HL Deb 03 August 1971 vol 323 cc1000-2

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 a statement can now be made on the Government's plans for the supply of water to the nation as a whole, as promised in reply to a Question in this House on June 23, last.]


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment intends to make a Statement soon on the future organisation of water services in England and Wales, following the Report by the Central Advisory Water Committee. There are a number of complex considerations involved, however, and it will not be possible to do this before the Recess.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the Answer I received on June 23, which distinctly said that a Statement from his right honourable friend could be expected before the Recess and a Statement on final policy probably before Christmas? May I ask whether the Government are"thinking big"about this question, which is a very serious one indeed? I wonder whether the noble Lord would agree with me that the Water Resources Board recently advocated a national water authority instead of the regional boards. Is he further aware that at this time the nation is using 14,000 million gallons of water per day, and that the danger areas at the moment include Devon, East Anglia, the Pennines, the Lake District, Newcastle, Liverpool and many parts of Scotland? Would the noble Lord try to press his right honourable friend to get on with tackling this very big question?


Yes, my Lords, I am aware of most of those factors, and I dare say the noble Lord is right about the particular figures he quoted, but without notice I cannot confirm them. The Statement made by my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton was made in good faith: it had been our hope and expectation that we should be able to make a Statement before the Recess. This expectation has not been fulfilled; but that has not been due to any lack of awareness of the urgency of the problem. I can confirm that my right honourable friend is fully aware of the urgency; but the considerations are most complex and it is important to get a solution, which must be a long-term solution and not merely the solution of particular problems of shortage, on the right lines.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the future organisation of the water industry has to fit in with the future reform of local government? Is my noble friend also aware that he and his noble and right honourable friends have indicated that they intend to legislate on that matter next Session? Is he aware, therefore, that it is most urgent that the Government should make up their minds what is to be the future reorganisation of water—which of course includes the sewerage function—very quickly now, because all local authorities, as all the other authorities engaged in the matter, require to know?


My Lords, we are only too aware of this particular factor, which is one that presses on us very much indeed.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether consideration is being given in these days to proposals for barrages at Solway Firth and Morecambe Bay? Such proposals were being discussed many years ago and they might help very considerably to solve our problem.


Yes, my Lords. A week or two ago I answered a Question not only about barrages—with particular reference to the case of the Wash—but about the proposed desalination plant at Ipswich.


My Lords, do the Government plans include consideration of the Report published some months ago by the Central Advisory Water Committee? Does not that Report include plans for the supply of water to the nation as a whole?


Yes, my Lords. This is the Report on which these considerations are chiefly based.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if the Government's eventual pronouncement should foreshadow anything like the nationalisation of water supplies there will be a great deal of well-deserved opposition to it?


That is another consideration, my Lords.