HL Deb 16 July 1997 vol 581 cc110-1WA
Lord Dean of Beswick

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What actions they and the water companies are taking on the 10-point plan which was announced at the recent Water Summit.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman)

Each water company has now responded in a generally positive and constructive way to our proposals for action. Copies of each company's response have been placed in the Libraries of the House, together with a short analysis of them prepared by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

All water companies will now provide free supply pipe leakage detection and repair services to their household customers. Eight of the smaller companies have told us that they will limit the number of free repairs to any one service pipe. Two other of the smaller companies have decided to replace leaking supply pipes free of charge.

All companies are taking action to promote water efficiency. All tell us that they are making significant efforts in the provision of water saving devices. Most are actively distributing devices to reduce toilet flush volumes or else are making them available free on request. A very few companies have decided to conduct trials before committing themselves to widespread promotion; they should take very careful note of what the majority of companies have done and are doing. Most water companies already offer free water efficiency audits to household customers. The remainder are developing or evaluating the service they intend to offer and we want them to go firm very soon. All water companies confirmed that they have in place a wide variety of measures to encourage water efficient gardening. All companies see clear roles for the Environmental Task Force in promoting water efficiency.

In addition to the 14 companies which had already done so, eight companies have indicated that they are now prepared to conclude formal arrangements with the Director General of Water Services in respect of their compensation schemes for drought-related supply interruptions. We want to see these eight licence amendments made by October. We also want the six other companies which indicated that they are minded to accept licence amendments to resolve their reservations with the Director General and to have the amendment process agreed by the same time. That also applies to the one company which still declares itself unable to accept licence amendment. All companies have expressed a willingness to consider compensation payments if they have to issue advice to boil or refrain from using mains water for reasons within their control.

Those companies which have not already done so are now moving to agree with the Environment Agency a publicly available drought contingency plan. We are pleased that the industry is united in taking this action in advance of our bringing forward legislation to make it a statutory requirement when parliamentary time allows.

We asked companies to do more to explain to their customers their water supply performance targets and how well they are being met. Altogether, we believe that companies are taking appropriate action. But none should rest contented with their efforts.

We shall be looking for sustained commitment to all of these actions. So my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will he writing to all companies again in November, asking for an update on the various activities and initiatives they have described.

We have kept to our part of the plan. At its head was tough action by the Director General of Water Services on leakage. He wrote to all water companies on 22 May, setting out the process by which he will establish mandatory targets.

We said that we would make new water regulations which would include significantly tighter requirements for water efficiency. The proposed recommendations of the Government's Water Regulations Advisory Committee were published for consultation on 19 June. We also announced that we would be conducting two reviews. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Environment announced on 25 June the launch of a review of the water charging system in England and Wales.

Yesterday, we launched the review of the water abstraction licensing system in England and Wales. A key aim will be to ensure that abstraction licensing and related processes provide full protection for the environment while enabling fair and flexible arrangements for meeting properly managed demand for water resources. This review will be conducted jointly by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Welsh Office, in consultation with the Environment Agency and the Office of Water Services. We have written to interested organisations, inviting their representations on a wide range of issues associated with water abstraction. A copy of this letter has also been placed in the Libraries of the House.