HC Deb 30 January 1996 vol 270 cc762-3
4. Mr. Chris Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his Department's planned expenditure in the current year on measures to promote the conservation of water. [10371]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. James Clappison)

Measures to promote water conservation among customers are the responsibility of the water companies.

Mr. Davies

Is the Minister aware that the north-west has now experienced some 10 months of below-average rainfall? There is growing concern that, if that continues, not only will there be a dry summer, but circumstances could become very bad indeed in 1997? Does he accept that the Government cannot continue washing their hands of the matter, blaming the water companies and suggesting that it is their sole responsibility? It is time that he accepted his responsibility and produced some measures for water conservation.

Mr. Clappison

The hon. Gentleman realises that it is a serious matter and that the north-west has been affected by exceptionally dry conditions. We are taking a serious long-term view of the issue. That is why we imposed a duty on the water companies to promote water conservation and gave the Director General of Water Services additional powers. We are also consulting on future byelaws. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the Government are looking carefully to learn the lessons of last year's drought. As for the hon. Gentleman's allegations about the water companies, they are in the best place to promote conservation. They have also substantially increased their investment, which this year is more than two and a half times as much as it was when Labour left office. The hon. Gentleman would do well to avoid the trap that was identified by his own policy makers, when they wrote: The Liberal Democrats do not always practise what they preach and are prepared to ditch environmental policies for short-term political gain". We shall not do that.

Sir Anthony Grant

Is my hon. Friend aware that Anglian Water has the lowest leakage rate of any water company in the United Kingdom and has spent £110 million on those matters since privatisation? In our area, on this subject as on so many others, we regard the views of the Opposition as total, unmitigated bosh.

Mr. Clappison

I appreciate the comments of my hon. Friend. We recognised in our consultation paper on water services that particular difficulties face Anglian Water and other water companies in the south-east. Those companies have clearly risen to the challenge and provide an efficient service.

Mr. Jack Thompson

This is a serious issue. The Minister may recall that there was a big problem in my constituency earlier this month, when the water supply was lost in half of it because of bursts in the mains system over Christmas and the new year. When those bursts occur in domestic, commercial and industrial premises, the water just drains away. Will the Minister consider, as part of his ministerial responsibility, modifications to the building regulations to include the provision of lagging for water systems, particularly in domestic premises, to minimise that risk?

Mr. Clappison

We would be happy to consider the propositions that the hon. Gentleman has raised when we examine the future of the water byelaws and building regulations.