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House of Commons

Wednesday 15 July 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


City of Bristol (Portishead Docks) Bill


South Yorkshire Light Rail Transit Bill

[Lords] Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Tuesday 20 October.

London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill

(By Order) Order for consideration of Lords amendments read.

To be considered on Tuesday 20 October.

Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) (No. 4) Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

London Docklands Railway (Lewisham,

Etc.) (No. 2) Bill-- (By Order)

Prices's Patent Candle Company Limited Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

Orders for Third Reading read.

To be read a Third time on Tuesday 20 October.

River Humber (Upper Pyewipe Outfall) Bill

[Lords] (By Order) As amended, considered.

Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, having been signified-- Ordered,

That Standing Order 205 (Notice of Third Reading) be suspended and that the Bill be now read the Third time.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Read the Third time, and passed.

Llanelli Borough Council (River Lliedi) Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

Read a Second time, and committed.

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Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Wright : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list the areas of environmental policy currently within the responsibility of the Commission of the European Community which it is his policy to seek to return to the responsibility of nation states alone.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Howard) : As agreed at the Lisbon European Council, the Commission and the Council will be working urgently on the procedures and practical steps necessary to implement the principle of subsidiarity and will report to the next European Council in Edinburgh. We shall be looking closely at environmental policy in the context of this work.

Mr. Wright : Is the Secretary of State aware that the proposals that he has just described are causing great dismay among all environmental organisations which, having seen us finally--under the impact of European directives--get rid of the tag of being the dirty man of Europe which the Government gave to us, are now seeing the Government, under the cloak of subsidiarity, planning to celebrate the British presidency of the Commission by trying to reinstate it?

Mr. Howard : This country is not and never has been the dirty man of Europe. We have frequently and habitually taken the lead in persuading the rest of the Community to adopt high environmental standards and we have at the moment the best record in the Community for implementing European legislation. Subsidiarity does not mean and will not mean any weakening in our resolve to achieve the highest environmental standards.

Sir Teddy Taylor : As article 130R of the Maastricht treaty appears to me, probably wrongly, to cover almost all the activities of my right hon. and learned Friend's Department and to transfer all our independence, will my right hon. and learned Friend assist the House in its educational process by publishing a list in the Library of those functions of his Department which he believes are still its exclusive territory?

Mr. Howard : I shall give the most careful and earnest attention to my hon. Friend's request. I suspect that he will find an analysis that the effect of the Maastricht agreement is rather less fundamental in the respect than appears to him at first sight.

Mrs. Ann Taylor : Who in this country supports the Secretary of State's moves to wreck the EC treaty on drinking and bathing waters? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman under pressure from the newly privatised water companies, which recently donated so much to Conservative party funds? Having always dragged their feet on environmental protection, the Government have created the situation in which people have to look to Europe for the environmental protection that the Government have failed to deliver.

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Mr. Howard : The hon. Lady's capacity for rewriting history is unlimited. Her question is riddled with misapprehensions. The only people who were concerned about subsidiarity and who needed to look to the European Community to protect our environment were those who wanted a Labour Government elected on 9 April. They knew that they could have no hope of improving environmental standards at the hands of a Labour Government. Fortunately, this country was spared that prospect.

Mr. James Hill : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that some of the worst pollution ever known is to be found in the vicinity of the M3 and Winchester bypass? That issue touches not only on transport, for which my right hon. and learned Friend does not have a mandate, but the pollution caused by delay in finalising that much sought-after motorway. In wresting other parts of environmental policy away from the Commission, could not my right hon. and learned Friend return motorway policy to our national Government?

Mr. Howard : I fully understand my hon. Friend's concern and those of his constituents, which he consistently seeks so assiduously to represent. We have complied with every relevant aspect of European law in respect of the M3. It was the subject of numerous public inquiries, which took into account to the fullest extent all environmental issues. I entirely sympathise with my hon. Friend's point.

Urban Waste

2. Ms. Eagle : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the Government's policy on urban waste management.

The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Maclean) : The Government will maintain tough controls on those who produce, handle, treat or dispose of waste, to minimise any detrimental impact on local communities.

Ms. Eagle : More than half the non-fossil fuel offset capacity is used for waste incineration, which has been shown to account for at least one quarter of United Kingdom dioxin emissions. Does the Minister agree that dioxin is an extremely dangerous chemical, whose effects on the human body pass down generations? How can he justify the Government subsidising dioxin production in that way, and the proposal to build an incinerator at Bidston between Wallasey and Birkenhead in the same locality as 100 residential streets?

Mr. Maclean : The proposal to build the incinerator to which the hon. Lady refers may be the subject of a planning appeal to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, so I cannot comment on it. Before Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution consents to any emissions into the atmosphere, it will need to satisfy itself that any and all incinerators, wherever they may be, are safe and that emissions are tightly controlled.

Mr. Marlow : Will my hon. Friend the Minister remind my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State--who is not only a decent chap but a well-known Euro-sceptic and also a lawyer--[ Hon. Members : -- "Even worse."]--that under article 130R of the treaty that will

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bring about European union, European institutions will require competence over protecting human health? In future, therefore, such questions will be better answered in Strasbourg than in the House.

Mr. Maclean : My right hon. and learned Friend made it very clear where the Government stand on subsidiarity when he answered the original question, and I have nothing to add.

City Challenge, Deptford

3. Ms. Ruddock : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will report on the progress of the city challenge programme in Deptford.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Sir George Young) : Deptford city challenge is now making good progress. Its recent achievements include the launch of the community safety programme on 13 July, and the schools routeways programme yesterday. We will be reviewing its progress with its action plan towards the end of the year.

Ms. Ruddock : I share the Minister's satisfaction with the good start that has been made, especially with regard to training. But does he share the despair that I felt on learning that Siemens Plessey Controls, the flagship private sector partner of Deptford city challenge, has had to issue redundancy notices in respect of two thirds of its staff, including all eight apprentices? What action will he take, along with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade--who set up the city challenge scheme--to protect existing manufacturing jobs and training in my constituency?

Sir George Young : I am grateful for the kind words about the progress of city challenge with which the hon. Lady began her question. Yesterday, as she knows, I spoke to Dick Liddell, the Siemens Plessey site manager, and I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade has had a meeting with Mr. Beresford of Siemens. He has agreed to help the company to diversify. I also understand that the parent company has agreed to help the subsidiary in Deptford with some of its problems.

One of the problems that face the hon. Lady's local firm is the high cost of the lease. The freeholder is the London borough of Lewisham. It may be possible for the company to renegotiate the lease, thereby bringing down the overheads and some of the running costs.

Mr. Blunkett : In reaching a decision tomorrow about the winners and losers for the next round of city challenge projects, will the Minister take into account the difficulties that have been experienced in the Deptford programme, as outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock)? Does he acknowledge that the urban programme, which the Government have cut by £121 million since the mid-1980s--they have cut it by £14.5 million this year, and a further £50 million has been cut from specific housing projects--should form the basis of any sensible inner-city regeneration policy, rather than city challenge schemes? Such schemes inevitably involve many losers as well as winners and they are taking vital moneys from the urban programme. Will the Minister confirm, at the end of the parliamentary session, that the urban programme will not be cut in the next two years, and will he give a guarantee to that effect as he has guaranteed that city challenge will not be cut next year?

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Sir George Young : I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman should speak about city challenge in such terms. The response from local authorities--including those under Labour control-- has been most encouraging and my colleagues and I have spent many days over the past month listening to submissions from authorities throughout the country.

My own view is that city challenge has unlocked a fresh spirit of enterprise in the inner cities. We are seeing new partnerships between local authorities, the private sector and voluntary organisations, and I consider that a worthwhile extension of our inner-city policies. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until tomorrow, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will be announcing the round two winners.

Household Waste

4. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will estimate what proportion of household waste is currently recycled ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Maclean : We estimate that some 5 per cent. of household waste was recycled in 1990.

Mr. Kirkwood : Is the Minister confident that the Government's target of 25 per cent. of household waste being recycled by the end of the century is on course? Any progress in that direction is welcome, but does the Minister feel that the Department is doing enough to achieve its target? Will he consider specifically the fact that, although £15 million of supplementary credit approvals are available as hypothecated local expenditure in England and Wales, there is no money north of the border for Scottish local authorities to engage in projects? Some useful joint local authority and private schemes north of the border are failing as a result of the lack of finance.

Mr. Maclean : I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's latter point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. As for our target generally, yes I am confident that we shall meet it. We have a very good industrial waste recycling record. In the last few years, we have set a target for household waste recycling and we intend to meet it. I am keen on the recycling credits that we have recently introduced. Any group, from the smallest voluntary charity to the largest company, can participate in recycling. All the goods and materials that they prevent from going into landfill will qualify for 50 per cent. of the actual cost of landfill. That literally is cash for trash. I urge people to grab it with enthusiasm.

Mr. Robert B. Jones : Does my hon. Friend agree that at least as important as the facilities provided by local authorities is the public attitude towards and awareness of recycling? Will he therefore ensure that there is maximum liaison with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, to ensure that public awareness starts with the very youngest so that this problem can be conquered once and for all?

Mr. Maclean : I am greatly interested in what my hon. Friend says. I congratulate him on his election to the Chairmanship of the Select Committee and I look forward to hearing the advice of his Committee over the next few years. My hon. Friend is absolutely right on this point. We need to capture public enthusiasm for recycling and let the

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market take its course. If enough demand is generated to use recycled materials, industry will fill the gap by doing the collection and the recycling. However, recycling has to be led by the consumers. The market will then follow. We must not try to shove and dictate it from the top.

Mr. A. Cecil Walker : May I encourage the Minister to take up with his opposite number the urgent need for recycling facilities in Northern Ireland ?

Mr. Maclean : Yes, I certainly shall. When I was at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister I visited the Province occasionally. I hope that I shall be able to do so in future. The hon. Gentleman has given me a convenient excuse.

Mr. William O'Brien : In view of the targets set in the Government's White Paper "This Common Inheritance", does not the Minister feel that the Government should give a higher profile to waste recycling ? The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) referred to the shortage of capital to get schemes off the ground. What he said is mirrored in every local authority. Does not the Minister believe that the Government should provide local authorities with capital to get these schemes going ? When do the Government intend to give waste recycling a higher profile ?

Mr. Maclean : The hon. Gentleman is obviously not aware of the facts. The Government have given waste recycling a very high profile. We set ourselves a high target in "This Common Inheritance." We have allocated £15 million in supplementary credit approvals for this year. We have launched the recycling credit scheme. By 1 August, all local authorities will have to produce their recycling plans. That, as well as the initiatives we have taken to heighten the importance of recycling, means that we shall meet our target. The hon. Gentleman should not assume that the only way to bring about recycling is to throw money at local councils. I want to capture the tremendous enthusiasm of ordinary people, and among the business community, for waste recycling.

Housing Capital Receipts

5. Mr. Hain : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will give figures for the total in local authority housing capital receipt funds for England.

Sir George Young : It is currently estimated that English local authorities held about £0.8 billion of usable capital receipts at the end of March 1992. In addition, authorities are estimated to hold over £5 billion of capital receipts which have been set aside as provision to meet credit liabilities. Housing receipts are not separately identifiable.

Mr. Hain : But the Minister is dodging the issue. Does he have any sympathy at all for the tens of thousands of families who do not have their own homes and who are squeezed into the houses of relatives or friends? In my constituency, and in many others, there are examples of young parents sleeping with their babies on the floors of parlours and living rooms--and in garages, in some cases. Even worse, some young women are being advised to get pregnant in order to get a house. When will the Minister release all these billions of pounds of funds and enable local authorities to build council houses?

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Sir George Young : I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman listened to the first part of my answer. I made it quite clear that £0.8 billion of usable capital receipts were available at the end of March 1992. Last year, local authorities spent only 67 per cent. of the receipts that they were entitled to use. Before the hon. Gentleman develops his case for the use of further receipts that have been set aside, he should make sure that local authorities already spend the receipts that they are entitled to spend.

Sir Anthony Durant : Does my hon. Friend agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) who said that the Treasury rules for capital receipts were correct and sensible?

Sir George Young : Yes, indeed. I was only disappointed that that sensible statement by the shadow Chancellor was not swiftly endorsed by the rest of the Opposition Front Bench. We look forward with interest to seeing how the Labour party's economic policies develop with a new leader.

Mr. Madden : Does the Minister remember the promises made by Tory Ministers that when council homes were sold, the money raised would be spent on building new homes? How does he explain that in Bradford 12,000 council homes have been sold, yet not a new council house has been built in the past seven years because of a shortage of cash? Why is he not doing more to release the funds that have been locked up for years to enable people to have the new homes that they desperately need?

Sir George Young : Bradford city council has been spending substantial sums of money on modernising and improving its existing stock. The new provision needed by people in Bradford is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, provided by housing associations, the budget for which is increasing substantially from £1 billion two years ago to £2 billion in two years' time. It is sensible to ask local authorties to concentrate their energy and money on improving their stock and to look to the housing associations, which make the nominations to the local authorities, to provide the new social housing that the country needs.

Mr. Conway : Is it not the case that the sale of council houses and the receipts that come from them are still providing valuable housing stock? Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is no restriction upon local authorities to try to rescind some of their outstanding debts by the use of their capital receipts?

Sir George Young : That is a valid point. The total debt of local authorities is £44 billion a year. Servicing that debt costs each adult in this country £140 a year. There are strong arguments for reducing that debt and the burden on ratepayers.

Mr. Gould : Given that the £6 billion in capital receipts already exists--it does not have to be raised through taxation or borrowing --that there are many local authorities such as mine in Barking and Dagenham that are desperate to spend their money on meeting an urgent housing need and that there is no one in the housing world or construction industry who would not dearly like to see the money released to provide a stimulus to the industry, what common sense explanation can the Minister offer for

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the Government's policy? Will he use language that will be understood by the homeless in my constituency and elsewhere?

Sir George Young : For a start, there is the comon sense of the hon. Gentleman's right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). The hon. Gentleman must understand that the same money cannot be spent twice. When a local authority uses its receipts to redeem debt and reduce its borrowing, it enables my Department to increase the borrowing of another local authority that does not have those receipts. The same money cannot be spent twice without pushing up taxes or interest rates.

Mr. Jenkin : Does the Minister agree that it is rather sad that councils such as Colchester and Tendring in my constituency do not do more to help themselves by transferring their housing to housing associations and releasing the capital to repay their debt so that they can invest more in housing?

Sir George Young : My hon. Friend is right. He will have read in the manifesto that we remain committed to large-scale voluntary transfer. That is an option which many local authorities have endorsed, but, sadly, so far no Labour authorities. It offers benefits to tenants when they transfer. It offers benefits to the local authority in terms of debt redemption and it enables the new housing association that is set up to make faster progress because the local authority can plough back part of the receipts from the sales. It is an important part of Conservative housing policy which I wish to see developed over the next few years.

EC Presidency

6. Mr. Bayley : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what are his priorities for the EC presidency.

Mr. Howard : As president of the Environment Council, I intend to pursue three main themes--prompt and energetic follow-up to the Rio Earth summit, the integration of environmental considerations into all areas of Community policy, and proper implementation and enforcement of European environmental legislation throughout the Community. I shall pursue the application of the principle of subsidiarity to Community action. I shall continue to press for the early establishment of the European environment agency, but part of our strategy in Europe is to give a strong lead through domestic action.

I can today announce that the Government have decided to establish a new independent environment agency in England and Wales to bring together in an integrated body all the functions of the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, and the waste regulation functions of local authorities. We shall introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Bayley : As a first step, will the new and long overdue integrated environmental agency give a cast-iron guarantee, as other EC member states have, that our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will be cut to the 1990 level by the year 2000, even if the American Government do not agree to do so?

Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman is a little behind the times. He needs to take into account the recent

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communique agreed at Munich by the Group of Seven countries, inviting other countries to join them in ratifying the climate change convention by the end of 1993. That convention was agreed at Rio, very significantly as a result of the efforts of the United Kingdom, so we can fairly claim to be in the lead on this matter.

Mr. Lidington : Will my right hon. and learned Friend take the opportunity of his presidency to ensure that European directives on the environment are equally implemented and enforced throughout the Community to prevent what sometimes happens at the moment, whereby one or two of our partners make grand promises about what they will do but fail to live up to them in practice?

Mr. Howard : I shall indeed. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The one definition of subsidiarity to which I do not subscribe is the one which suggests that individual member states should be entitled to pick and choose whether to implement and enforce legislation which has been agreed at Community level. Where legislation has been agreed, it should be applied consistently across the Community.

Mr. Simon Hughes : The Secretary of State said that two of his priorities are to follow up the Rio summit and to secure the implementation and enforcement of European Community environmental legislation, with the inspectorate and the new agency, which we welcome. Does he accept that, as Rio made abundantly clear, environmentalism and nationalism do not go well together? The logic of what he said, with which the House will agree, is that during its presidency the United Kingdom should ensure not only that other countries comply with environmental legislation but that we do so ourselves and do not, as we did on the first day of this month, put off a court case before the European Court to save embarrassment about our failure to comply with the laws with which we say that we agree?

Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that the application to postpone the hearing was a joint application by the United Kingdom and the Commission. As he is so interested in enforcement--I welcome his interest--I would have expected him to give the Government some credit for being the only Government in the Community--with the exception of Portugal, to which most of the legislation does not apply--against which the court has not passed an adverse environmental judgment.

Mr. Rupert Allason : I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's domestic initiative, but will he turn his attention to another domestic issue--the correspondence between his Department and the Bletchley Park Trust? Would not that site, which is of enormous historic importance and is under threat, be a worthwhile monument to the British presidency of the European Community, and will he at least give an undertaking that he will ensure that there will be no demolition of an area which is of considerable significance to everyone who served this country and those who gave their lives in the second world war?

Mr. Howard : I am sure that all relevant aspects of that site will be taken into account and given full and proper weight in the relevant decision-making process.

Mr. Win Griffiths : I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement about the creation of an environmental

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protection agency, which has been long awaited and long supported by my party but which the Government explicitly rejected when we raised it during the passage of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. We are very pleased and hope to get the legislation through in the current Session, but will the Minister state categorically that, irrespective of an American commitment to meet the Rio declaration, we will stabilise our carbon dioxide emissions at the 1990 level by the year 2000?

Mr. Howard : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for my announcement about the agency. I expect the announcement to be widely welcomed. As for the climate change convention which was agreed at Rio, the United States has declared that it intends to take early action to discharge its obligation under that convention and that it will call a meeting later this year to discuss the matter. Of course we attach great importance to the early ratification of the convention and we shall seek to encourage others to join us in ratifying it at an early date. We shall discharge our obligations under the treaty to the full.

Local Authority Expenditure

7. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how much local councils spend on average for each person in the country.

The Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities (Mr. John Redwood) : In each area, local councils are planning to spend on average £2,000 per adult this year in England.

Mr. Greenway : Will my hon. Friend confirm that local government spending is now running at £43 billion per year, which gives the Government a legitimate and vital interest in controlling that expenditure ? Is he aware that every citizen of Ealing has a debt of £2,000 around his or her neck left by the last Labour council, which increased rates by 65 per cent. in 1987 and trebled them in three years ? Is not that typical of the Labour party in control of local government, and is it not awful ?

Mr. Redwood : My hon. Friend makes some powerful points. He is right to say that Labour councils often overspend and over-borrow and leave people up to their necks in debt. Around the country there is an average of more than £1,000 of debt for every adult as a result of borrowing plans, often by Labour authorities. My hon. Friend is right that revenue expenditure is now running at high levels. If one adds capital expenditure, the figure is even bigger, as I said in answer to the main question. Contrary to the opinion expressed by the Opposition, it also shows that there is a great deal of choice and discretion for local authorities in deciding how to spend those huge sums in the interests of local taxpayers.

Mr. Hardy : Is the Minister aware that his answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) was almost contemptibly arrogant and irresponsible ? Does he not accept that the overwhelming proportion of local government spending is in pursuit of the statutory obligations and duties placed on local authorities, and that only a very small proportion of local government spending is left to the liberty of the individual

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council ? Would it not be more responsible for Ministers to persuade their hon. Friends that it is unreasonable to try to suggest that all local government spending is profligate ?

Mr. Redwood : My hon. Friend was not suggesting that. There are many fine Conservative-controlled councils spending well and wisely on good services for their local communities, but there are still profligate local authorities, sponsored by the Labour party and, yes, it is necessary for someone to stand up for the taxpayers in those areas. My reply was far from arrogant. I believe in local government and I want it to have choice and discretion, which is why we vote so much money for it to exercise that discretion.

Mr. Butcher : Does my hon. Friend recall that during the changeover period from the rating system to the community charge, many local authorities used the time to increase expenditure faster than the rate of inflation? In the change from the community charge system to the new council tax system, will my hon. Friend use his capping powers combined with an RPI minus X formula to protect ratepayers and charge payers from the kind of chicanery that they endured three years ago?

Mr. Redwood : Fortunately my right hon. and learned Friend has more extensive powers, and I am afraid that we shall have to use them if councils are irresponsible. However, I am hopeful that many councils will not be irresponsible next year and I am glad that there are more Tory councils as a result of recent local elections. That means that we shall have more sensible councils spending at prudent levels and providing their chargepayers and council taxpayers with very good value for money. It is interesting to note that most Tory authorities spend below the permitted levels and come in with much lower taxes than do Labour councils.

Radioactive Waste

8. Mr. Llew Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on progress made by UK Nirex Ltd. in establishing a storage or disposal route for radioactive waste since 1982.

Mr. Howard : After widespread public consultations, Nirex is concentrating its investigations on an area adjacent to the British Nuclear Fuels site at Sellafield. The company is carrying out detailed geological investigations and is refining its design concept for the facility. I understand that Nirex expects to submit an application for planning permission before the end of 1993.

Mr. Smith : As Nirex has ignored public protests and, in my opinion, has disregarded technical difficulties in its search for a site on which to dump its nuclear waste, would not it be wise for the Government to consider postponing the opening of the thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield, which has no way of dealing with the waste that is created?

Mr. Howard : No, that raises entirely different issues. All the questions to which the hon. Gentleman has referred will, of course, be considered with great care at any planning inquiry following the planning application that Nirex is expected to submit.

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Bathing Water Directive

9. Mr. Hanson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about compliance with the EC bathing water directive.

Mr. Maclean : Compliance has improved from 51 per cent. in 1986 to 76 per cent. last year. A £2 billion programme of improvements is under way to bring virtually all identified bathing waters up to standard by 1995.

Mr. Hanson : With respect, is not the Minister being rather complacent? Can he confirm that the Government pressured the European Commission into postponing the hearing about British beaches, which would have coincided with the commencement of the British presidency of the Commission? Was not that simply because the Government wished to avoid the embarrassment of occupying the Commision presidency while avoiding the Commission's directives on bathing waters?

Mr. Maclean : It is the hon. Gentleman who is avoiding the point. However, he cannot avoid the fact that we have a £2,000 million investment programme which will bring most of our beaches up to standard by 1995. The Commission has accepted that it would not be possible to accelerate that enormous programme further. The Opposition must make up their minds what they want. Do they wish to compain about the speed with which the progamme is being implemented or about the size of water bills? We are paying through our water bills, but most people want their beaches to be cleaned up--and rightly so.

Mr. Harris : Does my hon. Friend accept that while that programme is not just desirable but essential, it is putting impossible burdens on the consumers of some water companies, particularly those of South West Water? Is he aware that, with colleagues from Cornwall and Devon, I had meetings today with the chairman and officers of South West Water, who are very concerned indeed about the financial impact of this capital programme and even more worried about what other measures will be imposed on water companies, not least by the National Rivers Authority, adding to the burden on hard-pressed consumers?

Mr. Maclean : I have considerable sympathy with the points that my hon. Friend makes. In his latter question, he pointed up the trap into which some Opposition Members fall--the trap of automatically calling for ever tougher standards which might not be necessary in every circumstance. We have a huge investment programme, which in the case of the south-west has resulted in some large increases in water bills. However, the south- west is not unique ; there are other parts of the country with particular problems, such as those associated with getting rid of nitrates in water and the £4,000 million programme to clean up the Mersey basin. I know that the Director-General of Water Services, Ian Byatt, will be looking at the K factor in his next review. Only through that mechanism may he be able to assist the south-west.

Mrs. Ann Taylor : If the Government are so proud of their record, why--having been in power for 13 years--are they in breach of the directives so often? Is the Minister aware of suggestions being made in Brussels that the environment directorate, DG11, should be restructured

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and perhaps denied the opportunity to take legal action against member states? Will the Minister say clearly whether he supports continuation of the powers of DG11 to take legal action against member states when such action is in the interests of environmental protection throughout Europe?

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