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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that I was very pleased with her first reply? I am immensely glad that she does not have to bear the responsibility of declaring a drought. If the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, had to live with the levels of rainfall that we are accustomed to in Essex, then her county would be in a state of permanent drought. That is one of the impossible realities of this situation.

It is a fact that the water companies have to do the work—that is the appropriate solution. Further, that this Question has been tabled surely reveals the need for much greater investment in our water industry. Can the noble Baroness indicate what plans are being made to increase levels of investment to ensure that water supplies across the country, whatever may be the particular circumstances of an individual utility, are secure?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government keep constantly under review the need for appropriate investment to be made. Both the Water Bill and the work being done with the Environment Agency are targeted on looking at water resource availability in the future.

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As regards the first point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, I cannot but agree with him. Circumstances do vary from area to area and it would be a patent nonsense for the Government to establish a level for drought that would then apply across the whole of the country. Different areas of the country are affected in different ways. As the noble Lord himself pointed out, certain parts of the country have had to learn to cope in advance of others.

Lord Renton: My Lords, in further considering this matter, will the Government be careful to bear in mind that we do not have a single problem for the whole of the United Kingdom. The east of England is much more short of water, generally speaking, than the west.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is right—there are variations between different parts of the country. London, the South East, the Lake District and Severn Trent are currently looking very carefully at this issue. I am pleased to reassure the noble Lord that companies in other regions will learn from the experience of the south-east.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, the Minister said that drought plans are not statutory. Are compensatory river flows statutory and does the Environment Agency have enforcement powers with a statute behind them? Many of the rivers in the west are running extremely low—lower than I have ever seen before—but I am happy to say that, although that is causing great ecological damage, the citizens of Birmingham are still getting their water.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord is right—the Environment Agency has a statutory duty to have regard to the environmental impact of plans that are put forward, particularly in a time of drought. As to its impact across Offa's Dyke, as I know the noble Lord knows, Severn Trent Water relies on a transfer from the Elan Valley reservoirs in mid-Wales for supplies to Birmingham. The company is in discussion with Welsh Water and the agency with regard to the need for a drought permit or order to conserve stocks and increase the likelihood of being able to refill reservoirs.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Defra committee warned that unless rainfall this winter is 30 per cent above the normal level there will be serious water shortages in the spring? Does she further accept that the unacceptable delays between a water company applying for and receiving permission to invoke a drought order cannot continue under these circumstances? Why is there a delay between a drought order being sought and permission being granted?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I should be extremely grateful if the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, would let me have details of any such occurrence. I have not been made aware of any plan or

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any application for a drought order. If the noble Baroness is referring to permits, discussions are ongoing at all times when a water company feels the need to hold them. I am not aware of any circumstance where there has been a difficulty.

I appreciate the first point made by the noble Baroness. Quite obviously we have had the worst rainfall figures between February and October for 74 years, with the exception of 1959. We all hope that there will be at least an average seasonal rainfall to replenish stocks.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, what proportion of the population is now metered for water?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I do not have the exact number of those who are metered for water. The Government recognise that metering has a role to play and their policy, put into law by the Water Industry Act, allows household customers to choose between the two systems. I do not have the exact percentage. If the figure is available, I shall contact the noble Baroness.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, there is a good deal of anxiety about the long-term availability of water in this country and the need for more reservoirs, particularly in the south-east. What interaction is there between that kind of information and the plans for greatly increased housing in both London and the south-east of England?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, it is important that those considering plans for housing should have regard to the issues raised by the noble Baroness. It is important that we are aware that the south-east, as noble Lords around the House recognise, is particularly water stressed. Efficiency measures in terms of water use will be critical from the outset of the new development. We have set a water efficiency saving target of 30 per cent to help develop a sustainable water supply. I know from helping to take the Water Bill through your Lordships' House that many noble Lords are aware of the advice that has been given in regard to teeth and bathing.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that we have discussed this issue many times before over the years, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will recognise? We were told in the 1990s that the Welsh water table had fallen by 18 inches. Within a year or two, of course, it came back. Does my noble friend further agree that we should not cause panic; that we should deal with the situation as it comes and not get too worried about the rainfall that may or may not occur in Wales or throughout the United Kingdom in December or January?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, to a degree, my noble friend is right. It has been my experience of visiting, on many occasions, the beautiful country of Wales and the Lake District, where there is currently a problem, that it rains from time to time and the water invariably comes back. The

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Government do not have a direct role with regard to water company actions but the situation is kept under review by the Environment Agency. I know that my noble friend will pay particular regard to, and take pleasure from, the fact that the Environment Agency takes one of his major concerns in life—fishing—seriously as part of the equation.

Mersey Tunnels Bill

3.17 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the promoters of the Bill have leave to suspend any further proceedings thereon in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that notice of their intention to do so is lodged in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments not later than 12 noon on Thursday 13th November and that all fees due on or before that day have been paid;

That if the Bill is brought from the House of Commons in the next Session the agents for the Bill deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by them stating that the Bill is the same in every respect as the Bill which was brought from the Commons in the present Session;

That the proceedings on the Bill in the next Session of Parliament be pro forma in regard to every stage through which the Bill has passed in the present Session, and that no new fees be charged to those stages;

That the Private Business Standing Orders apply to the Bill in the next Session only in regard to any stage through which the Bill has not passed during the present Session;

That if any petitions have been presented against the Bill— (i) any such petition (if not withdrawn) stand referred to any Select Committee on the Bill in the next Session; (ii) no petitioners be heard before any Select Committee on the Bill in the next Session unless their petition has been presented within the time stipulated for the deposit of petitions in the present session or deposited pursuant to Private Business Standing Order 109(b); (iii) Private Business Standing Order 110 have effect as if the words "under Standing Order 109" were omitted.—(The Chairman of Commitees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.

Taxation (Information) Bill [HL]

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a

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manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Saatchi.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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