HC Deb 03 November 1976 vol 918 cc1402-3
22. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the operation of the Drought Act.

23. Mr. Michael Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the advance warning system for anticipation of a water shortage.

Mr. Denis Howell

Yes, Sir, the Drought Act was of considerable importance in enabling the water industry to meet the unprecedented drought situation. I am satisfied that in conjunction with the water industry we can build on this year's experience to ensure the earliest possible warning of any recurrent water supply problems next year. I shall be making a statement on all these matters very shortly.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the procedure involved in making an application for powers under the Drought Act was so long that the Welsh National Water Development Authority was suffering from flooding as opposed to the drought for which it wanted powers to act?

Mr. Howell

No. I think that that supplementary question shows considerable confusion. Fortunately, some of the many hundreds of orders made under the Drought Act could be made within a matter of days. If they were of a more substantial and permanent character, obviously we could not use the Draconian powers in the Act without giving the owners of property and land a proper opportunity to make representations and the Secretary of State a reasonable time in which to determine the applications. However, I can assure the House that in all cases the process was considerably shorter than is normally the case for such applications.

Mr. Heffer

Does my right hon. Friend realise that he is regarded by Labour Members, and probably throughout the country, as the most successful Minister we have ever had?

Mr. Jopling

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the emergency arrangements that are now in force to extract extra water from the Lake District have been agreed readily by interests in the Lake District? Is he further aware that once the reservoirs in the Lake District are full, as they are now becoming, there would be the greatest resentment if he were to use his powers to violate the solemn undertakings given by his predecessors to ensure that water is extracted from the area in a way which does not violate the amenities and beauties of the area? It is important that the Minister ensures that the area is not ruined by short-term steps.

Mr. Howell

I am extremely appreciative of the co-operation we have had from interests within the Lake District in this national emergency, and I pay tribute to it. Now that the temporary situation is over, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must take all proper steps to safeguard that magnificent environment, and I certainly intend to do so.

Mr. Michael Morris

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that there will definitely be a debate on the Green Paper and the drought report this year? If not, what are the Government being so tardy about?

Mr. Howell

I am sure that if the Opposition wish to use one of their Supply Days for a debate we shall have a debate. I have promised to make a statement to the House as soon as possible in this Session, and I hope to do so next week. We shall see what the Opposition make of the statement.

Forward to