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Underground Water Supplies

Volume 439: debated on Wednesday 9 July 1947

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asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what opposition to the draft Palestine Water Ordinance was expressed when it was first published in 1942; what steps have been taken to meet such objections in the law in this regard promulgated recently; and what was the urgency that required the promulgation of that law at the present time when the problem of Palestine and the future of that country is under inquiry by U.N.O.

the Irrigation (Underground Water) Bill which was published in Palestine on 19th June, is based upon similar legislation in other countries. In drafting it consideration has been given to the objections raised by the Jewish Agency and the General Agricultural Council of Palestine to a Bill prepared in 1942. But the objection to the principle of public control of underground water resources cannot be accepted. The absence of such control was in fact criticised by the Anglo- American Committee of Inquiry. The urgent need of powers to control distribution and exploitation of underground water supplies, and to collect information on which to base planned development of water resources as a whole, has been again emphasised by the recent abnormal drought and by the inauguration of certain schemes for the supply of water to new areas. Public control of water is essential and the administration cannot wait longer before tackling this urgent problem.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this matter has been on the tapis for a long number of years and that this is an inopportune moment when the United Nations Committee of Inquiry is sitting to crystallise this point? Is he further aware that this is one of two suggestions contained in the Anglo-American Committee's Report which are being put into effect, although my right hon. Friend said that none would be put into effect without the others?

The action does not, of course, depend on the Report of the Anglo-American Commission, but I think it will be appreciated that with the increasing population in Palestine and also the effects of the recent drought, some action has become imperative, and it is therefore inevitable that the Government should act now in regard to bringing the water resources of Palestine under some degree of public control.

Can my right hon. Friend say why this matter has been delayed so long seeing that many years ago the Palestine Government got an expert irrigation engineer from India to submit a system for the control of the water supply of the whole of Palestine?

I can only imagine it was because a Labour Government was not in office.

Has the Labour Government only come into Office this week? And what happened during the two years it has already been here?

Will my right hon. Friend allay the fears that are held in consequence of the fact that this Bill has suddenly been published, the fears of the Jewish population that their plans and arrangements for water supply will be interfered with?

This has not been suddenly brought into force. Discussion in regard to these projects were going on for quite a long time, but the situation is so rapidly deteriorating that action must be taken.

In view of my right hon. Friend's last answer but one, can he tell us on what date the Labour Government decided to change the policy of previous Governments, and whether this applies to anything else in Palestine besides underground water?

Will the Minister assure the House that all proper steps in this matter will now be finalised?