HL Deb 21 March 1977 vol 381 cc235-8

2.43 p.m.

The Earl of KINNOULL

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, in view of last year's drought, what steps have been taken to conserve the winter rainfall and what additional new reservoirs are planned.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, compensation water release has been reduced under drought order powers in a few cases to help with reservoir filling; otherwise the steps taken have been those normally taken by water authorities in winter. Authorities are actively pursuing the establishment of reservoirs at Carsington, at Broad Oak, at Colliford and at Roadford. But grant of powers to construct these is subject to the outcome of normal statutory procedures.

The Earl of KINNOULL

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Could she say whether at present the stocks in the reservoirs, and indeed the underground reserves, are fully recovered from last year's drought? Could she also say what is the increasing demand by industry, and indeed by the population, on water supply? Is there any evidence that our climate is changing?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, taking the last point first, we have as yet no substantive evidence that our climate is changing. We believe that our underground water supplies are adequate, and that they have recovered. With regard to reservoirs, many of them are overflowing, many of them filled and many of them well on the way to being filled. Our position is considerably better than it was at this time last year.


My Lords, could the noble Baroness say what steps are being taken to increase the underground storage of water rather than storage of water on the surface?

Baroness STEDMAN

No, my Lords; not without notice of the question. I can tell the noble Lord that we have new reservoirs under construction, but that is not quite what he was asking. I will make inquiries and, if the noble Lord will allow me, I will write to him.

The Earl of KINNOULL

My Lords, in view of the reported comment by the National Water Authority that building a new reservoir takes 10 to 15 years, may I ask whether the Government are looking into the question of the planning facilities of the Water Council? Could she say also what capital expenditure has taken place over the last six months, or what has been planned over the last 12 months, by the authorities?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, it takes several years to plan and construct a major new reservoir. Much of the rainwater has to flow to the sea in waste. Last year's conditions were quite exceptional, but we do not think that they were so exceptional as to justify a shift in our present policy on reservoirs. We have new reservoirs which are supplying water for the first time. We have other reservoirs under construction. I am not able to give the noble Earl the details of the capital costs. I can only tell him the additional expenditure that last year's drought cost the water authorities. I will look into it, and if we have the information readily available I will let the noble Earl have it.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness is aware that her well-balanced answers give a fair picture? But is she also aware that, in making its future plans, the water industry wishes to strike a fair balance between providing sufficient supplies of water and not drawing excessively on the capital resources of the nation? In the meantime, in the light of this winter's rainfall, the water industry is very conscious of its gratitude to the Almighty.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, with his much deeper knowledge of the water industry, and of the Almighty presumably, as well. Obviously, we cannot plan, and it would be unwise to plan, for the maximum demand in the exceptional circumstances which arose last year. I am sure the water authorities are doing their best, and we are reasonably confident that we can meet any demand this summer.


My Lords, could not Mr. Howell, who was so successful in turning on the rain in the drought, be asked whether he could turn it off? We are flooded.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness could tell me whether the Government are still keen to encourage farmer-built reservoirs with the 40 per cent. grant they kindly brought in earlier this year. If that is still the Government's intention, I wonder whether the noble Baroness would, with her usual charm, be so kind as to write to the water authorities to ask them to take a more tolerant and helpful attitude in this matter, particularly over on-site reservoirs which are often very much cheaper than off-site? Would she ask them to bear in mind that, as the tax-payer is paying 40 per cent. Of the cost, it does matter, and they should give it considerable thought.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, as I said earlier, I do not have the details of the capital costs and other grants we are making. I certainly hope that such steps as can be taken will be taken, and I will certainly bring the point raised by the noble Lord to the attention of my right honourable friend.