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Lord Jenkin of Roding: I know that my noble friend will look at the new clause very carefully. It reached me only this afternoon and that is why it is not being taken now. In any event, if one is putting duties on the undertakers, which is what the new clause does, and the power of the regulator is to monitor and supervise that which is the meat of the new clause, the new clause may come very close to what my noble friend has said he is prepared to look at very carefully. The matter will come up at a later stage in Committee. We may find that in a sense we have almost anticipated what the Government are anxious to do.

Viscount Ullswater: Perhaps I did not say that I shall study very carefully the new amendment that has only just been tabled.

Baroness Nicol: I am greatly encouraged by the support of all sides of the Committee and by the Minister's answer. I hope that we shall not all become locked into seeing water metering as the only solution. That seems to happen whenever we discuss water efficiency. We may have problems. I know that a number of water undertakers are not too happy with the clause which requires them to embark on water metering because they have encountered many problems with it. I do not think that we can rely on that as a solution, even if we supported the idea, which I personally do not.

However, I am glad that we are to have another opportunity to debate this subject under the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I look forward to improving the argument at that stage. I hope that we shall reach that amendment a little earlier in the day.

I considered that specifying a "duty to promote" implied a little extra activity that might get us nearer to achieving water efficiency, rather than specifying simply a "duty to conserve" which is rather static. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the encouragement that I have received and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Marlesford moved Amendment No. 74:


Page 7, line 16, leave out ("the obligation to develop water resources") and insert ("any obligation").

The noble Lord said: I have an idea that my noble friend replied to this amendment before I had the opportunity of speaking to it, but perhaps not. At any rate, I hope that my noble friend will allow me to make a few remarks about it. I think that he said that the amendment is not acceptable, but at that time he had not had the advantage of hearing such arguments as I have for tabling it. It is a pretty innocent little amendment

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and I had hoped that he might be able to accept it. Yesterday one amendment was accepted on the run so surely it is about time that we had another—and I thought that this might be it. All that we are saying is that nothing in this subsection shall be construed as relieving any water undertaker of any obligation for the purpose of performing the duty, rather than focusing on the obligation to develop water resources.

When the 1989 water legislation was before Parliament—before I became a Member of this House—many people tried to move the emphasis from the development of water resources to their conservation, but they did not succeed. It is ironic that we then had three years of drought when people never stopped talking about the need to conserve water resources. Of course, the time in the calendar year to talk about conserving water resources is not on a wet January day. Nevertheless, I hope that my noble friend will recognise that this is a very important point and that we must specify in the Bill a new responsibility for the conservation and management of water resources. My amendment slightly changes the emphasis towards that.

There are three main sources of water for use in our land. The first is rain, which we all know is extremely uncertain and unpredictable. Secondly, there are rivers and underground sources of water. We all know the horrors that can result from over-abstracting from either. We have had three years to demonstrate that, if that were necessary. It is rather like Pharaoh's dream. Thirdly, there are reservoirs. In principle, reservoirs are the epitome of sustainable development. They conserve water (which would otherwise run into the sea) and raise the water level—that is, if we believe in global warming. That is a spin-off advantage. Reservoirs conserve water when it falls in excess quantity in the winter, enabling it to be used at other times in the year. So, in general, reservoirs are a good thing although their location is often extremely important—

Lord Crickhowell: Aha!

Lord Marlesford: My noble friend says, "Aha!". I am not quite sure what he means but he will no doubt tell us in a moment. The location of reservoirs is obviously important and we should ensure that they do not do undue damage to the landscape. In principle, however, the conservation of water through reservoirs is right.

However, overtaking all those three questions about the supply of water is the need properly to conserve and manage our water supplies. My noble friend referred a moment ago to the arrival of the final version of Using Water Wisely—I do not know whether its arrival is imminent. That publication was an encouraging start, but it was issued in 1992 and we have since had two full calendar years without the definitive version. It would have been nice if the Government could at least have published that in time for our consideration of their important Environment Bill, of which the clauses on water must be some of the most important. I am disappointed that the final version has not yet been produced. I wonder whether we could be given a little more information as to when we shall have it. If something takes two years to produce, one tends to take

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it with several grains of salt, as we heard when we discussed changing our time in relation to Europe. Incidentally, perhaps I may advise the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, that I was not involved in that discussion. I did not even understand the arguments, let alone the balance of the arguments.

Lord Howie of Troon: I must apologise to the noble Lord. I thought that I heard him speak on that occasion, but I must have been mistaken.

Lord Marlesford: The noble Lord may have seen me, but that is not necessarily the same thing.

We urgently need the Government's definitive view on this matter. Two years is probably long enough for them to reach a conclusion. There is always a tremendous danger in consulting for too long. I remember reading a wonderful letter in The Times some years ago by A. P. Herbert who said that the Government were like an elderly hypochondriac, always asking for a second opinion, but never taking it. I think that we would all like to have the Government's definitive version of Using Water Wisely soon—and certainly before the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament.

The idea that sustainable development generally is independent of the question of water supply is clearly fallacious. I am particularly worried about the Government's plans for East Anglia—for obvious reasons because I happen to come from there. East Anglia can be defined in many ways, but in this context I believe that it means Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, where there are plans for huge developments which will make enormous demands on the water supply. I am concerned that such plans may involve reservoirs in unacceptable areas—

Lord Crickhowell: Aha.

Lord Marlesford: My noble friend says "Aha" again and I await his argument with bated breath.

We must bear in mind that water is a limited resource in this country. My amendment seeks, in a gentle way, to suggest that, rather than specify an obligation to develop water resources, we should take into account any obligation that there may be under the general duty to maintain the water supply system which, of course, I accept.

Lord Moran: I should like strongly to support what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said. I agree with everything that he said. This is a question of the greatest importance. We need to conserve water in this country—surprising as that may seem. I think that it would be helpful if the Bill placed more emphasis on the role that the agency might be able to play in that. It is important that the new environment agency should take the lead in tackling that problem.

I said on Second Reading that I was concerned about maintaining and, in many cases, restoring adequate flows in our rivers. I gave two examples: the Upper Kennet and the Driffield Beck. There are many others. I believe that in 1989 the NRA identified 40 rivers in which the flow had diminished disastrously, but that was a minimal list. I can think of many other rivers that are

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threatened and I believe that the NRA has identified several more. I make no apology for repeating what I suggested on Second Reading, that it is very important that we should consider moving abstraction down to the mouths of rivers instead of doing it at the top. That is something that the environment agency could do. If the water is extracted from the ground near the mouth it does far less damage to the flow of the river. Abstraction at the top causes the river to run dry every two or three years, with great damage to fish life and wildlife generally, and to the rivers which we all want to see preserved. I therefore support this amendment very strongly.


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