HL Deb 14 April 1965 vol 265 cc387-90

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 whether they have any statement to make as to the inquiry regarding the Morecambe Bay barrage proposal.]


My Lords, the Water Resources Board has been asked to examine this possibility as one means of meeting the needs for additional supplies of water in the North-West which are expected to develop between now and the end of the century.


My Lords, while congratulating the Government upon initiating this imaginative inquiry, may I ask whether I am right in thinking that the said inquiry is of a technical nature to establish the engineering practicability of the scheme? May I further ask that, simultaneously or concurrently, an economic inquiry be made, because any such scheme as is contem? plated must affect the economics, the industry and the commerce of a wide area, and it would be a pity if the one inquiry had to follow the other, thus perhaps delaying for many years what might prove to be a very valuable improvement of our North-West countryside.


My Lords, as the noble Lord is perhaps aware, a Question about this matter was asked in another place and answered by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs. It is, of course, the business of that Department to examine the economic aspects of this matter, which they will do. But there is also the question whether there is a practicable water scheme here, and no doubt, as my original Answer, I hope, made clear, there will be a real need for additional supplies of water in the North-West. There can be no doubt about that. That question must be examined, as it is being examined now. The origin of this inquiry was carried out by a sub-committee of the North-West Study Group of officials which was set up by the last Administration. A good deal of work has already been done, though matters have not reached the stage where one can put a technical question and be sure it is the right one.


My Lords, the noble Lord indicated that it is the task of some Government Department to make an economic inquiry. Does he mean by that that such an economic inquiry is being made?


My Lords, what I mean is that there is no doubt that additional supplies of water will be needed. People have to drink and wash, whatever the economic circumstances in the North-West are in the fairly immediate though not quite immediate future, and it is in order to meet that need that the possibilities of this scheme are being examined.


My Lords, since we have this very real need for additional supplies of water in the North-West, would the noble Lord agree that it is very much in the public interest, that we should follow modern principles and try to find the water from the estuary instead of taking the easiest and cheapest way, which some would have us do, which is to extract from our all too precious lakes?


My Lords, there is no doubt that there are two alternative possibilities. I fully appreciate the noble Lord's interest in the matter, which I am sure is shared by many people, but the questions which are now being considered are the sort of questions that have to be considered before we can ask the water experts the right questions about method. They are matters for the Water Resources Board.


My Lords, as I understand it, the Water Resources Board are required by Statute to make a general examination of the water resources of the country. It was not clear from the noble Lord's reply whether they have been asked to deal with this Morecambe Bay barrage proposal as an individual problem and give it priority as a matter of some urgency.


My Lords, I am sorry if my reply was not as clear to the noble Lord as it seemed to me. I said that the Board had been asked to examine this possibility of a Morecambe Bay barrage as one of the means of meeting the needs for additional water supplies, and it is in that way they are now examining it. There are, of course, other possible means. There is no doubt that additional water will be needed, and what we are trying to find out is the best way of providing it.


My Lords, may I ask whether the other means the noble Lord mentioned are being examined simultaneously? In particular, I have in mind the Solway proposals.


My Lords, I feel sure that the Water Resources Board will have in mind the other possibilities, too. The Question in the other place was somewhat broader than this one, and if the noble Lord will look at the Answer given there he will see that that is so. But for the moment I have been asked, and I am answering, about one particular project.


My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government bear in mind in this inquiry that if the scheme is perhaps too expensive for supplying water in the more plentifully supplied part of North-West England, it will nevertheless almost certainly be required to supply water in the drier parts of England, which may have to pay more for their water?


My Lords, that, of course, is the kind of question that the Water Resources Board are bound to bear in mind.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is deep concern lest there may be some spoiling of the beauty of the lakes if water supplies are taken from them, and that there is a great desire that the alternative course should be examined?


My Lords, I am indeed aware of that and, again, that is one of the matters which has to be examined at this stage. One cannot expect people to do without water to preserve natural beauty, but if we can give them water without impairing natural beauty, so much the better.