|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Howard : We see it at its most unattractive. Information will be available in the form in which it becomes available to the water undertakers. They will provide information about the samples that they take. Is the hon. Lady suggesting that someone else should edit the information and put it in a manner that, she says, would then be understandable by the public? Who would be the first to complain in that case that the figures were being doctored, if not the hon. Lady herself?
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate) : My hon. and learned Friend will probably know that in the gas industry, for example, consumers are entitled when they receive their bills to tick a box saying that they want a declaration of calorific value supplied to them. Will my hon. and learned Friend examine the method used in the gas industry to see whether it might be a useful way for consumers to ask for information about water supplies? Does my hon. and learned Friend also agree that the Opposition are talking sheer rubbish? I doubt whether one in a million people want to waste time on this. Only those who are stirring up this nonsense will want to. Those of us who have been drinking tap water for many years are surviving perfectly safely and do not want this nonsense perpetrated.
Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is correct in describing the Opposition's remarks as absolute nonsense. I cannot make an estimate of the number of people who will want access to these records and information, but I am determined that anyone who wants to should be able to gain access and see the information. That is what the regulations provide. On my hon. Friend's first point, I will study the matters to which he referred. However, he will appreciate that there are considerable differences between the gas and water industries and it may not be possible to adopt the precedent in the way he suggested.
Mr. Raffan : Does not the performance of members of the Opposition Front Bench on access to information contrast sharply with their behaviour when in office when they kept details of discharge consent applications secret from the public? They prevented the openness and access to information that this Government are now providing.
Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is right. It is a bit rich for the hon. Member for Dewsbury to complain about the fact that the information will not be comprehensible when the Government whom she supported--and she was a Member of Parliament at that time--denied the customer access to that information altogether. It was not a question whether the information was comprehensible. The information was not available as a result of a deliberate act of a Government whom the hon. Lady supported day in and day out in the Division Lobbies.
Local authorities have a continuing interest in the quality of water supplies. The regulations will help them by requiring the water undertakers to send them additional information about supplies in their area at regular intervals. There is also a duty on water undertakers to
Column 407notify both the local authority and the health authority immediately anything happens to a water supply that could be a significant health risk.
The principal task of the new drinking water inspectorate will be to check compliance with these regulations. It will have access to all the undertakers' records and will carry out a technical audit of its results, sampling and analysis arrangements, progress on its compliance programmes and action taken where a standard is breached. If the inspectors find any shortcomings, they will need to discuss corrective action with the undertaker and advise the Secretary of State on the use of his enforcement and prosecution powers. They will also produce regular published reports on their activities. All these measures add up to a first-class system for ensuring that the high quality of water supplies in England and Wales is maintained and further improved. Tight legally enforceable standards, full disclosure of information, Government commitment to full compliance with the Community directive and a new team of inspectors provide the proof. Perhaps the hon. Lady will explain to the House what precisely she objects to in these regulations and why she will recommend the House to vote them down later this evening.
The second group of instruments is concerned with the control of pollution. They carry forward the updating and strengthening of the pollution control system in the Water Act and give immediate effect to the new systems from the transfer date. These instruments put in place from transfer date the essential regulatory mechanisms required to maintain and carry forward the basic element of the pollution control system--the regulation of effluent discharges.
In addition to this essential structure, the Act provides new powers for pollution control, including those for setting up protection zones, and further precautions in respect of dangerous substances. It introduces systems classifications and provides the basis for the system of statutory water quality objectives to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir. H. Rossi) referred. We shall be bringing forward further statutory instruments under these new powers when we have been able to complete the detailed preparations necessary. These will include, most crucially, taking advice from the new expert body and the strongest environmental agency in Europe, the National Rivers Authority. These instruments will be available to be taken into account in the river quality survey beginning in 1990.
Let me make clear the fundamental principles underlying the regulations. The first is openness and public accountability. In the Control of Pollution Act 1974 public registers, Britain already has a notably open and accountable system of water pollution control. These regulations extend it. They provide, for instance, for the inclusion of additional material, including in due course relevant river quality objectives and other data. In addition, they remove anomalies and loopholes in present arrangements and notably they require that in future the time limit for inclusion of data on the registers is to run from the taking of the samples rather than the receipt of the analysis by the registrar. We have recognised that
Column 408consent arrangements could allow excessive delay in inclusion of results on the register and we are remedying that.
The second key principle is the absolute separation of poacher and gamekeeper. The NRA will itself make few discharges, but it will make some- -for instance, from fish farms. In all the circumstances, it is clearly appropriate that some authority other than the NRA should be responsible for authorising them. Accordingly, one set of regulations modifies the Act to cover these circumstances.
The third key feature of the regulations is their rigour and comprehensiveness. It is obviously of the greatest importance that there should be public confidence in the probity and effectiveness of the system for granting applications for discharge consents. The regulations provide full and formal arrangements on such matters as public representations, appeals, and treatment of commercial confidentiality.
I ask the hon. Member for Dewsbury again--although her attention seems to have wandered from the serious matters and from the regulations, which are so important to the future of our water environment--which of these principles and which aspects of the regulations the Opposition object to.
Let me deal with the regulations on surface water classification on which the hon. Lady asked a specific question. She seems to be wincing. She took the trouble to ask a specific question and I take it that she wants it answered. If she contains herself for a moment, she will have the answer. As I said, I shall deal with the regulations on surface water classification and the associated order in respect of ponds and reservoirs. Together, they provide for due implementation of an important Community directive, directive 75/440 on the quality of surface water for drinking, and a critical link between the quality of water in the environment and in supply. They involve a first and preliminary use of the powers to introduce systems for water quality classifications, which will be used in due course for the general classification of surface waters for the establishment of quality objectives. These general classifications will cover not only standards necessary for abstraction of drinking water but also for fisheries, conservation, irrigation and other purposes.
It is, however, necessary to put in place now the system for the classifications in respect of abstraction for human consumption so that the level of treatment required for different qualities of water entering the supply system may be determined. That is so that we can put in place a regulatory framework for the new water supply companies and can give effect to the EC surface water abstraction directive. The regulations incorporate the mandatory EC values. Water authorities have already classified the waters from which thy abstract on this basis, but monitoring for compliance with the classifications will in future be a matter for the NRA.
The relevant lakes and ponds order is required simply to ensure that pollution controls apply to all waters from which water is abstracted for supply purposes. The hon. Member for Dewsbury has the answer to her question. Without that, we could not guarantee that all abstracted waters were properly classified and regulated. A final measure concerned with the control of pollution deals with the discharge of trade effluent to sewers. Where these contain dangerous substances, they will be subject to authorisation by the Secretary of State.
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : The Minister will recall that in Committee I asked about the pollution of rivers from old mine workings and referred to the fact that the Act would remove British Coal's responsibility in respect of polluting rivers. When we produced evidence of the problem and asked for certain assurances, Ministers told us that they would consider the matter and give assurances, before the Bill became an Act, that grants to local authorities would, or could, be made to overcome the problem. Are we to get that assurance before this legislation leaves this place?
Mr. Howard : I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said that he would consider the nature of the grants available and draw them to the hon. Gentleman's attention. We shall ensure that that is done, if it has not already been done. My inquiries suggest that the water authorities are concerned about the problem ; they are aware of it and are considering ways in which they can contribute to dealing with it.
An important element of the environmental package within the Water Act is the code of practice on conservation, access and recreation. I do not intend to say much about the code itself, which we debated at length in Committee. Its scope, its detail, and the fact that in our view it embodies the very best available guidance on these matters speak for themselves, but I ask the House to note three points. First, the code was laid before Parliament within an hour of the signalling of Royal Assent to the Bill. That is a measure of our determination to take the code seriously and to put its provisions into effect at the earliest opportunity.
Mr. Howard : Of course the code of practice will be enforceable, and of course it will be taken into account when decisions are made about the extent to which the undertakings are carrying out their statutory duties, which are specified in some detail in the Act. Has the hon. Gentleman already forgotten the many hours that we spent in Committee debating these measures? He knows perfectly well that the code is enforceable. That is why it is the subject of the regulations. That is why it is given statutory force.
The Opposition continue to claim that the code will have little effect. When we put the draft before them in Committee, they claimed that the original draft would be diluted and weakened. In fact, it is fuller and stronger. We took the consultation process very seriously. We have taken on board many of the points that were made during the consultation exercise and the draft, which was commended by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe during our deliberations in Committee, is now even better than it was when it attracted his complimentary attention.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe) : I shall deal with this matter later in the debate. I think it fair to say, however, that the code before us now is not, in essence, the same as the draft code, which, while I felt it was good in principle, had many weaknessess in practice.
Column 410the draft code, it is stronger than the draft code, and it is more complete than the draft code was. It has been welcomed by the environmental organisations, which we consulted in detail on it. I am happy to say to the hon. Gentleman, therefore, that the agreement between us about the excellence of this code is so far
undisturbed--even after his recent intervention. Of course, our agreement may not survive his speech later in the debate. No doubt he has been got at by the hon. Member for Dewsbury and I have a nasty suspicion that we shall hear as churlish a speech from him as we heard from her. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will prove me wrong. I do not propose to say more than a few words about the other measures before the House.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : If one accepts for one moment that the Minister is right and that the code is stronger than the original draft, could that not be because, despite what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, he recognises what Opposition Members and the associations of conservation groups outside the House know--that many aspects of the code are not worth the paper on which they are written because its terms are not enforceable? It is easy for the Minister to strengthen the code given that he knows that it is not important.
Mr. Howard : That is a most extraordinary statement. The House is debating regulations that will have statutory force. They will be debated in another place early next week and they will be part of the law of the land. The Secretary of State, on whom substantial duties are placed by the Water Act, will be obliged to take into account the provisions of the code in carrying out his duties. If he does not take into account the provisions of the code sufficiently, he will be subject to judicial review by the independent courts. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) must be aware of that. How can he possibly suggest that the code will not have any force? Of course it will have force, and it will act as a further powerful reinforcement of our determination to ensure that the legislation gives us the highest possible standards for our water environment.
The regulations are a necessary development of the framework for regulating the privatised water industry in the Water Act 1989 recently approved by Parliament. They are an important part of our policy to privatise the water industry as the quickest and most cost-effective way in which to ensure that we all benefit from even higher water standards. I am sure that their provisions will be welcomed by those concerned to achieve better standards in industry and, in particular, better environmental standards. I invite the House to reject the prayers of the Opposition.
I shall vote against the regulations because of the discretionary powers that they give to the Secretary of State. Obviously we do not trust him, and after the debate on the poll tax his own Back Benchers do not trust him. When will the Conservative party realise that it is no good to Euro- bash any more? It tried that during the European elections and it was defeated. It is sad, and it brings no honour to the House, that a European Commissioner must protect our people because their Government have failed to do so. Conservative Back Benchers seem to take pleasure from criticising the Commissioner because he is
Column 411not British, but that gentleman is doing a service to this country by ensuring that our water standards come up to a reasonable level. In a debate earlier this month we learnt that 10.8 million people in England and Wales are drinking water that is not of a standard recommended by the EEC. The Government have been in power for 10 years, but after that time their record on water purity means that 20 per cent. of the population is drinking sub-standard water. Things will get worse rather than better.
Currently, because of privatisation, the Government are forcing water authorities to relax standards regarding the sewage that goes into our rivers and seas. In certain areas--my constituency is one of them-- relaxation of standards at sewage works means that effluent will go into the river before water is drawn off to become drinking water for my constituents. Such is the policy advanced by the Government and it is little wonder that we are wary of anything that the Minister proposes.
The Minister said that information about standards would be made clear to the public. I have had an example of the simple approach that has been adopted by North West Water. As the Member of Parliament for Carlisle I properly asked that water authority whether it could supply me with the details of the sewage works in Carlisle for the last year. I was sent 10 pages of computer read-out. No explanation was given ; instead, the pages detail such things as sussols, bods and Mg/Ls. The public will not know what they mean and it is clear that that water authority has no idea what the public wants to know. Fortunately, earlier in my life, I worked in a laboratory and therefore I could understand the information. That document shows that North West Water has been acting illegally in my constituency. It is clear that 8 per cent. of the effluent going into the River Eden, one of the finest salmon rivers in Britain, is above the acceptable standard.
What have the Government done about such things? The answer was given in a document published by the Friends of the Earth, which states :
"Your water authority has been discharging sub-standard sewage effluent. That's illegal. Selling off water companies that break the law is not easy so the Government's solution is to relax the standards for over 1,000 sewage treatment works. That's legalised pollution".
We shall vote against the regulations because we do not trust the Secretary of State. Alarm has been created in my constituency and I am sure that the Secretary of State has received many letters voicing that alarm. As late as Saturday I received one from the Rockcliffe parish council.
Mr. Howard : The point about regulations is that they become part of the law of the land, which must be obeyed by everyone, including any Secretary of State, whether the hon. Gentleman trusts him or not.
Mr. Martlew : Presumably the Minister believes that the 10-page document I received from North West Water abides by the law of the land. It may abide by the word of the law, but not the spirit of it. I received a letter from Rockcliffe parish council which was odd because it is not part of my constituency and nor is it a hotbed of Socialism.
Column 412from North West Water is the pools results for the last available football Saturday. He is wrong to suggest the Government have lowered standards. For years there has been a derogation from standards, but it is untrue to say that the Government have lowered standards. The hon. Gentleman and I spent many months debating the Water Bill in Committee and surely he accepts that one of its important features is that it will raise standards?
Mr. Martlew : I agree that standards should be raised, and nothing would please me more than if North West Water wrote to me to say that it would stop polluting the River Eden. In fact it has increased the level of pollution by 25 per cent., and it will still be within the law. I am happy to put the document in the Library if the hon. Gentleman wants to look at it, if he has time after finishing a game of squash in the morning.
Rockcliffe parish council wrote to me because sewage from my constituency is polluting its lovely village. It wrote :
"The Council wishes to complain in the strongest possible terms against the proposal by the North West Water Authority to increase by 25 per cent. the amount of sewage released into the River Eden at Carlisle."
It states that current standards are not good enough and that Rockcliffe has to put up with all sorts of terrible pollution. The parish council also mentioned Rockcliffe marsh, which is on the Solway, and which is one of the finest wildlife havens in the country. The council asked me what I would do. I am asking the Minister whether he will retract the instructions given to North West Water. If he does not issue such a retraction, will he turn down any subsequent applications from North West Water?
People are extremely concerned about their drinking water, about effluent and the state of our rivers. They do not want privatisation, but the debate is not about privatisation. It is a sad day when Europe must protect the British people from their Government. I hope that we will win tonight.
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) : I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for his comprehensive and erudite explanation of the regulations, which satisfy all reasonable people, including my hon. Friends.
There are many regulations, but I shall restrict my comments to three that relate to drinking water quality, the control of pollution and access to land when owned by the water companies.
The regulations fully incorporate the requirements of the European drinking water directive into British law. In Committee it was suggested that either the regulations would not be introduced or, if they were, they would be literally watered down. The regulations, however, go well beyond the requirements of the drinking water directive. My hon. and learned Friend has said that there are 14 additional national standards. He mentioned industrial and chlorinated solvents, copper, zinc and acidity standards. Perhaps the most important of all in terms of public perception is the lead standard, which is also tighter than that allowed for in the directive. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will agree that that, coupled with tighter controls on vehicle emissions, will help to satisfy the public.
Column 413Timing is all-important and 1995 is a realistic deadline. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment said, the 1993 deadline is not. He said that the amendments proposing a 1993 deadline
"ignore the question of practicality. Large investment programmes cannot be carried out overnight for very practical reasons that have nothing to do with the money involved."--[ Official Report, 3 July 1989 ; Vol. 156, c. 92.]
My brother is a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the citizens of Wincanton and several other towns and villages up and down the country have particular reason to be grateful to him. Their effluent goes downhill and is treated in modern premises in an approved place. We are now in 1989. The companies have yet to come into being, and planning permission must be sought. Quite apart from the units having to be designed, planning permission will take some months.
The planning and building of sewage stations provides the opportunity to put modern pipes under most of the streets of each village and town in the locality, and that must be done with a minimum of disruption to the local population or the local Member of Parliament's life is not likely to be pleasant for some time. It is no wonder that the European Environment Commissioner observed of Britain that no other country in Europe now has such a determined awareness of environmental problems. I am surprised that Opposition Members did not mention that. After all, that was printed in The Guardian, which is their bible, on 17 July 1989. I am sorry that they missed it.
The regulations lay down requirements under the Water Act in respect of sampling, analysis, treatment of water and available information to customers--all matters which were lacking under the previous Labour Government. In particular, they specify minimum frequencies for the sampling of supplies and require sampling normally to be done at the customer's tap. That is the most important point at which sampling should be undertaken.
The regulations impose requirements relating to the collection and analysis of samples and specify that the laboratories must be subject to independent quality control checks. All water supplies will have to meet several minimum treatment requirements. No new substance will be cleared for use in water treatment or for the relining of pipes unless it has been approved by the Secretary of State. That will reassure my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) who, a few months ago, spent some four or five hours on that subject. The public have to be reassured that additives to water supplies can be made only under the strictest of conditions. Comprehensive water quality information will be published regularly, enabling customers to see which supplies regularly comply with quality standards and, where they do not, what action is being taken to remedy the situation.
The second group of statutory instruments deals with pollution. They carry forward the updating and strengthening of the pollution control system in the Water Act and give immediate effect to the new system from the date of privatisation.
Again the Opposition have said that 1993, not 1995, is a responsible deadline. But what credence can their proposals have when they have yet again failed to answer questions that we have put to them time and again? Can the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr.
Column 414Michael) explain why the Labour Government took no action to implement part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 which deals with river pollution? We await the answer to that. Why did the previous Labour Government prevent members of the public from initiating prosecutions of river polluters--a subject on which we heard so much in the Committee which considered the Water Bill?
Mr. Pike : Whatever the Labour Government did in the period up to 1979, is not the simple fact that the Labour Government were in office for four years while this Government have been in office for 10 years? The important point is what the Government have done in those 10 years.
Mr. Knapman : But on what basis can the Opposition say that the 1995 deadline is too late and that it should be 1993? The investment that is necessary can come about only through our proposals. It will never be achieved through the Treasury under a Labour or a Conservative Government.
Mr. Raffan : If the Conservative Government did what the Labour Government did when they were in power and cut expenditure on river infrastructure by 50 per cent. there would be an outburst of horror. The Government have increased expenditure, yet the Opposition still dare to attack us. Of course we shall remind them of their record because it is so deplorable and disgraceful.
Mr. Knapman : I am obliged to my hon. Friend who, as always, makes his point well. Outrage comes easily to Opposition Members. As the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) knows, Opposition Members do not like to be reminded of previous Labour Governments' records. Opposition Members know well the questions that I have to ask, because we have asked them so many times. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) has asked them on occasions. He might care to take over for a moment or two. How did the previous Labour Government discharge their responsibilities for monitoring pollution by sewage treatment works when it kept no records of the adequacy of their performance? Will the Opposition explain why the previous Labour Government kept details of discharge consent applications secret from the public and refuse to let them participate in the process of granting them?
We have asked those questions before and we shall ask them again. I suspect that we shall get no answer, but that does not really matter, does it? With that record, what right do the Opposition have to lecture us on whether 1995 is a reasonable date for achieving those ends? They know well that if a Labour Government came to power again--an unlikely event--they would have no more chance of achieving those standards than they did in the past.
Water authority land was also a subject of protracted exchanges in the Committee which considered the Water Bill. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth for not suggesting that the proceedings have been truncated, as he did last week. I think that I heard my hon. and learned Friend the Minister say that we have now been debating these issues for 300 hours. I am not sure whether we are just coming up to 300 hours or have just exceeded 300 hours, but that is hardly truncated.
After privatisation, water companies will be under a duty to make their waters and associated land available for recreation so far as that is consistent with their other
Column 415functions. My hon. and learned Friend has leaned over backward to oblige the persistent lobbyists on that matter. However, will he confirm that the main defence against unwelcome developers on water authority land must be the planning process? If something is wrong, the answer is not to introduce separate Acts of Parliament on every conceivable subject, but rather to ensure that any inadequate planning processes are changed.
I was born and brought up on the northern slopes of Dartmoor and I know that planning regulations in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are particularly strict and would prevent any unsuitable development on water authority land after privatisation, as they do now. The Government's proposal to give every district authority the duty to draw up local plans will strengthen the planning system further to protect against unwelcome development. I do not know whether the proposals are perfect, but they are far better than anything that has gone before.
I and, I am sure, my hon. Friends take what is possibly the last opportunity before the recess to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Minister and his colleagues on the splendid way in which they have taken the legislation through the House since the middle of December.
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor) : The substance of the regulations is an increase in the powers of the Secretary of State. Those powers have the potential to undermine some of the promises made during the passage of the Bill. We must welcome the adoption of the European Community directive on drinking water. However, we must ask when the proposals in it will be implemented. During the debate on the Lords amendments the Government defeated the amendment relating to implementation by 1993. Will the Government tell us when they propose to implement the directive?
The European Commission is to be congratulated on its insistence that the Government should stop ducking and weaving over the introduction of drinking water standards. The Commission has asked the Government to tell it within two months what they will do about implementing the nitrate directive. Will the Minister tell us when he will reply to that demand from the environment Commissioner?
Mr. Raffan : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could explain how the Government are ducking and weaving on the European Community directive when they have incorporated it in law and have imposed 14 additional national standards. That is an extraordinary way to duck and weave. Long may Governments continue to do that when it means improving on the standards that have been put to us by Europe.
Mr. Livsey : The hon. Gentleman does not say when the directive will be implemented. We are all waiting for an answer to that. We welcome its adoption but when will it be implemented? The European Commission has posed that question and so far we have not had a clear answer.
Mr. Howard : Was the hon. Gentleman not here when I dealt with this question earlier or was he here and asleep? Did he not hear me say that we shall comply with the Commission's nitrate directive in every area bar two by
Column 4161993? In the other two we expect to comply by 1995. I gave the reasons why we could not comply with those two by 1992. Is the hon. Gentleman claiming that he and his party were concerned about this matter and about the accusations that were made about delay in implementing the directive in the 1980s? What complaints did his party make in the 1980s about the progress being made in implementing the Community directive?
Mr. Livsey : We certainly complained on many occasions about non- implementation. In 1980, the Government acceded to the directive but they have taken nine years to bring forward legislation. Now they cannot clearly tell us when the directive will be implemented, although I gather from what the Minister said that some of it will be implemented in 1993 and the rest in 1995. That is not soon enough. The Commission wants to know why, and that is a reasonable question.
Earlier in the debate the Minister tried to protect his position by talking about sample averages. I am sure that he is well aware that one definition of average temperature is a person with his head in the oven and his feet in the fridge. Water samples containing nitrate can be widely disparate. Is the Minister saying that samples with twice the acceptable level of nitrate are acceptable in terms of public health? What advice did the Minister's scientists give about the proposal that averages would be used for nitrogen content? How many scientists resigned from Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution because their scientific consciences cannot come to terms with the way that the Government are proceeding on environmental protection? Statutory instrument No. 1147 deals with the definitions of wholesome water and incorporates EC directives. Part 3 gives the Secretary of State power to relax those standards, and that power needs to be probed. Under what circumstances would he relax the standards, and in what situation would such relaxation occur? The document says :
"Authorisation is necessary as an emergency measure".
It also says that authorisation depends on
"the nature and structure of the ground in each area".
Some matters relating to that must be clarified, in the public interest.
Statutory instrument No. 1151 is about consents to discharges and allows the Secretary of State to determine requests for discharges of effluent above the recommended levels. We had a long debate on the Lords amendments about the 1,000 works that have broken the consent standards. In the next 12 months the Department of the Environment will allow the water plcs to go beyond the limit. Will powers about consents for discharges above the recommended levels be invoked? The statutory instrument clearly confers such a power and it would completely undermine the National Rivers Authority. It makes a mockery of the new regulatory body because it gives the Secretary of State the final say. The National Rivers Authority has, rightly, been given high billing by the Minister as an important environmental protection
Column 417agency. I certainly recognise and welcome that. However, if it is not adequately resourced and is undermined by statutory instrument No. 1151, will it be an effective body?
Statutory instrument No. 1154 deals with the right of the public to inspect the register held by the Director General of Water Services. I hope that the information on the register will be available at the weekends as well as during normal working hours so that people who are engaged in their everyday business during the week can inspect the register on, for example, Saturday mornings.
I welcome statutory instrument No. 1155 which deals with pensions. In my constituency Welsh Water will soon become Welsh Water plc. The pensions of its employees obviously need to be protected. Statutory instrument No. 1156 is important because it empowers the Secretary of State to determine applications for discharges of dangerous substances above accepted levels. It includes chemicals that are persistent in water and could include materials such as aldrin or dieldrin. Although they have been banned, sadly, some irresponsible people are still using them. The substances include atrazine and simazine which cause great difficulties in water catchment areas. I find it somewhat intriguing that the acceptable level of dangerous substances can be raised.
Statutory instrument No. 1158 deals with radioactive discharges. It treats radioactive waste as ordinary waste. This is another example of mollycoddling the nuclear industry. At present, 808 premises in England are authorised under the Radioactive Substances Act 1960 to discharge liquid radioactive waste into the public sewers. This regulation appears to weaken the conditions of the 1960 Act by allowing the Secretary of State to bring such discharges within the scope of the Water Act 1989, and to treat them as normal. Perhaps the Minister will reassure the House on that.
Statutory instrument No. 1159 deals with compensation for customers who suffer at the hands of water companies. I suggest that £5 is insufficient and that the condition which gives the companies a let-out in cases of industrial action should be withdrawn. In general, one should be critical of these statutory instruments because of some of the powers that the Secretary of State is taking to himself. He will be able to alter some of these regulations almost at will and some of the regulations act against the environmental quality of water.
The Minister should ensure that the proceeds of the sale of the industry are reinvested, for example, in the National Rivers Authority to ensure that it can function properly as an effective environmental protection body and to ensure that it is properly funded so that it can do its job properly.
There is no doubt that the basis of this privatisation is partly the sale of land. The flotation is made more attractive by this realisation. The water plcs are busy setting up subsidiary companies to exploit this asset.
Finally, I shall point out a technical matter to the Minister. The code of practice is already out of date in some of its wording because it refers to the Nature Conservancy Council when, only last week, it was amalgamated with the Countryside Commission. I hope that the drafters of the code will take account of that significant change.