HL Deb 20 July 1976 vol 373 cc690-732

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. My Lords, in a country with a traditional wet profile water has always been a limitless resource, interrupted only when the mains have to be repaired, but in principle available at any time and in any quantity. Indeed, it has been one of our quaint national characteristics that steady rainfall could be relied upon throughout the year, particularly in the summer. This is an assumption we can no longer afford to make. The prolonged drought means everyone has to become water conscious in quite a different sense—to think about the use of water in a conservationist context and to avoid what has always been considered natural waste. If we change our habitual thinking we shall be better able to plan both the development of our water resources and the investment needed to be put into water supply.

It seems to me that the prayers from the Bench of Bishops, and everything else we have tried to do has not had any result, but now as the Government bring forward legislation it is pouring with rain —even at this moment, I believe.

When I repeated my right honourable friend's statement on 2nd July, I explained that we now face a very difficult and unfamiliar water shortage in some parts of the country this summer. The underlying reason is the abnormally dry period in the second half of 1975 and the first half of 1976—the driest in many areas for 250 years, in fact since records were first kept in 1727. We did not get the recharge from the winter rains we could normally have expected and usually get, and therefore we started the summer with depleted reserves, particularly of groundwater, and in some areas in reservoirs. In addition, we are suffering, in common with most of the northern half of Europe, an unprecedentedly hot and dry spell which has now lasted for nearly two months. This has pushed up consumption to a prodigious peak, not only for domestic uses but also for agriculture. In fact, despite intermittent showers of rain the whole picture is bone dry.

But to say that nothing has been done would be quite wrong. The water authorities have acted vigorously to tackle the various problems in their areas: they have made emergency arrangements to obtain water from new sources. A good example of this is Wessex water authority, who have managed to put 20 per cent. of "new" water into supply since last year. They have deployed their resources over their whole area and, where feasible, over the regional boundaries; and by a series of imaginative economy campaigns have secured a remarkable response from water users. This has meant that in some areas consumption has been held down to 80 per cent., or even less, of normal demand.

It would he wrong and alarmist to overstate the gravity of the situation. Talk of a "national water crisis" is, in the Government's view, misconceived at this time. For example, in the Northumbrian and North West water authority's areas there is no real shortage. In other parts of the country, despite lack of rain, there are ample supplies to meet all reasonable demands this year. And in the areas worst affected—parts of East Anglia, the East Midlands, the South West, Yorkshire and South Wales—effects are very localised. In Yorkshire, for example, Leeds is faced with potential problems this autumn, while Bradford, only a few miles away, is unlikely to be affected. The point is that a great deal depends on the pattern of distribution in an area, as well as the level of rainfall. But the position in the areas worst affected is causing concern, and it would be irresponsible not to recognise that looking towards the late summer and autumn we have to face the real probability of localised water emergencies.

It is this situation that caused the Government to conclude that new powers were needed. I have been asked: "Surely you could have seen what was coming and brought in a Bill sooner?".

With hindsight, it is always easy to argue one should have had more foresight—well, I did, because I gather that it is pouring now. But the plain fact is that the existing powers in the 1958 Act were fully adequate for the problems arising over the last 15 years, and any that might reasonably have been expected. The special machinery that my right honourable friend established with the water industry in April enabled us to keep in close touch with developments on a weekly basis, and to respond, as we did, with an immediate promise—and now the introduction—of legislation directly the water authorities made it clear that they needed stronger powers.

In the current abnormal conditions existing legislation is defective in two ways. First, it does not allow water authorities to impose progressive restrictions on nonessential uses of water in a developing water shortage. Secondly, it does not provide a framework in a real emergency for the imposition of a flexible and adequate water rationing system. Existing powers comprise two extremes: a literal jump from banning the use of hosepipes for watering gardens and washing cars on the one hand, to the erection of standpipes in the street on the other. This is too rigid, and understandably unacceptable. The general public deeply resent being asked to economise when they see that parks and sports grounds are being watered freely; when fountains lose great quantities of water through evaporation—even if the supply is recycled—and when automatic car washes operate unchecked.

This Bill tackles the problem by taking the powers in the Water Act 1958 and building on them. Where the existing powers deal with the development of new sources of water, they are of course essential and we have re-enacted them here. We have also included powers for the restrictions of other abstractions and discharges, and emergency controls on the discharge of effluents. But the feature of the Bill which has attracted most attention, the feature that the water authorities have told us they regard as the most important, is the power it will provide for the prohibition or limitation of the uses of water.

The key provisions of the Bill are in Clauses 1 and 2, which provide for two different situations. Clause 1 is essentially about conservation of water in the period before an emergency when a water authority can, with good management and with the full co-operation of consumers, reasonably hope to g0et by. Clause 2 is about the sharing of water resources available—a rationing power, when limited supplies have to be allocated in order to keep the life of the community going. The distinction between the two kinds of situation, and the powers provided for dealing with them is crucial. For although the Bill has been brought in now as an emergency measure, it will provide a framework within which water authorities will be able to tackle water supply problems in the longer term.

My Lords, Clause 1 relates, as I have said, to water conservation. It is intended to give the water authorities powers to limit or prohibit the non-essential uses of water. Since this has led to misunderstandings, I think it would be helpful if I were to explain both the ambit and purpose of this provision. Earlier I referred to the resentment that the public feel when limitations on domestic users, and appeals to them for economy, are accompanied by unrestricted, or even ostentatious, use of water for nonessential purposes which the water authorities are currently powerless to limit. We have clear indications now that this is eroding public co-operation in the badly affected areas, and I think we can all appreciate why. Therefore, under Clause 1 the Secretary of State will as a first step designate the kinds of nonessential uses of water that can be controlled. This is the purpose of a direction under Clause 1(3)(b). It will lay down the framework within which the water authorities can operate, but it will not itself impose restrictions.

Once that framework—that is, the package of powers—has been defined, it will then be up to individual water authorities to decide whether the situation in their areas, or parts of their areas, calls for powers of control. If they judge that the situation warrants it, they will then formally apply to the Secretary of State for an order. They can ask either for powers related to all the non-essential uses that the Secretary of State has designated, or for a selection of them. But what they cannot do is seek powers outside the framework laid down. There is a period of seven days allowed for objections to be lodged, and there is also provision in Schedule 1 for a public inquiry, though this can be dispensed with in cases of real urgency. Once a water authority obtains an order under this clause, it is then free to limit or prohibit these uses as it judges necessary within the area covered by the order.

My right honourable friend is at the moment considering the non-essential uses which should be included in the package so that the direction can be issued as soon as the Bill becomes law. The uses he has currently in mind are the watering of parks, recreation grounds and sport fields, golf courses and race courses: the filling of swimming pools; the use of fountains, the use of automatic car washes; the washing down of buildings and the washing of vehicles—except, of course, where safety is involved. In reaching a view he will welcome and take careful account of opinions expressed in this House and in another place. There are, of course, powers for him to alter the categories covered if the situation changes.

I must stress that the inclusion of the categories I have suggested does not mean an immediate ban on, for example, all watering of sports grounds or all filling of swimming pools, or a total ban on horse racing. The powers apply only in specific areas where the water authority can firmly establish the case for an order under the Bill; and these powers are of course discretionary. Water authorities will be strongly encouraged to use them flexibly, and always to secure economies by voluntary means wherever they can, keeping the imposition of controls under the order as a sanction in reserve. It could well be that a saving of, say, 30 per cent. in the use of water for these purposes could be achieved without undue hardship and without damage to the life of the community and the environment. In addition, economies in the use of water by these conspicuous non-essential users will greatly increase public co-operation in the campaign for economy in the home. These will therefore be doubly valuable.

My Lords, Clause 2 is quite a different animal. An order under Clause 2 would be applied for on a very different basis. As the wording of Clause 2(1) makes clear, this is an emergency power, giving the water undertaker powers to ration the use of water in an area in order to sustain the community's economic and social life. There, the power is a blanket one. An order under this clause could also authorise the erection of standpipes for domestic supply, but not necessarily if the water authority decided that rationing could be better achieved by a general rota system of cuts. It is obvious that the traditional system of making people get their water in buckets from a pipe in the street is not only inconvenient and annoying but does not even always make sense—for example, for high-rise flats—and it causes great hardship for the elderly and the infirm that other methods may alleviate; for example, rota cuts.

My Lords, if a water authority seeks and is granted an order under Clause 2, its discretion will in practice be limited in a number of ways. The Secretary of State has power under Clause 2(4) to issue directions to authorities telling them how to operate their powers under such an order. I must stress that this is a residual power, and it would not be my right honourable friend's intention to use it for day-to-day emergency procedure. But it would give him the locus to impose, if necessary, the national priorities for water supply that he will be issuing as guidance to water authorities. The regional offices of the Department of the Environment, the Department of Industry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would be closely associated with the water authority's actions at all stages; and a local committee for the area concerned would be established with representatives of all the local interests and services primarily affected—that is, industry, the trade unions, the local authorities—to ensure that in taking decisions that could affect the life of the local community the water authority would do so in the light of the best possible national and local guidance.

My Lords, this Bill is a short one and I do not think I need go through its remaining provisions in detail. Clause 3 contains supplementary provisions, many of them a re-enactment of the powers already in the 1958 Act for dealing with what I would call the old-style drought order covering abtractions and discharges—powers which, of course, remain available on the same basis as before. Clause 4 deals with penalties for offences under the Bill; Clause 5 contains definitions; and Clause 6 provides that the Bill applies to England and Wales only. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland does not feel the need for new powers is likely to arise in that country, and so the 1958 Act, although superseded for England and Wales, will stay in force for Scotland only. Northern Ireland operates already under quite separate powers.

Schedule 1 deals with procedure. Any authority applying for an order will have to make a formal application advertised in the local Press, and there will be a short period for objection; and unless for reasons of urgency it is dispensed with, there is provision, as I have pointed out, for a public inquiry. It is essential, of course, in the case of drought orders under existing powers that the inquiry is laid on quickly, and if necessary sits long hours to enable a decision to be made as soon as possible.

Schedule 2 deals with compensation. Here, essentially, we have retained the existing compensation provisions and expanded them to cover compensation for infringement of owner's rights in the occupation of land by a water authority in order to carry out works. We have not, however, provided compensation for the restriction or prohibition of water use. We have taken the view that in an emergency situation it would be both wrong and impractical to impose a duty on the water authority to compensate people affected by a rationing system. Therefore, it would clearly be wrong to compensate for a minor inconvenience, such as restricting the watering of a golf course under Clause 1, when there would be no compensation for the factory whose supplies were rationed, with potentially far graver consequences, under Clause 2.

My Lords, we believe that the powers in the Bill are a necessary precaution at this time, and that they will strengthen the hand of the water authorities in dealing with the different and various problems they face in their areas. But at the end of the day the real success will be achieved by the consent and co-operation of water users—domestic, agricultural, industrial, and also recreational. The water authorities are doing all they can to maintain supplies, and to give the highest priority to keeping agriculture and industry going. I think farmers, in particular, who face difficult supply problems in remote areas and who are often reliant on boreholes, will acknowledge the help the water authorities have offered wherever they can, and the way in which, for example, they have in some cases been able to arrange for milk tankers to bring water out when they are coming to collect milk.

It is crucial for everyone in areas affected, or liable to be affected, to think about what they can do to help—to make their own savings now, to think sensibly about water use and to co-operate with the guidance they are given. The water authorities will themselves give detailed guidance to people in the areas worst affected, but we can all contribute if we take as our objective the sensible use of water and become water conscious in a way that we have never had to be in the past. We should not leave taps running, any more than we leave lights on; we should make sure that all faulty washers are replaced; and we should think before we use the dishwasher or the automatic washing machine with only half a load. If we keep simple rules like this in mind, we can all, wherever we happen to live, play a valuable part in conserving water supplies.

Finally, a brief word about the longer term. Opinions are divided on the matter, but it would be neither timely to do so, nor would this be the correct legislation on which to discuss whether or not we face a climatic change. There will certainly be lessons to be learned from this year's events. The work already in hand on the options for inter-regional transfers of water on an increasing scale will be focussed by the new National Water Authority proposed by the Government in the Consultation Document on the Review of the Water Industry.

The authorities will need to reassess their own plans for transfers within their regions; and resulting from this we shall have to think hard about the resources that will need to be applied to water supply in the future. There are no simple answers or quick solutions. But, meantime, I believe the Bill now before us is essential to tackle the immediate problem we face. It is a short Bill. We want to get it through both Houses of Parliament as quickly as possible. I hope that noble Lords who are to speak in the debate will take the same view as I do, and will try to get the Bill through quickly so that we can move on to the other business. Let us hope that while we are talking about the Bill it continues to rain. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Baroness Birk.)

3.22 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for introducing this Bill today and for her clear explanation of it, which I think has been particularly important in a Bill of this importance. The only comment I would make on today's sudden rain is that it might have been better to have had the Bill some weeks ago when perhaps we should not have had this drought at all; for the Bill seems to have brought rain with it.

None of us can fail to be aware of the reasons behind the Bill. This long, hot summer, at the end of an unprecedented dry spell, has caused a water shortage of particular severity in some areas. I am told by certain meteoroligists that we can expect further hot summers for some years and that there is some evidence of change in the pattern of weather. The only consolation that I can find is not simply that it is raining today, but that it rained on Saint Swithin's Day, July 15th, and it seems to have rained most days since. We on this side of the House welcome the Bill and support the principle of it. It is obviously to the advantage of industrialists, farmers, horticulturalists, to say nothing of domestic consumers, that at times of shortage sensible provision should be made, area by area, for a slowing up in the use of water.

The two extremes allowed under present legislation are either simply, under the 1945 Act, to ban the use of hosepipes in the gardens or for washing cars, or the more severe powers under the 1958 Act which enable water authorities to cut off supplies and to set up stand pipes. These, are two extreme solutions. Therefore I think that the proposed powers in Clause 1 are a very valuable addition for water authorities. The present serious situation has shown the value of the reorganisation of the water industry and of the establishment of regional water authorities. Water shortage varies between areas and within regional water authorities themselves. I understand that regional water authorities have been able to distribute water within their areas and thus to make the best use of the supplies available. I was interested to hear Lady Birk's illustration of this in Wessex.

Nevertheless, the curtailing of the public water supply is a very serious step and one that should not be taken without full debate, adequate time for discussion and, more important, adequate time for consulation, particularly if we consider the new powers in Clause 2. For although we are not opposed to the principle of the Bill, we on this side are confronted by yet another Bill in which everything has to be done by Statutory Instrument. It will be argued that this is an emergency situation; nevertheless, the Bill leaves a great many unanswered questions. It has been helpful to have so much explanation on Second Reading, yet we do not know how many individuals who undoubtedly will be affected by the Bill, will read the debate or have the opportunity to fill in the background that we shall have had in the course of the debates in this House and in another place. This seems particularly important as there will be no compensation to industries under Clause 2 if water supplies are cut off.

This is not the time for discussing whether or not all legislation should be done in this way. The only opportunity anyone will have ultimately to object will be to vote against a Statutory Instrument on a Negative Resolution. There will be no opportunity for amendment and no opportunity for detailed discussion. It is therefore, I think, all the more important that we should press at this stage the kind of worries people have as to how this legislation will work. Had time allowed I would have wished to discuss with the noble Baroness the detailed points already put to me. But we are working to a tight timetable and one to which we are happy to agree to. But I should be grateful if, before the debate is over, she could answer some of the following points which seem to me important and which have been raised with me.

One of the great advantages of the Bill is the powers in Clause 1 which give water authorities a new flexibility, the oppor tunity, where they consider it necessary, to introduce slowly the banning of various uses of water. I should like to ask whether it is possible under the Bill, where one authority introduces the powers under Clause 1 for users in that authority, to take water from other areas. One of the points is that the Bill does not apply to Scotland. Does this mean that if you are in the North of England, you could bring your water from Scotland or, if you are so able, bring it from somewhere else? Or, if you are in an Eastern area, can you bring water from the North, where there are adequate supplies, to the East, if either Clauses 1 or 2 are in operation?

Secondly, I think it will be helpful to know what detailed consultations are proposed with organisations when the supply of water is to be cut off. I was glad to hear the order of priorities that the noble Baroness gave on the uses under Clause 1. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to know what the order of priorities on all these uses will be. If it is to be left entirely with the regional water authority to decide, how will it consult, whom will it consult, how will it advertise the consultation it proposes to carry out and how long will this period be? I welcome the list of non-essential users; but there are powers to alter the categories and it is going to be a difficult decision for a regional water authority to decide which industries ought to have their supplies curtailed. The list of nonessential users includes almost all sporting activities and concern has been expressed by Central Council for Physical Recreation as to the effect on their activities. It may be, particularly if one is not a very active sportsman, that one feels that all sporting activities are non-essential; yet it is bound to have its effect on the employment of quite a number of people if all sporting activities in an area are cut off.

Not only has concern been expressed by the Central Council for Physical Recreation but the Jockey Club, too, expressed real concern over the effects on horseracing. This is a matter on which I feel that other speakers in the debate can speak with more knowledge that I. I imagine that the emergency services will be excluded entirely from the provisions but it would be essential to know what happens to the fire service when Clause 2 is in operation, the hospital service and the other emergency services.

Can I come now to the point about the rights of objection. Schedule 1(3) provides for objections to be brought and heard but Schedule 1(3)(2) provides for the Secretary of State to dispense with this requirement of subparagraph (1) if he thinks the need is urgent. So, therefore, there are to be cases when there will be no right to object and no compensation. This seems to me a very serious matter, for there is to be no compensation for any damage sustained as a result of the introduction of the powers under Clause 2. This would be particularly serious for industries which use continuous processes in which it can be a very serious liability indeed.

Furthermore, the Bill defines the circumstances in which the supply of water is to be cut off as deficiencies in water due to exceptional shortages of rain. Can we understand that this is the exact definition that will be used when either Clauses 1 or 2 are brought into operation, or could the water shortage possibly be caused by some failure in the supply other than a shortage of rain—possibly sabotage to a reservoir—in which case could all the provisions of Clauses 1 and 2 be brought into effect? I think we should know that.

There is one point that I should like to raise which has been drawn to my attention by the National Farmers' Union who say that, under the Water Resources Act 1963, if a person wants to start abstracting from a new borehole or stream, he requires a licence from the water authority, but before his application can be dealt with he has to advertise in the local newspaper for two successive weeks, and a month is allowed for objections to be made. Under these circumstances, this procedure is obviously much too lengthy. If somebody needs the new source in an emergency, advertising for two weeks would mean that by the time the source was found everything would have died. Are there going to be new provisions for farmers under these circumstances where they can find additional supplies of water? Perhaps when the noble Baroness winds up she can answer this question.

There are a number of speakers today and this shows what an important Bill this is, and how seriously the House is taking it. We on this side will give it a speedy passage. We believe this to be an important Bill, one trying to meet a very difficult situation. I conclude, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, did, by saying that I believe if it is to work it can do so only with the greatest possible co-operation from everybody, domestic consumers along with everybody else. As individuals we can of course all do everything possible to save water, but for people whose livelihood depends on the use of water supplies, this is going to mean a great deal of consultation and co-operation to make it work. I hope therefore that we shall have all the necessary consultation and understanding of people's needs from the Government in order that the powers—should they need to be used—can be used with co-operation.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say one or two words from these Benches to welcome this Bill. I must declare an interest because for a large number of years I have been a director of a statutory water company working in the Home Counties and from that position I have gained certain information about the way the consumption of water can he controlled, because the water company has been in operation for over 100 years. Until this time we have never had to restrict supplies. Next Saturday we propose to do so. We have found that communication with the public by advertising in the local papers and by using loudspeaker vans has had an enormous effect. We have managed to cut consumption by about 20 per cent. on a purely voluntary basis. This propaganda needs to be repeated from time to time because its effects tend to wear off.

I think that it will be a fairly long time before the wells and underground supplies get back to normal. We need at least six months normal rainy weather before we even get back to what might be considered the basic supply position. I agree with the noble Baronesses that one would like to see water resources kept particularly for food and industry because these things depend a great deal on water. I hope that sporting activities will not be too firmly quashed. I can understand that if people see a large amount of water being used on a golf course or a race course, in swimming pools and so on, they are not so likely to consume less water themselves.

I am pleased that even though the amount of water may be reduced, people will still have to continue to pay their water rates, so that we shall not get the position which occurred with cesspools when people found it simpler to knock a hole in their cesspool rather than pay the large sums of money to get it emptied. Finally, no matter what part of the country one is in, whether there is a big supply or reasonable supply of water, it is a very good thing if people restrain their consumption of water, because the more you can restrain it in certain parts, the more there will be available for other parts of the country which are in dire need. I welcome this Bill and shall be pleased to support its Second Reading.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad to say a word of welcome on this Bill. I must first declare my interest as chairman of the National Water Council. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her admirable and lucid explanation of the contents of the Bill and thank the Government for producing it so quickly. I hope that Parliament generally, this noble House and the other place, will give it an equally speedy passage.

As the noble Baroness told us, the present law is not adequate to deal with a situation of this gravity. It provides for only two extremes: the hosepipe ban and a complete shutoff, with water stand-pipes fitted in the streets. The Bill will provide the necessary intermediate powers, flexibility and selectivity, which has never appeared in any legislation governing water supplies before. The gravity of the drought is exceptional. It is something the like of which we have never seen before. The past 14 months up to the end of last month was the driest 14 months since water records and meteorological records began in this country in 1727. That brings home the gravity of the drought with which we are now struggling. We should say a word of thanks to our forebears who provided us with such a good water system which has stood up so well to-date.

We took a view of this situation in the National Water Council last winter as we saw the low rainfall and as the months went by and saw the total winter rainfall was falling further and further below average. We knew this meant that the ground water levels, from which a large part of the current water supply comes during the summer months, were progressively falling. We could see that if this went on, by the spring of this year we were going to face a summer of great trouble. We asked the Thames water authorities last February to give us a report of how they saw the water resources in their respective regions. They gave us that report, which confirmed our worst fears. In some areas resources were seriously down; reservoirs were low, ground water levels were quite phenomenally low and even the surface water levels in the rivers were low as well. So we published a statement in March from the National Water Council forecasting the dangers we might meet this summer. I might say in passing that the media—the newspapers, television and radio—gave us the best possible support, and we got a very good response from the public generally in economy of consumption following the announcements that were made. Incidentally, I must confess that in some areas the economy of consumption has rather faded in the interim period.

In the event, low rainfall has continued since April and not only has there been low rainfall but there have been exceptionally high temperatures, which cause high evaporation. Therefore, the position has progessively worsened since then. We have consulted with the noble Baroness's Department, the Department of the Environment, and in early May we expressed the view that in some areas additional powers would be needed to deal with the kind of problems the noble Baroness has outlined. We received a very sympathetic response and immediately set to work with officials of the Department to work out this Bill.

It is a very complicated Bill. The noble Baroness made it seem simple; but in fact it is a very complicated matter to get the balance just right. I think it has been got just right. The preparation was quick and admirable. No time has been lost. We have managed reasonably well up to date with the powers that we have got but we are now coming into the two worst months of August and September, during which time, however much it rains overhead, we shall not get any relief for our supplies. So the Bill now arrives in time to help us with our very greatest difficulties.

There are two broad lines of action which the water authorities can follow. One is to get economy of consumption and the other is to get increase of supply. There are five regional water authorities who are principally affected by drought. These are Anglia, Wessex (the Avon/ Dorset area), Wales, and particularly South Wales, Devon, Cornwall, and, curiously enough, the extreme South tip of Yorkshire. The other regions in the North have been unaffected and have had normal rainfall. Most of the Midlands are not too bad. Thames, with their enormous reservoirs and the flow of the Thames to help them, are in pretty good shape. Southern, despite the very low rainfall in recent months, also are in pretty good shape.

Therefore, the two lines of action they can take are, first of all, consumption economy and, second, supply increase. The noble Baroness has referred to Wessex, who indeed are a shining exemple. They have achieved on the one hand an economy of 20 per cent. in consumption and, on the other hand, a 20 per cent. increase in new supplies. This is really quite remarkable. They started in good time last winter. They saw the shortage coming on and found fresh sources of supply; they have really done absolutely everything that could be done. But the other regions are taking very similar action and achieving very similar results.

The initial savings, as the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has said, was something of the order of 20 per cent., principally because of hosepipe bans but generally by means of economy in the home. However, in most areas this has faded—there is no doubt about that—and something more has to be done if we are to deter people from garden watering, which is extremely difficult to check. One cannot go round and check every garden and so one depends in the main on co-operation from householders. There is no doubt that spectacular uses of water for public purposes—recreation grounds, golf courses, cricket grounds, racecourses, and so on—discourage the domestic householders from continuing the econo mies they were making before. Of course, these people have been using water quite legitimately: it is metered and they pay for it, and there is no reason why they should not keep their particular activities going, and going in good order. But one effect of the Bill will be to make it possible to limit those supplies. Partially that will have the advantage of absolute saving, and partially it will present a picture of fair economy all round. In practice, I would expect that in most cases a water authority considering action in this field would get co-operation simply by asking for it and by receiving a voluntary response. Once it is explained to people that strict economy is needed in a particular area, in most cases I would not think it would be necessary to impose a statutory ban.

To the noble Lord, Lord Wigg—because I know from what he said earlier that his anxiety particularly concerns racecourses—I would say that this position is in no way comparable with the foot and mouth epidemic nine years ago, when the foot and mouth regulations had to be applied generally right across the country. Most racecourses I would not expect to be affected at all. In the North there has been normal rainfall and there is no problem whatsoever. I should not have thought that most racecourses in the South would have been affected either, but only those racecourses which may be in part of a region which is very short of water and where there is already a threat to the continuation of supplies to homes and the possibility of having to go for an order which will put standpipes in the street and oblige people to get their supplies by bucket.

Obviously it would be right in those circumstances to ask racecourses, and indeed every other user of that kind whether they could manage without water for the time being. I am quite certain that in 99 cases out of 100 they would be willing to do so but, as I say, most racecourses will not be affected, even within that very area. So I hope very much this will not cause serious dislocation in this very important part of national life. Of course, the water authorities must give first consideration to supplies for industry and agriculture, in order to maintain production, on the one hand, and keep people's jobs going, on the other. When a regional water authority is applying for an order, in particular under Clause 2 of the Bill, it will of course have to show just what its priorities and plans are in that area.

Turning to consumption economy, there are other ways in which it can be achieved. Noble Lords may have noticed that the Welsh authority has already taken action in South Wales by cutting off supplies for 14 hours during the night. This can be done under the 1945 Act as long as it is done over a whole area and is not selective. It achieves an absolute saving and there is also a considerable saving to be achieved because of the stopping of leakages. Leakages from mains pipes are very large, and they are stopped when mains supplies are cut off, so that is an absolute saving. Savings can also be achieved generally by pressure reduction. These again save as regards leakages from taps because they run more slowly under reduced pressure.

On the supply side a good deal can be, and has been, done between regions. There has been a good deal of interconnection between those areas where the supply is plentiful and those where supply is short. Although regional authorities have been in existence only for a couple of years they have already achieved quite a bit of interconnection.

New boreholes have been sunk in some areas where it was thought they would be suitable. These have produced extra supplies; and perhaps I might say to my noble friend Lady Young, in answer to her query about a farmer wishing to sink a new borehole, that I would think that in this emergency it would be very unlikely that a regional water authority would be willing to contemplate that. Where they think they can effectively sink a new borehole in order to increase the public supply, they will do so. But I think it doubtful, and only in the most exceptional case, that they would be prepared to see a new borehole put down which subtracted from the existing supply. So I think that the existing procedure would be the very minimum safeguard. But the noble Baroness will no doubt get the official reply.

New river abstractions have been contrived in many places. This has been done by getting an order to reduce the flow in the river, and in some cases by additional treatment to use water which could not have been used before; and, of course, road tankers are being used in special cases in order to get water to remote spots where they are short of it. As I said, water authorities really started last winter to get on with it, so that they have been able to do quite a bit of preparation to meet the present position.

I would say, in answer to anxieties expressed about water authorities cutting off the water supply, only that they are imbued with the tradition that they are there to supply water and not to deny its supply. They will bust themselves to see that they provide a supply. Their problems are much more to control the limited resources, and to share them out in the way that can best be done in the interests of the community. This very brief description of what water authorities are doing perhaps fills in a little of the background, showing some of the complexities and how valuable these new powers will be in getting more flexible control over water resources in areas where supplies are most limited; and there are some where supplies are dangerously low at this time.

My friends sometimes now say to me that I deserve sympathy because I am chairman of the National Water Council, and that only two years after its birth the industry should run into such a record drought. But my response has been to say "Thank Heavens for the new regional water authorities". It is their immensely increased strength, in their comprehensive management of all aspects of water, which is now enabling them to cope with the present position. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if regional water authorities did not exist today we should have to invent them.

With the help of this Bill, we shall struggle through the next couple of months—not without real difficulty in places; one must not disguise that fact—and shall maintain supplies and share out the limited amounts that are available, as well as possible. When October comes, with lower temperatures and no evaporation loss, I just pray for a long soaking wet winter which will fully replenish our supplies. Perhaps I should say in that context that a point has been made about the meteorological pattern, but I hear what the experts say and I believe the best view one can take is that there is no evidence that there is a change in the pattern of our climate, and that our rainfall records, which, as I said, go back about 250 years, are not long enough to show a changing pattern. If there is a change going on, our records are not long enough to show it.

However, that will not prevent us in the National Water Council, with the 10 regional water authorities, from making a very thorough survey of experience this summer in this record drought situation, in order to review the measure of security of supply which we now have, so as to determine whether increased security should be provided in the light of this experience, always bearing in mind that the more secure one makes the supply the greater the capital expenditure and the higher the charges. However, we shall make a complete review and endeavour to determine, with the help of the noble Baroness and her experts, just what is the right balance in the interests of the whole community. I say again that I very much welcome this Bill, and I hope that your Lordships will be willing to give it a speedy passage.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I find no difficulty in raising my voice in support of all that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has said, and indeed all that the Minister has said. The Bill is both timely and wise. I think that it stands on three principles: first, the principle of flexibility; secondly, the principle of common sense and, thirdly, from all that I have been able to discover, there is a willingness to consult. Perhaps before I go too far into what I want to say, I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that the only reason for my intervention on the Friday morning when the announcement was made was that the Press build-up was curiously similar to Press build-ups on previous occasions.

What happened over foot and mouth was this. Two members of the Jockey Club went down to the Minister of Agriculture and accepted, without any question, that racing should come to an end. This was barmy, because it had the immediate result that Wolverhampton, for example, which is near my home, and which in the National Hunt season might attract a crowd of 2,500, was stopped in its tracks because it would be bringing in people from the farming areas, thus spreading foot and mouth. But half a mile away Wolverhampton Wanderers were attracting a crowd of 60,000, including the 2,500 who did not go to the race meeting, from an area covered by a great arc which went from Wolverhampton to Stoke, where I live, and to Port Vale, Everton, Liverpool and Chester. I certainly wanted to see that the national interest prevailed, but I considered that before anything was done somebody should do some homework. It did not happen last time, and it was for that reason that I raised my voice.

I am very sorry, but in self-defence I have to declare an interest. For some reason, I always have to do so. I have done it on innumerable occasions, but it has not stopped the Daily Telegraph from attacking me because I failed to do it again, or stopped the Duke of Devonshire from doing likewise. So I have to recall that I was appointed by the Minister of Agriculture to the Racecourse Betting Control Board. I was appointed by a Conservative Minister to the Horserace Totalisator Board. I was reappointed by another Conservative Minister to that organisation. I was subsequently made chairman of the Horserace Betting Levy Board by a Labour Home Secretary, and my period of service was renewed by a Conservative. I am now President of BOLA, and in order to complete the story I own part of a greyhound—may I say, the greatest greyhound in the world—and I am pleased to say that he won again last night, following his wins last Thursday and Saturday. He wants hard going, so I am not interested in watering the track for him. I also have half a horse which likes hard going, too, and if noble Lords are interested he is running at Yarmouth next Thursday and I hope that he will win. That, I hope, declares the whole of my—


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? How does he do it?


For the same reason, Bob, that I am able to talk intelligently about this Bill. I do my homework, which I shall now go on to. I am not a meteorologist, but since the intervention to which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, referred, I have been looking at this problem and I do not take the optimistic view—perhaps I am wrong to use the word "optimistic"—that ran through the Minister's speech, and through that of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. It is true that the detailed records go back to 1727, but I believe that until the year 1960 the view was held, not only in this country but right throughout the civilised world, that climate was constant. There were slight variations but, broadly, the line was fairly steady. Since 1960, the view has begun to penetrate that what was regarded as normal was not normal at all, but was abnormal and we had to expect periods of change.

I acknowledge the distinguished researches of Professor Lamb who is head of the climatic research unit at East Anglia University, and he holds the view that we just do not know, but that it is more than likely that we are entering into a period in which there will be changes. Whether it does or whether it does not, the Bill is absolutely essential because it has to deal with the situation as it is now. Clause 1 will just deal with that situation. I am quite sure that it will be handled intelligently. Also I am sure that there will be consultation. This is the only way to deal with the problem.

Let us suppose, however, that what Professor Lamb says is correct and we do not get a wet autumn and winter. By Christmas we should be in a situation in which Clause 2 would have to be invoked. When we reach that point we shall get justice but it will be rough justice. I understand and, indeed, sympathise with the view expressed by the Minister. With great honesty the Minister explained why there will be no compensation. While it will be practical to pay compensation under Clause 1 for those cases which will be brought into being as soon as this Bill becomes law, under Clause 2 it will be a horse of a very different colour; yet whole industries and individuals may have to go to the wall in the national interest. That fact ought to be recognised.

On the other hand, at this stage I should be churlish if I did not pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and his colleagues. If there is one branch of our national life of which we can be reasonably proud, first, because of its disinterestedness and, secondly, if I may use a word which is not very fashionable; namely, patriotism, which means service to the community as a whole, regardless of sectional interests, it is the water industry. Not only is it zealous in its endeavours but it is efficient. Disinterestedness and patriotism are a strange combination in this country but we have got it; they are now combined to deal with the situation in which we now are and to help out the Government.

I do not want to speak for too long, so may I turn to the matters about which I am primarily concerned and upon which I raised my voice a few Fridays ago; namely, the impact of the shortage of water on racing. In speaking about racing I am thinking not only of horse-racing but about greyhound racing, sport as a whole and that class of consumer which falls into the area of non-essentials. However, it is a class which, in many ways, is essential to the wellbeing of our national life. Rugby grounds will have to be watered; the areas around our soccer grounds will have to be watered; certainly cricket grounds will have to be watered. So far as racing is concerned, unless courses are watered it would not be possible to race on some of these tracks.

Racing suffers from one major heresy which is repeated in a number of places. That is to say, it is divided up. It was incorrectly divided up by the Jockey Club spokesman in Sporting Life a week ago. He broke it down in this way. He said that of 62 race-courses—that is, counting Newmarket as two—19 rely solely on natural sources, such as rivers; 19 have private arrangements; 16 smaller courses are not watered at all; and eight courses are watered from mains. Those figures are at variance with those which have been given to me by the Racecourse Association who, in their turn, were wrong because they said that Kempton, about which I happen to know something, takes its water from a reservoir whereas it takes it from a borehole.

If, however, one moves into what I call the Clause 2 situation—that is to say, when the emergency begins to assume gravity—it does not very much matter, and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, will agree with this, whether you take the water from a river, a reservoir, or from a borehole because, to deal with the point which was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and by the Minister, one has to take into account the impact on the public psyche of water being used on racecourses when people are being asked not to water their favourite flowers or vegetables.

There is another point. As the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and his colleagues develop their regional policy and if, as I believe, the Government press ahead towards the introduction of a national grid, then, wherever you take the water from, the result is the same. For example, somebody at Newbury, doubtlessly briefed by the Jockey Club, said on the BBC on Saturday that Newbury is all right because it has its own borehole and can use all the water it wants. I do not believe that to be true. One has to look at the problem and safeguard one's supplies of water, wherever they come from and however they are to be used. This is one of the points which the Government must get across to the public. It is true that if the rain which has started as a result of the speech made by the noble Baroness continues there will not be any problem, but if those who share the fears of Professor Lamb are right then we have to look forward to a rather grim autumn.

Surely, therefore, the public must be educated to the view that water should be used with care for both essential and non-essential purposes. In my view, wherever water is used it must be used under the umbrella of the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and his merry men and orders made by the Minister. Unless we can educate the public in that way we may find ourselves driven to the position that we should charge for water by putting it on the meter. That happens in Australia, If people heard the meter going click, click, click, and if they knew that their money is going out with the clicks they might begin to face up to the realities of the situation. If Professor Lamb is right, we cannot rule out the possibility of water being metered.

I have no competence to discuss the wider implications touched upon by those who believe that there may be a permanent change in weather conditions. Certainly I do not want to be an alarmist but I believe that at this stage those of us who want to use water on racecourses—I certainly do—want to see that it is used intelligently. Let me give an example. Air Commodore Brooks who had a distinguished RAF career and who now is pursuing an equally distinguished career in looking after Epsom, Kempton and Sandown racecourses made a plan for the watering and use of those racecourses. Epsom racecourse is very difficult to water. There are only two or three inches of soil on top of the chalk. You can go on watering it until the cows come home but the water either evaporates or goes through into the chalk.

Air Commodore Brooks realised that by the time the August meeting at Epsom came the position might be very difficult. His plan was not inspired by anybody but himself. He printed a notice on his entry forms that if horses were entered to run at the Epsom meeting they might, because of the hard ground, find the meeting transferred to Kempton. Kempton has a borehole because it is on top of gravel. Air Commodore Brooks takes water out of the borehole with the permission of the water authority; and he is planning to water the course at night since evaporation is less at night than it is during the day.

I want the kind of approach that Air Commodore Brooks has adopted on his three racecourses to be applied elsewhere. So on Sunday I talked to the Chairman of the Racecourse Association, Mr. Newton, and again yesterday and I arranged talks between him and officials from the Department of the Environment. These conversations include the Secretary of the Racecourse Association, Brigadier Waller, who wrote to me over the weekend suggesting I might help by putting the case for racing to the Government.

The meeting took place this morning, I am happy to say with the friendliest results. It seems to me this is a way of securing flexibility and efficient consultation by breaking the problem down, away from vague entreaties like "please save water", by handling the problem intelligently, telling the public what needs to be done. So if people see the sprinkler at work on the race course or on the golf course or on the tennis court they will know that what is being done is part of an accepted policy worked out in the interests of the community as a whole.

I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will regard that approach with approval, but I go a little further. Brigadier Waller said that approaches had been made to the Central Council for Physical Recreation, which is run by Mr. Peter Lawson and Mr. Cheney—two entusiastic young men who labour in the interests of sport as a whole. I have been in touch with them and they have written to say they are most anxious to have the consultations right across the board, covering all aspects of sport, so that the problems of particular sport can be discussed with the Minister and his officials, or with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and his officials who are getting the best solution possible. If that is done, and again if the public are told, even if the worst happens we shall be drawing on what I regard as the best quality of the British people; that is, the voluntary principle which is based upon an understanding of what the ultimate object is and then harnessing that ultimate object to the national interest with the particular interest which wants to do something but which finds it difficult to do it because it may find itself in conflict with the wider interests.

I do not wish to delay your Lordships any more, except to say this: I will do anything I can do to facilitate, first, the retention of racing—of both dogs and horses, because I am interested in both and I hope my successes will continue, whether or not the courses are watered—but I happen to hold the view that sport on a national scale is now part of the national scene. I want us to do well in it, and the only way we can do well in it, if we have not got the strength we had yesterday, is to use our "loaf". I believe this Bill is a way of using our "loaf" and for that reason it has my approval.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships briefly on this matter and in doing so I am greatly surprised once again to find myself basically in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, with whom I usually disagree on every occasion. I welcome this Bill. I began looking at the situation with regard to the shortage of water back in March. My own view is that this Bill is two months too late, but at least we have got it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, seems to have a slight air of optimism. I am afraid I cannot hold the view that she does; that is, that this Bill will solve the problem because winter is coming and we shall have showers of rain, possibly continuous. The shortage of water is extremely acute. If I understand the position, at this moment this country is nearly 15 inches short of rain and it will take many a long day of continuous rain to make up that shortage. What really worries me is that while all these provisions in the Bill are correct and should be carried out, are we envisaging the contingency that it might not rain? That could quite easily be the case. The noble Baroness said that she had probably done better than the right reverend Prelate in producing rain. Her remark was immediately followed by a loud clap of thunder which I hope she may have taken as a warning that all was not quite right in what she was saying.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, said that there was interconnection of supplies, but I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, who said that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, must look forward to spending money—or at least investing money—in a national grid so that we should not again arrive at a situation in which we have had to impose restrictions in some areas. Another thing which worries me considerably is that the Government do not tell people what will be the results of this continuous drought. When I look round and see the parched fields—and even where the rain is falling it is coming too late—I find myself continually thinking of the likely effect on agriculture. The fact that we shall get water again is not the point. What has happened is that there has been a standstill and nothing that we can do will bridge the gap from now until next year. The more publicity the Government can give to the results of what has happened, the better it will be and such publicity will be more than appreciated.

As your Lordships are probably aware, I live in the very deep country where, surprisingly enough, there are still an enormous number of people who are not connected to mains and pipes. These people use the streams and springs which emanate from sources at which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, is looking to see whether he can "lift" the water from them to give to many people in the towns. I implore the water authorities, when they are looking for new sources of water and sinking new boreholes in order to abstract this water, to give the greatest consideration to those people who live in the countryside and who rely on their springs and their streams for their day-to-day water supplies. Before they abstract water in quantities which may dry up the source I hope that they will make quite sure that the people who are living there have sufficient water for their needs.

I have little else to say about this excellent Bill, except to make two small points. In the debate on the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill we had a small argument with the noble Baroness on the subject of local newspapers. When she is considering Amendments for the Committee stage of the Bill, may I suggest to her that there is an excellent phrase in paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 1: "in one or more local newspapers". Perhaps she could think of transferring that phrase. The other point that I would put to the noble Baroness occurs in (4)(b) which says: "shall specify a place" for a notice. The water authority areas are very large. Would it be possible to put in the word "places", so that water authorities have freedom to put notices in their areas where everyone can see them? My Lords, with those few words, I welcome this Bill.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin my few brief words by apologising on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, who unfortunately is otherwise engaged in a Select Committee on a subject connected with sport, though not with water. On his and my own behalf, I am happy to welcome this Bill. I am also happy to find myself in the fairly unusual position of agreeing almost wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. I say, "almost wholeheartedly" because it seems to me that, like several other speakers, he has coupled racecourses with golf courses, sports grounds, automatic car washes and other non-essential uses of water. I do not suggest that racing can claim to be anything like as essential as industries which, by their nature, depend on a regular supply of water. But I do suggest that racing is very different, and is in a quite different position from those other non-essential uses. Golf courses, automatic car washes and sports grounds do not bring to the Government £110 million a year in revenue. They do not provide employment for the 100,000 men and women employed in the racing and betting industry. They do not, unless you like bathing in car washes, provide entertainment for all that many people.


My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, will allow me to interrupt him, I would say, on the contrary, that he is quite wrong, and that this is a mistake that is constantly made. If the noble Lord is referring to taxation, racing does not contribute a sum in excess of, for example, that drawn from football. Neither does it employ as many people as are employed in connection with football.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg; of course when I said "racing", I should have said "betting' on racing". I was referring to the betting tax. But as I am quite sure the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, will agree, hard ground leads to small fields, and small fields lead to a grave decline in betting turnover.


Of course.


Nevertheless, my Lords, I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, that the need is for common sense and co-operation. Like the noble Lord, I welcome the meeting which took place this morning between the Racecourse Association, the Jockey Club and the Ministry. The Jockey Club and the Racecourse Association have asked the Ministry to inform them as soon as possible of those racecourses which are situated in areas which may become very seriously affected by the drought. Then, as the noble Lord said, the need will be for consultation and co-operation. I also agree with the noble Lord in applauding Air Commodore Brooks particularly for doing his racecourse watering at night. Not only is the amount of evaporation less, but fewer people see that it is going on; so it seems to me to have the best of both worlds.

The policy in racing is that artificial watering should be carried on not to alter the "going", but only to promote the growth of grass. In normal circumstances, I am not sure that that is the right policy, but from the point of view of racing, grass is the problem at the moment. However one feels about essential or non-essential use, there is a much stronger and quite different case to be made out for some courses where, for various reasons, areas of the course have had to be resown with new grass, or relaid with new turf. I have in mind especially Cheltenham, where a drainage scheme was conducted in the spring. It seems an odd time to be talking about drainage, but anyone who has been to Cheltenham after a normal English winter will know how bad is the drainage there. I am afraid that during the operation of the scheme a lot of turf was disturbed and has had to be relaid. Unlike established grass, freshly laid turf dies if deprived of water, and can be preserved only by artificial watering.

Nor is Cheltenham unique. The jumping season begins next week. Inevitably, in the normal wear and tear of an English winter, the takeoffs and landings at all the fences become worn and torn and have to be relaid. If all these areas were deprived of artificial watering, permanent and irreparable damage would be done to a sport of which I think this country is not only proud, but for which it ought to be grateful.

My Lords, that is really all I have to say. On behalf of those concerned with the racecourses of England, all I ask is that there should be the fullest contact, which I know will be sought with the local water authorities; and that when those authorities exercise the power given to them by this Bill, they will recognise that even if racecourses are "non-essential" in certain respects, they are also a very special case, and have very special needs.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support the Bill, because the situation is really urgent. While I am not a great believer in delegated legislation, I can appreciate the difficulty of the Government, because although they have brought in a general Bill laying down certain restrictions for the whole country, it does not apply to the whole country. The noble Baroness has told us that, luckily, some areas are all right. But I prefer to see legislation contained in a Bill. The late Lord Swinton taught me one important thing when I was honorary secretary of the Claydon Industry Committee. He was chairman of that committee and he used to say: "If it is necessary, put it in the Bill". But there are many things not in the Bill, and so we have to see that the Minister orders. The Bill is a permanent measure, which I think is probably right. The orders are laid for six months, and can be extended for another six months. They are only temporary and can be prayed against. They are orders subject to Negative Resolution. It is necessary to have this Bill.

My Lords, I am probably the only Peer from East Anglia speaking today. Our part of the country is one of the worst affected. By the courtesy of the chairman of the Anglian Water Authority I travelled quite a large distance yesterday, about 150 miles. I visited in Bedfordshire, the Grafham Water scheme, which was opened by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. I also went to see the Empingham scheme. Grafham is in full operation and takes its water from the Great Ouse near Huntingdon. Ever since the middle of June, it has not been able to take any more water because the powers given by Parliament allow a good deal of the water to go downriver, and the reservoir, large as it is, is only half full. Probably many of your Lordships know it, because it is used greatly for sport—yachting, fishing and sailing. In the neighbourhood of 38 million gallons a day is extracted from the reservoir to keep Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire supplied. I was told by competent engineers yesterday that if things go on as at present without being able to replenish the water, by November the situation will be extremely severe—and this is a very big reservoir.

My Lords, I then went to Empingham, which is not to be completed until the spring of next year; so, unfortunately, we shall not have the benefit of it for this winter. It is the largest man-made reservoir in this country. It is the size of Lake Windermere. When completed and put into operation next spring it will supply about 60 million gallons a day. It takes its water from the Nene and other rivers up near Peterborough. But there again, they are not allowed to take any water this summer. The reservoir is only about a quarter full, and whether we shall see it full this winter is quite problematical. I do not want to be too gloomy, but that is the position. There is another big reservoir, which will be completed in another year or eighteen months' time, in the Ipswich area. That will come into operation in eighteen months or two years' time, taking its water from the Gipping.

Of course, all these rivers are extremely low. I was down in South Wales about a fortnight ago; I went down for a wedding at Brecon. I was told down there that the reservoirs supplying Cardiff and Swansea are suffering extremely badly and getting very low. We heard today that restrictions are to be imposed on 450,000 people in South Wales, cutting off the water entirely from 7 o'clock at night until 8 o'clock in the morning. Can the Minister tell me how we get on about fire precautions if these mains are all shut off and there is a bad fire? What about hospitals? I suppose hospitals have a certain amount of reserve in their tanks. I suppose we must have these very stringent restrictions, because unless we get very substantial rainfall between now and November, I am told by the experts that we shall be in great difficulty, and probably we shall have to operate Clause 2 of the Bill. We can only hope that there will be sufficient rain to fill up the rivers so supplying more water to these reservoirs.

As to racing, I live at Newmarket and I know there has been a certain amount of criticism by local people about watering of the racecourse when they are not allowed to water their gardens. I understand the Jockey Club have two wells and they were given an entitlement to take out, I think, 36 million gallons a year. But, of course, some local feeling has been caused as to why watering of the racecourse or the golf course should be allowed. I think Lord Wigg has put the case very well. He has far more experience than I have of this matter. With those few words, I support the Bill and I hope it will work.

4.33 p.m.

Viscount MONCK

My Lords, I do not propose to touch on the merits or demerits of this Bill, although personally I take very great exception to subsection (5) of Clause 1. If we went into the Bishops' Bar and asked Ann for a double whisky and she said there was no whisky, we should not expect to have to pay for it. Anyway, that is beside the point. I want to refer to the timing of this Bill, a matter on which my noble friend, Lord de Clifford, touched. At least as long ago as Easter anybody who had any knowledge of water, water tables, springs and such relevant matters, must have realised that unless we have a miracle, and a pretty big miracle too, we should be in mortal trouble, anyhow in some parts of the country, during this summer or early autumn.

My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, who has forgotten more about water than the rest of us will ever know, said that he saw the red light in February. I am sorry to see the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has gone; I was going to have a bet at 10 to 1 that my noble friend Lord Nugent had been seeing the amber light for some time before that. Somewhere along the line there must have been a delay. If this Bill had been produced three months ago, restrictions could have been brought in gradually, instead of these sudden and severe cuts which some unfortunate people in South Wales are now suffering. There must have been a delay somewhere, either through ignorance or guilt. I only trust that this Bill will go through without delay, and that those who may have been ignorant will profit by the result of their ignorance and those who have been guilty will be able to salve their consciences.


My Lords, may I intervene for a couple of minutes. This Bill has all our support, I suppose. We have spoken about economy and the measures necessary to ensure economy. Quite right. But we live in a country which not only is surrounded by water but is also full of rivers and mountains. I cannot see why this dreadful shortage of water has come about. Of course, I realise that the advantage of hindsight is considerable, but the question I would ask the noble Baroness is this. Is it possible to have a water grid? It was only mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigg; it was not mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. I cannot help thinking that, if it was physically possible, the water from Northumberland and Durham should have been piped to East Anglia, which is one of the worst hit areas, as the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, described. Is it possible for a water grid to be established?

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, this afternoon as the debate commenced a clap of thunder seemed to indicate that the Parliamentary ritual was almost as effective as the South American Indians' raindance. I only hope that keeping the debate going will increase the fall of rain. Of course, should conditions arise where an order has to be brought into effect, one hopes that the ritual of the order will bring the rain as well. The real point is that even if we have rain now the level of water in boreholes, is dropping, so we have a continuing situation which is extremely serious, although the public might not appreciate the fact that rain now is not going to do us an awful lot of good.

I come on to the question of contingency planning. I hope perhaps when the noble Baroness sums up she will give us some information about any contingency planning that is going ahead at this moment. This leads on rather logically to the question of consultation. This has been raised by various speakers in the debate today. One of the biggest users of water is the CEGB. Here consultation well in advance can solve many very serious problems. Obviously if water supplies have to be shut off to generating stations for any reason, electricity supplies would have to be diverted and the grid system would have to be changed. A lot of contingency planning would be necessary. There are, of course, a lot of other areas where consultation is required. There are a number of industries which have continuous processes, lasting some 150 hours, some even longer. They cover textiles; they cover paper and a number of other essential industries. If a process lasts 150 hours, obviously a 48-hour notice, as specified in the order, will not be sufficient. Therefore, planning is absolutely essential. In fact, probably something in the region of seven days would be necessary to try to save these industries and protect jobs.

I tried to take down as quickly as possible from the noble Baroness's somewhat fast delivery and explanation of the Bill who is non-essential, which seemed eminently sensible, and what was said on the question of parks and racecourses and all the rest of it. One point brought up by the Central Council for Recreation was that a code of conduct for groundsmen ought to be introduced as soon as possible. This would seem to be a very sensible suggestion which I hope the noble Baroness will consider. There are a number of other areas where the pecking order comes in. She has said that agriculture—and this will please the NFU—has a priority here. There are certain people in food production, as well as on the food processing side (which she did not mention, and which comes under industry) who are absolutely dependent on water supplies and for whom consultation is important. For instance, glasshouse producers, nurserymen, and horticulturists, who have controlled environment situations. Once the water is shut off nothing can be done to rectify their situation.

I should like to draw the noble Baroness's attention to the fact that many people would be extremely grateful if we could be informed as soon as possible what the pecking order will be in terms of those who are regarded as absolutely essential. For instance, in the past laundries used to be regarded as absolutely essential. One point, for instance, is that launderettes use far less water than home washing machines, and therefore they ought to be allowed to continue and people discouraged from using washing machines at home which use very much more.

I should be grateful for clarification of the present situation. Drought has varied, as has been explained, very much across the country. For the sake of understanding what the situation is at the moment, I wonder whether the noble Baroness would say which areas, for instance, would have constituted an emergency under this Bill, and where it would have been invoked and, if possible, when. I think it would give everybody an indication of what to expect as the situation comes up. For instance, in Leeds I would think there was probably an emergency, but it would be helpful for us all to know about this point.

There is one question on the right to object. I appreciate that the Bill provides for objections to be overruled should the situation become bad enough. However, as the Bill is worded at the moment if certain provisions are invoked then all right of objection is removed. What would seem to be fair here would be that, if the objection is overruled because the order has to be brought into effect, the right to object should be heard subsequently and not just totally disregarded. Perhaps the noble Baroness could give consideration to that point.

Another point which seems to require a bit of additional clarification is the question of compensation. I read through the Schedules and I was not entirely clear because they seem to cover the point of damage sustained, and there is no definition of what "damage sustained" means. There is also the point that Clause 2(13) as I read it, appears to be a sort of "Catch 22" clause. I wonder whether the noble Baroness could look at this point, because Schedule 2 provides for compensation for damage sustained by all provisions under Clause 1, except those which relate to restrictions on the use of water, and for the entry upon or the occupation or use of land under Clause 2. Could the noble Baroness tell us the type and degree of compensation the Government consider would be covered by the term I have already mentioned, "damage sustained"? I am sorry to have asked so many questions of the noble Baroness but the answers would help us all.

Finally, ways of saving water have been mentioned, and one which I think was employed in Wessex brings home to the public the need for saving water. This was the inclusion of a plastic bag in lavatory cisterns which reduces the consumption every day and reminds people that they must save water. If that could be encouraged I think it would result in a considerable saving of water in lavatories and bring home to the public the need to save water. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, said about the use of meters. I have always felt that the one thing that will motivate people to stop leakages and wasteful use of water is the introduction of meters. I appreciate all the problems. I know the expense, and all the rest of it, but if the situation continues getting worse—and although the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said that our pattern of weather has not changed, which I am very happy to hear—


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? I did not say that it had not changed; I said that there was no evidence to show that it had changed. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, that we do not know.


My Lords, the noble Lord is always very careful and I am afraid that I was generalising. I accept his point. But bearing that in mind, should a pattern emerge where we have a lower rainfall and the situation has to be looked at on a longer-term basis, then the introduction of meters would become essential.

4.46 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, although this has been a short debate, I think it has been extremely interesting and helpful, not just from the point of view of this House and any of those who might hear about it, but also when the Bill goes to another place. May I illustrate three of the main points which have come out. First, I am grateful—and I am sure that the Government are as well—for the full support that has been extended to this Bill from every noble Lord who has spoken, even though they might have raised some queries and had some reservations on certain points. The debate also pinpointed the widespread concern felt about the consequences of the current drought, and also the willingness of all the interests affected to play their part in a voluntary effort to achieve the necessary savings. This is an attitude to which I am sure the water authorities will respond. I am sure that all your Lordships, as I did, found the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, extremely helpful, being, as he is, right in the centre of the water industry.

I should like to re-emphasise that we intend that the powers proposed in the Bill should be used flexibly, and that the water authorities should do all they can to avoid disruption to the life of the community. I am afraid that I have to come back again and again to the point that the variations over the country are so great that it is impossible, even in answer to the different points raised by noble Lords, to give a generalised answer. It would be quite wrong. It would depend entirely on what was happening in a particular area. While on this point, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that none of the areas suffering from drought at the moment would, if this Bill were in operation now, come within Clause 2, which is very fortunate. While I am on this point, may I refer to the question raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Monck. He asked why, if the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, realised that a drought was a possibility, something was not done before. One does not want to jump into what can appear to be panic legislation until it is absolutely necessary.

Secondly, as I pointed out when I introduced the Bill, in April my right honourable friend established very close touch with the water industry, and there was a progress report of developments on a weekly basis. It was not until the point had been reached—at the end of June, beginning of July—that it was felt all round, from the consultations that had taken place between the water industry and the Government, that the time had come for this legislation to be introduced. That is how it arose. Thus, it is not a question of it being too late; it has come at the right time.

Although I dealt with the question of the longer-term aspects of the matter and climatic changes and so on in my opening remarks, perhaps I might comment on it a little further because it was referred to by Lord Wigg and others. Various views exist on this subject and I know about the work to which my noble friend referred. As I say, there are various views and I have my own personal theory, which I cannot say is necessarily shared by the rest of the Government, so I cannot put it forward as a Governmental view. In my opinion there has been a change of climate and the tests in the atmosphere which have been carried out have affected our climate. But that is only my view and I appreciate that there are others.

The Bill is designed to deal with what we see as a possible or potential immediate situation; in other words, it is for the short term. That is not to say that the whole question of what will happen in the long-term is not under review or that the situation that has arisen now has not alerted us to the need to do more. Indeed, we should have been very stupid if we had not been aware of that. The whole question of climate, meteorological changes and the various ways of dealing with these matters, if themselves not part of the short-term problem, are certainly not being overlooked. Nor is it a question of optimism. I am not taking an optimistic but a realistic view and I am dealing with something with which we have to deal now. Similarly, this relates to the point made by several noble Lords about the question of a water grid. I think that this is an idea which everybody supports, but water is not like electricity; it needs large pipes and heavy and expensive pumping equipment. It is not something that can be done in a short period. However, everywhere the water authorities are developing linkages between the different systems which they inherited, although it is far short at present of a full grid. This can, therefore, only be a long-term aim. The situation which we face obviously gives impetus to work of this kind because, as I say, we cannot look at it as a short-term problem, although the Bill is concerned with particular problems at the present time.

The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, being aware of my various tasks—this is one of the difficulties of being, so to speak, a maid of all work in your Lordships' House—cleverly introduced some miscellaneous local government matters with which I have to deal. He commented on a clap of thunder which could be heard in the Chamber and hoped that that would convince me that I was not always right. I never think that I am always right; in my family my husband has taken that slot and stays firmly in it. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, as always made some cogent points and I was glad to have her general support. Among the questions she put was whether users could be supplied from other areas. The answer is that they certainly can be. This is being done now wherever possible and will continue to be done and, where an order is in force, water from outside can still be imported.

The noble Baroness and others ask what detailed consultations take place when supplies are to be cut off. The Government are encouraging water authorities to consult widely with those who are likely to be affected and they are being encouraged to start consultations immediately. Indeed, I believe that such consultations are under way now. There are the advisory committees to which I referred earlier and it is very important that this machinery of consultation should be in existence and working so that we do not suddenly have to set it up in an emergency situation. The water authorities are well aware of that. In the way that the position varies from area to area, so must the consultation. The Government propose that in a Clause 2 rationing situation, which would be for areas of real emergency, a consultative committee should be established in each such affected area to make absolutely certain that there are consultations.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about industry and priorities. Again, I must repeat that this will vary from area to area depending on which industries have the greatest industrial responsibility in a particular area and the local water authority will naturally have to take into account all such matters and all the other points which are included in the rather blanket coverage of agriculture and will have to work out the priorities. As we see it, and as I explained, the priorities, broadly speaking, must be the essential domestic use, agriculture and industry and I think that that is as far as I can go in answering the point raised by Lord de Clifford.


My Lords, my noble friend spoke of the setting up of consultative committees on a regional basis. Does she intend to amend the Bill to do that or is there already power in the Bill which enables her to do that?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, there is provision in the Bill dealing with the setting up of advisory committees, but it is for the water authorities to do that. We have proposed under Clause 2 that consultative committees should be set up but we are hoping that, as part of the guideline operation, advisory committees will be set up apart from any statutory necessity.


My Lords, I need not remind my noble friend that we have only one day in which to put down Amendments. I do not want to hold up the proceedings on Thursday. Would my noble friend be good enough to consider—I am not asking for an answer now—the desirability of taking powers in the Bill for advisory committees to be set up under powers that the Bill would then contain, and if necessary table an Amendment to that effect? On the other hand, if that is not necessary, perhaps she will explain the position when we debate the Question of the relevant clause standing part of the Bill.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to answer some of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and at the end of my remarks I will deal with his question. The noble Baroness spoke of concern felt about sporting activities, a matter to which several others referred. We recognise this problem, as do the water authorities, but again I must stress that the powers are enabling powers and they are being asked specifically to use their discretion flexibly and it will all depend on the seriousness of the situation. This comes under the heading of not disrupting the life of the community, but we must face what I think has been generally accepted in the House; namely, that if we get into the sort of emergency situation which I hope we shall not, we must have a proper sense of priority and realise that domestic users, agriculture and industry must come before sporting events, however important they are and even though they are industries in themselves. In other words, there must be a sense of priority and this must be accepted. It is, of course, accepted in countries which are far more used to dealing with problems of water shortage than we are.

The noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, and the noble Baroness asked about the emergency services. The answer is that they will be associated in the proposals for rationing but their interest will have a very high priority and when it comes to the specific point of the fire services, they will have sufficient water even when it is turned off because they have their own keys to the various stopcocks. Where necessary there will be the closest liaison between the water authorities and the fire services in order to avoid delay in making water availalbe. Noble Lords can be happy that that point is completely covered.

I come now to the concern about the power to dispense with inquiry when there is no compensation, which, I believe, was another point which was raised by the noble Baroness. Lady Young. Inquiry can be dispensed with in a critical emergency situation, but not the right of objection. Objections will in all cases be fully, though quickly, considered; so this right will not be taken away. We are talking here of something which we we hope will not come about but which is an emergency and must be treated as such.

The noble Baroness also asked me whether the Bill could cover other shortages—for example, the result of sabotage. The answer to that is, no. The Bill is intended to deal only with a shortage resulting from lack of rain. It would have been a much wider and, quite frankly, a different Bill if we had had to take into account other reasons for shortage of water.

As regards the concern about the National Farmers' Union and new bore-holes, I feel that I cannot add anything to the answer given by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. He was quite right about that, and I am sure that the noble Baroness will appreciate the point there made. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked me about damage sustained and the question of compensation. Compensation will be decided by the Lands Tribunal. That seems odd as it is water that is concerned but, as it is there, there is no point in setting up a special Water Tribunal. So far as damage sustained is concerned, this is a very complex definition and, if I may, I shall write to the noble Lord, which will save me reading out a long page of explanations which I am not sure I altogether understand.

So far as the local consultative committees are concerned, these can be set up by administrative action. We do not need legislation. The water authorities entirely agree that these committees should be set up and they will co-operate fully. It is quite unnecessary to write this into the Bill and I very much hope, having regard to the need to be expeditious, the fact that we shall soon reach the Recess and that the Bill has still to go through another place, that my noble friend will not put down an Amendment on this point, because we are satisfied about this, as are the water authorities. To do so would hold up the Bill; it would not help it any further forward because this is something on which there is total agreement.

Finally, I should like to thank all the noble Lords who have spoken. If, when I read Hansard tomorrow, I find any point that I have not replied to, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me. I shall write to the noble Lords concerned, since there is a long debate to follow on race relations.

On Question, Bill 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.