HC Deb 19 January 1970 vol 794 cc30-3
Mr. G. Elfed Davies

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he will make a statement relating to the emergency created by the discovery of a defect in the dam of the Lluest Wen Reservoir above Maerdy, in the Rhondda Fach Valley.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. George Thomas)

This reservoir, which was built in the late 1890s and contains 242,000,000 gallons, has a dam of earth construction with a clay core and does not incorporate separate arrangements built into reservoirs of later date to release water as necessary into the river course.

On 23rd December a small area of the surface at the top of the dam collapsed under the weight of a horse and rider and revealed a cavity. The water board immediately called on its consultants and its representative examined the dam on 1st January. They decided that further investigations were necessary, but there were no indications at that stage that the dam might be in a critical condition.

Observations were maintained, and on 12th January the continuing appearance of leached clay in a narrow tunnel carrying the water supply pipe through the base of the dam, and the completion of calculations by the consultants, led to the conclusion that the water level in the reservoir should be reduced by about 30 ft, and, also, that warning arrangements should be provided in case of failure of the dam. The water board called on the fire service to help with the first and the police to provide the second.

Since that time work has proceeded round the clock to reduce the level of the water to eliminate danger and enable the exact nature of the defect to be determined and remedied.

The House will wish to know the latest information about progress. I received a report at 3 p.m. today that the level had dropped by 16 ft. 3 in. The engineers consider that it must fall by 30 ft. in all before all danger is eliminated.

The first question which may be asked is whether the statutory provisions relating to the safety of reservoirs need to be strengthened. The responsible Departments, including my own, are already examining the existing statutory provisions with this purpose in mind. Last Friday, my Department wrote to all water undertakings with reservoirs in Wales asking them to make a special inspection of any reservoirs of similar construction, built before 1930, which they own, and to report within seven days. The letter called particular attention to the need to ensure that there is access to the dam capable of taking heavy vehicles and equipment if a critical condition developed. That is an important lesson of the Lluest Wen incident.

The House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the many organisations and individuals, too numerous to men- tion individually, who, through day and night, under difficult weather conditions, have worked at full stretch to effect a successful outcome. Meanwhile, danger still exists and the engineers hope that the water should be reduced to the required level by Wednesday night.

Mr. G. Elfed Davies

The House, I am sure, will be relieved by the reassuring news given by my right hon. Friend about the present situation. May I take this opportunity of thanking him and his Department for the prompt measures they took once the danger was imminent?

On behalf of the Rhondda people, may I express their gratitude and mine to those countless people who have given of their services tirelessly day and night, often in atrocious weather conditions, to prevent this position worsening? To those of my constituents who have faced this problem for many days and nights of anxiety and of fear, I should like to express my sincere sense of pride and admiration for the traditional manner in which they have faced this terrific problem.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions, even on a Private Notice Question, must be reasonably brief.

Mr. G. Elfed Davies

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the pride and admiration of all people is with them for the manner in which they have faced this difficulty?

Finally, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether, in any measures which may be taken as a result of this experience, high priority will be given to the establishment of access roads, a difficulty which in this instance has proved to be a barrier to swift action being taken?

Mr. Thomas

My hon. Friend was in Maerdy all through Monday night, as was the Parliamentary Secretary who is standing by on duty there today. [Laughter.] If the people of Maerdy, with the anxieties they have known this week, could see the amusement of hon. Members opposite, they would be shocked. The question of access to these dams is a priority with us.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that on this side of the House we extend every sympathy to all those—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I repeat, we extend our sympathy to everybody in this valley who has been affected by this incident, which has caused great anxiety to a vast number of people. The weather has been very bad and the difficulties have been immense. The problems which the Welsh Office has had to face have been very considerable and we appreciate that. There are two points which I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman.

As the Minister responsible for water in Wales, does he consider that his present powers are adequate to deal with the situation? Secondly, as he admitted that the danger is not yet over, will he be prepared to come back to the House to give a further report if necessary?

Mr. Thomas

In answer to the second question by the hon. Member, if necessary, certainly.

In answer to the first question, before this anxiety arose we were already examining legislation. If the provisions of the 1930 Act need to be strengthened we shall take the necessary action.

Mr. Howie

May I add to the expressions of sympathy from hon. Members on both sides of the House? In considering the 1930 Act, what attention has been paid to the report on reservoir safety published by the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1966? Does my right hon. Friend feel that there is a need for speedy action on the several recommendations contained in that report?

Mr. Thomas

That report is one of the factors which we have been considering.

Mr. Thorpe

In associating myself with congratulations to all the public authorities and Departments involved, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman one question? Since this defect was apparently brought to light by a man, I understand he said, on horseback, does not this indicate the need to keep people away from all other reservoirs until the results of his inquiries have been completed?

Mr. Thomas

I understand that all necessary steps are being taken.

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