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Column 1082something serious to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). Let me tell him that the alternative is inland sewage treatment works, which produce sludge which must be disposed ofeither in fertilisers, or by dumping on land or at sea or by incineration. This involves the discharge of high concentrations of bacteria in the area of the seaside resort although such works are difficult to site at seaside resorts. Disinfection is a possibility, but so far there is little experience of its use and there is concern about its possible effect on the marine biota. If the hon. Gentleman does not want a long sea outfall in any particular case, will he say which alternative he wants, where he would site that alternative sewage works and how strongly he would defend the destruction of molluscs, animals and fish in the sea due to the disinfection? He must be a little more scientific and a little less shambolic.
Mr. Oppenheim : Is it not a little inconsistent--but also rather typical of certain people--to complain on the one hand about poor water quality and sewage on beaches and in the next breath to complain about the higher water charges that are necessary to clean up the mess left by years of under-investment by the public sector water authorities?
Mr. Ridley : With regard to that sort of doublespeak, I have a leaked letter from the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I shall quote a sentence from it. It says :
"Major increases, many in excess of 30 per cent., are being imposed on 12 million consumers who are being obliged to pay substantial additional costs as a direct consequence of privatisation." That is not the case. The major environmental improvements requested by the Opposition are the cause of the increases in water charges. The hon. Member for Copeland knows that, and he should withdraw his offensive remark.
Dr. Cunningham As the Secretary of state has now admitted that large amounts of untreated domestic sewage flow into the seas around Britian, will he tell us whether the Prime Minister was confused in her interview on the BBC "Nature" programme, when she said that no untreated sewage went into the sea around Britian? If she was not, had she again been wrongly briefed?
Mr. Ridley : Was the hon. Gentleman confused when he wrote to the Prime Minister and said that the cost of environmental pollution could be put down to privatisation? When he withdraws that comment, I shall answer his question.
12. Mr. Ron Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received on the number of beaches which do not conform to European Economic Community standards ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Howard : We have received a number of representations about bathing water quality. As I announced on 22 February we are making good progress in cleaning up our bathing waters--two thirds of which now meet European Community standards, compared with 55 per cent. in 1987. We are the only member state in the Community to be developing a programme for achieving full compliance.
Mr. Brown : Although recently there have been some long overdue improvements to bathing waters, is it not clear that the Government have been complacent for too long? The Government should remember that there are many floating voters who expect the water around the coast to be at least to the standard of the average European country. However, some 300 million tonnes of raw sewage a day are being pumped into the coastal areas around Britain, in addition to the dumped toxic chemicals. That is an untenable position. If the Government are turning green instead of blue, it is about time that they did something about the problem. After all, it is not an issue to be sniffed at.
Mr. Howard : Before the hon. Gentleman accuses the Government of complacency, he should reflect on the fact that the Community's bathing water directive was promulgated in 1975, when it gave two years for the designation of bathing waters. However, when the Opposition left Government in 1979 not a single bathing water had been designated.
Mr. Shaw : Will my hon. Friend consider the fact that the beach at Deal has problems because the Opposition, when in power, did little to improve it, especially when a Labour Member was representing that constituency? Now that a Conservative Member represents that constitutency, will my hon. Friend consider the representations of that Member and ensure that the beach at Deal is improved in the near future? [Interruption.]
Mr. Howard : I am sure that my hon. Friend has made his representations to the Southern water authority. Substantially more money is being made available for the improvement of bathing waters and more still will be made available when the industry is in the private sector.
Mr. Win Griffiths : Will the Minister confirm that in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) he misled the House by saying that the British Government are the only ones who have presented a plan to Brussels for the improvement of the bathing beaches of Britain, because, up until yesterday afternoon, the Commission informed me that it was expecting a plan from the British Government by the middle of March, but that it had not received it? Furthermore water authority officials have been told not to speak about investment programmes for the beaches, as I found out when I telephoned the Welsh water authority last week.
Column 1084league and how much progress we have made since the Labour Government cut sewage disposal expenditure by 50 per cent.?
Mr. Howard : I wish that I could tell my hon. Friend how much progress we have made, but as they did not designate any beaches or keep any records it is impossible to make such a comparison. Our position in relation to other European countries is improving substantially and the pace will quicken when the industry is in the private sector.
Mr. Allan Roberts : Does the Minister accept that none of our south- coast beaches will conform to EEC standards if the lindane in the container that has sunk in the English Channel leaks into the sea? To what extent are the beaches and the marine environment at risk from the accident? What action have the Government taken to deal with the threat? Has there been a dispute between the French and British Governments over it? Where was the ship going before it sank and why were those deadly cancer-causing chemicals being transported? What was their intended use? Will he follow the Japanese and Swedish example by banning the use of lindane in Britain?
Mr. Howard : I do not see how banning the use of lindane in Britain would have had any effect on what happened in the Channel the other day. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the French authorities are doing their best to recover that cargo and I hope that he will join me in wishing them all success.
Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is ridiculous for Opposition Members to complain about the present state of the water industry and then to argue that there should be no change in that industry? Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that all the Labour party complaints underline the case for privatisation?
Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) has been wandering round the country pointing at various dirty rivers as though to suggest that that in some way undermines the case for privatisation ; but it makes the case for privatisation. That is the way in which we shall gain the extra resources necessary to achieve the improvements in our water environment that we all want to see.
Mr. Michie : How can the Minister pretend that privatisation will not cost the consumer more money when West Kent has put up its rates by 42 per cent. and has informed its consumers that 21 per cent. of that rise is due to the possible cost of privatisation and will have no effect on the improvement of the quality of the services or the water?
Column 1085Gentleman refers is the result of ownership and accounting changes, which could take place at any time. The proposals in the Water Bill will put in place an entirely new system of regulating prices. If the hon. Gentleman wants to see the prices of such companies controlled he should join me to ensure that the legislation is on the statute book as soon as possible.
Dame Peggy Fenner : Will my hon. and learned Friend assure me that in respect of the charges being made by the West Kent water authority-- which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) has no locus to represent--he will make sure that next year it is not able to put on 42 per cent. on the basis that it must pay--I appreciate that it will have to do so--for the EC regulations?
Mr. Howard : I assure my hon. Friend that in assessing any price rise which may be applied for by the West Kent company next year, we shall be able to take into account its increase this year, and we shall certainly do so.
Ms. Walley : Does the Minister appreciate that the need to make profits will be the overriding issue and that that must be borne in mind when considering the level of water rates? Does he further appreciate that it is unfair that the standing charge proportion of the water rate should have been increased so disproportionately that in some cases it has made it more difficult for low-income households to pay their water bills?
Mr. Howard : The Director General of Water Services will be able to look into all such matters when the Water Bill becomes law. Will the hon. Lady join me in ensuring that it is on the statute book at the earliest possible moment?
Mr. Howard : There is considerable scope within the existing system for planning authorities to reach decisions more quickly. In the longer term, our proposals for streamlining the system should make it easier for them to reach speedy decisions.
Mr. Hunter : The White Paper draws attention to the fact that planning delays can increase costs for individuals and companies, but it does not go into details on why local planning authorities should be more efficient and streamlined under district development plans than under the existing local plans. Can my hon. and learned Friend explain?
Mr. Howard : We shall substantially reduce the delays associated with the preparation and approval of structure plan by attaching greater weight to the local plan. We shall ensure that local people have a greater say and that there will be greater certainty in the process, and I hope that that will lead to fewer appeals.
Mr. Eastham : The Minister and his hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) talk about streamlining and speeding up the machinery. Is it not a fact that for several years the Government have been cutting local authority expenditure on manpower and that that must result in fewer planning officers and civil engineers,
Column 1086who are essential for considering planning applications? Is it not a fact that if there are fewer personnel to process applications, the machinery will be slower?
Mr. Howard : If local authorities, including those in Manchester, spent their money on more appropriate purposes than those on which they in fact spend it, they would have ample resources to devote to making the planning system work more efficiently.
Mr. Dykes : Does the Minister agree that it is equally important for local authorities to be coaxed by the Government into providing wider consultation with local residents on planning matters and giving them more time in which to register their approval or objections? Is he aware that far too many rapacious and greedy developers, such as Charles Church in my area and in the home counties, are, unlike decent developers, appealing automatically and putting in another application at the same time? Is he further aware that when the appeal is carried in their favour they make supernormal, huge profits in building socially useful housing such as luxury apartments costing £300,000 each? When shall we get a greater balance between the interests of local residents and decent developers?
Mr. Howard : The way to achieve the best balance is to have as many local plans in place as possible. That is my advice to my hon. Friend, and I hope he will make sure that his local planning authority acts accordingly.
Mr. Loyden : Will the Minister agree that it is time for planning legislation to be reviewed in view of the fact that many planning authorities are compelled--for example, by high unemployment and general deprivation, particularly in inner cities--to reduce their planning levels to the point where they must concede that a development that may not be in the interests of good planning is nevertheless required for commercial development and the provision of jobs? Will he further agree that it is time that the trend that planning is following was arrested in the interests of the long-term planning of our towns and cities?
Mr. Greenway : Is it not preposterous that the London borough of Ealing should have proposed a rate rise of 32 per cent. this year, having passed a rise of 65 per cent. no more than two years ago? The current increase is accompanied by £12 million cuts in essential services such as street cleansing, refuse collection and the opening of borough libraries while there have been increases in the gay and lesbian staff unit. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been no refuse collections in some parts of my constituency since before Christmas? Is not that a disgraceful indictment of the borough in which the leader of the Labour party lives?
Mr. Gummer : I am sure that my hon. Friend will have noticed that the residents of the borough in which we both live have shown their feelings about the rate rises by an 18 per cent. swing in a by-election to elect a Conservative rather than a Socialist. I have to tell my hon. Friend, though, that the London borough of Ealing is not the worst. Brighton has put up its rates by 57 per cent., although Conservative- controlled Hove next door has cut its rate by 100 per cent. and is not levying a rate at all.
Mr. Tony Banks : Will the Minister tell us what the rate increase for Westminster is? Will he also tell us what he would say about a Labour- controlled local authority that sold off its cemeteries for 15p, that was gambling on the stock market and that was totally corrupt and inefficient? What would St. Gummer say about that?
Mr. Gummer : The rate increase in Westminster is 10 per cent. as against 32 per cent. in Ealing. If I lived in Westminster, the services and the quality of the services that I got would be very much better than those in the London borough of Ealing, where they are very bad indeed.
Mr. Bowis : Does my right hon. Friend agree that in Wandsworth the rates are still the lowest in inner London? Does he agree that much of that is due to the fact that Wandsworth has led the way in competitive tendering? When the services have gone out to the private sector there have been savings of 33 per cent. ; even when they have stayed in-house there have been savings of some 25 per cent.
Mr. Gummer : The Audit Commission certainly supports my hon. Friend. I am interested to see that the effect of competitive tendering is spreading everywhere. When I met Councillor Bookbinder in Derbyshire, he admitted that the effect of competitive tendering, which he was against and which he had a whole committee to try to stop, was already bringing down the costs of his services, much to the dislike of NALGO and NUPE.
Mrs. Mahon : Is the Minister aware that if Calderdale, a hung council, had back the rate support grant that has been taken off it since 1979, it would have been able to have a nil rate rise this year?
Mr. Gummer : I am aware that Calderdale has put up its rate in a disgraceful manner, and that it did so with the support of the Liberals who ran their usual operation, which was to pretend that they were against the rate rise but then not to vote on it--and therefore enable the Labour party to get it through. That is the sort of thing the Liberals go in for.
Column 1088ratepayers found that their district authority had the highest rate in England and that their town councils were charging them 2p in the pound. Is he aware that in Cleveland county we have the highest rate poundage on top of that, at 299p in the pound--21p in the pound higher than any other county? Does he agree that when we have a change of control in Cleveland after the council elections in May the people in that area will have a much fairer deal?
Mr. Gummer : The only person who is in favour of Cleveland county council is Mr. Bookbinder, the leader of Derbyshire county council. Because Cleveland's rate rises have been so great, it has pushed him off the top of the list, where he has been for some time. Cleveland has replaced Derbyshire as the highest-rated county in England. My hon. Friend will note that the higher the rates, the more likely the council is to be run by Labour, and that on average it costs a person £100 a year more to live under a Labour council than under a Conservative council.
Mr. Ridley : By the end of this year, European manufacturers of domestic refrigerators and freezers expect to reduce by 45 per cent. the CFC content of their products controlled by the Montreal protocol. New replacements for the CFCs, both as refrigerants and in the insulating foam, have been identified and should be commercially available early in the 1990s, subject to the satisfactory completion of toxicological testing and environmental evaluation. HCFC-22, which is much less damaging than the protocol CFCs, is already widely used in commercial and industrial refrigeration.
Mr. Wallace : I thank the Secretary of State for his very informative reply. Has any consideration been given to the possibility of imposing a requirement that the CFC package on refrigerators that are currently on sale should be detachable? Does his Department intend to give any financial assistance to local authorities to enable them to prepare and build disposal facilities for CFC elements that come from refrigerators?
Mr. Ridley : Recycling the coolant in the motors of refrigerators and the foam in their doors is very complex. It will probably be better to concentrate our efforts on producing substitutes, so that we may stop using these substances in the first place. But a lot of research is still going on ; I do not think that we have yet come to a definite answer.
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