HL Deb 03 March 1964 vol 256 cc5-7

2.41 p.m.


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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government to arrange for interdepartmental consultation forthwith between the Waterways Board and the Housing, Agriculture and Health Departments so as to adjust future policy regarding water supply, drainage and pollution and to put to common use the mass of maps and graphs, accumulated by the Surface Water Inland Survey Division; and not to wait for Water Resources Board appointments.]


My Lords, the Waterways Board know that all Departments are available to them for consultation about policy, without the making of any special arrangements. As to the exchange and use of information, much of that held by the Surface Water Survey of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is published and, apart from that, there has also been a full exchange of information of mutual interest between the Survey and the Waterways Board's predecessors. This practice continues with the Board.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for that Answer. The Interim Report of the Waterways Board said that three times they were anxious to consult and could not find the people there to consult. This does not seem to tally with what the noble Lord has just said.


What I said is perfectly true. The Waterways Board are free to consult with the Department at any time. The Water Resources Board, which has been troubling the noble Earl in the past, has not yet, of course, been set up. It will no doubt consult as soon as it is.


My Lords, is there not a great difference between saying that the information from the Departments is available at any time and summoning a conference, quarterly or periodically, between the Departments which are equally concerned with the whole problem of water? It is no use saying that the information is available when we all know the quite natural jealousy that exists between Departments as to their territories. As water supply planning is the concern not only of the Housing Minister but of other Departments (Agriculture, Health and Transport are equally involved), quantity is not the only factor to be considered; the question of purity is also most important. For instance, is the noble Lord not aware that, as is stated in the Report, the Water Board's revenue from the sale of water amounts to £595,000, but many such sales take place to factories situated on the banks of canals, which do not all want pure water. They may require water, for example, for cooling purposes. My question is this: ought not more attention to be paid to the uncleaned water in a great many canals which I hope will eventually come into the water system of the whole country?


My Lords, the noble Earl is covering a wide field. The quality of water, will be one of the prime concerns of the Water Resources Board and the new river authorities when they are set up. I would merely say—as, indeed, the noble Earl said— that in regard to waterways and canals it is not so much a question of the public water supply for drinking, but a question involving water for industry and agriculture. As for the rest of the noble Earl's statement, I said that the Departments are available for consultation. I did not say merely that the information was available; I said that the information is already fully exchanged.


My Lords, in view of the nature of the noble Earl's questions, may I ask if the Minister would be kind enough to ask his Department, or his Minister, whether instructions could be given to the people concerned that when a request for consultation is made, consultation will be allowed forthwith? Apparently, it is not clear from the Answer.


My Lords, I will put that point forward, but I have no reason to believe that consultation is not allowed.


My Lords, will the noble Lord consider the urgency of this matter of full consultation? As the noble Lord may know, the new Waterways Board will inevitably require a further Act of Parliament to sort out all the ancient legislation involved, and until such an Act is passed, the great hopes we have seem to be quite impossible ones. Until these consultations reach the point where legislation can be formulated, we are completely stuck.


My Lords, I will take up the matter with my right honourable friend.