Water Framework Directive

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 30th January 2003.

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Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Opposition Whip (Commons) 11:30 am, 30th January 2003

What assessment she has made of the potential impact of the European water framework directive on UK industry.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government published an assessment in 2001 and we plan to publish an updated version later this year.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Opposition Whip (Commons)

The initial consultation included an estimate that implementing the directive would cost agriculture between £0.6 billion and £2.9 billion. When will the final consultation begin? Will the Minister undertake to ensure that it will include the draft regulations?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The consultation is under way, and we have had two versions already. The hon. Gentleman will know that implementation of the water framework directive will last a considerable number of years—up to 2015. There is therefore plenty of time to look at the issues involved. However, we cannot escape the issue of diffuse pollution, to which agriculture is the biggest contributor, especially with nitrates and phosphates. We are addressing that problem by establishing nitrate-vulnerable zones. Much of the work included in the costings that have been made is already in place, and that is why the possible totals vary so widely. We are aware of the implications for agriculture, but we also accept that serious issues remain that must be addressed.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Will the Minister bear it in mind that European legislation has had an almost universally valuable effect on water in this country? Without that legislation, Britain's water would be in a much worse state. Does he agree that the directive is another measure that should be supported universally?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Yes, I do agree, and I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support. The water quality of our rivers has consistently improved, as have drinking water standards. European directives have played a part in achieving those improvements.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

Will the water framework directive not mean a lot more policing for the Environment Agency? How will it achieve that when it has said, for example, that it will take it at least 20 years to visit even those farms with a high risk of nitrate pollution? The agency is also reviewing only 1 per cent. a year of industrial discharges in the north-east, rather than 25 per cent. a year. Clearly, the agency needs more money, yet the chief executive told Members of Parliament yesterday that there will be a 12 per cent. cut in environmental protection money next year. Why is that happening?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Environment Agency will receive more money next year. It wants to address a range of issues under its programmes and plans. It is taking a risk-based approach to enforcement, and I think that that is right. There are enforcement implications in that, but the water framework directive contains many common-sense measures that will address water quality and the ecology of our river systems. There will not necessarily be huge implications for enforcement, but I recognise that there will be some.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

By the end of the year, the Government will have consulted three times on the water framework directive. How valuable are those consultations when up-to-date cost analysis figures have yet to be published? Have the Government's own consultants not said that the cost to farming will be around £287 million a year? Can the Minister guarantee that the directive's implementation will not be adversely affected by budget cuts at DEFRA? Why is there no reference to the water framework directive in the draft water Bill?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The water Bill is complementary to the water framework directive, which is designed to achieve different objectives, particularly on catchment plans and catchment management. We are addressing costs in the consultation, but, inevitably, in dealing with a measure that will cover the period to 2015, it will not be possible to have clear costings until we know exactly what the implications are. I remind the hon. Gentleman that a great many of the delivery mechanisms for implementing the water framework directive are currently being put in place. Those costs can, therefore, be taken into account, and they will not fall on farmers, industry or consumers.