HL Deb 09 July 1957 vol 204 cc813-4

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government (a) what surface-water conservation policy they now incline to, by which applicants for permission to extract irrigation water throughout the drier coastal counties may be assisted in their efforts to step up food production; (b) for how much longer the reply "not sufficient information yet" will be considered an adequate answer to applicants being refused by river boards every week; and (c) whether the loss on average of 60,000 acres per year to development is not the justification for these farmers to try for increased production by this new method.]


My Lords, the loss of agricultural land to building and other development is less than is suggested by my noble friend, Lord Albemarle; it has however averaged about 37,000 acres per year in England and Wales over recent years. Irrigation can at selected times and places have a beneficial effect on agricultural production, and should not therefore be discouraged, provided the demand for water for that purpose is not incompatible with other local water requirements.

As I told the noble Earl in our recent debate, a sub-committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee is at this moment inquiring into the extent to which the demand for water for all purposes, including irrigation, is increasing, and the problems involved in meeting it. This inquiry is more comprehensive than any previously undertaken, and its results should show whether or not further measures are required to conserve water in all or in selected areas of the country. Pending the outcome of this inquiry Her Majesty's Government think it would be premature to seek powers to impose further controls.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for his courteous but, as I must confess, in some ways disappointing reply, may I put this supplementary question: Whether the Minister considers it might be helpful if he, as statutory conservator, made orders for weir construction in rivers where dry weather results in insufficient depth of water remaining, thus precluding irrigation?


My Lords, that might indeed be helpful, and I will put the point to my right honourable friend. However, I suspect that he may still wish to wait until the report of the committee is available.


My Lords, I think it is a good thing that we should wait and see the report, and I am obliged for the tone of the Answer; but it seems to me, from all the noble Lord has said, that it would be most helpful to the agricultural industry if we could be assured that, apart from the preference that must be given to, say, water for persons in houses in these areas—that is to say, water for human requirements—the second preference should be for agriculture, before you meet industrial needs in your planning. For example, there are industrial developments on the Blackwater and they are now proposed on the Stour and other East Coast rivers. If a preference in water supply could be given to agriculture over these other projects, which could be put elsewhere in damper areas, it would be most helpful.


My Lords, it is not easy to strike a balance between the rival concerns and interests, as I said in our recent debate, but I think there is much in what the noble Viscount says.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the fact that a lot of the inconvenience caused to householders is not so much the shortage of water as the shortage of a system to supply water?

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