River Quality

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th May 1989.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford 12:00 am, 24th May 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what percentage of rivers in the United Kingdom were in good or fair condition at the latest date for which figures are available.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Minister of State (Department of Environment) (Planning)

The 1985 river quality surveys for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland indicated that about 95 per cent. of river lengths in the United Kingdom were classified as good quality or fair quality; that is the latest year for which comprehensive figures are available.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that the River Wye in my constituency is up to the mark, as it should be? Secondly, will he confirm that he is bringing the greatest possible pressure to bear on rivers in the United Kingdom which are not yet up to the top mark and that he is sustaining the greatest possible pressure on the rivers in the remainder of the European Community countries so that British industry is not disadvantaged in such an important area of trade?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Minister of State (Department of Environment) (Planning)

Yes. No other member state in the European Community has a higher proportion of its river length in the top two grades of river quality than the United Kingdom. The River Wye has consistently been of class I quality for a considerable time.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Will the Minister tell us the exact class of the River Rother from which my constituency gets its name? When are we going to start cleaning up that river?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Minister of State (Department of Environment) (Planning)

Unfortunately the River Rother is not in either of the top two grades of river quality, but the hon. Gentleman should appreciate that its present condition is the result of activities that have continued for generations. The clean-up has started and its pace will quicken when the water industry is in the private sector.

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend's comment about the River Rother. Does he accept that the River Aire, which also suffers from excessive industrial effluent, will likewise take a considerable time to reach the proper grade? In that regard, will he confirm that the National Rivers Authority will not be slow to set up regional operations within the Yorkshire Water region so that a proper plan can be developed and adhered to in the new-found capacity of the plcs to borrow and spend money?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Minister of State (Department of Environment) (Planning)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The National Rivers Authority will take precisely the action that he has identified. The attitude of Opposition Members on this, as on so many other matters, is that things are absolutely dreadful as they are, so let us keep them exactly as they are.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Opposition Spokesperson (Local Government & Poll Tax), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Will the Minister comment—as there has not been a statement on the subject in this House—on the decision, announced in the other place, that £5·5 billion will be written off the debt of the water authorities to make their flotation a success? Is he aware that it will not be the sale of our water industry but a daylight giveaway?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Minister of State (Department of Environment) (Planning)

The hon. Gentleman's comments are entirely incorrect, and I refer him to the Hansard of what my noble Friend Lord Caithness said in the other place. The write-off of the £5·5 billion refers only to the debt to the national loans fund which takes place on every privatisation. It will be replaced by securities with which each company will enter the private sector, and we shall announce our decisions on those securities at the appropriate time. If Opposition Members are really interested in these matters, I suggest that they read in Hansard precisely what was said in the other place, rather than relying on totally inaccurate reports of what was said by my noble Friend.

Photo of Mr Rupert Allason Mr Rupert Allason , Torbay

How far into river estuaries is testing conducted? Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that recent tests undertaken just off the coast of south Devon displayed figures of six times the acceptable rate of viral contamination?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Minister of State (Department of Environment) (Planning)

I am aware that those recent tests showed results which left a good deal to be desired, and those matters are being considered by the South West water authority.