Beaches and Coastline (Regulation)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 13th June 1990.

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Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton 3:32 pm, 13th June 1990

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate and control beaches and coastline; and for other purposes. I am presenting the Bill today because of my experience in my constituency, which has extensive beaches and coastline, where during April a voluntary organisation, made up of 500 volunteerss, collected 3,000 plastic bags and burned 20 tonnes of timber. In a month when the European Commission has confirmed that it is beginning legal action against the United Kingdom Government in the European Court of Justice because of dozens of polluted beaches which have failed the EC minimum standards, it is salutary to remember that an EC directive on pollution was introduced in 1975—15 long years ago. Despite that intervening period, we now find that 109 beaches in the United Kingdom fail the sewage test, and that other hazards have been highlighted.

The Bill will address the environmental concerns—and who is not an environmentalist now after witnessing the Prime Minister's indecent haste to become green? I remind hon. Members that in 1982, at the height of the Falklands crisis, the Prime Minister said: When you've spent half your political life dealing with humdrum issues like the environment, it is exciting to have a real crisis on your hands. We have a crisis every day on our hands. One therefore has to doubt the Prime Minister's political integrity while she demonstrates touching faith in her Secretary of State for the Environment who has been hauled before the European Court of Justice.

My Bill seeks to amend the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 (Commencement) (No. 1) Order 1988 in order to tighten up the penalties for dumping at sea. The Marine Conservation Society claims that dumping at sea is the main source of marine litter and that an estimated 500,000 plastic containers are dumped daily from merchant ships alone. It is also estimated that more than 100,000 marine mammals and 2 million sea birds are killed each year, due to eating or becoming entangled in marine debris.

My Bill would also institute more and better testing than the United Kingdom now undertakes under the EC directive. There are no standard virus tests. In the absence of such tests, my Bill would provide for testing for salmonella and the various enteroviruses, since these are the most serious risks to people's health that scientists hve demonstrated. The Government are not testing for these viruses on most beaches. Where tests have been carried out, the Government have not included the results for the percentage of beaches that have passed the test.

My Bill would also introduce, for sewage disposal, secondary biological-chemical treatment for all towns with a population of more than 5,000. According to the "Nature- programme in March 1989, the Prime Minister said: No raw sewage is discharged round Britain's coasts. I, like many other hon. Members, could take the Prime Minister to my constituency and show her that that statement is not true.

There are many questions that one has to ask. Why, as we approach the 21st century, are 300 million gallons of sewage—much of it completely untreated—entering the seas around Britain? The debris is sickening to environmentalists. Dr. Mark Woombs, of the Knotts End study centre near Morecambe, where children come to learn about the environment, said in the Observer magazine of a few weeks ago: Children come here to learn the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable matter. Instead, every time one of them comes back with a small green object which they think is a rare plant species. Unfortunately, I have to tell them what it is—a decomposed turd. My Bill would make it mandatory for signposts to be placed on all designated beaches detailing whether it had passed or failed the bathing water quality standards in the past year. The Bill would also provide for carrying out a proper national survey of the health effects of bathing in contaminated waters. It would also contain a provision for the allocation of £2·5 billion for a capital investment programme to bring Scotland's water and sewerage standards up to those contained in the EC directive. We are keen to ensure that the Scottish water industry receives equality of treatment with that in England and Wales, which received a Government cash injection of £1·02 billion and was allowed to write off £4·5 billion in the run-up to privatisation. It is important that Scotland should be treated in the same way.

I am aware that expense is always uppermost in the Government's mind, but the criterion should be quality, not cost. If, in their privatisation of British Gas, the Government could spend £350 million on telling the British public all about Sid, they can spend a fraction of that sum on telling people that bathing in contaminated water is no good whatsoever for their health. Just like he Government's statements, the odd green pellets that people pick up on the beach are not what they seem at first sight. That is why the need for the Bill is paramount, and that is why I commend it to the House.