§ 4.35 p.m.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement about the water supply situation in Wales which is now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales. The Statement is as follows:
"Since February of this year rainfall in the Principality has been abnormally low, and over the whole of the Welsh Water Authority area has only been 44 per cent. of the long-term average. The authority has been monitoring the water supply 421 situation carefully since Easter and taken measures to conserve stocks of water held in reservoirs by application for drought orders to reduce compensation water discharges from reservoirs and to increase abstraction from rivers. The authority has also sought to reduce consumption by banning the use of hosepipes and garden sprinklers. In spite of these measures reservoir levels have continued to fall and further action will be necessary to conserve the remaining stocks of water until there is sufficient rainfall to replenish them. Nobody can be certain when this will be, but meteorological records point to substantial rain—or so it is hoped—by the third week of October, and the WWA have formulated their emergency plans accordingly.
"The areas most seriously affected are South East Wales; Preseli, with a population of about 40,000 people; and the Lleyn Peninsula, where the influx of summer tourists more than doubles the population to about 66,000. However, the shortage of water in South East Wales gives the greatest cause for concern, because some 1 million people are involved. The WWA have therefore set up a Drought Liaison Committee for South East Wales with representatives from the local authorities, the health authorities, my department, the CBI, NFU, FUW and other bodies. The committee met last Monday when the WWA presented the facts about the supply situation and outlined their plans for meeting the shortage. In the first instance there will be a ban on the non-essential users of water such as automatic car washing plant, and a drought order has been signed to put this into effect. If the dry weather continues the WWA will then need to ensure a further reduction in consumption to about 50 per cent. of normal from 1st September. They intend to do this by shutting off supplies to domestic consumers for up to 17 hours per day; industrialists and agriculturists will be relied upon to make their own plans for reducing consumption by a similar amount. The organisations represented on the Drought Liaison Committee now have a month to consider the implications of these measures and to make their own plans accordingly. Further meetings of the committee will take place as necessary to resolve any outstanding problems before the WWA begin to shut off supplies.
"Problems of varying severity exist in other parts of the WWA area and appropriate measures are being taken to limit consumption and to make the best use of the available stocks of water. The powers available under the Drought Act 1976 are being and will continue to be used to the full, and there is close contact between the WWA and my department in order that I am kept regularly informed of the situation. Finally, I should like to pay tribute to the great efforts which are being made by WWA personnel to overcome the problems caused by the exceptionally dry weather of recent months."
My Lords, that concludes my right honourable friend's Statement.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Long, for repeating the Statement. Is he aware that there is acute concern, especially in certain parts of Wales, about the effect of 422 the drought? As the Statement which he has read makes clear, south-east Wales is the area worst affected, and of course is the most populous and heavily industrialised part of Wales. Does the noble Lord agree that the position there is critical and indeed that a potentially serious public health hazard exists? Is it not the case that if we do not get rain in substantial quantities, the storage reservoirs in south-east Wales will run dry by the end of September?
The Statement refers to the Drought Act. Can the noble Lord say whether the Welsh Water Authority have submitted applications for an order under Section 2 of that Act which would enable the authority if necessary to move towards rota cuts which would enable limited supplies to last until the end of October? Is the noble Lord aware that there is great public concern about these cyclical droughts in areas of high rainfall like those in Wales? Will he say whether the Government have any long-term plans to deal with them? Can he say additionally how the Wye transfer project is working and how much longer it will take to complete? Can he confirm that after that project is completed it will make the south-east area safe for 10 years?
Finally, is the noble Lord satisfied that the Government are giving adequate financial encouragement to the Welsh Water Authority? Is it not the case that loan allocations offered by the Welsh Office to the authority have been reduced while the authority's own capital expenditure has increased? Will the Minister give an assurance that these policies, which we take to be short-sighted, will be reversed?
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I also should like the thank the noble Lord for making the Statement in this House. Is he aware that the most alarming part of his Statement are the words "meteorological records point to rain by the third week of October" and the Welsh Water Authority have formulated their emergency plans accordingly? In the light of our experience is not there something to be said for drafting in Mr. Denis Howell so that we get rain rather earlier than that?
However, on a more serious note, perhaps I may say this. In view of the emergency in which we found ourselves in the long, dry summer of 1976, does not the existence of the present emergency in a land which, despite the present drought, still has a great deal of water around, point to the absence of expenditure on infrastructure and the means of taking water from the areas that have it to the areas—obviously those in south-east Wales— which are deeply affected? This is an industrial area with a high population. Does not the whole situation point to a failure to expend the necessary money to improve our infrastructure? Would the noble Lord not agree that there is something vastly wrong with the situation that Britain, which has experienced droughts of this kind before, is now in 1984 finding itself with droughts not only in Wales but in other parts of the country simply because various areas have not been linked up to enable water to be brought?
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, who recognise that the 423 situation in south-east Wales is very serious. It is an alarming situation at the moment as we are approaching the holiday season and there are many more tourists going into that area. Both noble Lords' questions have hinged on the question of expenditure and why this situation has come about. The noble and learned Lord mentioned the pumping stations and the laying of further pipes. I think he was really referring to a sort of grid system. Perhaps I could answer him in this way. The external financing limit of the Welsh Water Authority is the amount which the authority can raise from outside sources. This is the primary control exercised by the Government over capital expenditure of the authority. In the most recent years, the external financing limits and the extent to which they have been utilised by the authority were as follows. The limit set by the Government to the Welsh authority was £25.25 million in 1982–83 and the amount that the authority utilised was only £22.6 million. In 1983–84 they were again given £23 million and only used £18.6 million. So they have not used their full quota of finance. Therefore, they really could perhaps have done a little more.
In arriving at their capital expenditure in order to operate the pumping stations and so on—and there are many items in this—the capital expenditure plan for resources available to the authority consists not only of the external financing limit but also of the amount that they consider can be raised from the consumer charges assisted by savings that the authority have been achieving on their operating costs. By these means the authority have been able to undertake a capital expenditure programme in the past two years as follows. (I am reading out these expenses because it may sound to noble Lords as if nothing has been done and the Government have not given any money, whereas in fact the money is there.) The planned expenditure in 1982 and 1983 was £47 million. The actual expenditure in 1982–83 was £55.7 million. In 1983–84 £47 million was planned and the actual expenditure was in fact £50 million.
The noble and learned Lord mentioned a health hazard. If I may say so, the hospitals are quite safe. The sewage farms, which I think were also mentioned, as, equally, firemen, are provided under the Act with the ability to have and sustain water. The orders to which the noble Lord referred have been applied for for the south east under Section 2. So that is already in operation. There are many orders being applied for for many areas at this moment.
I hope that I have been able to satisfy the noble Lords. It is a very serious situation. We are hoping upon hope that by October, if not tomorrow, we shall get more rain in the south east. The situation is extremely serious.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend a question on a subject which was mentioned by the noble and learned Lord opposite? That is about the Wye/Usk Transfer Scheme. I recollect in 1976 urging the Welsh Water Authority to proceed with an emergency type of transfer scheme because that scheme would substantially alleviate the water shortage in a large part of South Wales. Would my noble friend please tell us whether or not that 424 scheme has now been completed? Is it now in full operation? Is he aware that that is capable of transferring very large quantities of water from the surplus areas to the shortage areas?
My Lords, I know my noble friend was a great authority as regards the water authority, and specifically on the Wye transfer scheme to which he referred. The former river authorities had made a start in 1971 by seeking outline planning permission for a pumping station at Monmouth to transfer water from the Wye to the Usk. The justification for this scheme, as the noble Lord has said, was that demand for water in the area was expected to increase and supply would not be able to meet the additional demand in dry years—though it would be able to do so in wet years.
The Welsh Water Authority received outline planning permission for the pumping station at Monmouth in 1976, when they were considering a further report on the scheme. The 1976 drought emphasised the need to develop the scheme and the construction of a pipeline from Monmouth to Olway Brook was started.
My Lords, I am afraid my brief is rather faint at the moment so I shall have to confirm the names to your Lordships later. There is probably water spilt over my brier. So. if I may say so, the information is in the pipeline.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, is it the case that a tunnel has been erected but no pumps? What has been happening in the last six years?
My Lords, I shall have to find out where the pumps have got to but I am sure they are not far away.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Viscount will clear up one point. He gave a figure for the 1983 capital expenditure and the capital available. From the figures that the noble Viscount quoted. it seemed to me that there was a shortfall of several millions in expenditure and capital available. Has any explanation been given for this by the Welsh Water Authority?
My Lords, I have not had an explanation of it as yet, but I shall certainly find out and write to the noble Lord.
§ Lord Soames
My Lords, all this sounds a very sorry story. Given the situation that now exists, is it out of the question that some of the water that is being sold from water authorities that have plenty to spare, I believe, to Gibraltar, might be sold to South Wales?
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, I wonder if I might help the Minister. It is a litle hard since he is obviously not wholly conversant with the entire situation. 425 Throughout the whole of my lifetime, I have heard that at this period of the year, poor Wales is always having its water supply cut off. There have been many debates in your Lordships' House and I recall the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, describing how there was surplus water in disused pits that could be quickly and quite cheaply utilised. I also recall an occasion when we debated the reservoir that was to hold water for the Manchester area. It seems to me therefore that there must be remedies that could be brought about. May we ask that there should be an emergency debate fairly quickly when the House resumes after the recess, because this is an important matter? It comes up perennially.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Some of the pits are being used. Some cannot be used because they contain corrosive water that is damaging to machinery. But they certainly are being used and those that have not been used as yet are being brought into action.
§ The Earl of Radnor
My Lords, does my noble friend not feel that perhaps the answer might be to incorporate in Prayers in your Lordships' House a prayer for rain in South Wales?
My Lords, yes. If you care to come to Prayers, no doubt we shall get them from the right reverend Prelate.
My Lords, if I am right, my noble friend was referring to the exporting or importing of water?
§ Lord Soames
My Lords, I am sorry but I have made clear that there are tankers— ships —carrying water in large quantities at the moment to Gibraltar. It sounds a very profitable business. However, could not some be diverted to South Wales?
My Lords, I am interested in my noble friend's question. I shall ask why it has not been diverted.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that when a serious situation similar to this was discussed when I was a Member of another place, one honourable Member who, I think, is now a Member of your Lordships' House, said that water is dynamite in Wales? If this goes on, it will be.
My Lords, we had a debate just now on noble Lords' expenses for cars. No doubt, the Welsh contingent will be buying new cars with the money that they have got out of water sales.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, is it not extraordinary that this problem should recur regularly in certain parts of the country every time we have the slightest spell of warm weather? Why do we not have a water supply system that can supply water when people need it? 426 What I cannot understand from what the noble Viscount had to say in answer to previous questions put by noble Lords was that the Welsh Water Authority has actually underspent its allocation when there is obviously a crying structural need for greater supplies of water in this part of South Wales. Can we not have an assurance that as a result of this situation —on which we are glad to learn that urgent action is being taken—an urgent study will also be made about how a recurrence can be avoided and what steps will be taken by the Welsh Water Authority and by the Government and whatever other authorities may be involved to make sure that we do not hear about this again in this House?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is quite right. I feel that there is a great deal of sympathy throughout the House on this question and the reasons why we are once again looking at restrictions and orders going out on the shortage of water. I shall inform my right honourable friend and ask him to see whether we cannot save any further situations of this kind in the future. I have to say, however, that Mother Nature does strike occasionally, say in 50 years or 100 years. It was only 1976, and now poor Wales has had a drought again. All we hope is that by the time of the next drought 500 years or 1,000 years hence, or whatever it is, we shall have the pumping station and the reservoirs situation right.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that Wales does not sell water to Gibralter? That is the North-East of England. But we do sell water from the Severn Trent authority to the city of Birmingham, not Manchester. Would it be possible, and have any arrangements been made, to co-ordinate the water supply of Birmingham so that it might economise, too? Is it possible to divert anything from the Severn Trent authority to the Welsh Water Authority?
My second question is this. Is the noble Viscount aware that, as a consumer in Cardiff, I hope very much that the Welsh Water Authority will not delay too long some form of control of water consumption? It seems to me that they are being over-sanguine if they are leaving it until the begining of September.
My Lords, I cannot answer on the point of how quickly any emergency can come into being. But my right honourable friend, and, indeed, as I have said, the committee working on this to find out the way to deal with the shortage of water have to come back by 1st September and will probably be back before then, because this is very serious. As to the transfer of water and selling it from one part of Wales to another, I should like to write to the noble Baroness because I could not answer at this stage.