Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Dixon-Smith: I also want to speak in favour of the amendment. In doing so, I reiterate an interest that I declared at Second Reading, which is that I hold an abstraction licence. By declaring that, I keep my hands well washed—that is another pound into the pot suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I also want to put on record how grateful I am to have been briefed by the water industry, the Environment Agency and Ofwat before the Bill. Those briefings have been extremely informative and helpful.

I shall not lay any responsibility or say who the offender was, but in those briefings we discussed water resources and how one might have additional ones. It transpired that in the territory, shall we say, of one major water company, the nearest and most easily accessible additional water resource that it had was the water leaking out of its own pipes. The quantity was very large. When we put the duty to conserve water resources in that context, it is very significant.

It has already been said that many water companies have had enormous success in terms of improvements, and that becomes extremely hard work below a certain point. However, if one installs the correct recording procedures so that one knows exactly what is happening—some water companies have done so—one can tackle leakage, and leakage is a resource. It is a significant factor.

Metering has been mentioned. If the development suggested in the South East goes ahead, it will help metering, because the practice in this part of the world is that all new houses are metered. The proportion of houses with meters will by definition rise.

My final observation on good use of water resources is a different aspect of the same point, and I am persuaded of it by looking abroad. One finds that other countries, especially the drier parts of the United States, are terribly good about ensuring that irrigation

27 Mar 2003 : Column GC58

water is already soiled water that has been rough-cleaned to a state in which it is suitable for such a use. The irrigation process becomes part of the recycling process and the cleaning process.

We can do a great deal if we set about that. However, in this country we do not work and think in that way enough. We might if the principle were enunciated in the Bill. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, would not support the amendment, as it would help enormously by enunciating that significant principle. If it were included in the Bill, everyone would then know that they had to take the principle into account.

Earl Peel: I support my noble friend. If one is to have a water Bill, it seems totally logical that:


    "The Secretary of State shall take all necessary steps to encourage the efficient use of water".

I cannot think of anything more sensible, frankly.

Like my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, I was disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, did not support the amendment. I think that she said that she preferred the targeted approach. To me, that conjures up the idea that the Government, and through them her agency, will take a selective approach. I am not sure that that puts out all the right messages. I noticed, of course, that she was selective and chose agriculture as an example on which efficiencies could be made. She was absolutely right. However, we must not forget the fact that agriculture is responsible for only 2 per cent of the total amount of water abstracted.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I would certainly like to support the amendment. Later amendments are targeted and I welcome the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for our Amendment No. 74. However, the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, lays the ground that efficient use of water should be a basic principle of the Bill.

I am not entirely sure what has happened to the Government's resolve, as stated in Taking Water Responsibly. Perhaps the Minister will say where that went. They stated:


    "The Government will bring forward legislation, when Parliamentary time allows, to place water companies under an enforceable duty to conserve water in carrying out their functions. It will also bring forward legislation, when Parliamentary time allows, to place all other abstractors under an enforceable duty to use water abstracted . . . in an efficient and effective manner".

They went on at great length in promotion of efficient use. I accept that they did not seem to lay a responsibility on themselves to ensure that that happened, but that duty was implicit on the Secretary of State throughout Taking Water Responsibly. Why else would the Government publish something with that title?

I was also very struck by some words at the beginning of Water Wise, an excellent little book produced by the Environment Agency. They state:


    "By investing a little time and money in implementing a simple water management plan, your organisation could reduce its water consumption by up to 80 per cent, releasing money to be invested in other parts of your business".

27 Mar 2003 : Column GC59

I suggest that that would apply to public bodies, private businesses and private households. By simply encouraging people or organisations to take that line, and by having a duty to enable them to do so, the Secretary of State would be doing a great service financially to many organisations and people. Companies could justify to their shareholders that they were making investments because they had to.

I further remind the Minister of the statements that he made yesterday, when he was talking about encouraging the labelling of appliances and so on to be energy efficient. He was replying to my Question on the successful Are You Doing Your Bit Campaign, and talked about the fact that the Government would do more to encourage efficient use of energy. He did not use the word resources but, in considering the Bill, we must regard water in the same way in which we regard energy. I shall return to that subject later in terms of water conservation. After all, it takes a large amount of energy even to clean water up, so the two are linked.

The amendment paves the way for the more targeted amendments later in the Bill, and I assure the noble Baroness of my support for it.

Lord Whitty: I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that I have some sympathy with what she is saying. Water used efficiently is very important, and we should ensure that the Bill and other measures increase the efficiency with which water is used. My problem with the amendment is that it could confuse the situation as to the burden of responsibility rather than clarify it.

Water companies, Ofwat and the Environment Agency all have duties and powers to promote water efficiency. To put a general duty on the Secretary of State could well confuse that. It would cut across the duties and powers already in place and those proposed in the Bill and elsewhere, and could lead to confusion of roles.

Water undertakers are already under a duty to maintain and develop an efficient and economic system of water supply in their areas. That duty provides the basis for setting annual leakage reduction targets, to which reference has been made—leakages have been reduced by 25 per cent during recent years. Water undertakers are also under a duty to promote the efficient use of water by their customers. There is therefore a two-tier responsibility. Ofwat continues to require leakage reduction where that is economic, so the regulator is already involved in the matter.

A number of responsibilities fall to the Secretary of State. For example, the Government play an important role in ensuring that leakage targets are set and achieved. The Green Technology Challenge, a scheme introduced in last year's Budget, will offer enhanced capital allowances for investment in designated technologies to minimise water use and improve water quality. So there is a direct role for the Government, but the responsibility in existing statute, the rest of the Bill and the various directives that apply relates to the water companies themselves, to their

27 Mar 2003 : Column GC60

responsibility to encourage water efficiency on the part of their consumers and to the regulators, not to the Secretary of State or the Government.

We may return to the issue when we discuss the amendments to which my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred, including her own amendment. That may be a more appropriate point at which to consider some form of amendment to the Bill—without committing the Government to accepting those amendments. But here in the Bill and in this form, such an amendment would confuse existing responsibilities. Whatever the merits of raising the issue, the Government do not support such an amendment, five words though it may be, at this point in the Bill.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain: An idea has just struck me. The Minister says that there is a duty on everyone to promote the efficient use of water. That is fine. But there is a difference between conservation and efficiency. One can be efficient in the use of water—for example, one can use one's sprinklers only at night, so that there is no great evaporation—but it would be much better to specify conservation, because some plants do not require to be sprinkled at night. There is a subtle difference. Many people understand the idea of efficient use of water but, because from time to time we are deluged—we have floods and what seems to be constant rain—everyone thinks that there is plenty of water and so are not concerned about conserving it. There is a subtle difference that we should consider further.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who spoke in support of the amendment. I am deeply disturbed that the chief executive of the Environment Agency does not think that it is a good idea. Members of the general public will view that with slight concern—I certainly do.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page