HC Deb 16 February 1972 vol 831 cc389-92
1. Mr. Mackie

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the cost to public funds of the abandonment of the desalination project at Ipswich.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)

Although I decided that the Ipswich project had to stop, I am supporting further work on the freezing process in order to get the maximum value out of the work already done. Of the £1Û million I authorised for the Water Resources Board on this project, about £60,000 has been spent, mainly on design and experimental work, some of which will be of permanent value.

Mr. Mackie

We are always disappointed when a project in which we are all interested has not succeeded. May I ask the Minister what attention his Department has paid to the advice it got from Professor Silver quite early on in the project that it was unlikely to succeed, particularly on sand? As the right hon. Gentleman states in his handout that this is a basically sound project, may I ask what his plans are for the future?

Mr. Walker

For a number of reasons, all Governments are anxious to see desalination projects succeed. On this project there were marginal arguments. We considered conflicting advice on it. On balance, I thought that it was right to endeavour to support such a project. It has produced important answers to certain problems. I am now discussing with my colleagues in Europe the possibility of getting together on a European desalination programme.

Mr. Money

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, disappointed though we were about the desalination project, there are other possibilities in the Ipswich area for the expenditure of public money—for example, a bypass, which would be very welcome indeed?

Mr. Walker

I take note of my hon. Friend's comment.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

In view of the need for more water over the next decade and the need to conserve agricultural land, what account has been taken of important works carried out in countries such as Israel in addition to research which is going on in this country?

Mr. Walker

My Department has been in touch with the authorities in Israel and in many other parts of the world to ascertain what can be derived from their methods and applied to this country. I am afraid that the methods used in Israel would not be appropriate for this country. In terms of cost, the water which they produce is worth while in the climate in Israel, but it is not worth while in a climate like our own. I am anxious to explore every possible avenue to try to develop desalination.

21. Mr. Farr

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment by what date he now estimates a desalination plant will be in operation in this country.

Mr. Peter Walker

I have asked the Water Resources Board to advise me, by the middle of this year, on the future prospects for the freeze process in meeting demands for water in England and Wales. That advice will also take account of the potential rôle of other desalination processes. There is in addition the possibility of collaboration with other European countries, on which I am answering another Question today.

Mr. Farr

Is my right hon. Friend aware that apart from anything else, if we had in this country an operation of desalination, it would be a valuable shop window for our exports in this connection? Is he also aware that there is a great deal of concern on both sides of the House about the abandonment of the Ipswich project? Will he put some papers in the Library giving a rather fuller reason than the single, one-sided sheet of foolscap which hon. Members have been able to obtain so far?

Mr. Walker

On the latter part of the question, one reason is that people primarily concerned with this, who were partners with the Government in the project, decided that they would not put another penny into the project. Therefore, we have endeavoured to obtain from the project the best information and research available to apply it elsewhere. On the former part of the question, I can assure my hon. Friend that I am willing to back and support any good potential for desalination because it would be a considerable advantage both in this country and for our export markets.

Mr. Dalyell

As the Question which the Secretary of State has answered is aligned with Question No. 93, would he answer that now?

Mr. Walker


Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in my view, the sooner desalination comes the better? A very large reservoir is being put down in my constituency, and the river authority concerned with compensating farmers whose land has been taken for this reservoir is behaving in an abominable fashion, as it promised to be generous to the farmers but has gone to the other extreme. My farmers are very angry about it.

Mr. Walker

I take note of the latter point. I assure my hon. Friend that I could not be more anxious to support and back any breakthrough in desalination.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order. As the Secretary of State has referred to my later Question, will he answer it?

Mr. Walker

I am quite happy to answer it, but it would have the effect of putting back the Questions of other hon. Members.

Mr. Mackie

Would the Secretary of State say what cost per thousand gallons he would be prepared to accept for desalinated water?

Mr. Walker

I do not think it is a case of cost per thousand gallons; it is a case of trying to decide whether there is likely to be some important technical development as a result of a particular project. The first successful projects will be much more costly in terms of gallons than anything that exists at present. Unless one gradually makes progress, we shall never reach the point of a major breakthrough.

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