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Mr. Wallace : Or, indeed, to Labour Back Benchers. If such an offer was made to my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) as our spokesperson, I apologise for raising the matter. If not, I should like to know why the Scottish Office has been selective in its advance briefing on a matter such as this.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) has a very great interest in the subject, as does the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). Because they had consulted me on these matters in the past, it was only fair that, as a matter of courtesy, they should be put properly in the picture.
Mr. Wallace : I am not particularly convinced by that explanation. The offer was obviously made to one party but was not extended to others. I hope that the Minister will bear that point in mind in future when he introduces legislation at relatively short notice. My second point concerns the vast amounts of money that will have to be spent if some of these targets are to be met. I was quite surprised that the time-scale that the Minister set for local authorities--I refer to his reply to my intervention --was so short. We shall all rejoice greatly if it is met, but if one accepts the massive figures that have been put forward by the hon. Member for Cathcart, one cannot by any stretch of the imagination believe that the target of the mid-1990s will be achieved. I want the Minister to comment on the vast amounts, in terms of both capital expenditure and revenue expenditure, that have been mentioned.
Mr. Maxton : There is the problem of the enormous cost involved, but the people in the Strathclyde region tell me that there simply are not companies able to do the work on that sort of time-scale. It could be done only by bringing in cowboy-type companies, which would make a mess of it.
Had I had time, I should have wanted to make inquiries of local authorities in my own area as to how they perceive the workload that might be put on them to meet these targets. If the Minister can indicate what further funds will be made available to them in the years ahead for that purpose, I shall certainly be very grateful. With a relatively small population, any additional capital cost that is not met by grant will weigh very heavily on individuals, particularly in the context of the community water charge. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) asked whether a district environmental health officer would monitor the supply by the region. In the context of the islands, where there is single tier local government, there is no doubt which level of local government will be responsible. Has the Minister perceived that there might be a conflict of interest? We have not had time to consult our local authorities to find out whether they perceive a difficulty, so I shall be interested to hear what thought has been given to that by the Scottish Office.
Mr. Home Robertson : I share the anxiety expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) about the apparent link between the concentration of aluminium in the water supply and the incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Whether such aluminium is present naturally in the water, as I suppose that it may be in some areas, or whether, as is more likely, it has been added as part of the so-called purification system by the authorities supplying water, it is a matter of great concern. Surely discoloration or scum in the water, which are not in themselves harmful, would be more acceptable than the inclusion of aluminium to remove the scum. The House will want assurances from the Government about that.
In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) raised the need for urgent major capital works to improve sewage disposal in Scotland. My hon. Friend referred to the Clyde and the massive costs that would be involved in raising the sewage disposal plant to the standard required by the European Community. The Minister, who has the good fortune to live in my constituency, will be aware of the strong feelings of some of his neighbours in north Berwick about the fact that the firth of Forth is subject to a great deal of pollution, with raw sewage being pumped into it from an aged sewage disposal plant. From time to time, the sewage turns up on beaches and is absolutely revolting. The Minister has met representatives of local authorities who have made strong representations to him about the need to speed up the programme of capital allocations to make it possible to dispose of that sewage in a more satisfactory manner. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) explained, it will take a long time at the present rate, or even at a slightly accelerated rate, to bring our beaches up to a tolerable standard.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart emphasised, the burden of paying the loan charges which would arise from such a major capital programme would land heavily on poll tax payers, and in particular the poorer poll tax payers because the water poll tax is not rebated. That will cause great concern. How long does the Minister expect it to be before the beaches and coastal waters of Scotland are free from the unacceptable pollution that is present in some areas now? How long will it take and how much will it cost? The Minister owes it to the House and to the people of Scotland to give proper replies to those specific questions.
A detailed point connected with my constituency is the effect of the abstraction of water from water courses. In arable farming areas such as East Lothian, a large volume of water may be taken out of rivers and burns by farmers to irrigate the land. That can have the effect of reducing the flow of water, leading to an increase in the concentration of pollution in the water that is left in the water course. As I understand it, in Scotland there are no controls on abstraction such as there are in England. We should address ourselves to that point at some stage.
I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) that this is a grossly unsatisfactory way of dealing with Scottish legislation. It is an example of the kind of legislation that ought to be dealt with in a Scottish parliament in due course, with proper consultation and proper information. I also share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about the assurance given by the Minister that we
Column 961shall not have water privatisation in Scotland. The last time I heard a Scottish Office Minister giving an assurance like that was when the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang) told us that there were no plans to privatise the electricity industry in Scotland. When we see what is happening now, I do not think that we can believe these people.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : I too share the legitimate complaint raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) and by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). I could speak for some time on the control of pollution in Scottish waters from the viewpoint of the traditional fisherman. In Government amendment No. 88--a schedule dealing with the control of pollution in Scotlannd--under new section 31A(1) "The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision-- (
(a) for prohibiting a person from having custody or control of any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter".
Does that extend to the use of pesticides which, when water-borne, may have a pronounced effect upon the flora and fauna of sea lochs and rivers? That is a real concern to our fishermen, particularly those who use static gear close to salmon fish farms.
The Minister knows well that I have for long complained about the use of a particular pesticide, Nuvan 500 EC, on salmon farms. Many researchers claim that that pesticide has a disastrous effect on infant crustacea, with serious consequences for our static gear fishermen. Many of these fishermen have fished for generations for lobsters and crabs in some of these areas. We should be debating what controls are to be given, by way of this schedule, to the river purification boards vis-a -vis consents to determine what pesticides should be used to deal with certain problems faced by salmon fish farmers.
I have much sympathy for the problems faced by fish farmers and their employees. In no way do I wish to see them come to any harm because of interventions by people like me. Nevertheless, major problems arise for traditional fishermen from the use of certain pesticides.
Mr. Home Robertson : I think that my hon. Friend will find that the regulating authorities for fish farms in sea lochs are the Crown Estate Commissioners who, of course, are not subject to a range of laws. It would be useful to know whether the controls in the Bill will apply to them. In many instances, they are above the law.
Dr. Godman : If ever I were fortunate enough to take my place in a Scottish parliament, one of the first things that I would want to see would be the Crown Estate Commissioners being put out of work. They are a shadowy little group of men in Edinburgh who have colossal power over the location of fish farms. It is an untrammelled power which local authorities and river purification boards cannot control. They cannot influence to any serious extent the decision-making of that shadowy little group of men.
I want to ask the Minister another question about the schedule, relating to new section 46(1) entitled :
"Operations by water authorities to remedy or forestall pollution of water".
Column 962What kind of evidence does the Minister require to be presented by the river purification boards where the use of such pesticides is a long established practice? Could a purification board instruct salmon fish farmers not to use such pesticides? New section 46(1)(b) says that a water authority would have the right to ensure that the polluters--in terms of remedying or mitigating any pollution caused by its presence in the water--restored the waters, including the fauna and flora dependent on the aquatic environment in that area, so far as practicable, to their previous state. Is the schedule giving the purification boards much greater control over the operations of those fishing farms, especially over pesticides?
I shall finish now because I know a number of hon. Members wish to hear the Minister answer the questions they have asked. It is a disgrace that we have less than an hour to debate a matter of such importance to our fishermen and others who earn their livings by way of the coastal waters. That reflects badly on the Government and displays their abiding contempt for the House.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) criticised the omission of certain provisions from the Bill. Back in June 1986 the consultation paper stated that at that time we had no plans to privatise water services in Scotland. We also said, however, in that document that a small number of the proposals should be applied to Scotland in those cases where it was important to maintain a common line with England and Wales, especially in the context of European Community obligations. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) raised that point. I tell him that notice was given on Second Reading that those measures would be introduced. The standards and procedures in the Bill--as I said at the outset--are designed to maintain a common United Kingdom position. The Commission looked to the United Kingdom to have consistent standards, and the presentation of water quality and water environmental measures in a single Bill expresses that consistency.
Mr. Sillars : I accept the Minister's point, but he has missed our point. The Bill has gone through a long process and to have an hour and a half debate at this stage on a matter of such importance is a disgrace--and the Tory Government are a disgrace.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : If the hon. Gentleman used his ingenuity not to engage in disruption, but to have Adjournment debates and debates on the Consolidated Fund, and actually to work the parliamentary process to raise such matters, he would have every opportunity of going into this matter in depth. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will have every opportunity to debate these matters fully.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow asked about fish farming. We believe that fish farming activities should be controlled by regional purification boards through the consent system. Because doubts have been expressed about whether the existing legislation covers them, we are proposing to insert a new definition of "trade effluent" in section 56(1) and (3) to put the matter beyond doubt. The term "premises" in section 56(3) is amplified to cover premises on land or not, so that all kinds of fish farming arrangements--for example, floating fish cages--are covered in Scotland.
Column 963Dr. Godman rose--
The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) raised sewerage problems in his constituency. I am glad to say that the capital allocation for the programme is £15.8 million in 1989-90, and priority schemes cover his own constituency at Dunbar, Musselburgh, Tranent, North Berwick, Granton, Cramond, Joppa, and South Queensferry. The matter has been considered thoroughly.
Obviously, it is important that there should be consultation as soon as possible and the provisions are based on proposals on which we consulted in 1986. COSLA was consulted and was represented on the advisory committee which prepared the draft regulations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) raised an important point about monitoring. There will certainly be monitoring, about which there will be no confusion. Environmental health authorities have powers-- which the amendment extends--to monitor and deal with the quality of drinking water. River purification authorities have powers--also extended and improved by new clause 12--to control discharges to rivers and other waters and preserve the quality of the environment.
The hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) raised the question of aluminium, which is obviously a serious matter on which I am not complacent. I cannot comment on the results of particular samples of water, but I understand that Strathclyde has schemes in its programme to tackle the aluminium problem in its area. I understand that the concentrations of aluminium recorded in Scotland do not indicate a severe hazard to health. We are embarking on a number of improvement programmes with which we will go ahead as quickly as is practicable.
Dr. Godman rose--
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) spoke about capital expenditure. A number of improvements are already under way in terms of article 20 of the directive, following re-interpretation of the maximum admissible concentrations. The water authorities are preparing additional programmes for discussion with the Department and expenditure implications will be included.
The hon. Member for Garscadden mentioned improvement programmes and I shall certainly consider what he said about the capital grants. The cost of water, however, is not met only from the community water charge ; meter charges and non-domestic water rates contribute to the cost of supplying water.
Mr. Maxton rose --
When the European Community directive on drinking water came into operation in 1985, many treatment works already complied with the new standards. Since then improvements in more than 150 supply areas in Scotland have been completed to comply with the standards. By 1990 another 14 will have been improved and 86 out of 103 lead remedial schemes will be completed. That will leave about 64 areas still regularly failing to comply, but all of
Column 964which are expected to comply by the end of 1995 at the latest. In addition, 38 supplies are covered by derogations given in accordance with article 9 of the directive and duly notified to the Commission. Some of those are being improved, despite the fact that article 9 derogations may be given where there is no health risk and the raw water exceeds a directive limit because of the nature and the structure of the ground in the area.
I appreciate that lead in water is an important consideration. The nature of Scottish water supply sources means that we have a considerable number of drinking water supplies which are, as the hon. Member for Govan said, plumbo/solvent. That means that the characteristics of the water dissolve lead from the pipes. The water authorities have been making good progress in improving their supplies by replacement of lead pipes or by water treatment. Twenty five supplies have now been improved to comply with the directive and a further 61 are scheduled to do so by the end of the year. Those programmes are kept under constant review by the Department and the water authorities and every effort is being made to improve the remaining supplies as quickly as possible.
The Government have provided funds for housing improvement grants at a preferential rate for schemes involving lead pipe replacement and more than 45,000 grants were awarded by local authorities in the period 1982 to 1987.
We have increased the funds allocated. My right hon. and learned Friend announced last November an additional allocation for this financial year of £5.5 million for water and sewerage. Of this, £2 million was specifically for lead improvement schemes. He has announced for 1989-90 an increase of 14 per cent. over planned provision for water authorities' capital expenditure on water and sewerage.
These proposals represent an important and valuable addition to water legislation in Scotland, and I commend them to the House. Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
Schedule [Control of Pollution in Scotland] to this Act shall have effect to make provision for Scotland in relation to the prevention of pollution of water.'.-- [Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.] Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Wallace : The Minister did not answer one of the points that I raised when we were discussing the previous new clause. As he has a few seconds to spare, perhaps he will explain how much money will be given to my constituency to implement the changes that are proposed.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
Column 965It being Seven o'clock, Mr. Speaker-- proceeded, pursuant to the order [6 February] and the Resolution this day, to put forthwith the Question on a new clause moved by a member of the Government.
(2) For the purposes of this section it shall be immaterial, where a person purports to be entitled to enter any premises or vessel, that the power which that person purports to be entitled to exercise does not exist or would not be exercisable even if that person had been designated or authorised by a relevant authority.
(3) In this section "relevant authority" means the Authority or any water undertaker or sewerage undertaker.'.-- [Lord James Douglas- Hamilton.]
Brought-up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
.--(1) Chapter I of Part III of this Act shall have effect for the purpose of controlling and reducing pollution in rivers and other sources of water in England and Wales.
(2) In the exercise of their functions under the said Chapter, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State and of the Authority to ensure that in all reasonable circumstances the person who causes any pollution of a river or other water source, whether that person is a body corporate, water or sewage undertaker or an individual, shall bear the cost of remedying that pollution and of taking steps to prevent any recurrence.".-- [Dr. Cunningham.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
.--(1) Part I of this Act shall have effect for the purpose of establishing as separate functions the preservation of the environment in respect of rivers, and the supply of water and sewerage services.
(2) Functions relating to the preservation of the environment in respect of rivers and other water resources in England and Wales shall from the transfer date be the responsibility of the body created under section 1(1) below.
(3) Functions relating to the supply of water and of sewerage services in an area shall, in accordance with transfer arrangements under section 3 below, become from the transfer date the responsibility of any water or sewerage undertaker appointed for that area in accordance with section 10(1) below.
(4) The body established under section 1 below shall not sub-contract, or otherwise cause or enable to be carried out,
Column 966any of its functions to any person who is for the time being, or has been in the previous five years, a water or sewerage undertaker within the terms of this section.
(5) Where the body established under section 1 below intends to cause or enable any of its functions to be carried out by another person, whether by means of tender or otherwise, it shall first give reasonable notice to such local authority or authorities as the case may be within whose area or areas the proposed activity falls for the purpose of according them the oppportunity of carrying out that activity."
( )--(1) The National Rivers Authority shall prepare and publish a plan in respect of the matters identified in subsection (2) below, for the purposes of the effective carrying out of its functions and, in particular, of promoting the cleanliness of water and the conservation and enhancement of the natural environment in relation to rivers.
(2) The Plan published under subsection (1) above shall include information on and as appropriate measures in respect of-- (
(a) the state of cleanliness of waters in England and Wales, including their chemical quality and levels of compliance with notified water quality objectives ;
(b) discharges of sewage effluents and trade effluents in breach of consent levels and the monitoring of compliance in respect of all such consents ;
(c) the prescription by the Authority of precautions to be taken by specified persons for the prevention of pollution ;
(d) a programme of works and operations to prevent, remedy, or mitigate pollution ;
(e) levels of charges to be imposed by the Authority on persons in respect of discharges and the creation of pollution ;
(f) the conservation and enhancement of sites of natural beauty or amenity, and the conservation of flora and fauna ;
(g) the preservation and promotion of public access to waters in areas of natural beauty or amenity, and their use for recreational purposes ;
(h) the conservation, redistribution and augmentation of water resources ;
(i) the general supervision of land drainage and flood protection including a programme of works on designated main rivers and sea defences ;
(j) the conservation, maintenance, improvement and development of salmon, trout, freshwater and eel fisheries in inland waters ; and, (
(k) the carrying out of navigation, conservancy and harbour authority functions.'.
( )--(1) Any land owned by a water authority before the transfer date shall on that date vest in the National Rivers Authority. (2) The other property, rights and liabilities of those authorities shall be divided between the Authority and the successor companies in accordance with schemes made under Schedule 2 to this Act.
(3) The Authority shall in the case of any land in respect of which it creates a lease or other interest, attach and enforce such covenants or other restrictions as it considers necessary for the purpose of ensuring that no use of, or development upon, the land may occur where such a use or development would be likely to cause harm to the environment, flora and fauna, beauty or amenity, contained within the limits of any such land.
Column 967(4) The Authority shall, in respect of any lease or interest in land transferred to it, attach such restrictions as shall prevent the sale or transfer of any such interest to a third party except with the consent of the Authority.'.
Amendment No. 139, in clause 3, page 3, line 35, after property', insert other than land'.
Amendment No. 140, in clause 3, page 3, line 36, at end insert-- (1A) The property (other than land), rights and liabilities allocated to the successor companies in accordance with subsection (1)(b)(i) above shall be those which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State on the advice of the Director or the Authority as appropriate, are required for the fulfilment by the undertakers of their duties under the provisions of this Act and the terms of any appointment made under Chapter 1 of Part II below.'.
Dr. Cunningham : This series of new clauses would represent a major amendment of this part of the Bill. They aim significantly to strengthen the environmental protection aspects of the Bill and to enhance the role and duties of the National Rivers Authority. I wish to make it clear at the outset that we recognise the need for changes in environmental law, duties and safeguards, and in that sense we have always said that we would not oppose the principle of the National Rivers Authority. But, like many people and bodies, including the Select Committee on the Environment, we regard the proposals in the Bill as too weak, too vague and too incoherent ever to provide the rigorous environmental protection that we believe to be necessary.
New clause 1 addresses the need to reduce pollution and properly to allocate the costs. In other words, it is concerned with the principle of the polluter paying. It says :
"it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State and the Authority to ensure that in all reasonable circumstances the person who causes any pollution of a river or other water source, whether that person is a body corporate, water or sewage undertaker or an individual, shall bear the cost of remedying that pollution and of taking steps to prevent any recurrence."
New clause 2 seeks the separation of environmental functions from water supply and sewage services and of contracting out functions. New clause 15 places wide-ranging new duties on the National Rivers Authority, in particular the duty to publish a plan for water and the environment.
New clause 20 deals with the vesting of land and the duties of the authority in relation to the vast land holdings--approaching 500,000 acres- -currently in the ownership and control of the regional water authorities and, therefore, in public ownership.
These changes are necessary because we believe the Bill to be weak, and deliberately so ; to be confused about objectives ; and to be incoherent and incapable of ever creating an effective framework within which to safeguard the environment. Indeed, in several respects the Government's proposals lay some of our most precious environment open to commercial exploitation.
Dr. Cunningham : Apparently, that is not a terrible thought to the right hon. Gentleman. It is a terrible thought to Opposition Members and to many millions of people in the country. Indeed, as I have said before, I know of no other nation which is putting huge areas of its national parks up for sale and, therefore, at the mercy of
Column 968predatory developers and potential exploitation. That is what the right hon. Gentleman's proposals do, and I shall come later to that aspect of the matter.
As the Secretary of State seems to think that this view is not widely shared, I refer him to a recent report of the Select Committee on the Environment. In its second report on toxic waste published on 22 February 1989, the Committee endorsed the Labour party's policy on and view about the need to create a more comprehensive environmental protection agency than is envisaged in the Secretary of State's proposals for the National Rivers Authority. On page 12 of that report, in paragraph 9, the Committee said :
"We had hoped that this national body might be the same national body which we had previously recommended be created to regulate river pollution. However, in setting up the National Rivers Authority, the Government have treated it as a residuary authority to receive a variety of functions, each in itself extremely important. Our aim is to establish a national regulatory body which would assume responsibility for integrated pollution control and evolve into a full-blown environmental protection agency or commission. The Government may still be in time to amend the Water Bill to take account of these views and lay the ground for the future expansion of the National Rivers Authority. But we do understand the difficulties of a sudden change of course."
That is precisely what we are proposing. We say that those general conclusions of the Select Committee should be written into this legislation., Indeed, it is necessary to have more wide-ranging and rigorous safeguards because even the Prime Minister is not aware of the state of affairs over which she presides.
I say that because it is interesting to see what the Prime Minister said in a "Nature" interview on 2 March last when questioned by Michael Buerk of the BBC. I quote from the transcript of the programme :
"Is it right for a developed country like the United Kingdom at the end of the 20th century to be disposing of something like 6 million tonnes of sewage sludge in the waters around that country? You said"--
referring to what the Prime Minister had said--
" It's treated sewage of course, it's not untreated. It's treated.' "
Mr. Buerk then said :
"We also have a lot of outfalls that take raw sewage into the sea and are still building them."
The Prime Minister replied :
"Well, it should be treated sewage that goes out, treated all of it I think you'll find that it's treated sewage in this country." That showed the appalling ignorance of the Prime Minister about the state of affairs which prevails. I am anxious to emphasise how completely in error that statement by the Prime Minister was. With impeccable timing today, the Secretary of State for Wales, a member of the Cabinet, confirmed in a written answer the state of affairs in Wales on sewage outfalls to the sea. He said :
"The number of outfalls with no treatment is 90. The number of sewage outfalls relying on tidal storage schemes"
that is, with no treatment--
"is 23. The number of sewage outfalls where there is preliminary screened and/or macerated treatment only is 53. The number of sewage outfalls with primary treatment is 29. The number with secondary treatment is 61."
In other words, 65 per cent. of all the sewage outfalls on the coast of Wales have no treatment process of any kind. That is how much the Prime Minister knows about the state of the environment in Britain.
I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment exactly the same question about the situation in England. Unlike his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for