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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, before the noble Earl continues, may I ask, dealing with the question of scientific assessment, what is the role of the European Environment Agency in relation to this? Is it doing any work in this regard, and what is its relationship in connection with any such work with the work going on in DGXI, and indeed in the member states?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I was going to mention the European Environment Agency a little later but, as the noble Lord will know as well as any of us, it is only just now properly in action. It has distributed various specific studies to various topic centres. The topic centre based in the UK will be dealing with water. It may be a little too soon to say exactly what will be the extent of the agency's contribution, but I think everyone who has an interest in the agency hopes that it will provide authoritative information across all environmental media.
As I was saying, we have made the information that we commissioned on both costs and the health quality parameters widely available in order to inform the debate and it is apparent that it has been a significant part of the evidence considered by the committee. But we have still to see comparable information from other member states. EC legislation should be developed in the light of comprehensive, Europe-wide knowledge of the consequences. Armed with the committee's conclusions we shall try to ensure that standards of information are improved. I stress that point to my noble friend Lady Park.
Your Lordships, and especially my noble friend Lord Bridgeman, have drawn attention to the need for a public debate on acceptable levels of health protection. While the principle must be welcome, given the complexity of the issues, a meaningful and informed debate presents a considerable challenge. The effects on health at the standards under consideration are not so great as to be immediately obviousexcept perhaps in some cases to those intent on sensationalism. The effects cannot be distinguished by looking at the number of people who go to their GP or the chemist following bathing. So research has to be based on the results of questionnaires which seek
These problems make establishing relationships between water quality and the chances of suffering minor illnesses difficult to quantify other than in rather broad terms. However, on the basis of the evidence which is currently available, the Government share the committee's views that there is no justification for imposing on the public significantly higher costs in order to reduce the present level of risks.
The Government have made considerable efforts to ensure that the public has information about any risks associated with bathing. We funded the Water Research Centre study, which is probably the most comprehensive study of its kind undertaken anywhere in the world.
It looked at a large number of bathers, a spectrum of different bathing water qualities and a variety of different bathing activities. This research concluded that the existing standards provide adequate health protection. But any risks must be seen in their proper contextfor example, against the background of risks associated with the other activities in which people participate on their holidays. Also relevant is the finding from the WRC research that bathing in clean, cold, salt water can itself cause certain health effects. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, was astonished that a healthy activity such as swimming could possibly lead to any form of ill health. However, I believe that he confused the difference between the exercise and the environment in which that exercise is taken, as do joggers when they jog along a busy road.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, as someone who suffers from raynaud's phenomenonI should explain that that is gangrene of the extremitiesI know the risks associated with cold water bathing. They are recognised and acceptable. I take issue with the Government on the fact that contamination from sewage causes extra health risk to people and they seem to think that that is acceptable. I do not think that the British public would recognise that risk as acceptable.
With some sympathy, I turn to some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, made. I have more than a few children who, like the noble Lord's children, like to be in and out of the sea. The Government take very seriously the likely effect of sea water quality on children who are swimming off beaches. The Government plan further detailed analysis of the data on children specifically.
Quite rightly, the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, pointed out that closing beaches or prohibiting bathingone of the suggestions in the proposed revision of the bathing directivewould be difficult. The Government agree wholeheartedly with the committee and feel that it would
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, stressed that information and advice must be given to the public. Two or three noble Lords referred to the "Jaws" syndrome. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, got as far as "Jaws III" before he sat down. That scenario is very much not the case. The Government recognise that the provision of information is the only sensible response to bathing water problems.
Perhaps I may point out that in the UK a scheme is in operation whereby the results of monitoring by the NRA are displayed on notices at bathing waters. An associated leaflet explains in simple terms the significance of the monitoring results.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, and the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, also referred to the challenge of sampling and the difficulties associated with it. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, wanted sampling conducted over a much longer period outside the traditional bathing season. However, it is during the traditional bathing season that the directive requires water to be sampled. The UK season, from mid-May until the end of September, is longer than that of some other member states. If the National Rivers Authority carried out monitoring for longer periods, there would be a significant increase in costs without any commensurate benefits.
Perhaps I may refer again to the European Environment Agency, which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis mentioned. Sampling comparability and techniques could be one area in which the European Environment Agency takes an interest and on which it seeks greater conformity across the community. Comparability of data is important, as the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, mentioned. Concerns have been expressed that the directive and the proposed revision allow too much scope for different interpretations of the monitoring requirements so that, for example, the UK's diligent approach places us possibly at an unfair advantage. I have some sympathy with those views. I believe that the Commission is aware of the concerns and has taken some steps in its proposal to reduce potential discrepancies.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, highlighted two important issues from his own experience in this area: first, the extent of comparability of enforcement or the application of the directive's obligations; and the duty of the Commission to enforce the law. The Government recognise the importance of both issues.
The public's concern about bathing water quality is likely to continue, despite the massive investment being made in sewerage infrastructure. Some £9.5 billion is already earmarked for the completion of the first bathing water directive and the urban waste water treatment directive. I believe that it is not possible to shift the costs either on to central government or to the European Commission, as the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell
A number of shortcomings of the present directive which need to be addressed concern the bathing water quality parameters to be monitored and for which mandatory standards are set. The committee has focused most attention on the microbiological parameters because it is these, rather than for example transparency or dissolved oxygen, which are most closely related to the directive's fundamental objective of health protection. The committee has quite rightly endorsed the Commission's proposed deletion of total coliforms and salmonella as not adding useful information. Fine tuning of the faecal coliform parameter by changing it to E. coli is a further useful improvement. The Government noted the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, on bacteriophage. Indeed, we believe that it could well be a promising and good indicator. But clearly more work has to be undertaken first.
There is a view that deletion of any particular parameter represents a weakening of the standards of protection. I am pleased that the committee has rejected that line of argument by recommending that monitoring for enterovirus should no longer be required on the grounds that the test methods are too unreliable. They are also very expensive. In other words, it is an unsuitable indicator for routine monitoring under the directive. There is unchallengeable logic to this recommendation which I hope the Commission will accept.
Your Lordships' reports have given great emphasis to the proposed mandatory standard for faecal streptococci. There is common ground that this is a good indicator, with a simple and reliable test. The debate concerns the numerical value of the standard to be set. The committee has exposed the lack of scientific justification for the proposed standard of 400/100 ml and has called for further analysis of the evidence. We are planning further work but, because of the complexity and limitations of the research, and the difficulty of measuring actual health effects related to water quality, which I mentioned earlier, it would be unwise to expect unequivocal evidence in support of a particular numerical standard in the near future. And, unfortunately, the same difficulties in deriving reliable quantification of effects would arise in meeting the committee's suggestions in Bathing Water Revisited for more serious attempts to assess the economic benefits of more stringent water quality standards.
I point out that the Government are participating with the NRA, the water industry and others in the development of methods to evaluate the economic benefits arising from improvements in water policy. We are not sluggish on the subject but, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, pointed out, measuring cost benefit analysis in this area is not straightforward. It will take
There is a lack of hard evidence from other member states. This reinforces the need for fuller debate and the sharing of information from as many sources as possible. I commend the committee's contribution to encouraging this fuller debate both in this House and elsewhere.
Finally, my reply would be incomplete without covering the important matter of costs. Much of Bathing Water Revisited concerns the committee's analysis of the compliance cost assessment carried out for the Government. Indeed, costs have been fundamental to many of the points raised in this debate. My noble friend Lord Bridgeman gave us a great deal of thought on the subject.
We have recently responded to specific points in Bathing Water Revisited, including such matters as the need for a coherent Community water policy which recognises relative priorities and the implications of legislation for investment. One of the most fundamental points made both by the report and by my noble friend Lady Park was the need for coherent strategic policy-making and investment in the whole water area. The Government are not being led. They are leading, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, suggested. We are keen that the various strands of Community water policy should integrate properly and interrelate where they have to overlap and that the timing is sensible. Given that resources are not infinite, we are keen that priorities are properly set on cost benefit analysis, where it can be achieved, and on proper scientific evidence, where it is available. The Government are fully aware of the need for a coherent strategy throughout the area. When we consider the extraordinary sums of money involved in the investment, that factor is vital.
However, I should like to draw attention once again to perhaps the committee's most important opinion: it was unconvinced that there was justification for imposing on the general public significantly higher costs in order somewhat to reduce the present risks of self-limiting illness associated with bathing. Through the debate today, the House has, I believe, endorsed that view. Furthermore, there is no question but that the UK cost study shows that the proposed provision would mean the imposition of significant additional costs. Avoidance of unjustified additional costs is a principle which the Government can readily support.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to respond to today's debate. I believe it has been a useful opportunity for us all to exchange ideas on some of the very complex technical issues arising from the revision of the Bathing Water Directive. I have noted the many issues raised here today and I hope that I have managed to respond to most, if not all, of them. Above all, I have been reminded of the widespread consensus on the fundamental issues which must shape the UK's objectives for the revision of the directive.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I wish to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has spoken for the interesting contributions. I was particularly glad to hear from the Minister that the Commission is reconsidering the proposal in the light of our comments. I was pleased to hear that the Government are working closely with the NRA and that there are many convergences of views between us. I am glad that the Government are leading, not following.
I agree on the need for more information on the position in other states. We can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, on that. He is particularly well placed to comment on the issue. His argument that the Government should be pushing for it is one which we wholly support.
Finally, I wish to pick up a point from the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. Paragraph 58 did not conceal a sinister rift. It simply recorded a discussion and a difference of view.
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