Skip to main content

Water Resources

Volume 541: debated on Thursday 1 March 2012

Our water White Paper set out the challenges we face to ensure we have resilient and sustainable water resources. The current drought illustrates the importance of planning for the future when our water resources are expected to come under more pressure from climate change and a growing population. We will need to be smarter and less wasteful in how we use existing water resources, develop new sources, and build greater connectivity across the network.

Does my hon. Friend agree that water security is an increasingly big issue, which we must tackle for the UK and the world, and that it will affect future generations if we do not significantly improve our water collection and storage, and the transfer of water from regions?

I entirely agree. That is why the Government got a grip on the matter through publishing our water White Paper before Christmas. We need to capture and use our water more efficiently. That means developing new water sources and greater interconnections, the need for which was never more apparent than now, when we face impending drought. I am pleased with how water companies are working together and with the Environment Agency, building resilience into our systems for emergency procedures now, but also for the medium to long term, when we will face different climatic conditions.

In Kent, a lot of our water comes from an underground chalk aquifer. What is its long-term sustainability, and what can the public and local businesses do to help?

My hon. Friend’s constituents, like mine, depend on that extraordinary geological feature, which contains millions of gallons of water. However, it is under real pressure at the moment, which is apparent from river flows. I had hoped that we would start to reverse the decline in some of our river flows this summer. Importantly, it is a demand as well as a supply situation, and we can all play our part in reducing the impact on aquifers. We had our drought summit last week to get people thinking now about the measures that they can take in their homes to reduce water usage.

This is a serious matter, and I hope that the Under-Secretary read the speech that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) made yesterday, pointing out that there is an abundance of water in the north-east. I checked today, and Yorkshire Water’s reservoirs are 96% full. Is not the answer therefore to move more of our industry to the north? Perhaps we should relocate Gravesham and its excellent Member of Parliament to the north of England, where he will be made most welcome. There is the land and we need the industry. If we are to rebalance our industry and our economy, we should head north—the water is there.

The hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) made a very good speech yesterday, in which he pointed out the folly of the easy fix that people constantly suggest to me: building a vast pipeline from his constituency to mine. We know that that is prohibitively expensive, but we can get greater interconnectivity between water companies, and thus water flowing from areas where it is plentiful to areas where it is not.

If tackling drought, conserving water and reforming abstraction are so important, why has the Secretary of State delayed her own Bill?

The hon. Gentleman presupposes what is—or is not—in the Queen’s Speech. I have to confess that I am not privy to that; the Queen will announce the contents. We have said that the Bill will be available for pre-legislative scrutiny, but we do not need a Bill to deal with many of the issues that we are discussing on the drought. We can introduce the abstraction incentive mechanism—a bit of a techy issue, but one that can make a difference right now to the sustainability of water supplies.