmental policy, which accounts for the increase in expenditure.
Column 949I am anxious to get back to the amendment but I will give way.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Member takes me on to a completely different point--why there is no privatisation in Scotland. We concluded that there was no case at present for a similar move in Scotland, where the existing arrangements are operating satisfactorily. In Scotland, as the hon. Member knows, water and sewerage services are the responsibility of the regions' and islands' councils, while control of water pollution is the responsibility of independent statutory river purification boards and the islands' councils in their area. I confirm we have no plans to privatise water services in Scotland.
I return to the new clause, as I am anxious that as many hon. Members as possible can speak. The supplementary allocation this year and the increased provision for 1989-90 will go a long way to meeting the needs of the local authorities. Though they are free to set their own expenditure priorities, they will be able to make faster progress in attaining European Commission standards in the drinking water and other directives. The amendments provide a sound basis for ensuring that the quality of water supplies in Scotland is maintained and improved where necessary. They are an important addition to the existing water legislation, and will provide further protection for the health of the Scottish people. They are also necessary to fulfil Britain's legal obligations under the EC drinking water directive, but I emphasise that the regulations will go beyond the requirements of that directive, and I am sure that the addition of such robust and wide-ranging provisions to the existing Scottish water legislation will be widely welcomed.
I do not want to keep hon. Members out, because it is a very short debate.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Most of the lead improvement programmes will be ready by the end of the year. Other programmes, relating for example to aluminium, will run into the mid-1990s, and that is the most accurate answer I can give.
I will speak very briefly about amendment No. 42. Section 31 of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 provides that a water authority in Scotland may consult an adjoining water authority or other appropriate authority in England about securing the best use of water supplies in the public interest, that is, to consider whether water in England should be transferred for use in Scotland and vice versa. This amendment simply changes the reference to "water authorities" to "water undertakers", to reflect the new organisation in England. I hope there will be some time for the new clause following, but I hope we have a wide-ranging debate on this issue first.
Column 950Scottish waters do not exist--or almost do not exist ; he said we are one of the best--and also because of the timescale in which he suggested what problems we have will be resolved.
We welcome these new clauses, though giving an hour and a half of prime parliamentary time for clauses which are important, but not controversial, in the middle of the most controversial Bill in this Session of Parliament, if not of the whole Parliament, seems to me a deliberate attempt by the Government to delay the major attack on them which will inevitably take place later in the night. The time for consultation on the new clauses was far too short. They were tabled only last week. I gather that the director with responsibility for sewage matters for Strathclyde region received his copies this morning and was therefore totally unable to advise people such as myself and my hon. Friends on the exact implications.
Mr. Maxton : That may be correct, but I am talking about the new clause we are debating tonight, and the notes on clauses, which the director in the Strathclyde region received this morning, with no time to consult or advise hon. Members in the constituencies which he covers.
I am grateful to the Minister and to his advisers for the courtesy they have shown over the past few days in ensuring that I and my hon. Friend, the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) were properly briefed on the new clauses. I am always reluctant to say nice things about the Minister, because every time I do so they appear in his next election address ; therefore, I do not want to get too carried away.
This clause, as the Minister said, gives power to the Government to introduce regulations to ensure that Scottish water quality and the pollution levels in waters of all sorts reach standards laid down by EC regulations and that Scottish consumers receive water of at least the same quality as that provided by the new water plcs which will be established in England and Wales as a result of the Bill. The EC directive on quality of water intended for human consumption became effective on 15 July 1985, and the directive imposed objective quality standards on water supplied from the public supply system as measured at treatment works and consumer taps. It is important to remember that there are two different terms of quality. It defines desirable and acceptable limits for 62 chemical and bacteriological parameters, though in practice this always means, of course, that there is what has become known as MAC, I gather, in the trade : maximum admissible concentration. Initially water authorities applied for delays or derogations under articles 9 and 20 of the directive in order to relax the approved standards. These applications, however, were made on the basis of compliance with the MAC values on a three-month or 12-month average basis. However, on 2 December 1987, speaking for all Secretaries of State covering water authorities, the Secretary of State for the Environment said that the MAC values "should relate to individual samples and not to averages."--[ Official Report, 2 December 1987 ; Vol. 123, c. 915.]
I was slightly surprised to hear that the draft regulations have not been put out to consultation. The
Column 951people to whom I have been speaking about water quality seem to know exactly what the new regulations will lay down. Perhaps I am talking to people in the Minister's own advisory committees. The draft regulations will lay down the minimum standards for water at the point at which it goes into the supply system and when it comes out of the consumer's tap. They are to be welcomed.
The problem is that the clauses and the regulations that will follow them have enormous resource implications which the Government must recognise-- the Minister did not recognise them--and ensure that local authorities are given sufficient money to enable work to be carried out.
I consulted with Mr. Chambers, the director of water, for Strathclyde region yesterday. He was extremely helpful and knowledgeable. Therefore, I will refer to Strathclyde region to illustrate examples of what he believes to be the implications of the regulations. I am sure that other authorities will have similar problems.
As my hon. Friends know, much of the Strathclyde region's water system dates back a long time. Last year was the 150th anniversary of the opening of Paisley's water system, and this year is the 130th anniversary of the first phase of the Loch Katrine system upon which Glasgow still largely depends. That water is supplied through cast-iron pipes that are now badly corroded on the inside and thus have a small bore capacity. Many pipes still in houses are made of lead. Glasgow in particular has great problems with lead levels well above EEC standards. Strathclyde region has been putting lime into the water to try to correct the solvency problem. On a trial basis, it is now putting potassium into some water. That has considerably helped with the problems of the combination of soft water and lead. We also have much natural aluminium in many water supplies in Strathclyde. It may not be proven, but a clear link between aluminium and Alzheimer's disease and its causes is certainly beginning to be recognised. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) may say something further about that. Although we have those problems, the high catchment and plentiful water supplies mean that Strathclyde has few problems with the nitrate pollution that plague some water authorities here and abroad. Strathclyde does not need to recycle water, as happens in the south-east of England.
Let us examine what the new regulations mean to Strathclyde region. I am informed that, just to ensure that the standards for treatment works are met in terms of lead, aluminium and the amount of disinfectant required, it will involve a capital cost of about £170 million. Another £45 million capital expenditure must be spent on treatment works to comply with the other elements of the EEC directive. Modern automatic communication and control systems must be introduced to ensure that the quality of water is maintained at all times. If we are to expect 100 per cent. sampling levels, we must control the supply all the time, and that will cost another £10 million. To ensure that the quality of water is then maintained to the consumer's tap, 8,000 kms of mains piping will have to be reconditioned or replaced at an estimated cost of about £350 million. Thus, in Strathclyde alone, the capital cost required to comply with the regulations which we believe are coming is £575 million. At current levels of capital expenditure--that includes the great boast of a 14 per cent. increase--it will take 18
Column 952years' work to comply with the directive on aluminium, lead and micro-biological standards, and another five years to comply with the directive in full. Of course, the EEC expects our water to comply completely with the directive by 1995.
Not only capital costs are involved. In recent years, in Strathclyde, the number of routine and complaint samples taken and analysed have dramatically increased to 20,000 bacteriological and 12,000 chemical samples a year. A conservative estimate of the sampling requirements that will be needed following the legislation fully to meet the specified frequencies will raise the number of bacteriological samples to 50,000, and chemical samples to 36,000. Inevitably, that means more laboratories and extra staff for sampling and analysing. A rough estimate of the cost of that is £500,000 a year.
Most of Strathclyde's treatment plants are single stage. They will all have to be converted to modern two or more stages of treatment. I have already dealt with the capital involvement, but those conversions will inevitably mean more manpower, more chemicals and more electrical power to operate, while maintenance costs in terms of manpower and replacement seals, motors, pumps, dosing systems and so on, will lead to much increased current expenditure on top of capital costs. Again, the necessity to provide pure water to consumers means that the region will have to have emergency non- pipe supplies--that is, tankers--available to ensure supply if the supply drops below acceptable levies.
The schedule and draft regulations also require the same standards to be met by private supplies. Thus, if a house or farm in rural area has its own private spring or well piped into the house, it will be required to meet the same EEC standards--the legislation makes that clear--as are required for the normal water supply. Again, that has cost implications for the local authority and/or the individual property owner. If the cost of providing a public supply is cheaper than upgrading the existing supply, the local authority must install a new supply. If not, the private owner will have to spend large sums of money improving his own water supply to bring it up to the standard.
It has been much more difficult to give any estimates of the increased costs for local authorities for the control of pollution measures--if there are any. On the face of it, it is purely a tidying-up measure, mainly concerned with the use of language, and changing "water authority" to "river purification board". Nobody has had an opportunity to examine the matter in detail and find out exactly what it means. The three-mile coastal waters limit is now included. Therefore, that includes EEC control of beaches and the level of sewage on beaches. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) said, there will be enormous cost if sewage must be treated before it is put out to sea or if pipes must be put a long way out to sea to make sure that it does not come back. That will involve local authorities in enormous cost. As I said, it is difficult to get the information. The directors of sewage have not been able to go through that information sufficiently.
It is clear that extra money in sufficient quantities must be found if the EEC standards are to be reached in the foreseeable future. Where will that money come from? The Government must provide capital grants to ensure that the required capital work is undertaken. It is not good enough to increase capital allocations. Capital allocations are no
Column 953more than borrowing consents. They inevitably increase the costs of the water supply, because local authorities must then take account of interest rates, and that cost will be imposed on the consumer. The Government cannot throw the cost of the new legislation and the regulations that will follow entirely, if at all, upon the consumer. We must remember that non-domestic consumers will have massively increased costs--the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir. H. Monro) will appreciate that point--which will create great difficulties for companies operating at the margins of profit.
Even more important, if the burden is placed fully upon water authorities to recoup from their consumers, the majority of the cost will have to be obtained from the water poll tax or the water community charge. This would mean massive increases in the water poll tax. But my hon. Friends know that the water poll tax, unlike the poll tax, is not a rebatable charge, and is to be paid in full by everybody, from the poorest to the richest. There will be the same standard water and sewerage community charge, with no rebate. The only people who will not pay it in full are students.
Thus, if these costs increase, the very poor will have to bear the major burden of ensuring that the water supplies in Strathclyde and Scotland are met, and that cannot be just. I seek assurances from the Minister that his Department and the Exchequer will meet the costs of this measure in capital grants to local authorities and increasing revenue support to local authorities to ensure that the poll tax payers, especially the poorest, do not have yet another burden placed upon them by the Government. The Opposition will not vote against the clauses, but I hope that the Minister will give us some answers.
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : I should like to say a few words in support of the Minister's proposals in the new clauses. There are few countries where one can go to a cold tap and have a drink of water with the absolute certainty that one will not be any the worse off. But we should not be complacent because of that. It is good news indeed that the Government are taking a strong line about the quality of water for drinking and general use.
I have been concerned about piping, and its cost, to which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) referred. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will say something about the capital cost of renewing the lead and aluminium and other pipes that are not up to standard so that the quality of water does not fall on its way from the filter stations to our taps.
It seems strange that in Scotland--where it has done nothing but rain in the past year--sometimes we are very concerned about the quantity of water that is available for drinking, and it should be of the highest quality. Whether it comes by abstraction, impounding, by filter stations or from artesian wells, it can be in short supply in times of drought. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear those points in mind when he is thinking again about capital expenditure and revenue support grant for running costs. If we do not have adequate supplies of water when we need them, an industry might slip out of our clutches and go elsewhere when large quantities of water are required.
Column 9546.15 pm
Obviously the quality of water varies whether it is water for drinking or for fishing in. I commend that point to the Minister, because if the water in our rivers is of high quality it is likely that we shall have a much higher standard of fishing, which is very beneficial to the local community.
We should recognise the importance of the work of regional councils in providing the excellent water service in Scotland and at the same time commend the river purification boards for the standards that they have achieved in the past 20 to 30 years in making the rivers of Scotland very much safer for general use.
The hon. Member for Cathcart referred to the Clyde. We know how that river has been improving. A salmon is occasionally caught somewhere on the Clyde. That is certainly a step in the right direction. I dare say that my hon. Friend the Minister of Sport, when he has occasionally coxed a winning boat on the Thames, has been thrown overboard. In the old days, he would have been pumped out to save him from dying, but now they can throw him overboard with impunity as the quality of the river has improved so greatly. It is important--and I am sure that the Minister will remark on this--to have frequent monitoring the quality of our water. If we do not monitor and analyse it, we shall not know to what extent we are fulfilling the European Community directives, and maintaining the high standards that we are setting ourselves for the future. The measure will also cover monitoring of water with regard to acid rain. In Galloway, where that is prevalent, monitoring is carried out of the water quality with regard to forestry planting, granite rock or the very thin soil in that part of the countryside. We shall almost certainly need to have monitoring. As the hon. Member for Cathcart says, that will cost money. We cannot have increased quality without increased expenditure, whether it is for piping, filtration or monitoring the quality of rivers.
Perhaps the Minister will say a word about the position of environmental health officers in water testing. Is that to be left to the regions and the water supply authorities or will it be done by environmental health officers under their district responsibilities? It is important that we do not differ in our views--I do not anticipate that we shall--about who will carry out the monitoring of the water service.
I am glad that the Minister has taken power in the new clauses to provide supplies where there is a failure or where the supply has become unwholesome, either by means of a stand pipe or the provision of tankers, although clearly that provision would be only temporary. But could the Minister say whether the clause would come into effect in times of drought if there was insufficient water? Would that position be covered by the new clauses? Would the water authorities have to provide water by tanker during droughts?
I am very pleased that the Minister has taken this chance to implement the European Community directives and to go for higher quality water in Scotland. Therefore, I support the Minister's proposals.
Mr. Sillars : While I, like other hon. Members, welcome action that improves water quality, this is an absurd way for us to legislate on behalf of Scotland, by schedules tacked on to a major Bill for England and Wales under a
Column 955guillotine of an hour and a half. I believe that all of us, irrespective of our political differences, wish to register the strongest protest about that approach. It is insulting and absurd that we have to legislate in this manner.
During the period when I was out of this place, I took a course at Edinburgh university. I listened to professors and lecturers of constitutional law explaining to 18 and 19-year-old students how legislation reaches the statute book. The difference between the theory as taught at Edinburgh university, which is one of the foremost law schools in western Europe, and the practice is extraordinary.
I used to have great difficulty in tutorials explaining to the young students that it was not really like that at all, and that practising lawyers and indeed judges and sheriffs of judges of the Court of Session frequently complain that Scottish legislation is tacked on to measures the basic framework of which has nothing to do with Scotland.
I wish to illustrate for the Minister the absurdity of legislating in this fashion. The measure should have been a proper water Bill for Scotland, had a Second Reading and gone into Committee to be examined. At the moment, it would take a very able Philadelphia lawyer to whip through the new schedule and come up with the right conclusions as to its effect. The Minister is only an Edinburgh lawyer, not a Philadelphia lawyer. While I have a great deal of admiration for Edinburgh lawyers, some of whom rank among my best friends-- [Interruption.] It would take too long to name them all. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) may wish to know that more of them are my friends than are my enemies. The explanatory notes to the Bill refer to new schedule 11, which is section 76(1) (a) to be inserted in the Water (Scotland) Act 1980. Section 76A(1) (a) refers to "when supplying water for domestic purposes".
That appears to be plain and simple. Most folk think that they know what "domestic purposes" are. The phrase conjures up visions of a house with somebody turning on a tap. Will the Minister tell me whether those provisions apply to, for example, building sites where the men get their water for "domestic purposes", for tea-making and brewing-up, perhaps from a spricket coming off a main? If a case went to court and someone said that something had happened to the quality of the water and that it was not good enough and if the learned judge at the Court of Session began interpreting the legislation major arguments would arise about exactly what "domestic" means in those circumstances.
Such things warrant more time than a few passing minutes in which they can be identified to the Minister and my point illustrates why this is not the correct way to legislate on something that is as important as this for Scotland.
I shall go into greater detail to illustrate how unacceptable this method is, bearing in mind that the courts have to interpret the legislation. If we compare subsection (3) of new schedule 11 with subsection (2) a contradiction arises because subsection (2) provides that
"For the purposes of this section"--
that is, section 76A--
"and 76B below and subject to subsection (3) below, water supplied by a water authority to any premises shall not be regarded as unwholesome at the time of supply where it has ceased to be wholesome only after leaving the authority's pipes."
Subsection (3) states :
Column 956"For the purposes of this section where water supplied by a water authority to any premises would not otherwise be regarded as unwholesome at the time of supply, that water shall be regarded as unwholesome at that time if--".
It then goes on to state the reasons.
There is a contradiction between subsections (2) and (3). What does subsection (3) actually mean? The Government have been helpful and have published explanatory notes, page 6 of which states : "Normally the authority will not be responsible for any deterioration in quality caused by the internal plumbing within a property. However the authority will be considered to have breached its duty to supply wholesome water if after supply the water becomes unwholesome in pipes under mains pressure as a result of the authority not having carried out certain actions prescribed in regulations in order to reduce certain risks, again prescribed in regulations".
As the Minister knows, not only is Hansard not consulted by the courts when they interpret Acts of Parliament, but nor are explanatory notes any good when pleaded in evidence when someone is trying to make a case about the interpretation of legislation. The explanatory notes may be helpful to us, but they do not add anything in terms of legal standing.
What I really object to is being required to talk about this new schedule today when the key issues are not yet before us and have not even been made known to us. In the explanatory note that I have quoted, the key words are "prescribed in regulations". That phrase is mentioned twice, but we need to have a fair idea of what the regulations are, even in draft. It is nonsense for us to discuss this new schedule without knowing what the Government have in mind in terms of secondary legislation because, to all intents and purposes, secondary legislation is the real legislation that people come across. It is unacceptable that we have been put in that position today. The Minister must come up with some answers. I know that we shall not divide on this--indeed, there is nothing to divide on--but there is a great deal to object to, especially because we have been asked to pass this legislation without knowing the detail of what the Government have in mind.
I should like clarification on one other point. I refer to the issue of there being no privatisation of water in Scotland. We have heard two statements from the Minister this afternoon--in the space of a minute--one saying, "No, we are not going to privatise" and the other saying, "We are not going to privatise at the present time". I should like an assurance about the phrase "at the present time". Was it a slip of the tongue by an Edinburgh lawyer, or was it an authoritative statement by a Minister of the Government? When the Minister replies, will he give us the kind of emphatic assurance that we have in parts of the explanatory memorandum--that the Government have no intention, in any circumstances, of privatising water in Scotland?
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : There are a few things that we take for granted--the air we breathe and the water we drink. There is a myth about Scotland's water because, although I have heard various things today, some of my evidence would prove that the quality of the water in Scotland is something that we should be concerned about. The Government are entering into an exercise of public buck-passing in relation to the problems associated with the supply of water in Scotland.
Column 957The Government claim that it is not their fault, but that of the local councils. I am concerned about that and I shall return to it. I have tabled several written questions and sent various letters and I am appalled at the replies that I have received. They show a terribly complacent attitude. The Government are covering up the major problems that are developing in Scotland's water. I have with me a written answer to one of my questions. It shows that 140 reservoirs which supply tap water are under--not above--the standards of the EEC water directives. The authorities are not complying with the directives. What does that mean? I will tell the House what it means to me. It means that scientists and the EEC have come up with what they thought were the maximum levels of admitted pollutants or chemicals and decided on a level that should not be exceeded. It is not good enough to have more than 140 water suppliers in Scotland, covering a vast area, failing to meet the standards. It is not good enough that people in Scotland are drinking water with pollutants well above the EEC recommended level.
In that written answer, the Minister also stated :
"Up-to-date detailed cost figures for individual supplies are not available, but recent estimates by Scottish water authorities suggested that the overall cost of fully complying with the standards might approach £700 million."--[ Official Report, 6 February 1989 ; Vol. 146, c. 555-59 .]
I think that £700 million to ensure that the 5 million people of Scotland drink water of a standard recommended by the EEC is cheap at the price, bearing in mind the evidence that was provided to ensure that we reach those vitally important recommended levels. On 30 January 1989 the Glasgow Herald contained an article about Gourock in my constituency, stating that tests showed that the level of aluminium was four times higher than the EEC recommended. It is incredible that that state of affairs has been allowed to continue. I also have a document giving the results of a test carried out by agricultural analysts of the regional council. A constituent of mine, having requested a test of her water supply, received this document by mistake. I can assure the House that it is authentic. It indicates that the level of aluminium in the tap water that she and her children have to drink is eight times higher than the acceptable level. She was told that she should not have the document. As I have said, she received it by accident. When she asked for a further test to be carried out, the council told her that the level had come down, but she was never given the relevant document, a copy of which I have here.
I agree with the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) that there should be an independent analysis, that this should not be left to the water authority. When people request an analysis, they should get a copy of the results so that they may know exactly what they are drinking. The Minister well knows the anxieties and concerns of my constituents. The Secretary of State has received letters from Professor Anderson, who is also extremely concerned. I know, too, that the Gourock community council has written to the Secretary of State because it is very worried about the link with Alzheimer's disease. I have received a number of letters from the Department denying that link, but I believe that it is a terrible cover-up job.
Column 958Research all over the world shows evidence of a link between aluminium and Alzheimer's disease. The difficulty is in getting the proof. I need only remind the House how long it took the tobacco barons to admit the link between cigarette smoking and cancer. I am not being alarmist when I say that I am really worried that constituents of mine are drinking water containing eight times the aluminium level recommended by the EC. It is said that there is not enough proof, but there is plenty of evidence to justify Government action. Even if this is a grey area, it should be remembered that it concerns the health of the people of Britain--in particular, the health of the people of Scotland. The Minister should make available the £700 million needed to ensure that the people of Scotland are provided with drinking water which comes up to EC standards. I am appalled at the Government's complacency in this matter. If they want to prove that there is no link with Alzheimer's disease, let every member of the Cabinet drink every day water containing eight times the recommended level of aluminium. Indeed, some of the statements they have been making would tend to convince me that they have been drinking it already. I hope that the Minister will be able to say to children, "There is no problem--drink this." I wonder if the Prime Minister would volunteer to drink Gourock water. I will make sure that a supply is available. Indeed, I will bottle it and bring it down myself.
This is a very important matter. The people of Scotland deserve a water supply that meets the EC's recommendations. We have heard a lot of nonsense today about the wonderful water in Scotland. According to Which? magazine, which did an investigation, the wonderful water in Scotland, especially in the Strathclyde area, contains aluminium, magnesium, iron and lead well above the recommended levels. Those levels can be brought down only if the Government commit £700 million to ensure that the EC directive is followed. That is the way to ensure that our people are able to drink healthy, wholesome water. If the Government do not do something about this matter very shortly, it will be seen that we have been building a time bomb, and it is our children who will have to live with that time bomb. Nobody knows everything about Alzheimer's disease, but urgent research is being done all over the world. The Government of this country are not acting quickly enough to ensure that the people of Scotland do not have to drink the kind of water--water with eight times the acceptable level of aluminium--that my constituents have to drink. Let the Minister give us an assurance that £700 million will be provided to take the necessary action.
Mr. Wallace : I endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) who, like other hon. Members, indicated that this is really no way to legislate on an important Scottish issue. I do not think that any hon. Member would challenge the importance of the subject of this debate, and we welcome the fact that efforts are being made to improve the quality of water throughout Scotland. Nevertheless, it is regrettable that the time allowed is so short, and the notice given so short.
I want to take up a specific matter with the Minister. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) thanked him and his officials for the information and briefing that had been given to him and his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). Given the short notice, I do not complain about that, but I am
Column 959not aware that any such briefing was offered to my party or to that of the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh), the Scottish National party.