Rivers and Beaches

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24 March 1993.

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Photo of Mr David Nicholson Mr David Nicholson , Taunton 12:00, 24 March 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the trend of investment in (a) water supply and (b) environmental measures to cleanse rivers and beaches since the Water Act 1989.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister (Department of Environment) (Environment and Countryside)

Since privatisation, investment in water supply and the cleansing of rivers and beaches has increased dramatically. The £30,000 million investment programme in new pipework in water supply and sewerage treatment works is cleaning up our rivers, beaches and seas. It is good for the environment, good for consumers, good for the construction industry and good for jobs.

Photo of Mr David Nicholson Mr David Nicholson , Taunton

Those of our constituents all over the country who are paying greatly increased water charges will need to know of the value for money in the increased investment in the water and sewerage industry. Incidentally, they will also be concerned about the burden on single-person households and share the general pressure for water metering. Is my hon. Friend aware that the consumers of South West Water, who include people in the western end of my constituency, are very resentful indeed about its high charges and the rapid increase in those charges and that their view is strongly held by my hon. Friends the Members for the area? They feel that the whole country should be responsible for the clean-up of the beaches in the south-west, which are a national asset.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister (Department of Environment) (Environment and Countryside)

Of course I am aware of the concern of my hon. Friends in the south-west about the increase in their water charges, due to implementing various measures designed to clean up the large number of beaches in the south-west. I think that my hon. Friends will agree that if we are to continue to have a fine tourist industry in the south-west of England we need the highest possible environmental quality. We are embarked, and the water industry is embarked, on a programme there, but I also take careful note of, and am very sympathetic to, the point that in the longer term any other measures that we sign up to must have quantifiable, value-for-money results. We are keen to sign up to measures that protect the environment, but we must show that they give value for money.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

Does the Minister agree that his attitude in boasting of the investment that is taking place is far too complacent? His duty and that of the Government is to ensure that people have safe water to drink, that our rivers are clean and that our beaches do not make children ill. We do not have the best. In 1992, the European Court of Justice found Britain guilty of failing to comply with the drinking water directive. That means that over a million people have been drinking water that damages their health, river standards have declined and many of our beaches cause ill health in children who play there. The Government must encourage more investment and less profit for the privatised water companies.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister (Department of Environment) (Environment and Countryside)

Sometimes I am amazed at the Labour party's attempts to try to grapple with the concept of the market and delivering goods and services to people. The hon. Lady accuses us of complacency and boasting of a £30,000 million investment programme. Of course we are boasting about it—it is the biggest investment programme in this country's entire history; because of it, the quality of water in our rivers and in our seas gets better every year and we are on target to meet our investment programmes and all our water quality directives.