HC Deb 06 December 1978 vol 959 cc1400-1
Mr. Michael Morris

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his assessment of water supply resources for England in 1979.

Mr. Denis Howell

Assuming average winter rainfall, normal supplies could be maintained in most districts next year even if the summer is dry.

A dry winter followed by a dry summer such as we had in 1975–76 would probably result in shortage in some parts of the country next year. However, this should be less severe than it was in 1976 because we now have more water in storage.

In addition, the considerable number of schemes put into operation during the last two years have provided more storage capacity and an increased ability to transfer water within and between regions.

Mr. Morris

Is the Minister aware that that assumption of normal winter rainfall does not seem well-founded? Is he confident that the water authorities—particularly the South-West authority—have taken action since 1976 to ensure that the people living there do not suffer from the extraordinary lack of water that they suffered in the summer of 1976?

Mr. Howell

I am glad to report that, since we gave so much attention to the South-West two years ago, that water authority, with the full approval and support of the Government, has carried out 31 major schemes which have improved the situation there. In spite of the dry autumn in that area, assuming that we have average rainfall from now on and that people there continue to save water, we should be all right even in a dry summer.

Mr. Hardy

Is the Minister aware that many of us appreciate the considerable steps which the Government have taken to improve water arrangements, but is he also aware that one need that remains is the production of a water Bill for the House to consider which will deal with the present gross anomaly affecting those who are not connected to main sewers?

Mr. Howell

There is a need for a water Bill to deal with many of the anomalies left by the Water Act 1973. We hope still to be able to introduce it at an early stage.

Mr. Alison

But what about the results of the famous, or infamous, court case in connection with Daymond, with the effect that there will be retrospective demands on some ratepayers going back four years? Can the right hon. Gentleman do something urgent about that?

Mr. Howell

There is no need to, because most water authorities over-provided as an insurance against Daymond and have not been called upon to pay the amounts that they expected to pay. I think that the hon. Gentleman is a little out of date.

Mr. Bidwell

Will the Minister bear in mind that he can always rely on some of my constituents to pray for rain in the event of another drought? Will he bear that in mind, in view of the beneficial results that it had last time?

Mr. Howell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am very well served in that respect in my own constituency.