HL Deb 19 July 1971 vol 322 cc649-51

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, owing to the shortage of water in the Plymouth and South-West Devon areas and to the threat of floods affecting people's homes, livelihood and farms, they will take steps to reverse the decision against the creation of a reservoir on the Swincombe site which could supply the necessary water to both areas and relieve the flood hazard.]


No, my Lords. It is for the river authorities or the statutory water undertakers in the South-West to consider whether they should again seek authority for a reservoir at Swincombe. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State understands that they would probably need another Private Bill. If a Bill came before Parliament with any such proposal it would be up to Parliament to decide.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that somewhat unsatisfactory Answer, may I ask him three supplementaries? First, is he aware that when the Swincombe site was turned down by the Committee, which had not even seen it or heard all the evidence, hundreds of people in the 18 other possible sites listed in the Section 14 Survey were put in the position of wondering whether it was their homes and livelihoods that were threatened? How would the noble Lord like to live with the anguish of this Sword of Damocles hanging over his head? Secondly, is he further aware that the latest three"front runners"for reservoir sites in South Devon are on good farming land and are of outstanding beauty, which is more than cart be said for the moorland bog? Lastly, can he take some action to curb the activities of a certain sterilisation society which has already held up water supplies for North Devon for ten years and looks like doing the same for South Devon?


My Lords, it is not for me to comment upon, still less to criticise, the decisions of a Committee of another place; no doubt they had good reasons for the decision they came to. As to other sites, the noble Lord will recognise that this raises issues different from that in his original Question, but if he cares to put Questions down on them I will do my best to answer them. I am not sure to which particular society he is referring, but, of course, societies for the preservation of the countryside and amenity have every right to put their case in inquiries when they are held and to put their case before Parliamentary Committees when they are sitting.


My Lords may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that the reply he gave to the original Question will give a great deal of satisfaction to all those who are interested in the preservation and maintenance of our National Parks? And may I ask the noble Lord, secondly, whether it is not correct that the Plymouth Corporation had every opportunity of deploying before the Committee of the Commons all the arguments in favour of the reservoir at Swincombe; and, their having deployed them, the Committee turned it down.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I would rather not go further than I went in my first supplementary answer as to the details of what went on in the Committee of the other place.


My Lords, is not the noble Lord being a little bit distant and relaxed about this subject, and has he not found that local authorities and water boards welcome advice behind the scenes before they start? And is not the obvious answer to combine a desalination plant with a seaside power station somewhere in the South West?


Yes, my Lords, that may be so, but, as the noble Lord knows, we have the advantage of having the report of the Central Advisory Committee on Water before us. We are studying this, and its proposals do provide us with an opportunity of improving the framework in which these very difficult decisions can be considered and settled.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the greatest contribution that has been made in this difficult field is the recent amending Act, the Water Resources Act 1971, which my noble friend put on the Statute Book, having inherited it from noble Lords opposite? This will enable river authorities to proceed by statutory order and public inquiry rather than by Private Bill, a method that is quite unsuitable for dealing with these matters which really raise national issues.


My Lords, I think the whole House will be grateful to my noble friend for making that further point. I did not make it in my first Answer only because it does not actually apply in the case of Swincombe.

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