HC Deb 15 December 1971 vol 828 cc445-6
15. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he intends to publish a Green or White Paper on the future structure and duties of bodies concerned with the supply and disposal of water.

Mr. Graham Page

My right hon. Friend announced the Government's proposals to the House on 2nd December. They are set out in more detail in an explanatory memorandum which was made available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Spearing

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that an explanatory memorandum is no substitute for a real White Paper? Is he aware that his right hon. Friend stated in that announcement that his Department had had discussions with the British Waterways Board about canal ownership but that I have a letter from the Board which suggests that while the chairman was informed the day before of the general content of the statement, there had not been previous discussions between the Department and the board about canal ownership as such? Would the hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend either to withdraw the statement or explain why he made it?

Mr. Page

On the second point, the British Waterways Board gave evidence to the C.A.W.C. It was fully informed the whole way through. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There was no non-disclosure. On the first point, we thought it was the most expeditious way to get discussions going on this consultative document with this sort of explanatory memorandum, and there is a good tradition for announcing a policy of this sort in that manner.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Would my hon. Friend agree that an entirely new look is needed not only at the preservation and supply of water but also at the conservation of it? Would he also agree that the existing water resources are not sufficient to deal with the increasing shortage being experienced in urban areas which are pulling water from rural areas? Should not the whole issue of a national pipeline be considered most urgently?

Mr. Page

Indeed. The reorganisation of water services proposed by the Government Departments is intended to take into account just this sort of difficulty.

Mr. Crosland

Do not we have a complete discrepancy of evidence here on the subject of consultation? On 2nd December the Secretary of State said: As regards canal ownership, my Department has had discussions with the British Waterways Board".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1971; Vol. 827, c. 681.] Is it not the case that the British Waterways Board has said that there had not been any previous discussion between the Department and the board on the question of canal ownership as such? There is a total conflict of evidence. I am sure that the Secretary of State does not want to mislead the House. Would he care to correct his statement?

Mr. Peter Walker

Yes, Sir. The reason why I made the statement to the House was that the British Waterways Board had given evidence to the C.A.W.C. which was the basis of the advice to me upon which I published the consultative document. If I gave a wrong impression as to the nature of the consultation, I apologise.