HC Deb 04 August 1976 vol 916 cc1744-818

Order for Second Reading read.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I, through you, make a request to Mr. Speaker that in selecting amendments for the Committee stage and the Report stage, both of which are to be taken tomorrow, he will not exclude from favourable consideration for selection amendments tabled today?

I realise that in the early hours of this morning a motion was passed by the House in effect suspending Standing Orders in this connection. But, in the very nature of the circumstances, which I need not detail and which are familiar to the House, it would be fair to allow starred amendments to be selected tomorrow if Mr. Speaker thinks that they are worthy of selection.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

What amendments will be taken in Committee is, of course, for the Chairman, to whom I will convey the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comments. The other matters will be considered by Mr. Speaker and his attention will be drawn to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's observations.

Sir David Renton

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that assurance, and for the correction.

4.42 p.m.

The Minister for Planning and Local Government (Mr. John Silkin)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When my noble Friend moved the Second Reading of the Bill in another place two weeks ago, her opening remarks were greeted with a flash of lightning, a loud clap of thunder and a torrential downpour which lasted through the whole of her speech. I had hoped that I might be able to give a repeat performance. Alas, control of the weather does not seem to be among my own ministerial responsibilities.

I think it might be helpful, before I come to the provisions of the Bill, if I set out briefly the background against which we are holding today's discussion In early May, when I described the special machinery that I had established with the water industry to provide up-to-date assessments of the developing situation, I explained that we were making our forecasts on two separate assumptions—first, of average rainfall and, second, of an abnormally dry summer such as that of 1975. A summer of average rainfall would give us relatively little trouble. An abnormally dry one could present us with serious problems.

When I announced a month ago our decision to take emergency powers before the Summer Recess, I had to tell the House that the second of these two assumptions has proved the right one—that we had experienced, in common with much of Northern Europe, a quite abnormally dry summer, combined with extremely hot weather, and these two factors taken together now meant that we were almost certainly facing a series of localised water emergencies in some parts of the country.

Nothing has happened over the last four weeks to alter that situation—indeed, the likelihood of local water crises has become a virtual certainty. In the areas most at risk—parts of Yorkshire, East Anglia, the East Midlands, the South-West and South Wales—we are facing potentially acute water shortages in the late summer and early autumn.

Their severity and their duration will depend on a number of factors—the kind of weather we have over the next two months, the success of the water authorities in obtaining alternative sources of supply, and the co-operation of all concerned, domestic users, industry and agriculture, in saving water.

But I must, I am afraid, make it clear that I am talking about an alleviation, and not a cure. The kind of local shortages we are now experiencing will not be put right by a day's rain or a week's rain, or even a month's rain. The need for strict economy in the use of water will extend well into the winter, until the authorities can be satisfied that they have an adequate margin of supplies to relax restrictions.

This is the background against which the present Bill has to be judged. Basically, it does two things. It gives powers to help with water conservation. Clause 1, which gives water conservation powers, will be invoked in the precautionary stage—in the run-up to a water crisis. Clause 2, which contains the rationing powers, will be invoked when an imposed quota system for water use is essential to keep a local community going. Several of the water authorities have told me that they are likely to need both kinds of power this year.

Clause 1, as I said, deals with the precautionary stage. I do not need to rehearse, I think, the defects in the existing powers under the Water Act 1958 It was, understandably, not designed for a drought of the severity that we have experienced this year—the dryest period since records began in 1727, and a hot spell in late June and early July unprecedented for length and intensity. With this, the existing provisions have built into them a curious inflexibility—a dramatic jump, so to speak, from banning hose-pipes in the garden to erecting standpipes in the streets.

Clause 1 re-enacts the existing provisions of the 1958 Act dealing with abstractions and river flows—the traditional drought Order. It builds on these provisions in a number of ways, notably, in terms of extra powers for water authorities to deal quickly in a time of drought with discharges of sewage or trade effluent. But the significant feature of the new powers, and the one to which the water authorities are looking particularly at this time, is the power that it gives to limit non-essential uses of water.

I think that this power has been generally misunderstood, possibly because it has not been practicable to spell out in the Bill precisely what these uses will be. The procedure is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make a general direction to the water authorities and to the water companies under Clause 1(3)(b) as soon as the Bill becomes law.

The use of the word "direction" is perhaps misleading—a more accurate phrase might be to call it a designation. What he will in fact do is to set out the range of non-essential uses that can be covered under this clause.

This designation does not of itself ban or limit anything. What it does is to indicate to the water authorities and to the various interests likely to be affected the range of water uses that can from time to time be subject to control. It is then up to the individual water authorities to come to us with applications for Orders relating to their own areas. They can apply for powers to control all the non-essential uses that we have designated, or a limited number of them, just to suit their particular circumstances. But what they cannot do is to seek powers going outside the framework that we have laid down. Once an Order has been granted to a water authority, it will then be able, within its discretion, to control or limit the water uses prescribed in the Order.

Perhaps it might be for the convenience of the House if I announced as background for the debate the list of nonessential uses that I propose to designate when the Bill becomes law: first, watering by hosepipe, sprinkler or tanker, of parks, ornamental gardens, lawns, recreation grounds, sports grounds, playing fields, golf courses and race courses, whether publicly or privately owned; second, the filling or toppng-up of private swimming pools and ornamental ponds other than fish ponds; third, the use of mechanical or automatic car washers; fourth, the washing of road vehicles, other than for reasons of safety or hygiene; fifth, the cleaning of the exterior of buildings; sixth, the use of ornamental fountains or cascades, whether or not recycled; seventhly, continued operation of automatic flushing cisterns during periods when the buildings concerned are unoccupied or largely unoccupied. These are my present proposals.

But in reaching a final decision I shall, of course, take very careful account of everything that is said here today and of the various representations that I have been receiving from a number of the interests concerned.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

The right hon. Gentleman said that the first category would be watering by hosepipe. Many golf courses do not water by hosepipe, but have underground systems. Will he make provision for that? That question has been asked by a constituent of mine.

Mr. Silkin

Yes. When the Order is finally designated—this is subject to the views of the House—it will be fairly comprehensive.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

I heard my right hon. Friend mention playing fields, golf courses, and so on. I do not think that he mentioned bowling greens. Are they to be included?

Mr. Silkin

I think that the best way will be for my right hon. Friend in winding up the debate to deal with those matters comprehensively. We have not got much time. I might find myself answering many points of detail that could be better answered later.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Before the Minister asks the House to accept the Bill, will he be careful that we do not make fools of ourselves in that every Saturday morning a large quantity of water is used for washing down New Palace Yard, a practice which for some time I have regarded as quite unnecessary?

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The debate seems to be degenerating into a Committee stage. I should like to hear the discussion on Second Reading first.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is a matter for the Minister whether he is prepared to give way.

Mr. Silkin

I think that the Minister had better not give way henceforth, or this will become a Committee stage.

I hope that I am not being too cynical when I say that, while everyone supports the concept of limiting non-essential uses of water. he does so on the basis that his own interest has a claim to special treatment. This is perfectly understandable. But I believe that in practice he has not a great deal to fear, provided—and this is essential—that he thinks hard and realistically about the amounts of water that he uses and makes his own plans now for achieving really significant economies.

I have made it clear to the water authorities that I do not expect them to use their powers under Clause 1 in a way that would involve, for example, a total ban on all watering of sports grounds. I do not intend that if these powers had to be sought in London they would be used to ruin the wicket at Lords or the Centre Court at Wimbledon.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Wait till the Australians get here!

Mr. Silkin

That is another practice that counts as an emergency.

What the water authorities will want to do is to make sure that all the interests concerned really cut down on water use, as I am sure they will be able to do, in a way that makes a substantial contribution to the economy campaign and, at the same time, encourages householders to intensify their own economies. There is nothing more irritating than seeing one's own garden go to ruin while the cricket field over the fence uses sprinklers consistently on the whole of the turf, not just the pitch. I shall encourage the water authorities to use the powers firmly but at the same time flexibly.

An Order under Clause 2 would of course be a very different matter. Under Clause 2 a water authority is given what are, for all practical purposes, blanket rationing powers within the area affected. In a crisis there can be no question, I think, of special exemptions. The job of the water authorities would be to make the best use of the water resources available to them to keep the essential life of the community going. Their job would be to ensure basic supplies for domestic use, to keep the essential services such as the hospitals going, and to do everything possible to meet the basic requirements of industry and of agriculture. Apart from these basic priorities, other demands on water would have to take their chance. I can give no other assurance, and I do not believe the House would want me to do so. I hope that the need for powers of this kind would be limited and that their imposition would be for a relatively short period.

The Government would, of course, be closely involved. Once an Order was granted, the basic powers would rest with the water authorities. But they would operate against the background of national priorities laid down by the Government and would have the benefit of local advisory committees established in the areas affected, bringing in industry, the trade unions, agriculture, the local authorities and the essential services, together with regional representatives of my own Department, of the Department of Industry, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Finally, we have thought it right to provide for a power of ministerial direction when a water authority is exercising powers under Clause 2. We do not intend this as a day-to-day control system that would take responsibility from the water authority, but we see it as the ultimate means of ensuring that the basic priorities are complied with, and that, if a water authority's handling of any particular issue was misconceived, the Government would have the means of putting it right.

There are two other important points about this package of powers which I think I should mention specifically. The first is the question of an appeal system. It has been put to me that there should be some formal appeal system for people aggrieved by the way in which a water authority exercises its rationing powers. I can, of course, understand this, but I do not think it is realistic. In practice, it would cause delay by transferring responsibility for day-to-day management from the water authority to central Government at a time when every moment counts.

As I have made clear, there is formal machinery for ministerial intervention if things are going badly wrong, and there is informal machinery for bringing up points of day-to-day difficulty through the advisory committee that the authority will be establishing. But I think we shall have to face the fact that any rationing system of this kind in an emergency contains an element of rough justice and that it is not feasible to smooth away all the edges.

The other point relates to the inquiry procedure. Schedule I provides that when a water authority applies for an Order, there will be a short period for objections, and then, normally, a public local inquiry. But paragraph 3(2) provides that in cases of real urgency the public inquiry may be dispensed with. I should like to make it clear—indeed, we shall be tabling an amendment to put this beyond doubt—that, where an inquiry is dispensed with under this procedure, the Secretary of State is nevertheless obliged to consider and to take account of any objections that have been made before reaching his decision.

I do not think that I need review in detail the remaining provisions of this short Bill, which are largely self-explanatory. My right hon. Friend will of course be happy to deal with any particular points in his winding-up speech. The one last point that I should like to make is the responsibility that this difficult situation places on each and every one of us. We are not used to drought in this country. As I have said before, we are all too inclined to assume that a single shower of rain will put things right. This is a dangerous illusion. The success of the water authorities' efforts to keep supplies going depends crucially on public co-operation, and I seriously ask everybody in the areas affected to do all he humanly can to save water, not only in his own interest, but for the sake of the community as a whole. I commend the Bill to the House.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)

I begin by endorsing immediately the Minister's final words. Everyone—industry, agriculture and individual householders—has a responsibility for saving water, particularly at this difficult time. As the Minister said, there are some serious problems that have resulted from this hot dry summer. We have all read about the particular difficulties in South Wales, in Plymouth and in other parts of the country.

On this side of the House we welcome the Bill, although we regret the necessity for it. The present situation is unprecedented in 250 years, and the existing procedures are not adequate to deal with it. We regret the need to hurry the Bill through the House, but we recognise that there is an emergency.

All this Bill can do is regulate and ration water supplies. We must all remember that it cannot create water. The Bill also has certain consequences—I think the Minister called it "rough justice"—and these consequences could be harsh for firms, organisations, farmers, horticulturists and individuals. But that must be accepted for the common good.

The House would be failing in its duty if it did not examine the Bill in some detail. There were no amendments in another place, but I am glad that we shall have the opportunity to table amendments between now and tomorrow afternoon so that we can ensure that the Bill is as we should want it to be.

The Bill controls the freedom of people to a major extent. It is based on the fact that we have had a hot dry summer, a relatively dry and warm winter and another dry summer last year. It is also based on the fact that this country has had its warmest weather and its longest drought for 250 years, as have some of our European partners who are now suffering the same problems. As we are in such an exceptional situation, it would be a sensible approach if the whole aspect of climatology—that is looking into the weather and climate trends for this country and Northern Europe as a whole—was considered in depth, and there was some research along the lines of that done by Professor Lamb at the University of East Anglia. Germany to some extent and France more so have very real problems also. Is some form of co-ordinated research being conducted? We should be looking ahead at future climate trends to see whether it is probable that Clause 2 will be needed in the future. If there is a long-term trend towards hot, dry summers in this country this sort of research would be most helpful, and should be done not just on a United Kingdom basis, but on an EEC basis.

The present situation also highlights the problems of democracy in relation to objections to reservoir schemes. While one understands the democratic rights of objectors, they mean that many parts of the country, such as the South-West, are in a worse situation than they would have been if some reservoir schemes had been able to go ahead. The answer to this difficulty may well be underground reservoirs, which are environmentally better, although they do not provide the same recreational possibilities. The Bill is concerned very much with conservation and better and proper use of resources. Therefore, all those who are upset about major reservoir schemes should think very hard indeed when voicing their objections.

The situation, bad though it is, would have been very much worse if we had not had the water reorganisation a couple of years ago on the lines of hydrological basins. As a result of the reorganisation, water authorities have been able to harness very considerable resources and this has made a difficult situation very much better than it would have been had there been the multiplicity of authorities that existed a few years ago.

I am not in any way criticising either of the right hon. Gentlemen who are speaking for the Government in this debate, or the Minister at the Department of Energy, but we seem to be getting into a muddle over the whole subject, of conservation and popular public appeal. The Minister made an appeal to save water and pointed out that we are all involved in conservation. As someone who is involved in marketing, I see the advantage in the simple, easily understood slogan which will get through to people.

Before the drought the South-West Water Authority linked itself with the "Save It" campaign pursued very effectively by the Department of Energy. The slogan "Save It" is appropriate for water use in the hot weather, because not many people will rush around switching on electric fires, gas central heating, or even cookers so much in the summer. "Save It" is a slogan easily understood and ideal in marketing terms. The South-West Water Authority even had all sorts of T-shirts made before the present crisis began, and as a result of its efforts there have been savings of up to 17 per cent. on water consumption.

I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) that the Central Office of Information wrote to the National Water Council warning it off using the "Save It" slogan, which was to be used only for energy saving. If that is so, it is extremely unfortunate. I hope that there will not be interdepartmental bickering about this important subject. Surely what we want to do is to get the message across that saving should be made, whether it be with electricity, gas, or water. For national reasons there is a need to save all of these resources.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Energy on 27th July about the warning which the COI gave to the National Water Council. His letter said: I am afraid that the Central Office of Information wrote to the National Water Council without consulting my officials. They were, however, acting within our general objective—to preserve the well-established link of "Save It" with energy saving. Part of the success of the campaign has been our general ability to persuade people to respect our wish to restrict the use of the slogan to energy conservation. I do not accept that, the general public do not accept it, and I hope that Ministers do not accept it. "Save It" is a first-class slogan that should apply to water as well as to energy. It will be a pity if there is an interdepartmental squabble over this matter.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

On this subject of trying to impress on the public the need to conserve water, I would point out that it applies not only in the South-West and the South but in Kent, which my hon. Friend and I both represent. Would my hon. Friend bear in mind that a number of domestic consumers are dismayed by the fact that while they are required to save water, they see it being used freely in other areas? They cannot understand why there should be exceptions, such as the free watering of sports grounds and the free use of water in mechanical car washing plants. They are dismayed that they must tighten their belts when over the other side of the road water is being used freely on a golf course. This state of affairs will not encourage them and we must do all we can to make people realise that this is for real.

Mr. Speed

That is one of the main justifications for the Bill. The present situation is that we have the 1945 Act, which is far too weak, and the 1958 Act. which is pretty Draconian, and there is nothing in between. My hon. Friend is quite right. People are dismayed when they watch someone pouring water over the whole of a cricket ground—not just the pitch—and at the same time see their roses dying and their broad beans shrivelling up. That sort of thing tempts one to sneak out in the middle of the night and hose one's garden, and that is a highly undesirable and anti-social thing to do.

I certainly accept that in the crisis situation that we are facing it would be entirely unreasonable to use tens of thousands of gallons of water on race courses and other such things when people may he literally in danger of losing their jobs, their businesses, or their livelihoods through lack of water. I think that up to a few years ago most race courses were not watered anyway.

But there are a number of sports interests that are perhaps part of our national heritage. The Minister mentioned the Square at Lords, and there is the Wimbledon Centre Court, Wembley and one or two others that we can think of. We want there to be consultations before there is a risk of the Wembley turf or the Wimbledon Centre Court shrivelling up and being destroyed. There are a number of areas where proper consultation with the sports interests could establish a priority list, and the Minister has indicated that such consultation will take place.

Mr. Russell Kerr

While we are on the special pleadings, may I enter a word for the golf greens, because permanent damage might be done if they are neglected?

Mr. Speed

I accept the point about the golf greens. No doubt my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) would remind me of it if I forgot it. But surely the hon. Member would not expect watering the entire golf course—

Mr. Russell Kerr

No, only the greens.

Mr. Speed

I think that the hon. Member is a director of a golf club very near where I live, and I appreciate therefore that he does not envisage watering the entire course.

I am asking for consultation on a sensible basis in the same way that there is to be consultation locally on matters such as those the Minister has mentioned.

Mr. Farr

May I put my hon. Friend right on one small point? Racecourses have been watered artificially for about 200 years—by horse and cart.

Mr. Speed

I am grateful for that technical advice, but it does not contradict my basic contention, which is that the substantial watering these days, using tens of thousands of gallons of water, did not happen more than 10 or 15 years ago.

There are aspects of the Bill with which we shall be dealing in Committee tomorrow. We are concerned about notice and publicity, because people's convenience and livelihoods and often their living standards are affected. There is the question of compensation and the time for claiming. There is the question, which the Minister has already raised, of whether he can accept objections to a scheme even if a public inquiry has to be dispensed with because of the emergency.

I thank Ministers and their advisers for their great courtesy to myself and my hon. Friends, who, because of the rush to get the Bill through, discussed ways of improving it. These discussions have worked very well, but I do not prejudge what might happen tomorrow. I think that the Bill will emerge from Committee rather better than it went in.

My understanding is that there will be a number of authorities that will want in the near future to use these provisions. I understand that the Bill will be enacted at the end of the week by special arrangements made in another place, and I hope therefore that the House will in no way delay it.

Will the Minister confirm that within the Department arrangements are well advanced on the directions, if that is the right term, so that once the Bill has been enacted those areas of the country that are facing difficulties will be able to take appropriate measures, because certain areas of the country are facing a crisis. We welcome the Bill and we shall do what we can to get it on the statute book as quickly as possible.

5.15 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Barry Jones)

I shall be brief, and I apologise to hon. Members for the state of my voice. There is considerable interest in Wales about the effect of the drought, particularly in South-East Wales. I understand that at present rates of consumption water supplies would be virtually exhausted at the beginning of October, and that is three to four weeks before the normal heavy early winter rains. I stress the word "normal", because nothing has been normal during the last abnormal two years. This is the driest period we have ever recorded in Wales, and there has been nothing like normal rainfall in the Welsh Water Authority's upland gathering areas.

It is against that background, therefore, that the water authority must plan, and if there is no heavy and substantial rainfall coupled with substantial savings by water consumers generally the present restrictions are likely to last for at least three months, and possibly even longer.

Concern has been expressed about home kidney machine users and hospitals. I understand that the authority's water divisions have identified all the dialysis users within their areas, and I have placed my Department's records at their disposal, while dialysis users have been encouraged to operate their units during the daytime. I understand that wherever possible a 24-hour supply is being maintained. Arrangements have been made to ensure adequate supplies to hospitals, and they are one class of essential consumer that will be given priority above others.

It is impossible to give any precise answer on production and employment. Let me deal with restrictions in the Blaenau Gwent and Islwyn areas, where industry consists mainly of small industrial units. These have not so far been greatly affected by restrictions. At a meeting of the Welsh Water Authority's South-East Wales Drought Liaison Committee, on 2nd August, attended by representatives of all the local authorities in South-East Wales as well as of the CBI, the NFU, the FUW, the Federal Chambers of Commerce and Government Departments, the water authority announced that unless there is early and substantial saving by all consumers, together with substantial rainfall in August, industry throughout South-East Wales will have to cut its demands by 50 per cent. from September. The Welsh Water Authority has already appealed to industry to implement economies.

Individual companies are in the best position to decide what measures they can take to reduce their demand. Recycling would have to be decided on the normal criteria adopted by business men, but I know of some industries that have significantly reduced their water demands by such measures. In the present situation I would expect very substantial savings from industry, anyway. I understand that the managing director of a very large pharmaceutical firm in the Pontypool constituency said on the radio on Tuesday that his firm could cut back perhaps up to 20 per cent. by eliminating waste, and that the same went for other firms. If that is so, I would look to industry to take such action straight away, because if it does not production and jobs are at stake.

5.19 p.m.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales has made an important intervention. I am sure that everyone concerned will pay great heed to what he said, and I am sure that the House will not take exception to the fact that we have had three Front Bench speeches in succession, which is most unusual.

It was a very good thing that the hon. Gentleman made his short intervention at this stage. The only comment that I would dare to make, since I am not a member for Wales, although I know Wales very well, is that what the Minister said about industrial users needs underlining. In the generations of plentiful rainfall in this country industrial users have too often decided to avoid the expenditure that should have been made now upon recycling equipment; so they could make a much greater contribution to our water problems. We have reached the stage in the industrial growth of our country and in the growth of our population when this has to be done.

I welcome the Bill, even with its rather stringent powers, which, in my opinion, are fully justified. The Anglian Water Authority will need to start using Clause I powers at once, I understand. My constituency is beginning to look like the Sahara without the oases, if by oases one means the reservoirs which are simply drying up.

In East Anglia we have been greatly dependent upon the River Great Ouse and other rivers. It is becoming difficult to keep the Ouse at its statutory minimum flow. I do not see anything in the Bill dealing with statutory minimum flow. I hope that in replying to the debate the Minister of State will say what is to be done about statutory minimum flow in the event of the dry weather continuing, as it may well do. Abstraction from the River Great Ouse has been reduced a little, but it must be reduced drastically if the statutory minimum flow is to be retained. This is an important matter, and we should be told about it. My constituency and other neighbouring constituencies, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris), depend very much upon Grafham Water. That is now less than half full, with 150 days' supply left, I am told. That sounds hopeful, but if we have another dry winter we shall be in an even worse state next summer. It is not an over-insurance to take steps now to conserve water.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) was right to say that this Bill is concerned with the immediate need for water conservation. It is not an over-insurance to do all we can. It is better to be safe than sorry. The Minister struck just the right note in his speech, but there is one point upon which my advice differs from his. He stressed the lack of rainfall this summer. That has been a contributory factor in this crisis. However, the basic climatic requirement, so I am told, is that next winter we must have a higher than average rainfall to prevent another bad situation at the beginning of next summer. The winter rainfall is the crux of the matter. Snow would do as well, if it were heavy enough.

There is one provision in the Bill that ought to be omitted. I refer to the words "or minimum charge", at the top of page 3. We shall be entering upon an absurdity here if we are not careful. The position is that where water consumption is metered by local authorities a minimum charge is made. That is all right when water is plentiful, but when we want consumers to save as much water as possible it is crazy to make them pay for water which they are asked not to use. Clause 1 retains the power to make them do so.

I have discussed this subject with my own water authority. I have the highest regard for the senior officials in the Anglian Water Authority. As a Government, we placed a difficult task upon them. The authority has the biggest area in the country. We asked it to take on all kinds of efficient and inefficient local authority undertakings. The authority had a devil of a job. It is getting on with it, and I have been impressed with the way in which it is doing the work. However, I disagree with the view that I heard expressed by one official, which was to the effect that even in a drought the minimum charge was justified because the authority must raise money for improving its various systems.

What is the object of the exercise in this drought? Is it to save water, or to obtain money? The Government must make up their mind. Surely on this occasion the vital thing is to save water. The water authorities should do without the right to levy the minimum charge.

There are two points that I want to raise arising from the Minister's speech. He rightly listed the non-essential uses of water that should now be stopped. This may seem a small point, but he did not make it clear whether, when those nonessential uses included such things as fountains, the water used in them is recycled. Was the right hon. Gentleman referring to those who have a little pond in their back garden and who have careful arrangements for recycling the water? Such a use would not dip into water supplies. Are we really to stop the use of private sources of a minor kind? I agree that such things as car washes must be stopped, although I use them. Work on cleaning buildings must be held up. That is an environmental luxury, which we all enjoy, but it must halt. It should be made abundantly plain whether these non-essential uses to which I have referred are to be stopped, even when the water comes not from the public supply but from a reservoir created by a company or by individuals out of their own funds.

Talking of private reservoirs, I am bound to draw attention to the fact that those farmers who had the wisdom, foresight and financial prudence to create their own reservoirs, sometimes with the aid of Government grants, are the people who have benefited in this dry summer. Their reservoirs are pretty well dry by now, but the fact that they had them was a great advantage. I hope that in future thoughts on this matter the Government will consider encouraging more farmers to create their own supplies.

Since I expect that the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) will be speaking—I see him in his place, and we know his views—I must anticipate a point that he will probably make about a national water grid. That will not get us anywhere, certainly not in the short term, and I do not believe that it is the best solution in the long term. Estuarial barrages are the answer. If the right hon. Member would care to visit my constituency and see the Director of Operations of the Anglian Water Authority, which also covers his constituency, I am sure that he would have a valuable exchange of views. Of course, from the point of view of improving inland waterways, by all means: that means, however, that we spend enormous sums of money. But that will not improve water supplies in sufficient time.

In the early hours of one morning in July 1967, I initiated a debate, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) and other hon. Members. In that debate we argued in favour of a recommendation of the Water Resources Board that there should be a feasibility study of a Wash barrage. That recommendation was turned down by the then Labour Government. Three years later the Tory Government gave it the go-ahead, and it was established that without building the barrage it would be feasible to build freshwater impounding reservoirs.

I understand that the Government have stopped further work on that project, which is regrettable. Why has the work been stopped? I must ask the Government, as a matter of urgency, to change their mind. The urgency arises because East Anglia has the driest climate in the United Kingdom and the fastest growing population.

We have been told by the Government that the population of the East Anglian region will increase by 25 per cent. over the next 15 years. That has never happened before in any region in the history of this country. We must have an adequate water supply, not only for the increased population but for the increased consumption. We must go ahead with the Wash scheme. It would be irresponsible not to do so. Having said all that, I welcome the Bill.

5.31 p.m.

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)

I agree with a great deal of what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). It is not only East Anglia that is the problem; it concerns the largest growing area in the country, that of the Anglian Water Authority. There are 40,000 new houses being built each year in the region. It is by far the fastest growing area. It is for the Anglian Water Authority, which is responsible for constituency, to face this most important and difficult problem. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that industry must bear in mind in its present operations, and in planning for the future, that the good Lord did not promise that these islands would be blessed with a generous rainfall for ever and ever.

Our climate has changed from time to time. I do not know whether there is anything in the idea that it may be changing rapidly now. The fact remains that it is impossible for industry and others to plan on the basis that we shall have all the water that we need or want in the years to come.

I have been very much concerned with these matters for many years, and especially in the recent past. Last night in my local newspaper there was a headline which stated: Water: All Set for Standpipes". I refer to an article in theNorthamptonshire Evening Telegraph. The article reads: A crisis meeting will be held next week to discuss emergency plans for water rationing in Northamptonshire. The chances are that those who attend the meeting will give the go ahead to the use of standpipes in the streets of the county…Mr. Alan Simkins, Divisional Manager for the Anglian Water Authority said "— as we all know— 'We have had no significant rainfall and people have continued to consume more water than they should'. Of course, I support the Bill. Until recently the water authorities seemed to be wanting to hide the drought. I do not understand why. Photographs of the empty Pitsford reservoir, which lies on the edge of my constituency, appeared in continental newspapers more than four weeks ago. Some readers of theNew York Herald Tribune, Paris edition, who know roughly where my constituency lies, commiserated with me over four weeks ago. Yet the chairman of the National Water Council, a respected former member of the House, was able to say on 20th July, referring to the drought, that most of the Midlands are not too bad. That may be correct, literally; I do not know. However, I do know that the part of the Midlands that I represent is like a desert. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Sahara Desert. I must not copy him or follow him all the way, but the Midlands area that I represent is like the Gobi Desert. In 20 years' time, if our daily consumption of water doubles, as is forecast, I do not want the chairman's successor's successor to say that that most of England is not too bad.

We have to recognise that there is and has been an appalling drought. Like other hon. Members, I have asked the Leader of the House to provide time for a debate. I believe that both Front Benches owe that to those of us who represent the East Midlands and East Anglia. I say "both", because this responsibility has been shared over the years. Last Thursday I made a point of asking my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House a question about the drought. I asked: Will my right hon. Friend remember that the fact that we are debating the Drought Bill next week in no way absolves the Government and the Opposition from providing time to debate the regular water shortage in eastern England and proposals for a national water grid and the storage of river water in the Wash?"—[Official Report, 29th July 1976; Vol. 916, c. 886.] In other words, I was asking for a debate on the major problem. I am pleased to see that two of my colleagues from Northamptonshire are in the Chamber, presumably with the intention of speaking in this debate. My right hon. Friend could not promise a debate this week, but he thought that some references to the major problem would be in order in this debate.

Those who have squirmed at some of the fatuous television commentaries about the Olympic Games will know that there is nothing as awful as sitting and watching one's garden or farm turn into a dust bowl while hearing radio weathermen talking about the "threat" of some "nasty" showers. The whole of our approach to rain is completely distorted. No one could foresee that last winter and this year would be so dry, but there has been talk for 20 years or more about the chronic water shortage in East Anglia and the East Midlands. It has been recognised that there is a real problem. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire has referred to the problem of the Anglian Water Authority.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

The right hon. Gentleman will recognise, as did my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), that East Anglia is the driest part of the country. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that it makes sense for us to go ahead with the proposed rate of expansion of towns and industries in an area in which we cannot be certain that we shall be able to meet the demand for water in future?

Sir G. de Freitas

No, I am not. I am worried that the provision of water supplies is not keeping up with the provision, for example, of the 40,000 new houses that are being built each year in the area to which I have referred.

This is not only an East Anglian problem, although I know that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is an East Anglian Member and an East Anglian. The Anglian Water Authority also includes Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire, which is a much wider area than East Anglia, and it is that area which must be given greater facilities for water provision.

In the 1950s there were many of us who were interested in this subject. There were meetings upstairs to discuss the problem. I remember two of the subjects that came up for discussion, namely, the national water grid and the idea of having pens or dams inside the Wash. Unfortunately, the project for the national water grid became confused with a scheme for contour canals to bring water from the western part of these islands to the eastern part. The Government of the day confused the two, and the result was that we did not get much done.

I submit that it is time for the Government to study the grid system and distribution not only by canals but also by pipelines and pumping.

The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire referred to my interest in canals and inland waterways. I accept that if we have water brought by pumps and pipes there will be little amenity value. For example, it would be terribly uncomfortable for anyone to use the pipelines for canoeing or angling. However, if the water is brought by contour canals we shall have amenity advantages as well. I want both these matters to be studied and considered one with another.

Another matter that the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, which we discussed many times, is the idea of having darns inside the Wash to take the water from the Witham, the Welland, the Nene and the Ouse. It is absurd that this water should go straight out to the fish in the North Sea. Of course, an ecologist would say that the fish must have this fresh water and that there is some particularly good fishing around that area. However, that must be considered in the light of the problem in the East Midlands and in the light of the feasibility of these dams. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Sport and Recreation will say something about this now, and certainly in the autumn.

We have to recognise that in other parts of the world where people are accustomed to thinking about conditions of drought, such as Australia, people do not let their rivers just pour out into the sea; they bring the water back again and then, in times of flood, they let it go out to the sea. We must consider this. The Government must give it great attention.

I have asked questions over the years, as have other hon. Members, about this problem. My feeling is that Governments of both major parties are to blame for not giving enough attention to it. It is perfectly true that Eastern England and the East Midlands are only one part of the country. However, as successive Governments have decided that these areas should be allowed to expand and become the fastest growing areas, it is up to them to provide the water.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will deal with some of the Committee points that have been made, such as watering golf greens. They are important. As the Minister of State for Sport and Recreation, he should encourage quality and excellence, but I believe that he should compromise and not allow the greens to be watered, but merely the hole, so that when there is a hole-in-one there would be a splash and everyone would be happy. That is an essential compromise.

The Minister of State for Sport and Recreation (Mr. Denis Howell)

Perhaps I may help my right hon. Friend. I agree with what he is asking for. We water the greens. We do not water the fairways.

Sir G. de Freitas

I wanted the watering to be done only for the hole, at the particular point. However, I shall not dwell on that matter.

The Minister must not only concentrate on these Committee points, important as they are; he must also give us some idea of what attention the Government will give to the feasibility study on the Wash.

5.42 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

The right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) started his speech by calling attention to the fact that there has been evidence of this drought for some considerable time. Therefore, I join him in expressing some astonishment that there has been this evidence without this Bill being brought before us at a much earlier stage. The Bill is brought before us at this stage, rushed through at the end of a Session, with only two days in which to consider it. It is coming to us after five seasons of exceptionally low water supply. I appreciate that the Bill is not a great legislative exercise. It is merely a tidying-up of the 1958 Act, which the Minister pointed out was not sufficiently flexible for the present situation. It is a tidying-up of that Act, with some additional powers for the Secretary of State.

One might have expected that the additional powers would not be quite so necessary now as in 1958, now that we have the regional water authorities with their wide geographical powers and resources. Perhaps one would not expect to find in a Bill, at this stage, directions from the Secretary of State such as appear in Clause 1(4). However, as I read the Bill, at least the Secretary of State, through the Minister, will act only on the application of the water authorities for an order.

The Minister has explained to the House that he will set out a list of items which can be forbidden by the order. I am not clear about how identical the Secretary of State's order will be to an application from the water authorities. First, may I ask if there is this list of items which are to be forbidden and if the Minister has them in his mind already, why not set them out in the Bill and let us know exactly what they are? I know the right hon. Gentleman's desire for flexibility in legislation. He always tries to reserve to himself some flexibility in the administration of the legislation of which he has conduct, and I think that he is doing the same here. However, we really want to know what those items will be. Secondly, when the water authority makes application for an order of this sort, will the Secretary of State's order be identical with the application?

In short, will the Secretary of State be taking the advice of the water authorities or the advice of his civil servants in Marsham Street? I have the greatest admiration for those who advise the Secretary of State on these matters in the Department. However, we now have powerful water authorities doing the work on the spot with responsibility for it there. I hope that we shall have the assurance that when they make applications for these orders, it will be their advice on which the Secretary of State will act. It is the water authorities that will have the responsibility of carrying out the orders. I hope that there will not be any sort of nit-picking by the civil servants in Marsham Street, saying "No. we do not think that this ought to be done, but we think that that ought to be done." I have great admiration for the work that they do, but we must rely on the bodies that we have set up as being responsible bodies for looking after the water supply.

I know that the water authorities are not popular with the present Government and that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State for Sport and Recreation has on several occasions criticised them. I have never quite understood what he would put in their place. Would he go back to the hundreds of small authorities? I am sure that that is not really his wish. Would he hand over the job to the counties, with complete disregard of the water catchment areas? Would he hand them over to regional bodies, again with complete disregard for the areas in which water has to be collected?

I raise these points because we now have the water authorities, and, however unpopular they may be with the present Government, they have kept the supply going in these extremely difficult circumstances, which I am told have not occurred in this country in the past 270 years. We have reached this stage without any severe shortage—although, of course, there are matters which must be taken in hand now.

However, these water authorities are not nationalised industries or nationalised boards. They have a very substantial element of democracy, in that 50 per cent. of their membership are local authority representatives. At any rate, they now have the responsibility of looking after these matters and for providing the water supplies. Therefore, I hope that they will be allowed to advise the Secretary of State on what is necessary in these circumstances.

As has been said, to a great extent this is a disappointing Bill in that it is merely dealing with the short-term, narrow problem. Indeed, almost the very first line of the Bill shows how narrowly it is dealing with the matter when it says that the Secretary of State can make this order only if he is satisfied by reason of an exceptional shortage of rain. That is not, however, the only reason for shortage in the water supply. There is the underground water supply. There may be disasters to reservoirs. There may be all sorts of occasions on which perhaps the Secretary of State should take similar powers to those he is giving to himself under the Bill—just on the occasion of exceptional shortage of rain.

The Bill is dealing with only the short-term proposals and not the long-term problem, which is, of course, conservation of our water resources. The whole reason for setting up the water authorities was that we should in future think big, and think big in solving what is a very big problem. The reason why we are now in difficulties in the present drought is that the planning of conservation of our water resources in the past has been lacking in urgency and petty in result. I am not blaming any particular Government. This matter goes back for very many years. We are all to blame for the pedestrian planning of our reservoirs and water supplies. That procedure has landed us in the present position. When an application is made for a reservoir it goes to an inquiry in respect of that one reservoir alone. The conservationists, and the people in the locality, come to object and perhaps it is turned down at that inquiry. We are then back to square one, and another site has to be found for the reservoir. What should be done is that all the sites should go before the one inquiry and the decision should be made there and then. We would never have had any trouble with Kielder if that had been done—if we had had an iniquiry for a number of alternative sites for the reservoir at the same time.

In the past we really have lacked courage in proceeding with our conservation of water. We have lacked courage in respect of going ahead with estuarial barrages. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) mentioned the Wash. I would add the Dee, and Morecambe. We could have gained immense water supplies if we had gone ahead with those projects. I am not blaming the present Government, although I do blame them for stopping the process in the Wash. Under my Government we would have gone ahead with that process. However, we are all to blame for timidity in the development of reservoirs and estuarial barrages in the past.

Perhaps we have been too much concerned not so much with the conservationists as with the retentionists. I have every sympathy with the-protection of the environment but, for example, we refrained from building a reservoir at Swincombe, the bleakest and ugliest spot on Dartmoor, yet forgot the beauty which could have come out of a reservoir, as can be seen only a few miles away, at Barrator. In the past we have not gone ahead to prepare for situations such as that with which we are faced at present. I hope that the lesson we have learned from this drought is that in future we really must proceed in a quicker way in planning for the conservation of our water. That is the warning that I would give. We must not rest on this Bill as though it will solve all our problems; we must proceed with the longer-term solution as quickly as possible.

5.53 p.m.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

I warmly welcome the Bill, and although there are very few occasions when I agree wholeheartedly with the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) I agreed with most of what he said in his speech.

I feel that this should have been done a long time ago. It is apparently a characteristic of our nation that we seem to wait too long before we close the stable door. We have to have an emergency before we do anything about it. I would echo what the right hon Member for Crosby said about conservation measures, when we have the water to conserve. We have not got it at the moment, but when we do we should encourage conservation measures. Other countries do it, and there are many ways of doing it. For example, one can get water from the roofs through pipes to reservoirs. But we do not do that at all. I strongly recommend these conservation measures to the Minister.

Altough we have not got the water to conserve at the moment, I would make a suggestion based on my experience when I lived in New York in 1949–50. We had a drought there which reached serious proportions. In fact, it was so serious, and there was such a shortage of water, that we were asked not even to rinse our milk bottles when we put them out. Everyone got very apprehensive.

The Government adopted two expedients. One was that prayers were said and the second was that they sent up aeroplanes into the clouds and seeded them with dry ice. It worked, and the rains came. I do not know whether it was the prayer that did it, or the seeding of the clouds—possibly it was a combination of both—but I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should at least adopt the process of seeding the clouds with dry ice. I am not excluding prayer. My right hon. Friend might adopt that. In fact, he might adopt both expedients.

5.56 p.m.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

The right hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill with the thoughtfulness and seriousness that this subject warrants. I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly, but I have several questions to raise.

First, on the timing of the Bill, although the Government can do nothing about the lack of rain, they could certainly have done something about the timing of bringing in the restrictions. It is my contention that they have lost precious weeks this summer and that, by losing those precious weeks, we have lost millions upon millions of gallons of water. It is the role of the Government, and their role alone, to anticipate the problems of the nation, to anticipate when natural resources are beginning to run down and to take remedial action.

The background to this Second Reading debate begins to read a little bit like an excerpt from "The Survivors". We know that there are now 1 million consumers in South Wales on restricted water supplies. We know that Clause 1 will be implemented on the first day that the Bill receives its Royal Assent—certainly by the Anglian Water Authority and probably by other water authorities as well.

Yet as far back as the summer of 1975 people in the water industry were beginning to suggest that conservation measures should be taken during the winter of 1975–76. Specific warnings were given at that time, and even if the Government were not prepared to move in the summer of 1975, they should have seen from the rainfall figures in the winter months of October to December that the reservoirs were not being topped up. In fact, the figures that were available showed that in 1974 there was a rainfall of 296 millimetres but that in 1975 it was only 159 millimetres—about half the normal rainfall. It was clear to anyone in the industry that reservoirs and underground supplies were not being filled up.

One has to ask why the Meteorological Office was not banging on the door of the Department of the Environment, pointing out that there would be a crisis this summer. Why was the Ministry of Agriculture quite so complacent when it knew not only that we were to have a potato famine last year, resulting in excessive prices last winter, but that we were likely to have another one this winter, as well?

Mr. Denis Howell

Why did not the hon. Gentleman raise the matter?

Mr. Morris

In fact, I did, on 3rd May, by a Private Notice Question on the first day back after the recess. I asked the Government what they intended to do, but they said that it was only a localised problem and, given normal rain during the summer, we could relax and all would be well.

The truth is that Ministers should have known, as anyone knows who has now studied the matter, that however great the summer rains might have been, they would have made hardly one iota of difference to the general situation. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. He knows jolly well that it would have made no difference even if we had had monsoon-type rain.

On 23rd June, I tried to raise an emergency debate under Standing Order No. 9. My effort failed, and again the Government contended that the problem even then was no more than local, and that there was no need for immediate action on a national basis. We shall have to wait until Friday of this week, after Royal Assent, for some action from the Government. I can only say that if the Minister could not have foreseen the problem last winter he had more than enough notice to see it in the early part of this summer.

I turn now to the Bill itself. Other hon. Members have commented on its complexity, and it is, indeed, a complex measure for what should be a relatively simple procedure to meet an emergency. Clause 1 is concerned with non-essential users. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for spelling out his provisional list when he opened the debate, but what I and others want to know is whether there are safeguards to prevent individuals or companies from being unfairly discriminated against.

For example, I imagine that none of us would suggest that in a crisis such as this automatic car washers should have priority. On the other hand, we must be careful to ensure that, just because they happen to to conspicuous water users, there is not an automatic blanket stopping of all automatic car washers throughout the country.

There are many industries whose use of water is seasonal, whose viability depends on the use of water for a few weeks. I hope that the Minister will assure us that, in any instructions which they send out, water authorities will show some understanding of the complexities of different businesses and the seasonal nature of their work.

Second, may we have confirmed for the record that although the Government dislike the private water companies the powers of those companies remain every bit as great as those of the regional water authorities under the provisions of Clauses 1 and 2?

Clause 2 is the vital clause, and I assume that it will be put into force straight away in South Wales. May we have an assurance that although the powers will be implemented for a period of three months, with an extension, if required, to five months, the extension of powers will be closely monitored? It is all too easy to implement restrictions and have them left in force for quite a time.

I regret to say that I do not share the appreciation of the top management of the Anglian Water Authority expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). I exclude from that criticism the manager for the Northampton area, from whom I have had the utmost cooperation. Moreover, not only do I have some scepticism about the senior management; the Northampton Borough Council and the Northampton Chamber of Commerce. together with many of my constituents, feel the same scepticism.

I mention that because there is a danger that these sweeping powers may be used in a cavalier fashion, and I earnestly hope that the Government will keep an open door so that, if a regional water authority oversteps the mark, they will be available to receive representations from the hon. Members during the recess, when we shall be unable to put Questions to them.

I turn now to the implications for the future. I believe that the future rainfall prospects are not good. The long-range weather forecast for August is that it will be dry, with next to no rain, and the soothsayers tell us that September also will be dry. The Minister knows that over two years ago Professor Lamb made his forecast that our climate was changing. The Meteorological Office pooh-poohed the idea at the time, saying that it came from some quack working in East Anglia. I do not know who is right. All I know is that somebody ought to be studying climatic changes, and there should be at least some Government money put into studying this important matter. What support do the Government propose to give Professor Lamb, and how many people are working on climatic studies in the Meteorological Office?

There are resources throughout the country which are not part of the public water supply at present. In almost every village in Northamptonshire—indeed, probably in the whole of East Anglia—there is a village pump. All of these are now closed off. Do the Government propose to suggest to the regional water authorities—which blithely say that none of them are needed—that they ought to consider opening up those pumps and wells? Moreover, there are many farms and estates which have underground reservoirs which have not been used in recent times. This water may be unfit for human consumption, but it is certainly good enough for irrigation, and probably good enough for cattle and other animals. If it is good enough for human consumption, we ought to know that it is, but I have to say—again, this may be a reflecttion on the Anglian Water Authority—that there is nowhere in Northampton where one can go to test water taken from the ground to ascertain whether it is in fact fit for human consumption.

There is evidence already that industry can make considerable savings. In my own constituency, for example, the Carlsberg brewery has saved between 35 per cent. and 40 per cent. of the water that it would normally consume, and that at a time of record sales. On the other hand, the electricity industry is probably the biggest single user of water in this country, and I urge the Minister to ask the Department of Energy to consider the possibility of reducing the amount of water used in the production of electricity in the hard hit areas, and of increasing the effort in areas which are not so hard hit.

I come now to the matter of publicity, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) referred. It is extraordinary that each regional water authority should do its own thing, each making a separate television film for an appeal to save water, each producing a different slogan, and each going to all the expense involved. With the best will in the world, as one who came to the House from the communications business, I say to the Minister "For heaven's sake, cannot someone get a grip on all these different campaigns, which are costing more money than they need and are less effective than they ought to be?".

The Government should now stop pretending that there is no major problem. They should spell out to the country the implications for our home-grown food supplies, especially vegetables. They should explain the likely impact on food supplies generally. They should spell out to industry in no uncertain terms the implications for employment unless there is a dramatic cutback in the consumption of water.

As someone who, since April, has tried to look at this problem in some depth, I should like to know whether the Government have any priority plans to transfer water if it does not rain. What are their plans in areas like East Anglia, the South-West and South Wales? Is it to be left to the regional water authorities or are there contingency plans? Unlike gas, electricity or oil, water is too important, and it cannot just be left to chance.

The Government have been too complacent about this problem this summer. I am not asking for panic measures, but I am urging Ministers to respect the fact that this is a grave problem and to take action now during the recess on contingency plans, in case it does not rain this autumn—so that they are not caught with their pants down next summer as they were this summer.

6.11 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) has taken the Government to task for acting too late. I do not know whether he has sought the view of the National Water Council about whether the Government are too late. I suspect that he has not. But in the view of this side of the House it is that body which should have been a national water authority, had we had our way two years ago. Then the hon. Member would have seen the coordinated film appeal and the other things that he was asking for.

When the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) took us to task, he forgot that it was this party which not only agreed to the concept of a hydrological authority but asked for the local democracy of which he boasted. The differences between us were on questions of size and democracy. If there is any blame it falls on both sides of the House, but not on this side when it comes to the record of the Water Act.

In another place, Lords Ritchie-Calder and Wigg drew attention to long-term climatic change and the degree to which we have taken that into account. I was disappointed that in replying to the debate Baroness Birk said that the Government were taking the advice of the Meteorological Office but would take account of climatological studies which were taking place in Norwich and elsewhere.

The sciences of meteorology and climatology are related—I will not spend time spelling out the connection—but they are to some extent distinct. I hope that the Minister will be able not only to tell me that the Government are taking account of the climatological studies which are taking place, in other parts of the world as well as in this country, but to make a statement about their conclusions.

From what I have heard of the National Water Council's view on this matter, it does not now know whether this is a temporary or longer-term matter. It may be that only a few months will show which it is. I am afraid that what the Baroness said is not entirely satisfactory, therefore, to some of us here. I hope that the Government will take more effective steps along the climatological road as well as the shorter-term meteorological road which is perhaps not so well fitted for this matter.

The balance of water supply in this country is critical. Although we have notionally a lot of water, two-thirds or three-quarters of it disappears into the air straight away by evaporation or transpiration. In South-East England, including the whole of the area of the Anglian Water Authority, the average water availability is only about six inches of rain per year or less for run-off purposes or for use for water supplies.

If the dry spell continues, the requirements of agriculture for irrigation will be greater at the very time when fluid water supplies are decreasing. Combining that with the fact that the soil itself is its own best reservoir and can absorb up to five or seven inches of rain, one sees that the critical balance at the moment in water supply is perhaps of greater criticality than many hon. Members realise.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain the term "fluid water supplies"? What other water supplies can there be?

Mr. Spearing

I must apologise to the hon. Member for having gone too quickly. I meant supplies which are available to man, which are stored in either pipes or resrvoirs and are, therefore available in fluid form. Curiously enough, my point was that a large amount of water in the soil is not strictly in fluid form. There can be five to seven inches of water in the soil which is not in liquid form, and for agricultural purposes that is the important thing. At the moment, we do not have that. Even if it rained for a long time, much of the water would go into the soil and not be available in what I have incorrectly called fluid form for our public water supply.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) referred particularly to the concept of a water grid. One or two hon. Members were less than fair to the work which was done by the Water Resources Board under two Governments. In 1970 it produced a two-volume report, which may be slightly out of date now but which went a long way towards looking at the question of a national water grid. Map 5 of that excellent study is well worth attention. I am not saying that the preferred strategy in that map is the one that we should now go for.

I understand from the National Water Council that aspects of this matter have been studied by it and by the Central Water Planning Unit at the Department of the Environment, which have probably modified these proposals. But it is unfair to suggest that work has not been done. It has been. It may have been held back by the weakness of the central structure which is now in the Water Act of 1973. It is the lack of a strong national body, which I think everyone would now favour, which is central to the Minister's consultation document on the review of the water industry in England and Wales. Whether it goes as far as the visionary grand contour canal scheme, I do not know.

I should like to see a series of waterways and associated lakes and reservoirs at contour level around the country. Certainly those who do not like motorways would probably welcome waterways. They are built probably by much the same machines. If there are spare machines and men available, this may be a future possibility. Certainly it would be better than pipes. It has been said that the storage capacity of the proposed canals would not be great, but their ability to transfer water from one place to another would be.

I should like my right hon. Friend the Minister to answer three specific questions. The first is related to the minimum flow of rivers. Of course we want all the water we can get, hut rivers renew themselves and maintain their oxygen supply largely through their fall over weirs or natural rocks. If one reduces the amount of flow in a natural river too much o'er the artificial weir, the oxygen content and the water level will go down. This is well understood by water authorities but I hope that it can be borne in mind.

Secondly, can the Minister say anything about saline penetration of the water table in coastal areas? That is particularly important hi parts of eastern England where drawing upon the low level of water underground may have induced saline penetration. This could be a long-term problem, and we wish to avoid that.

Finally, does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever rainfall we get this winter, it will be necessary to maintain strict water-saving measures, though perhaps not as Draconian as those provided in the Bill, because even with an average or more-than-average rainfall in the next two or three years we shall not be able to recharge our underground water supplies which are the main supplies on which we rely in South-East England and many other parts of the country? The Bill will help, but I agree with all those who have said that unless we are very lucky we may have longer-term problems of great complexity which will engage the attention of the House in the future.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)

I read on the front page of yesterday's issue of theWestern Mail: Nearly one million people in south Wales will have their water supplies cut off overnight from next Monday in a bid to fight the drought. "Overnight" means from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m., 13 hours. And industry will have to cut its water consumption by half from the end of this month if there is not substantial rainfall or hig water savings in the next few weeks. It is of Wales that the report speaks. Wales is so well-endowed with water that it supplies the people and industry of a great part of the West Midlands, Cheshire and Merseyside, and yet there is this critical shortage. The people who get water from Wales pay about half or one-third of what is paid by the people in Wales. This is happening at a time when Wales should be able to attract industry by the development of Welsh water for its own needs.

Wales is unique. Water is important in every country, but it is particularly important in industrial countries. The importance of water as a national resource cannot be exaggerated. It has been described as "white gold". Plaid Cymru has always contended that this resource, like all other Welsh natural resources, should be developed in the first place for Wales in the interests of the people of Wales. The present critical shortage in Wales has arisen because that has not been done.

Water in Wales has been exploited in the interests of huge, wealthy and powerful industrial conurbations not far from the Welsh border which have been empowered to exploit Welsh water resources by Parliament, Government and the State. We see in this issue of water a classic illustration of the domination and exploitation of Wales and her resources by the State.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

Would it not be fair to say that there are hundreds of thousands of Welshmen in England enjoying the water and all the other resources of England?

Mr. Evans

I agree that there are in England many hundreds of thousands of Welshmen who should have had work in Wales and who are in England because there was not work in Wales for them. As individual people they are able to enjoy the Welsh water, but I am illustrating the domination of Wales by the State, which in Parliament and in Whitehall is called the nation. There is confusion between "State" and "nation".

I took an active part in the defence of Cwm Tryweryn in Merioneth, one of the valleys of Wales which has been drowned. The first the people heard of Liverpool's intention to drown the valley was what they read in the Press. The whole people of Wales united against the villainy which included the destruction of the local community. The fight was carried on in the House of Lords at great cost and in the House of Commons. Only one Welsh Member of Parliament voted for the measure, yet it went through the House with a huge majority. So much for democracy in Wales.

When in 1973 the Conservative Government nationalised Welsh water—and in doing so expropriated £300 million worth of property belonging to Welsh local authorities without one penny compensation—the interests of England were carefully safeguarded. The main Welsh consequence of that measure in the next year was rocketing water rates.

The current critical water shortage in Wales will cause great domestic distress among nearly half the population of our country for more than half the day, but it will also possibly cause increased unemployment in a country where unemployment is already higher than it is in any other region or country of this island.

Mr. Barry Jones

The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating slightly. It is simply not possible for the water supplied in bulk to water authorities in England to be redeployed to the critical drought area of South-East Wales. I would have expected from the hon. Gentleman a more charitable and more informed approach. I cannot see how matters could be improved overall if what is now an emergency situation in Wales were to become a transferred emergency situation in England.

Mr. Evans

My contention is not the contention of the Under-Secretary of State in what he read from a prepared intervention. It is rather that in the past Welsh resources have not been developed in the first instance in the interests of the Welsh people. The shortage will probably mean increased unemployment.

I read, again from yesterday'sWestern Mail, what Mr. Ian Kelsall, Secretary of the Confederation of British Industry, said: there will be a very wide range of industry which would be very badly affected. These are the food industries, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the paper industry, some branches of textiles and some engineering companies which use a lot of water for cooling purposes. It is possible that some firms might have to close down altogether and rather more might have to go on to a three-day week. In a minority of firms processes are such that they could not possibly work a shortened week. I am reminded of Aneurin Bevan's quip at a time of coal shortage, when he said that it took the genius of the Government to produce a coal shortage in a country which was bursting at the seams with coal. We have this water shortage in Wales, a country that is almost flooded with rainfall for a great part of the year.

The water shortage is not due to a low annual rainfall or to a lack of impounded water, any more than Wales's poverty and unemployment have been due to a natural poverty of resources. The causes are political. They are a consequence of misgovernment and they result from the exploitation of Wales as an internal colony. The exploitation of Welsh water and other natural and human resources is inherent in the present political system, which not only permits but encourages that kind of exploitation.

If Wales had been self-governing, her natural resources would have been developed in the best interests of the people of Wales and the flow of Welsh water to Welsh homes and Welsh industry would have taken precedence over the flow of Welsh water to the great industrial English conurbations. The water shortage is as much the result of the Welsh people's lack of political power as was the transfer of 500,000 people from Wales to England in the inter-war years to get work in England. The Government should be warned that the water issue in Wales—

Mr. Denis Howell

I represent a city which gets a large measure of its water from Mid-Wales. That was done entirely on a local authority basis, and the city put up a lot of capital and increased the rateable value of Wales in the process of doing it. That was not an exploitation of Welsh resources on behalf of the industrial Midlands, because Wales was governed by local authorities and was self-governing for this purpose just as was Birmingham. There is no reason why Welsh local authorities in the past should not have taken a leaf out of Birmingham's book and made a similar capital investment for its own purposes. Wherever the blame may be put, that has nothing to do with the ludicrous nationalistic argument that the hon. Gentleman is advancing.

Mr. Evans

The situation is due to the political system. If we had had control of these resources in Wales in the past, if we had had control of our own life in the past, we would have developed this and all the other great mineral resources that we have in our own interests.

Water in Wales is an issue which can be a political catalyst, just as oil is in Scotland. The Government should take note of this fact. Widespread support has been given to our demand for a truly national Welsh water authority covering the whole of our national territory and empowered not only to charge a fair price for the water that goes to England from Welsh reservoirs but also to develop Welsh water resources in the interests of Wales in a way which will prevent the kind of situation which has now arisen.

If the Government insist on imposing on us another English national water authority with power over Welsh water, as they are likely to do, greater support will be enlisted for the one party which fights for Welsh interests and the one party which wants to get control in the hands of the Welsh people over all our resources.

6.32 p.m.

Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)

It is a trifle regrettable that the Minister for Planning and Local Government has been away from the Chamber for nearly an hour during this very brief but important debate.

Having registered that point, perhaps I may recall the day a month ago when the right hon. Gentleman announced in the Chamber his intention to introduce the Bill. At that point I registered my modest disappointment that the right hon. Gentleman had nothing to say about the metering of water supplies. His response was that he was concerned with the immediate crisis and not with long-term issues.

The very next morning I was absolutely delighted to read in the national Press that in Holland, whose people are just as clean and just as thirsty as we are, and where their domestic water supplies are metered, consumption per head is fully one-third lower than it is in this country.

The Bill is a business-like measure, even if it has been introduced rather late. It confers some sensible additional powers where they are needed. It is a good Bill as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. I have an uneasy feeling that many of us will be in the Chamber one afternoon in August 1977 again debating a water shortage. I have an uneasy feeling that this problem will not go away. It will not solve itself.

It is time that the Government looked beyond the next few very difficult weeks. It is time that they recognised the ever-increasing demand for water and the ever-decreasing supply of water. It is time they set up a Royal Commission to consider the costs and benefits of metering water supplies and to make recommendations. So far, research on this subject has been haphazard and not coordinated. Information has been scanty and evidence has been inconclusive.

I know that the National Water Council has produced a report. The message coming from that report is that further investigation is needed. The House already knows that for the last 100 years Malvern has been metered and is unique in that sense. Householders there pay for their water according to the quantity they use. In all, there are some 10,000 meters in Malvern and the population is about 30,000. The meters there are read by an electronic device called a meter interrogator which is plugged into a socket outside the house. The interrogator reads the meter inside the house and records it. It not only does that, but it cleans the slate so that the meter is set back to zero ready for the next check. What can be said with certainty about Malvern is that the citizens there consume less water than the average.

There is also, as the Minister of State will know, a modest experiment going on at Fylde in Lancashire, where 500 families agreed to take water meters into their houses. It was stipulated that at the end of the year they should not have to pay more for their water than they were already paying under the ordinary system. The message coming through from Fylde is that water is being saved.

May I say how delighted I am that the Minister for Planning and Local Government has arrived in the Chamber?

I have seen some really remarkable figures from across the Channel. In a little country like Belgium, recent checks have been made of average consumption of water per head of population per day. In Brussels, where supplies are metered, the figure is 125 litres per day, whereas just down the road in Antwerp, where supplies are not metered, the consumption is 167 litres per day—some 34 per cent. higher.

The day is certain to come when gas and electricity meters in the home are joined by water meters as well. Water, just like food, clothing, shelter and other essentials of life, must sooner or later be regarded as a commercial commodity, a commodity paid for according to the quantity used.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am following my hon. Friend's speech with interest. I agree with him entirely about the principle of metering. From his great experience, will he help me on two difficulties? First, how does one put metering into the old multi-occupation places in the great cities? Secondly, how does one meter the dirty water as well as the clean water in each home?

Mr. Hamilton

I do not claim to be an expert in this subject, but I think that it is exceedingly important that a full, high-powered investigation should take place immediately. I am certain—I believe my hon. Friend will agree with me—that there must come a point where the fixed cost of metering is less than the value of water which metering saves.

Therefore, I do not relish the thought of spending another August afternoon here in 1977 discussing a water shortage. I hope that the Government will approach this problem rather more fundamentally. I hope to see a major investigation set in train. I hope to see a programme of conversion initiated. It may well need to be spread over 10 or 20 years, because I appreciate the economic implications. I believe that only thus can we control the supply of a limited commodity. I greatly hope that tonight the Minister of State will say something about the important question of metering.

6.40 p.m.

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

Like everyone else, I recognise the need for the Bill and welcome the way in which the Minister introduced it. My hon. Friends were correct to ask why it was not introduced two or three months ago. Throughout the winter we could see that the rainfall was less than average and that crops were not getting the water they needed, and after consultation with the water authorities, we realised that they were becoming worried.

I live in a part of the country where for hundreds of years our main concern has been to get rid of water. A friend of mine who was chairman of a number of water drainage boards used to tell me that he did not want rain from the time he finished getting in his potatoes until Christmas Day. Today, however, things have changed. Near where I live is a great scheme which was begun in about 1956 as a result of the East Coast surge. Today we are using the channels created by that scheme to take water to Essex by a long underground pipe from Hock-wold. We should try out more of such schemes.

One of the first Bills that I considered as an hon. Member was an opposed Private Bill dealing with Cow Green Reservoir. We were never allowed to see that reservoir. I wanted to visit it by helicopter but I was told that the rainfall was so great there that a helicopter would not be able to land. I was the only one of the four members of that Private Bill Committee—which studied maps and plans and heard about the Teesdale violet and much of the wild life in the area which was being damaged by the reservoir—who was against the scheme. There were 11 reservoirs in one river valley, and I knew that if we did not look out much agricultural land would be covered by water.

We must be careful, and I urge my hon. Friends not to be too enthusiastic about other reservoir schemes. We lost 5,000 acres in Rutland, which is a small county that cannot afford to lose good agricultural land. There are many places where the land is not good and where we could increase the facilities to provide water, but to put reservoirs on scarce agricultural land creates more problems than it solves.

The effect of the drought on the light lands in my area has been disastrous. Crop yields that would have averaged 30 to 35 cwt. of cereals have been reduced to 10 or 12 cwt. I warn that next year there will be a severe shortage of potatoes. Whether we achieve a good sugar beet crop is still in the lap of the gods and depends upon the rainfall. Consumers will be short of potatoes and other vegetables.

I am pleased that the Anglian Water Authority, which covers a large area, was formed. It went through many teething troubles, but our difficulties would have been greater if there had been a large number of minor drainage and water authorities covering the same area. My party was courageous in pushing through the Bill in the teeth of great opposition.

Although I welcome the Bill, it will not solve the problem of a dry winter and summer next year. We must look to the future. Professor Lamb, from East Anglia, has made some alarming forecasts. I attended a meeting in Paris at which a report was presented from the OECD in which it was predicted that the weather would change in the next 10 to 15 years to give us much drier summers than in the past.

Emphasis must be put on saving. I hope that industrial consumers will be hammered hard to save everything they can, because industry wastes an enormous amount of water. New ways of transferring water from one part of England to another must be examined. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton) that unless we charge for water at its full cost it will not be saved. I am convinced that that must be done before long.

6.47 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

The Bill is a serious, even Draconian, step, but it is necessary and it has my support. This country happens to have possibly the best water supply industry in the world, and as a result we have come to take water for granted. We suppose that it is something that simply happens whenever we turn on the tap, and I suspect that the Bill will be a signal to our people that they must stop taking water for granted. It is a scarce natural resource which is too expensive to collect, transfer, clean and distribute to be wantonly wasted, polluted or flushed away at a rate of two gallons every time a child goes to the bathroom.

When I was at the Department of the Environment I learned that there were two sides to the question: first, the dynamic rate of increase in demand and, second, the comparatively static rate of increase in supply. The difference between those two aspects causes the problem.

Today we are concentrating on the temporarily diminished supply due to the drought, and that is a serious matter. I have seen my lawn perish and seen the trees I planted for the third year running die. My constituents and others are desperately worried. It is, however, possible to get the matter out of proportion. The situation is serious but it is not hopeless, and I am sure that that is the Minister's judgment.

I shall concentrate on one particular aspect of the problem—the dramatic increase in demand. Today we use about 50 gallons of water per person per day, of which half goes to industry and the other to domestic use. It is anticipated that by the end of the century the consumption of water will increase to 90 gallons per person per day. The reason for that increase is our rising standard of living which generates more use of water in the home, in the garden and for washing our cars. In addition, the industries that are growing the fastest tend to be those which have the largest requirement for water—paper, steel, electricity and chemicals. Any Government have a duty to meet the demand, because water is an absolute. Without it we do not live.

There are three solutions, easy to state but difficult to achieve. The first is to make more water available. God Almighty will not send us more. Therefore, we must use what we get much more intelligently. This will require more reservoirs, but I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) that reservoirs are not the best way to make more water available. It could be that from time to time charging the aquifers, moving water from one area into the aquifers of another, is more effective, because if we spread water out in a reservoir all that we are guaranteeing is more evaporation. It is far more intelligent to keep it below the ground in the aquifers.

There must he much more ambitious transfer schemes. I look forward to the day, which I believe will come before long, when water from the Severn is lifted into the chalk pits of the upper areas of the Thames and allowed to flow down into the water-hungry areas of South-East England. That is the national grid that we shall have by using our rivers and aquifers as an intelligent way of transferring resources from the western and northern parts of the country to the southern and eastern parts.

The second solution is to make better use of the water that we already have. Above all, this requires that there should be less waste. People can do a great deal to reduce their consumption. It would be otiose for me to list all the various ways in which that could be done, but information available to me in the Department of the Environment was that 10 to 12 per cent. of our water was wasted because of leaking pipes. Many of the old joints in pipes put in the ground in the nineteenth century leak. It is very difficult to detect the leaks, but the water authorities try to do so. I hope that the Minister can say something about a concentrated effort by the authorities to reduce the leakage of water in the supply system.

The second way to make better use of the water we have is to recycle the dirty water into the clean. I do not know whether the Minister drank any water during his speech, but if he did it had almost certainly gone through two or three other people before reaching the right hon. Gentleman, and after it leaves him it will go through two or three other citizens of London before it finally reaches the sea. That is quite proper. We are now perhaps recycling water more than any other country.

However, there is a problem, and we have a committee on water quality. If water is recycled several times through the alimentary systems, problems can arise. At one period during the sewerage workers' strike it came to my attention that the increasing use of the pill by the female population of certain parts of the Thames Valley was showing up in the recycled water. Photo-spectroscopic techniques show the impact of the pill on certain water supplies. I hasten to add that I do not believe that there is any danger of the male population of London losing its virility as a result of drinking recycled water, but I ask the Minister to tell the House that the Government have in mind the whole question of the quality of water and the effect upon it of recycling. We must recycle more water if we are to make best use of it.

It was precisely because of the need for water transfer, the need to recycle and the need to use our rivers and aquifers that we introduced the 1973 measure, based on the whole concept of the hydrological cycle and the idea of river basins working as a whole.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton) spoke about meters. I have no doubt that economic charging would bring about a reduction of waste. My hon. Friend's analogy with electricity and gas supplies is reasonable, but I understand that there are practical problems. One is the difficulty of retro-fitting multi-occupation dwellings in the big cities at high capital cost. I should not be surprised if that cost ran into several hundreds of million of pounds. But is there, perhaps, a case for requiring all new houses to be equipped with meters, so that at least from now on people will know the position? If it is objected that that would mean some people had meters and others did not, the answer is that the market mechanism could take care of the problem, because people would be able to choose whether to live in a house with a meter or without.

The 1973 Act is being tested perhaps more than any other piece of major legislation. First, it had to face a new Government who, at least in Committee, had committed themselves to replacing the Act. They certainly wanted to introduce some reforms, particularly of the powers of the centre. The basic structure and concept of the Act has stood that test. I sincerely congratulate the Minister on having concluded that some changes might have been made at the centre but that the basic structure should remain.

However many criticisms my hon. Friends and I may make from time to time about the activities of individual regional water authorities, we owe the men and women at all levels in our great water industry a vote of thanks and appreciation for the job they are do in providing water better in this country than in any other I know.

6.58 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

Without wishing to underestimate the seriousness of the situation, I do not like the title of the Bill. It should be the Water Bill 1976, particularly because of its long-term implications. Although parts of it deal with the present emergency, there are others with serious long-term implications, on which I seek three assurances from the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill has a certain track record for producing titles of Bills to expedite their parliamentary passage. Some of us remember the Community Land Bill. One cannot help feeling that the emergency title of "Drought Bill" adds to the necessity for speed and reduces the opportunity to debate this important subject fully.

I am very conscious that I have been a persistent opponent of reservoirs, whether they involved covering the gentians up in the North-East or flooding much of the consistency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis). Representing a Lincolnshire constituency, now suffering in the Anglian Water Authority area the worst drought in its history, I must say how wrong we were to oppose those reservoirs.

In Lincolnshire, we are already benefiting from the Empingham Reservoir. An emergency scheme has been put in hand by the Anglian Water Authority to pump water from the Empingham Reservoir into the brook at Colsterworth to top up the water supply in South Lincolnshire to enable the food-processing industries to continue dealing with crops. Rutland water is already being let down the Gwash River to provide water for Peterborough via the Maxey Cut. Licences have already been issued in Lincolnshire, and were not opposed, for the pumping down of the artesian wells to a lower level. This has had a serious effect on private farm supplies.

What happens where the general water table falls is that the farm wells do not fill up as quickly as they do normally. It takes nearly a whole day for the water level to be restored. I should like an assurance that if there is to be this pumping of artesian wells, as there will have to be, there will be some method of speeding up the process by which farmers can get licences for other extraction without the farm supplies running dry. There has been great co-operation from the Anglian Water Authority in the areas where farm supplies have failed. Standpipes have been made available at the roadside. There are alternative non-portable water supplies for which licences are needed, and there is a need to speed up the issue of those licences.

I would also like the Minister to recognise that there are people who already have metered supplies and have paid for their water and have put in a great deal of capital expenditure, and who are depending on using the water for which they have already paid. It is very easy to criticise the car wash. A car wash can be worked once, not twice, thus saving water without putting the capital equipment out of use. I shall not further develop the need for all new property to be metered.

The Anglian Water Authority estimates that in the area of Lincolnshire and East Anglia the capital involved in connecting one new house to the water supply is more than £1,000. The cost of adding a meter to that would not be very great.

I next wish to raise the position of sport as a whole and the racing industry in particular. It is easy to talk about golf courses, tennis courts, cricket pitches and race courses as non-essential. The right hon. Gentleman knows that new turf must have water whether it is in the goalmouth or on the landing side of a fence. If new turf is deprived of water, this will do a year's damage to a cricket pitch or a racecourse.

There are people who would say that recreation and amenity are just as important to keep going for people as are some of the household purposes, where I am convinced that many more economies can be made. No one would say that racing is a priority user of water. When it comes to grading the non-essential use of water—I know that the Minister of Sate is sympathetically inclined—surely the racing industry must come into a special category. We know of the £100 million that it provides through betting and betting duties. There are about 62 courses in this country, 36 of which are watered by non-potable water pumped out and sprayed on the ground—surface water that is readily available. Some eight or nine courses obtain water from the metered public supply and 18 have no facilities whatsoever.

We are just at the start of the jumping season. A horse going over a fence hits the ground with a pressure of about 8 tons on his front feet. It is important that the turf on the landing side of the fence should be good. We can get away with hard going provided that we have a good covering of turf. This is what the show jumpers are saying at the moment. When it comes to the consultation which the Minister promised after the Orders have been made, I hope that consideration will be given to the fact that the watering of certain parts of race courses is essential to the racing industry as is water in certain other processes in many other industries. It is the need for consultation which is worrying people at the moment.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) has already paid tribute to the sympathetic way in which the Anglian Water Authority has behaved. On the other hand, some of us are disappointed about the way that recreation is treated by that water authority. The recreation representatives are non-voting members of that authority. As the Bill contains long-term measures, I seek an assurance from the Minister that racing authorities will be satisfied with the process of consultation that he is to set up once he has laid down the guidelines under which a water authority will make its order.

In conclusion, I should like to pay a special tribute to the way in which the Anglian Water Authority has handled the situation in Lincolnshire and the trouble it has taken over the food-processing industries, which are so important in my constituency and which use such a lot of water. I should like also to draw the Minister's attention to the helpful attitude of the local fire brigade, which has carted non-potable water long distances to fill up farm reservoirs and to help with the spraying programme over the last few months.

I am sorry that we cannot debate this matter in greater depth. Water is the limiting factor in all development. As I drive up to Lincolnshire at the weekend, I cannot help noticing how nearly all the villages in North Lincolnshire are clustered along the spring lines on the wolds where the water falling on the chalk hit the clay and came out in the spring. This limited and dictated the early development of the county just as the present water shortage may well limit and dictate further development of the county.

7.8 p.m.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

This has been a very strange debate because, with the exception of the speech made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), we have had a great deal of blame thrown from one end of the House to the other. If water had fallen as lavishly as insults were sprinkled across the House, we would hardly have had any shortage at all.

Sir David Renton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Freud

I have only just started —but for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, yes.

Sir David Renton

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has heard all the opening speeches in the debate. If he had, he would not have made that unjustified comment.

Mr. Freud

I was referring only to those speeches which I had heard. If there were speeches by people who shed no insults, I apologise unreservedly.

It seems to me that the situation is quite simply that there is a grave shortage of water. We will not get any more water by blaming someone for not having done something sooner. It is quite pointless to spend long hours of a debate saying that this should have been done two or three years or one year ago. The situation is that somewhere between the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Almighty, not necessarily in that order, we now have less water than we need. It is important to remember that the domestic sector is much better able to cope with water economy than is industry, agriculture or horticulture.

I also believe that the sense of responsibility of the average person in this country is vastly underrated. There has hardly ever been a time when an appeal was made to the people of Britain to which they did not respond magnificently. A vast amount of water is wasted in the domestic sector. If people were told the truth responsibly and fully they would, I am convinced, make the requisite economies and take the size of bath we used to take during the war when we realised that saving water mattered.

It takes around 11½ gallons of water to produce one pint of beer. Obviously, one thinks what a great solution it would be if everyone who drank beer drank two pints a day less. That would mean a saving not only of 23 gallons but also of six gallons used in twice flushing the lavatory.

However, I wonder whether a very much better solution would not be to look at the different industrial users of water and learn lessons from those who are able to make savings and use less water than their competitors.

The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) said he has in his constituency a brewery that is able to use 40 per cent. less water than do other breweries. I suggest that the Minister might think about the appointment of water officers whose job it would be to go around industrial premises and advise on saving water. I do not think that there is any industry which is currently anything but lavish with water. It is so easy to use water, and there is no realistic incentive to save it.

I turn briefly to the subject of racing, which I raised when the Minister made his statement some days ago. I said at the time that I thought there was a great wastage of water in racing. Judging by the cries of anguish that followed what I said I can only assume that I got it roughly right. My point was simply that one can frequently achieve the same sort of going on a racecourse by good land husbandry as can be achieved by using a great deal of water. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough, especially during the National Hunt season currently in evidence at Newton Abbot and Market Rasen. It is essential that when a racehorse jumps fences or even hurdles, the landing on the far side of the obstacle should not jar the animal and thereby harm it. This can be achieved not only by watering but by good covering.

The solution should be somewhere between a limited amount of water and an excellent covering of grass. This is what I meant when I said that in many cases water can be saved and land husbandry used in the best possible way.

This is a good Bill. Anyone who opposes it will, on the whole, be foolish We must have reservations, however, despite the words of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), who spoke about the democratic nature of the water authorities, when there has never been a man elected to serve on a regional water authority. I do not know what the right hon. Member meant by speaking of them as democratic. My great fear is that these undemocratic regional water authorities will be given even more power than they now have with no one to tell them what not to do or save them from their autocratic selves. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will support this Bill wholeheartedly, while we admit, as do most Members, that it would have been better if it had come earlier. It has now come. Let us try to speed it through the House as quickly as we can.

7.17 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

This Bill is a serious measure. Although during the debate, we have heard something about conditions and how they will affect sporting events, there are also human problems involved. We have also heard something of the Anglian Water Authority, but there are other water authorities which cover some of the most affected parts of England, such as the Severn-Trent Authority, which has equally difficult problems to surmount. In my constituency in Leicestershire, there are small villages such as Stockerston where water has had to be boiled and carted for many weeks. Families in these communities are undergoing severe privation and hardship.

I would not say that I welcome the Bill. No one can welcome a Bill of this nature. Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I recognise that it is a necessary measure, which the House should pass as soon as possible. Like most of my hon. Friends, I accept that the Bill should have been introduced some months ago. I am also anxious to bring about a situation whereby, instead of dealing with this Bill as a panic measure, we use this short debate to look into the future a little and see how we can try to prevent—given the same natural circumstances—the impact of a water shortage hitting us so hard.

I well remember the Minister of State, two or three years ago, advocating a national water grid. In the relevant Committee debates at that time the Conservative Front Bench opposed the idea. The advantages of a national water grid perhaps allied with the use of a canal system, have been stressed once again in today's debate. I hope that one of the results that will follow this debate will be that a new look will be taken at the possibility of establishing a national water grid. It is nonsense, when the Midlands, East Anglia and South-East England are desperately short of water, that in South-West Scotland only six weeks ago it was too wet for farmers to make silage. If only we could establish a working system whereby this water could be speedily transported, it would be a step in the right direction.

In this debate we ought also to ask who is performing the role formerly undertaken so ably by the Water Resources Board. I was a great admirer of the board. It was continually providing us with useful material, new schemes, various ideas and some excellent documentation, which is still available in the Library. Unfortunately, the board passed into oblivion a couple of years ago. Some of us were told that many of the duties of the board had been taken over by the National Water Council. That may be the case, but since the National Water Council and the regional water authorities came into being the flow of new ideas has literally dried up. The same information and the same apparent forethought have not been given to new schemes or to new long-term projects for producing and conserving water.

The Wash Barrage has already been mentioned. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) told the House that the scheme was later modified to include a number of freshwater compounds. If only that had been put into effect three or four years ago! We must learn something from the position today and take energetic steps to get these compounds under way. Another scheme on which the Water Resources Board produced a first-class report—which we all accepted at the time—concerned desalination. I knew some of the staff of the board involved and was aware of how dedicated they were. The board came to the conclusion that desalination was not economically worth while in Britain. We all remember the desalination projects that we had, supported by Government funds.

Desalination came to a halt in Britain. Perhaps the Minister, as a result of the debate, will ask one of his economists to inquire whether the economics of desalination are beginning to make sense again. Although desalinated water may be expensive, it is better to have desalinated fresh water than no fresh water at all.

Reference has been made to reservoirs. I have played my part in this House in ensuring that those who objected to reservoirs being placed in a certain area had a fair say and a fair hearing. I do not apologise for doing that, and would do the same again, but I ask the Minister to look again at the long-term position, so that we shall not have a succession of these Bills in the future.

Schemes should be encouraged to enable land owners and small farmers to provide their own reservoirs. I hope that the Minister, to stimulate this thinking, will ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture whether an increased grant can be provided for the construction of relatively simple reservoirs in a small area which nevertheless holds a significant amount of water.

In April I visted the waterworks and reservoirs of the city of Brussels. All the city's water is stored underground. The saving in evaporation losses, I was told, was so great that, provided the reservoir was deep enough and close enough to a city, and could be covered over and used for cattle grazing and so on, the additional cost involved in covering it was worth while. The water is perfectly pure; it is not foul or dirty in any way. In looking at the long-term reservoir position, in addition to helping small landowners and farmers to provide reservoirs, by way of an increased grant in aid, perhaps the Minister will consider the idea of roofing the new smaller city reservoirs which no doubt will be provided.

When the Minister for Planning and Local Government opened the debate, he told the House of the powers he was seeking, and he gave the House an indication of the items that he would seek later on to obtain powers to prohibit. I am sorry that they are not laid down in the Bill. We all agree that watering by hose-pipe for sporting purposes—except for the rather sophisticated exceptions mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball)—should be prohibited. We all agree that car washing and the washing of buildings should be prohibited. But is it really necessary to ban the circulation of water which goes round a little fountain? Is it necessary to put a goldfish into the fountain so that it can fall within the bounds of law and order? If that were done, presumably it would be regarded as some type of fishpond.

Knowing the Minister's great interest in sport I ask him whether it is necessary to ban the continuance of all swimming pools, both indoors and outdoors—for that is what will happen if they are not allowed to circulate their water. Vast numbers of children attach a great deal of importance to being able to obtain access to a swimming pool. If the saving were significant, I am sure that the House would support it fully, but we need to look carefully at the circulatory fountains which add such lustre to Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park Corner, as well as the swimming pools that are a necessity for many growing children today.

I welcome the Bill, and hope that the House will give it a speedy passage.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

My hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) suggested that the Bill was given the wrong title, and that "drought" was an emotive phrase, de. signed to ensure that the process of getting the Bill through the House would be accomplished speedily. I did not think that it was a complete enough Bill to be called a Water Bill, but the more I think about it the more I feel that there is reason behind my hon. Friend's argument.

The Bill supersedes the Water Act 1958, and in Committee tomorrow we could well consider, in relation to Clause 6, whether the measure should not be properly called a Water Bill. In some ways there is more strength in a Bill about water than in a Bill about drought, because we need water 24 hours a day and we may have a drought only once in every 24 years.

The proposition has an even greater impact when we consider our social pattern in the country, the planning that is so much the concern of local government, and the requirements of industrial planning. Perhaps it would be better if my hon. Friend's suggestions were taken very seriously indeed and if the title of the Bill were reconsidered. This is perhaps a small matter at this stage.

It is very valuable that we have a Minister who virtually carries the title of Minister for Water. We know that he is also the Minister concerned with sport and recreation. We cannot blame him for the lack of water in this country, any more than we can blame him for our lack of medals in Montreal. Nevertheless, we are lucky that we have a Minister whose primary responsibility in the Department of the Environment is for water. This pattern was established by the last Conservative Administration, when my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) had the same responsibility.

We are losing water in this country, whether we are in a drought condition or not. In my part of the world, in the south-east corner of England, the average rainfall is 30in. a year, of which we save 1in. This is rather worrying. We are very casual about this essential resource. We have been concerned with it at various times, as in the Water Act 1973. Now we are suddenly forced to think again about the fact that water falls in plentiful quantity on our island but that we allow it to run out to sea again far too readily.

I agree with everything that has been said in this very interesting, thoughtful and well-considered debate. There have been observations from hon. Members on both sides who have obviously thought a great deal about the technical aspects of the problem.

I am particularly interested in the suggestion put to me in the past by water engineers concerning the need for a much greater study of the question of putting water back into our resources. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) mentioned what is done in Brussels. We recognise that that is a very good way of preventing evaporation and maintaining water in good condition. Nevertheless, although we are rushing this measure through the House, and need to do so, I hope that the Minister will also remember that the Bill—which should perhaps properly be called a Water Bill—is really concerned with conserving water for the future, because of the particular problems that we shall face as we need more water.

Our consumption of water will rise considerably by the end of the century. I do not think that people in this country realise how vital water is, how much we need and how much we are using. Various statistics are bandied about, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. We hear, for example, that the average consumption of water per person in this country is 50 gallons a day. That does not seem very much. It is not a very revealing figure.

Last week I visited a new chemical works in the South-West of Scotland where there is a plentiful supply of water. That plant—an ICI plant, and one of the biggest of its kind in the country—uses 15 million gallons of water per day, and that consumption cannot be reduced. There is, of course, some recycling. Let that figure sink in. One plant employing 600 people uses 15 million gallons of water a day. The withdrawal of that water would mean the plant having to close down. It could not close down for one day. A continuous plant must close down for several weeks or months.

If we were to run out of water in certain areas—for example, in the chemical, steel, paper and electrical power generating industries, which use a great deal of water—many plants would have to close down. The resulting unemployment would be enormous, because such plants are usually at the beginning of the line and there would be a downstream effect throughout industry. That would be the effect of a sudden cut-off of a basic raw material in modern industry.

The Bill and what is revealed by a study of what could happen in a real drought condition must be taken into account in central Government planning, in terms of the disposition of industry as we begin to regenerate it over the next 30 years. The Government have a central policy to regenerate industry. We may dispute how they go about it, because of their economic and political plans, but we are not against its regeneration. No one is against the enlargement of our industrial capacity and the production of wealth.

The plant that I visited in South-West Scotland was correctly sited to help to create employment in the Strathclyde Region, where, because of the rundown of the coal industry, there is a lack of employment. Industry has been put into that area to create employment. I am in favour of that. I am also in favour of industry being put into areas in which there are plentiful supplies of water.

I am concerned that any Government, faced with the need to create jobs, may site industries in areas in which the labour force needs jobs and neglect to ensure that sufficient water is available to sustain those industries and make them viable.

The Bill vividly reminds us that we live on water and that industry and jobs depend on water. That fact must be taken into account in the total concept of the way in which we organise our industrial future.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

May I take it that if the Government embarked on such a scheme the hon. Gentleman would support and not criticise them for public spending?

Mr. Crouch

The hon. Gentleman would not find me criticising the Government for public spending if it was within our capacity to cope with the problem. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) said, there is always the question of priorities.

I turn now to the question of reservoirs. Many hon. Members have bared their hearts and souls and confessed that they have opposed the building of reservoirs. In my constituency at Broad Oak, which is three or four miles from Canterbury, a reservoir has been proposed. I have not opposed the building of that reservoir. I have, as it were, stood on the site where the reservoir is to be built and waited to hear the complaints of those who have talked about the lack or loss of amenities, farmland, houses, and so on. I think that is my proper duty, because, as I said at the outset, I am concerned, and always have been, about the lack of water in the South-East. That is one of the overriding priorities that we must take into account. I shall go away at the end of the week, when Parliament goes into the Summer Recess, more than ever convinced that the Broad Oak reservoir, near Canterbury, is necessary. It will cost £10 million, but it will be money well spent, because we desperately need water in that area.

I should like to clear up something that I said in an intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed). We have all talked about weighing up the relative uses of water for domestic as against sporting purposes. I am not completely against the use of water for maintaining essential sporting facilities, whether they be golf courses, racecourses, cricket pitches or tennis courts. But constituents have approached me about this matter.

As the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) said, people respond to appeals to help their country. People are prepared to restrict their use of water, but they are sometimes dismayed and react in a psychological way when they see what appears to be the apparent waste, misuse or over-free use of water on sporting pitches, and so on. The Minister and others down the line in local government must make clear what is being done and why it is being done, and perhaps give some facts and figures. They should point out that to water cricket pitches or the greens on municipal or other golf courses requires only X thousand gallons a week compared with the enormous amount of water used in the Kent paper industry. People will then realise that a sensible approach is being made to the restrictions that are being imposed upon and demanded of them.

I welcome the Bill, and wish it a speedy passage, but I think we may have to consider giving it a more meaningful title.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to Ministers on the Treasury Bench for not having been in attendance throughout the debate. Unfortunately, other parliamentary commitments meant that I had to be elsewhere. For that reason I intend to be brief. I shall direct my remarks basically to one particular industry which is of considerable importance in my constituency. Before referring to that industry, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch)—namely, the paper and board industry—I should indicate that in my area the water situation is serious, but it has not yet reached crisis proportions.

A number of hill farmers in the Macclesfield area have found themselves in a serious situation, their wells and boreholes having dried up. Therefore, a certain amount of water transportation is taking place to ensure that they can continue to run their farms and homes.

As I indicated, I intend to direct my remarks to the paper and board industry. Hon. Members may have received information from that industry. I have the pleasure of being a member of the all-party group in this House which deals with matters relating to the paper and board industry. It is important that the industry's representations should be put before the Minister in this debate.

I welcome the Bill. I commend the Government for having brought it in with such speed. A number of speakers have criticised the Government for not bringing it in sooner, but I do not join with them. It is impossible to predict the weather, and it is very wrong to take such Draconian powers as are contained in this Bill without reason. Powers of that sort must be brought in only when there is an emergency, and the Government have acted properly and responsibly in this matter.

Ministers will be aware that before publication of the Bill the British Paper and Board Industry Federation contacted the Department of the Environment to express concern at possible severe water shortages in England and Wales. The federation asked for full consultation before any restrictions which might affect it and its operation were contemplated on a national basis. The industry could be seriously affected by the non-availability of water for two reasons. The first is that it is a large user of water to carry and form the fibres in the basic process. In 1974 it used 280 million gallons a day. I have not got a later figure than this, but it indicates the substantial use of water in this industry. The second reason is the fact that it is a continuous process industry and its main sources of supply are licensed extraction from rivers, streams and underground resources.

The industry welcomes the Bill and recognises its need in the national interest. Of course, the federation has sent a submission to the Department of the Environment, which resulted in a meeting with a Permanent Under-Secretary, when a number of points were discussed. Those points included the fact that a reduction in compensation water from reservoirs by regional water authorities could seriously affect mills in the northern half of the country; that increased pumping by regional water authorities for public supply or an imposed restriction on southern mills abstraction could affect economic viability of mills in the South; what constitutes "damage sustained" for the purposes of compensation under Schedule 2 of the Bill, in particular the possibility of claiming compensation to cover the cost of extending boreholes; and the effect of Clause 1(3)(f) relating to effluent, which could pose considerable problems for the industry.

The Permanent Under-Secretary assured the federation that the highest priority would be given to maintaining water supplies to important industries and that full consultation would take place between the water authorities and the industries located in an affected area before any action was taken under the substantial powers in the Bill. Ministers are aware that the federation is a very responsible body which had already urged its members to close up their systems wherever possible to include recycling of water, and a special working party has completed water-saving checkpoints which the federation will shortly distribute to its members. The industry has reduced the number of gallons it uses per ton of paper produced. In 1968 it used 18,000 gallons, and in 1974 it used only 13,000, of which 38 per cent. was cooling water returned to source. Therefore, only 8,000 gallons per ton were disposed of as effluent.

The Minister knows that when emergencies have arisen in the past—and perhaps when they arise in the future—the mills have shown themselves adaptable and flexible to changing conditions. All that is required is adequate consultation with the industry by the various water authorities in the areas in which the mills are located before any of the measures proposed in the Bill are implemented. It is important that industry must apply itself to saving water just as any ordinary domestic consumer has to apply himself or herself. But it is also important that the economy of the country must continue to go ahead. Industry is a vital cog in the economy. Therefore, it is most important that regional water authorities should discuss with vital industries, such as the paper and board industry, the implications before any of the provisions of this Bill are brought into effect in individual areas.

I welcome the Bill. I believe that the Government have acted correctly and responsibly. I am convinced that it will work and that it will form the basis for any future emergencies.

7.46 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Daventry)

I share the view that this has been a well-informed debate on this new piece of legislation. There has been rising interest in the water cycle generally in recent years, since the establishment of the regional water authorities. This interest arose from the high level of water charges and the problems associated with that, but circumstances are changing people's sense of values and they are being faced with reality. They realise that the generous water provision we have had in the past involves a cost. There is nothing like a problem to concentrate the mind, and that is what is happening here. The Minister for Planning and Local Government must be well pleased with the welcome which has been given to this measure. I join in welcoming the Bill. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) that it is an unfortunate necessity, but we must be realistic and see it in the context of the situation as a whole.

I welcome the tributes which have been paid to the water industry—the private water companies and the public undertakings. It is a rare experience for there to be any restriction on water supply in this country arising from drought. That fact is a tribute to the long-sighted and far-seeing developments we have enjoyed from the water undertakings generally. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is well able to judge from his experience at the Department the calibre of the water supply in this country, and he says that it is the best in the world. Many of us will hope that is true. The very rare restrictions we have had certainly indicate a soundness in our supply system.

The formation of the regional water authorities is recognised generally as a sound basis for water supply, and for the whole hydrological cycle. I was a little surprised to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who said there were severe shortcomings in the regional water situation. We have more than 50 per cent. of elected representatives on those authorities. In addition, men informed and experienced in the water industry are nominated to serve on them.

I see little criticism of any substance of the National Water Council. I know that the Government propose a national water authority, but I have yet to see substantive reasons for that which cannot be fulfilled by the existing National Water Council which is looking at the broad picture of the water supply throughout England and Wales.

This measure is of varying use in England and Wales; its usefulness depends on the circumstances of a particular area. We have heard about the serious situation in South Wales. It is ironical that the vast storage capacity in North Wales is not available to the southern part of the Principality. That arises directly from the demands for water from the Midlands of England and the lack of demand mainly elsewhere in Wales. I was not the least impressed by the line taken by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) in that respect.

I welcome the repentance expressed by some hon. Members over the interest in some reservoirs. We know of the widespread objections and the lead that hon. Members have taken in them, and now we are faced with the necessity for very substantial storage facilities. The present situation arises directly from the lack of rainfall over some 18 months, but in normal circumstances there would have been less demand for revision of our water supply system. Had we been able to cope with the existing circumstances there would clearly have been significant over-provision in the past. A fine judgment is required here about cost effectiveness.

There has been reference to the national water grid. That must be seen in conjunction with the very effective system of an area grid and a transfer system that we enjoy today. Against that must be set the cost of a national water grid. I question the validity of its advocacy. The matter is subject to fine judgment when one bears in mind that our water supply is highly capital-intensive.

Hon. Members have said that Clause 1 of the Bill will be used immediately mainly by way of reduced pressure in the mains, by void periods for domestic use and similar such measures. It is not proposed to bring Clause 2 immediately into effect. The clause is concerned with the economic and social well-being of the country as a whole, and I have no doubt that the regional water authorities which have problems to face, will use the months immediately ahead for consultations in preparing orders which may become necessary depending upon the level of rainfall in the coming winter months.

Alternative means of supply should be carefully considered in the meantime. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) referred to the use of private facilities by people who have extraction licences. I think that before an application can be dealt with an applicant has to advertise in a local newspaper for two successive weeks, and a month is allowed to enable objections to be made. Is the Minister prepared to consider speeding up that process where alternative means of supply can be justified and used without detriment to the public supply? If a licence is to be granted, it could be granted for only a limited period. It is not proposed that the use of private wells should cease. There are physical limitations upon them, but non-essential users are bound to have reduced or terminated supplies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) emphasised the industrial considerations. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough referred to food preparation and the washing of agricultural produce before storage, canning and so on. There is the great problem of the use of vast quantities of water for cooling, and we may be drawn into a situation in which differing rates are required for differing uses of water. For example, in food preparation there could be one water supply for washing and another, of greater purity, for canning. We may need to consider a dual rate for water with a higher level of charges for protected supply and a lower charge for restricted use.

I was interested that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales should say that industries were saving up to 20 per cent. That is a vast saving, which could lead to a significant reduction of consumption if applied on a widespread scale. I agree that the problem for industry is that water is not a major cost item, so there is no great incentive to reduce consumption as there would be if it were more expensive.

No doubt we shall all be thinking before long of buying a water butt and of installing rain storage facilities at the bottom of our down pipes. I wonder about the future of those who possess the quality of water divining. Until recently I was a non-believer in water divining, but some weeks ago I was attending a constituency engagement at which someone was giving a demonstration. I had a go, and, sceptical though I was, I walked over water and the two rods swung in quite strongly. I was quite surprised—

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

The hon. Member is wasting his talents in this place!

Mr. Jones

Perhaps that is another role I might find for myself.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

I hope that the hon. Member will not use his powers and flood the Chamber.

Mr. Jones

I presume you mean flood the Chamber with water, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Perhaps a flood of amusement at seeing me divining water might be permitted. I am told by a senior officer in one water authority that he is sitting on the fence over water divining, but some of us may come into our own in this respect.

I was interested in the reference to the metering of water. That may need to be introduced as substantial developments take place. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton) said that a new development at Fylde was being metered, and I think that the system could have a wider application over the years. Of course, there are large areas of impounded water in, for example, the claypits in Bedfordshire and near Peterborough. This may be taken up and pumped into the river courses. In addition, a substantial number of mineral workings currently used for water storage may have to be used for filling our river courses and undertaking the task of water transfer.

It is up to all to make what savings they can and to utilise their own resources. I am sure that in the future farming will want to develop its own private storage facilities. Industry will as well. Where there is a fire risk people will think of having their own supply when the public system is below the required pressure.

We shall all be watching for the winter rains this year as people in other parts of the world watch for the monsoons. Let us hope that our winter rain will make the problem far less acute than it is at present.

8.0 p.m.

The Minister of State for Sport and Recreation (Mr. Denis Howell)

I am most grateful to hon. Members for their warm welcome for the measures that we have produced and the co-operative spirit they have shown to help to get the Bill on to the statute book. Criticism of the Government has been with hindsight at our lack of foresight, and that is a difficult criticism to make of anyone.

I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), who said that although I was the Minister responsible for water and sport he did not hold me personally responsible for the lack of rain or the lack of medals at Montreal. I should point out, however, that we produced our best Olympic medal tally on or in the water, in rowing, yachting and swimming. That is the only reference that I shall make to Montreal.

I agree with hon. Members who said that we might need rationing and restrictions but that we should not rest on our laurels once we were out of this situation and should rather regard the measures we are currently debating as part of our long-term thinking on the provisions for the water industry.

I can tell the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) that we are grateful for the co-operation received from the paper and board industry. We have had full consultations with the industry, and we have reason to believe that it is also grateful for this co-operative attitude.

The demand for water is increasing. I am told that the average person now uses 130 litres a day and that the public supply for all purposes averages 304 litres a day. These figures will enable the House and the country to appreciate the long-term difficulties of the industry.

The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) made an untypically ungracious speech and castigated us for the difficulties we now face. But he produced a Water Bill in 1973 and if the regional water authorities do not have the powers, as he complains, it is because he failed to give them the powers in that Bill.

The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) was right to ask what had happened to the Water Resources Board. In Committee on the Water Bill we raised considerable objections to the proposed demise of the Water Resources Board. We pointed out that this would leave a void in the national plan for water resources. It is a little hard for anyone to blame us when we predicted the result.

Hon. Members have asked what having a national grid will mean. It means the development of a national strategy for water and giving a national authority, such as that proposed in the consultative document, power to transfer water from an area of plenty to an area of scarcity.

Some hon. Members have pointed out that in the midst of all our problems there are still regions with plenty of water. It is nonsense that we have not been able to organise ourselves to transfer water from these areas to the areas of scarcity. In one sentence, that is what the consultative document is all about. At the same time, we accept the concept of the organisation of water on the hydrological base principle.

Mr. Arthur Jones

The right hon. Gentleman will not have a national water grid regardless of the financial consequences. Has he considered the likely cost and compared it with the cost of running the present system?

Mr. Howell

We are charging the National Water Authority, which will be the revamped National Water Council, with the responsibility for providing a national plan and advising us where water should be transferred. For the first time, I agreed with every word of a speech made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). We are looking at the question of barrages, reservoirs and transferring water by putting it into river courses, letting it flow down the rivers and taking it out again and deciding which is the most economical way. We do not approach this problem in a doctrinaire way. We wish to see which system is the best. A strategy is needed.

Mr. Spearing

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the difference between the two sides on this matter is that when the Conservative Party opposite was in power it wanted to make each regional authority self-sufficient, whatever the cost, and did not put in machinery for the transferring to which my right hon. Friend has referred?

Mr. Howell

Hon. Members opposite created 10 nationalised industries, but they did not nationalise very well. We shall have to show them how to do it properly.

Hon. Members have mentioned sport and recreation. Naturally we want common sense to apply here, and we shall be telling regional authorities to exercise the maximum flexibility and discretion. But even in the regions where there is plenty of water now we shall have to take care. We do not know how long this drought will last. We have had two dry summers and one-very dry winter. It we have another, even those areas that are well off could be in difficulty. We would expect water to be available if new turf has to be laid at Lord's or Wimbledon for next season and priority to be given, for example, to watering the greens rather than the fairways on golf courses.

But if we have to make a judgment between terminating or severely rationing the supply of water to households and the continuance of sport, we shall have to get our priorities right. We should be open to great criticism if we did not err on the side of caution. However, we shall do out best. Although there will be no blanket exceptions for sport, we are not trying to put it out of business.

I was interested to hear the reference to racing at Newton Abbot, especially since I shall be going there to enjoy the racing as soon as I can escape from this House. If any hon. Member has a runner at the meeting, perhaps he will let me know later. That is a typical example of how we can have flexibility.

When I was asked about the going at Newton Abbot, it was suggested that in a scarcity area such as Devon there should not be watering of racecourses. I pointed out that the river, after it passes the course, goes straight into the sea. In those circumstances I can see no objection to watering the course. On the other hand, a totally different view might be taken at Chepstow. I mention these courses as illustrations of the flexibility that we shall employ.

If it is necessary, we might have to say to our racing friends that they must switch fixtures. I agree that racing is important. Indeed, there is much Treasury interest in it as well as public interest. Therefore, we want to keep racing going. I am sure we can enjoy the co-operation of those who are involved in it. I am glad to tell the House that the Jockey Club and the Racehorse Owners Association are co-operating with my Department to the full. I gather that there will be further meetings later this week. We are doing what we can for sport.

I have received many hundreds of representations, but I was astonished by one in which I was asked whether I wanted to put someone out of business. The letter was written by a high-diver who jumps from a 50-ft. tower into 6 ft. of water which has been set alight with petrol. I resisted the temptation of replying to the effect that I was not putting him out of business but urging him to economise by jumping into 3 ft. of water. That seemed to be the appropriate answer.

I listened with interest to what was said about metering. It is a large issue that should not be undertaken by the Bill. There are social implications. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds suggested that we might put meters in all new houses so that people are presented with a choice. That would mean that if a person did not want a metered water supply he would never be able to buy a new house. That seemed to be odd logic.

Metering means that poorer families, which are often larger families and tend to use more water than most other families, would pay more than others. It would be totally wrong to impose a social cost of that sort because someone has a large family. I can see the advantages of a metering system, but I am bound to say that at present it is out of the question. It would be totally impracticable to install meters into all houses. I am one of those old-fashioned people who thinks that we have enough meter-readers entering houses at the moment without having more.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

Despite his comments, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that an adequate investigation has not yet been carried out?

Mr. Howell

I agree with that. That is why we agreed to the Fylde experiment. Although we are prejudiced against it—I wish to be frank with the House—we thought it right to carry out the experiment so that information would be available to the House and to the industry. The information will be made known as it becomes available.

Sir David Renton

The right hon. Gentleman said, inadvertently, that metering had nothing to do with the Bill. He has overlooked the fact that a minimum charge is referred to at the top of page 3. It would be helpful to know the Government's view.

Mr. Howell

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is talking about industrial metering charges while I was talking about domestic metering charges.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) raised a number of matters, including two questions which require an answer. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his co-operative endeavours. He raised the problems of democracy. I have dealt with that by talking about the national grid system and the relevancy of the consultation document. I think we shall have another chance to return to that.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the "Save It" campaign. He said that the Central Office of Information was warning the South-West Water Authority against using the idea of the "Save It" campaign. It was doing so because the electricity boards are already using that method. We have been in touch with the COI so as to be able to present an answer to the House. It says that it does not want to stop people from using a "Save It" campaign if that is what they want to do. We made it clear that we should not allow it to stop anyone from doing so.

Apparently the COI took the view that it would be better, as the slogan is already used by others, to think of an equally good slogan that is identifiable with water. That is how the difficulty arose. I can assure the House that there will be no further problems in that regard.

Mr. Freud

Drown it.

Mr. Howell

The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) who is always helpful, is trying to give me a slogan in the middle of my speech. When he said "Drown it", I thought at first he was telling me to keep quiet. I was a bit nonplussed, but I gather that he is being helpful.

The Bill enables a water authority to override the requirements for minimum river flows if that proves to be necessary. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) talked about waters that are not used. If we are to have the rationing of water, with all the difficulties that would arise, that would not reduce the costs of regional water authorities but would increase them. It would make the cost of water even more expensive. If we tell industrial users that they will be restricted but that they will pay less in future, the corollary must be that we ask domestic users to pay more. We do not think that we should impose further charges on domestic water users at the moment.

The right hon. Member for Crosby and the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me about the Wash Barrage. Work on the barrage scheme was not stopped. In fact, it has been completed. The trial work has been completed on the freshwater installations. The consultants are now assessing the full results and the report will be published, I hope, in late October. I am sure that the House and others will rejoice that the work is going on.

Mr. Graham Page

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to withdraw what I said initially. I was under the impression that the work had stopped. I am glad that that is not so, and I withdraw what I said.

Mr. Howell

The right hon. Member for Crosby is the first right hon. Member in my experience who has been able to transfer an ungracious speech into a gracious speech in the course of a moment. I am grateful to him for what he has said.

The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) raised several matters, especially publicity and films. We agree that there should be a concerted national endeavour and that the 10 authorities should not all be doing their own thing. That is exactly what the National Water Authority that we now propose will be designed to undertake. The hon. Gentleman asked about contingency plans. They are the responsibility of the National Water Council.

We have been in touch with the council over a long period. We were in touch with it about the timing of the introduction of the Bill. The hon. Member for Macclesfield was right to say that these are such Draconian measures, giving such wide powers to authorities, that we would have been subjected to considerable criticism if we had introduced them before it was absolutely necessary to do so. Rightly or wrongly, that is the path we have followed. In fact, we introduced the Bill the moment that we were asked to do so by the council. We are in constant touch with the CEGB on electricity matters.

My ministerial colleagues and I will be delighted to see any hon. Member at any time about any of the resulting actions that flow from the Bill. I give the House the assurance that the Ministers who are responsible will always be available to those who wish to discuss the consequences arising from any Orders made under the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) raised a number of detailed matters. I hope he will not object if, in the interests of time, I write to him about some of them. Broadly speaking, I very much agree with what he said, particularly on the meteorlogical points that were raised elsewhere. We are doing our best to work in total co-operation constantly with the Meteorological Office. I do not think that that office can be much more helpful at present than the water divining approach that has been mentioned. However, if it is necessary to have further research into that question, and if that would be helpful, we shall be very happy to do it.

I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) and others who have spoken in the debate and confessed their sins about previously opposing plans for new reservoirs. When I was previously a Minister, from time to time I had to speak at the Dispatch Box and try to defend proposals in relation to reservoirs. I remember particularly one rather violent debate we had about providing a reservoir on Dartmoor, and the comments of all the Dartmoor preservation societies. As I go on holiday to Torbay at the end of this week knowing before I arrive that I shall be restricted in the use of water—indeed, I am told that I shall not get lager either because there is a restriction in the supply of that—that makes the point.

As regards artesian wells, the Bill, if it continues, will be able quickly, we hope, to provide the necessary action for alternative supplies.

I hope I have dealt with all the points which have arisen. I have done so as rapidly as I can and have tried my best. I shall not bother with the Welsh National Member, the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), because having made his very irrelevant nationalistic point he has left the Chamber. I do not think I should answer points made by hon. Members who do not wait to hear the answer.

I repeat that Birmingham, Liverpool and other places manage to get water out of Wales by putting local government investment into it. That has brought great benefit to Wales in terms of investment, rateable value and so on. It has not exploited anyone. There is no reason why other authorities could not have taken similar action. However, the Welsh National Water Development Authority will assist the Welsh people to have plentiful supplies of water and, as our proposals for equalising charges will show, enable them to get their water at probably more reasonable prices in future than those they have been paying in the past. That is what we are proposing in our consultation document.

I conclude by making one last appeal to everyone in the country, whether in areas of plenty or of scarcity or in areas which are moderately well off for water supplies. As so many hon. Members have said, water is now almost a luxury. There is so much that can and must be done. We started off a month or two ago by achieving considerable savings in the very hot weather. Since the temperature has dropped, those savings have fallen away, yet we have had almost no rain. As has been said, if it rains for a month that will not make much difference to the problem. Therefore, we must all do what we can to save every bit of water.

We are particularly asking agriculture and industry to review their uses and procedures. As regards domestic users, I hope that the House will not mind if I give one or two tips which we in the Department consider very important.

People ought not to wash up under running taps. That still goes on in many parts of the country. People should put the plug in. I am told that what is happening in some parts of the country where water is not being provided overnight is that people fill up baths and then early next morning pull out the plug and lose all the water which has been stored overnight. That is a self-defeating business.

We ask people not to use half-empty dishwasters and washing machines but to save up the wash until they have a full load. We ask people to cut down on bath water. I was about to say that they should cut it down to six inches, but I have discovered that one water authority is asking people to use only three inches, which seems even more difficult than what we were asked to do during the war. However, if people can have a shower instead of a bath and use their common sense about the amount of bath water they use, this will be very helpful. Leaky taps are another source of wastage which ought to be dealt with immediately.

I think that the one thing that has come out of the House today is a resolve by hon. Members on both sides and of all parties to get the Bill through because it represents an appreciation of the very serious and continuing difficulties facing the country as a whole. Everyone should take note of the urgent tone struck in the debate. If that is done, I am sure that we can get through until rains come to our help.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Bates.]

Committee tomorrow.