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Bottled Water

Volume 473: debated on Thursday 13 March 2008

4. What assessment he has made of the environmental effects of the bottled water industry; and if he will make a statement. (193654)

Evidence suggests that drinking tap water uses around 300 times less energy than drinking bottled water. The Government have therefore decided to phase out the use of bottled water for meetings throughout the Government estate. Of course, it is not for Government to dictate what people should drink; that is a matter of choice for consumers.

I share my hon. Friend’s aspirations, but may I draw his attention to the recent “Panorama” programme on bottled water—[Hon. Members: “He was in it!”]—and, indeed, to his own comments in it, which I hope were directed more towards imported product than UK-produced product? However, they have had an unwanted impact on companies such as Highland Spring, in my constituency. Will he respond positively to my written request that he visit Highland Spring, and should not the real issue be the environmental footprint of the product, not the product itself?

I thank my hon. Friend for the representations he makes on behalf of his constituency. I can confirm that in addition to his correspondence, I have received a letter from the company concerned, and I shall do my best to respond positively to his request. The policy point he makes is, of course, correct—it is the carbon footprint that counts—and as we move towards the low-carbon world, we shall have to take such decisions on a range of products.

Does the Minister recall that at the time of water privatisation many parts of the green lobby jumped on the bandwagon of opposition on the grounds that drinking water was often unsafe to drink, and, as a result, many people bought foreign bottled water, which had to be brought over here at great expense and cost to the environment before the bottles were subsequently thrown away? Will he be careful about listening to the blandishments of the environmental lobby on this and many other issues, because they are often self-serving and short-term?

The right hon. Gentleman obviously speaks from experience, and I recall that period well. There are always unintended consequences of policy decisions. I can assure him that in making my comments I was not driven by a policy of pandering to any particular point of view. We made a policy decision for environmental reasons and for cost reasons, on behalf of the taxpayer; given his experience, I know that he would support that motive too.