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Drought Bill Hl

Volume 373: debated on Friday 6 August 1976

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11.30 a.m.

Returned from the Commons yesterday, agreed to with Amendments; the said Amendments printed pursuant to Standing Order No. 47.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Birk, I beg to move that the Commons Amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons Amendments be now considered.—( Baroness Stedman.)

My Lords, before we dispose of this business, I think it would be appropriate if the Government would tell us something of what transpired in the Commons yesterday, because the proceedings on this Bill ended in column 2255 and we have no means whatever of knowing what the discussions were about. It is a clumsy procedure, although I suppose the responsibility must rest with all of us, because quite clearly the Bill could have been introduced much earlier in the week; we could have known what the Amendments were; we could have considered them, we could have followed the discussions in another place and we certainly would have known how the discussions ended.

I want an assurance from the Minister on one specific point. During the course of the proceedings in the House of Commons yesterday, the Government were pressed as to what was to happen after the Bill had become law, and the Minister gave a categorical and qualified assurance that although it would be necessary to take steps immediately the Bill became law, they would be open to representations from Members of another place. I should like to know—and I think your Lordships would want to know, too—that such undertaking applies also to Members of this House.

My Lords, the Bill went through the Commons in the early hours of this morning and, like my noble friend Lord Wigg, I have not seen the latter part of the report of what then took place. But it would not be for me to contradict what my right honourable friend gave in the way of assurances in another place and I am happy to give that same assurance here.

What I can tell your Lordships is that the Amendments which are before you today are agreed Amendments, which were either tabled in the names of Members of the other place from both sides of the House, or by the Government in response to representations that had been made from the Opposition side of the other House during the passage of the Bill in its earlier stages.

My Lords, that seems to be entirely satisfactory, except, of course, that nobody in this House knows what representations were made and what satisfaction the Government gave. I am assuming that all was satisfactory and I personally do not want to impede the progress of the Bill. The quicker it is on the Statute Book, the better. What I protest against is this particular method of doing business. It is utterly incompetent. I am not suggesting that it would have been done any better by any other Administration, but the Bill could have been taken in another place several days earlier and we could have read the report of the debate. We should then have known when it was coming back to us, what the debate had been about and what assurances were given, whereas here we are suddenly cut off in column 2255, as it were in the middle of the night, without the slightest chance of knowing what transpired.

I accept that all is straight and above board. I want to facilitate the passage of the Bill. In fact, in my opinion the Government have completely underestimated the situation. It is far more serious than they have realised, and if we do not get rain very soon there will be few parts of the country which are not affected. I am asking that the assurance given by the Minister in column 2255 of the Official Report of the debate in another place, which was given by the Minister and which was accepted there, applies equally to this House.

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene, at least so far as the assurance is concerned. An assurance given by a Minister is given on behalf of the Government as a whole and, therefore, it is an assurance that I am happy to repeat on behalf of the Government in your Lordships' House.

My Lords, I find that entirely satisfactory except, if I may say so, for one phrase; namely, that the assurance is given on behalf of the Government as a whole and by implication presumably applies here. This was not said. The Minister in another place used the words, "to this House", and therefore without wanting in any way to be protective of the rights of this House, which I would abolish tomorrow if I could, I want to know that the undertaking given to Members of another place applies here.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[ References are to Bill 210 as first printed for the Commons]


[ No. 1]

Clause 1, page 2, line 29, after 'consent' insert specified in the order'.

11.36 a.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. The purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that orders for the variation or suspension of consents to discharge sewage or trade effluent specify the consent or consents to which they refer. It has been suggested that the present wording might allow Water Authorities to make a blanket order covering all consents granted by them, which was not the intention. The revised wording will provide an additional safeguard to industries likely to be affected by orders under this subsection. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—( Baroness Stedman.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


[ No. 2.]

Page 2, line 43, leave out from 'section' to 'shall' in line 46.

My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2. This Amendment clarifies the intention to confirm the right of the Water Authority to levy any water rate or minimum charge not only where they are relieved of an obligation in relation to the supply of water by them, but also where they are authorised to prohibit or limit the use of such water. It has always been the declared intention of Ministers that in neither case should there be an abatement of charges, but there was some doubt whether the clause, as drafted, achieved the desired effect. I beg to move.

Moved, that this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—( Baroness Stedman.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


[ Nos. 3 to 5.]

Clause 2, page 4, line 32, leave out paragraph ( b) and insert—

'(b) the authority shall take such steps as they think appropriate for bringing the prohibition or limitation to the attention of the persons to whom the prohibition or limitation will apply and, in particular, shall—
  • (i) cause notice of the prohibition or limitation to be published in one or more local newspapers circulating within that part of the authority's area which would be affected by the provision of the order, or
  • (ii) send notice of the prohibition or limitation to the persons to whom the prohibition or limitation will apply, as the authority think appropriate;'
  • Clause 2,Page 4, line 39, leave out '48' and insert '72'

    Clause 2,Page 4, line 41, leave out 'given' and insert sent to the person in question'.

    My Lords, with the leave of the House I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5 en bloc.

    The intention of Amendment No. 3 is to strengthen the duty of the Water Authority by placing a general obligation on it to bring to the attention of everyone likely to be affected any prohibition or limitation of water use with the particular obligation either to publish notices in local papers or to send an individual notice to those affected. This additional publicity requirement, which is intended to pave the way for authorities to arrange, among other things, radio and television broadcasts where appropriate, will assist in ensuring that everyone concerned will be fully aware of the proposed action of the Water Authority.

    Amendment No. 4 has the effect of extending from 48 hours to 72 hours the period which must elapse between publication by the Water Authority of a notice about prohibitions or limitations of water use or the despatch of notice to individuals affected and the time at which the prohibitions or limitations can take effect. This is simply an additional safeguard which is considered appropriate in view of the possibly stringent restrictions which Water Authorities may have to impose.

    Amendment No. 5 is consequential on the Government Amendment No. 3 to Clause 2 subsection (5)(b) which provides for the Water Authorities to give individual notification of prohibitions and limitations as an alternative to publicity in a local newspaper. I beg to move.

    Moved, that this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendments—( Baroness Stedman.)

    My Lords, while I am entirely in agreement with the Amendment on the Marshalled List, I should be much obliged, and would feel happier, if the Minister would give an assurance that while carrying out the statutory obligation to bring it to the notice of local newspapers, they will use their not inconsiderable influence with the national Press, because I think public opinion as a whole needs to be educated into the realities of the situation which might, by Christmas time, hit us straight between the eyes. Therefore, while I am not going to hold up business other than to say that I accept this entirely, may I ask whether the Government can tell the House that they are prepared to use the national Press and all the means of publicity available to them, including television, for no other reason than to educate public opinion into the urgent national need for the conservation of water until there is a break in present conditions?

    My Lords, my right honourable friend shares the view of my noble friend Lord Wigg, and I am quite sure I can give the assurance, with all sincerity, that we will use every opportunity available to us to educate the public and to explain to them the reasons for the actions we are having to take.

    My Lords, in the last stage of the Bill, I put in a plea for more publicity with regard to the general question of rainfall. I repeat that plea. Whether coincidentally or not, of late in the media there has been a certain amount about how much or how little rain we have had in this year of 1976, but we have had no information about the past. The science of weather prediction is quite imperfect. I believe it is done chiefly on the basis of averages in the past. The general public are getting extremely worried now about the whole situation. They would very much like to know what has happened in the past, after other years of great drought. We are told that this year is the "droughtiest" year for 250 years. I do not know whether there is a specific year for which there are statistics, which can be referred to, or whether it is merely a fact that we have not had a drought year of this nature during the time in which statistics are available. There have been other years of drought; 1911, I think I remember, and 1921. What we really want to know is what the pattern was in the autumn of such years. Is there any hope of rain? In past drought years, has the whole thing gone on into the winter? Were summers like this followed by wet winters, or not? As the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, quite rightly said, if we do not get rain before long we are on the brink of national disaster—

    —with an enormous expenditure of public money and tremendous inconvenience to everybody.

    My Lords, may I say that I support what has been said by the noble Lord who has just sat down. Wherever I go I find great anxiety among the public lest our climate is undergoing a permanent and decisive change, and whether, in future, as during recent years, we are to have mild winters, moderate rain, and prolonged heat and drought in the summer, with that cycle going on year after year. If that is the case, obviously it will have a profound effect upon the economy, the industry, and the public of this country. I should like the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, if she can, advised by the experts, to tell us the view of Her Majesty's Government on this matter. Do the Government think that we have undergone—perhaps since we joined the European Economic Community—a decisive change in our climate, which will last for years to come, or is this only a temporary phenomenon?

    My Lords, I wish to follow up one of the points made by my noble friend Lord Wigg with regard to the use of radio and television. Many of us feel that if the radio and television media gave good publicity to the various restrictions to be applied by the Water Authorities, this would be a much better way, and a much more effective way, of conveying this information to the public at large, since quite a number of people do not read local newspapers. Therefore, may I ask my noble friend Lady Stedman for the assurance that Her Majesty's Government will get in touch with the television and radio authorities, with a view to securing their co-operation in broadcasting such relevant portions of notices put up by the Water Authorities which the Government feel would be for the better information of the public?

    11.44 pm

    My Lords, that is rather a barrage to face. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, coined the phrase that 1976 might go down as our "droughtiest" year. I thought that a delightful phrase. I hope he is right, and that we shall not have a repeat of such drought at regular intervals, or consecutive years of it. So far as climatic conditions are concerned, I cannot answer as to what are the views of the Government, because we have not yet had long enough time to consider records, and so on, as to what sort of cycle of climatic changes there has been in the past. My Department are keeping all the information under review, and we will be taking necessary steps. Indeed, this Bill gives the Water Authorities the right to take necessary steps, as and when they can, to safeguard our water supply.

    My Lords, I can give general and firm assurances that we will use every means in our power to give the widest possible publicity, not only to what is happening now, but when we have the information as to the sort of trends in the climate there might be. We will make this information available through the Press, television, radio, and any other means at our disposal.

    My Lords, while I agree with the desirability of securing as much publicity as possible on radio and television, we must bear in mind that the restrictions which the various Water Authorities impose will not be standardised throughout the whole country. There will be regions in which there are adequate water supplies, and other regions in which drastic restrictions will be necessary. Therefore, in addition to radio and television publicity, I attach some importance to the new paragraph moved by my noble friend which requires that announcements be made in the local newspapers. I have no interest in the local newspapers, and so the amount of advertising revenue which goes into them does not concern me at all.

    I merely want to suggest this to my noble friend. When her right honourable friend sends round to the Water Authorities a message advising them about the nature of these advertisements, will he please suggest to the Water Authorities that they should not put them out in the normal form exercised for public authorities. These notices are usually away on an insignificant advertisement page in the paper, and are usually phrased in highly legalistic terms. They usually start off with the word "Whereas", and then in other paragraphs we find phrases like, "Whereas further". I suggest to my noble friend that it should be stressed to the Water Authorities that they put these advertisements in the local Press as prominent display advertisements, in fairly heavy type. They will then be read. If the advertisements are put on the normal public announcements page they will never be read.

    My Lords, I should like to endorse what other speakers have said, but I do not think we direct as much publicity as we might to the housewife with regard to the high domestic consumption of water. In offices and factories there are stickers everywhere and in some cases the authority has cut off or limited the supplies of water to factories. There have been many excellent programmes on radio and television showing the devastation on the farms.

    However, it is important that in some way we should endeavour to bring out the fact that there must be a saving of water in the home. We should have the co-operation of the local writers in the newspapers in this emergency; they should tell housewives not to wash up under a running tap, or that if they can cut the number of times they use their washing machines from five to three washes a week, this makes quite a saving. It seems to me that publicity has been directed to the larger users, and through no fault of their own housewives have not yet fully recognised how desperately short of water we are.

    My Lords, with the leave of the House, my Department will give all possible advice to water authorities in the way of making their advertisements most effective in dealing with all sections of the community. I come myself from an area badly hit by the drought—East Anglia. We have already had appeals to householders, and these have worked reasonably satisfactorily. Other authorities, when having to bring in the necessary restrictions, will also direct some of their communications to housewives, as well as to factories, offices and shops. We shall take every possible step to see that water authorities make the information available and that they make their notices available in as readable a form as possible.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    Commons Amendment

    [ No. 6.]

    Clause 5, page 8, line 16, after first 'order' insert 'in a statutory instrument'.

    11.51 a.m.

    My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 6. This Amendment provides that an order revoking a previous order should be by Statutory Instrument. In general, orders under the Bill are exerciseable by Statutory Instrument and a revocation order should clearly be in the same form. The Amendment eliminates the authority which existed in the subsection as it was previously drafted. I beg to move.

    Moved, That the House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—( Baroness Stedman.)

    My Lords, I should like, if I may, to ask the Minister whether there is any chance of my getting the answer which I was promised during the earlier proceedings in the House as to what action the Government propose to take in the future. This is a rather wide approach, but the Minister on that occasion (if she would be good enough to refer to what was said) promised to write to me on the point of the scope of the proceedings. It is important, as in a few moments we shall have passed this Bill and it will then rest with the Department. I do not want to raise embarrassing issues, but I should like to know what the Government have in mind in relation to the researches of Professor Lamb. I noticed that in another place a number of Members raised the same point. The point was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder. The studies of climatology and of meteorology, while they in fact overlap, are not the same thing. I do not want to be critical. While I think the Government are very well served by the Meteorological Office and they are quite right to take into account everything that is said to them, the Department of Climatology, of which there is only one, in the University of East Anglia, also has something to say. Of course, this bears on what was said by noble Lords opposite this morning.

    We just do not know what has happened in the past. It may well be that there has been a permanent change in our climate. We do not know. The evidence does indicate, on the basis of the last three or four years, that some change has happened. But what is it? We have the records from 1727 onwards to the present time. We do not know what happened before. Professor Lamb and his colleagues in the East Anglia University are endeavouring to find out. We ought to find out. The basic facts are that even at the present time, after prolonged drought, we have very great quantities of water, more than ample. The point is that it happens to be in the wrong place. As I understand it, it is a very expensive business to put in pipes and pumping apparatus and the like; I am told it might cost not hundreds of millions but thousands of millions of pounds. What we must not do—this is almost a national failing—is to wait until the full force of calamity hits us between the eyes before we start to do something.

    I have no knowledge of the subject. My interest was aroused by approaching it from a rather different and rather narrow angle. But there is a case for finding out. I want to say this categorically. So far as my judgment is worth twopence, in the light of the situation as it now exists on the basis of the extremely limited evidence we have, we would be far wiser to scrap every single penny we are spending on defence and spend it upon the development of water supply. The defence may or may not be needed; it may or may not be necessary to Troop the Colour annually. But what is perfectly clear is that if this drought continues until Christmas of this year Clause 2 of this Bill will have to be introduced; when it is introduced it is going to be rough justice, and there is going to be more rough than justice. It is not a question of individuals. It is whole industries. It is no good then passing resolutions—which is one of the Labour Party's weaknesses—urging somebody else to go and do something about it. If there is no water you cannot use it, and you will not be able to improvise at short notice. Perhaps I may end by repeating what I said earlier: hope for the best, to those of you who will; pray for the best; plan for the worst.

    My Lords, may I support what my noble friend Lord Wigg has said. I do not very often agree with him.

    On this occasion I must admit I do. There are, as I am sure the noble Baroness will be aware, considerable discussions which have been proceeding for some while as to the best ways of disposing of our water resources. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has said, we do have, even today, considerable quantities of water in the wrong places. The time that will elapse and the cost that will be involved in working out a complete national water grid system, which is really the only ultimate way of dealing with a situation of this kind, is one of the strongest arguments for the establishment of a national water authority, which, of course, should have been done under the reorganisation of the water industry under the previous Administration.

    I do not deny that for one moment, my Lords. I speak with some feeling because, as your Lordships are aware, I come from the Principality of Wales. The City of Cardiff and other areas in Glamorgan are now being added to areas in North Gwent where, from Monday, for 13 hours out of 24 we shall have no water at all. I hope that this will dispel any illusion that any Member of your Lordships' House may have harboured that all parts of Wales are flowing with water at all seasons of the year. I hope that when the time comes, when we are discussing further the question of charging for water, it will be appreciated that the more easily accessible and cheaper sources of water to be found in the Principality have already been diverted to the Midlands and North-West of England. Therefore, it should be understood that there are areas of Wales which are in very serious difficulties, as serious as anywhere in the Kingdom.

    This threatens not only the housewives. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, that by far the best propaganda for housewives is to shut off the taps for 13 hours out of 24. But, of course, we are also much concerned about industry. We suffer from inadequate employment in many parts of South Wales, particularly the South-East, and some of the industrial processes rely absolutely on water. So we are deeply concerned, not purely from the point of view of domestic need and domestic convenience, but also from that of employment. Therefore, I would hope that Her Majesty's Government, whatever other legislation they may have in store for us in the coming Session, will treat this question of a national water authority particularly with considerable seriousness.

    My Lords, I accept what has been said by noble Lords, and particularly from my personal point of view, at any rate, would endorse what has been said by my noble friend Lady White, that a national water grid is perhaps the solution to our problem and something which ought to have been done perhaps at the same time as reorganisation, or before. I must apologise to my noble friend Lord Wigg if he has not had a reply from my noble friend following the earlier stages of the Bill. I can only assume that a lot of research has to go into this and perhaps the full information is not yet readily available to the Department. I have noted what both he and my noble friend Lady White have said; I will bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend. And I will certainly see that my noble friend Lord Wigg gets a reply to his earlier question.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.


    [ Nos. 7 and 8.]

    Schedule 1, page 10, line 15, leave out 'the area of the authority' and insert 'that part of the area of the authority which would be affected by the order'.

    Page 11, line 4, at end insert—

    'A notice sent in a letter in pursuance of paragraph (b), (c) or (d) above shall not be treated as having been properly served unless the sender takes such steps as are for the time being required to secure that the letter is transmitted in priority to letters of other descriptions.'

    12 noon.

    My Lords, with the leave of the House I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 together. The intention of Amendment No. 7 is to ensure that a copy of any major plan relating to an order is deposited by the Water Authority in the area affected by the order, and not simply within the area of the Water Authority, as required in the Bill at present. This Amendment is in line with other provisions in this Schedule which relate to the area affected, and it is considered necessary because the considerable extent of some Water Authority areas could otherwise result in plans being deposited at some distance from the area to which they refer.

    Amendment No. 8 is intended to ensure that the formal notices issued by the Water Authority under Schedule 1 are sent by first-class letter. The wording is the result of detailed consultation with the Post Office, and reflects the fact that the first-class letter post has no long-term statutory basis. I beg to move.

    Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendments.—( Baroness Stedman.)

    On Question, Motion agreed to.


    [ No. 9.]

    Page 11, line 21, at end insert—

    'Provided that nothing in this sub-paragraph shall authorise the Secretary of State to disregard any objection which has been duly made and not withdrawn.'

    My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 9. This reaffirms, for the avoidance of doubt, that where the Secretary of State, for reasons of urgency, dispenses with an inquiry into an application for an order he is not absolved from the duty to consider any valid objections before reaching his decision. I beg to move.

    Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—( Baroness Stedman.)

    On Question, Motion agreed to.


    [ Nos. 10 to 13.]

    Schedule 2, page 12, line 22, leave out from first 'of' to 'otherwise' in line 23 and insert 'water's being discharged or not discharged to any place or its being discharged'

    Schedule 2,Page 12, line 27, after second 'discharge' insert 'or lack of discharge'.

    Schedule 2,Page 12, line 28, after first 'discharged' insert 'or not discharged'.

    Schedule 2,Page 12, line 31, after first 'the' insert 'lack of'.

    My Lords, with the leave of the House I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 13 en bloc. Amendment No. 10 is a minor Amendment which extends the compensation provisions of Schedule 2 to cover the event where compensation water is not discharged in a case where, but for the order, discharge would be required; and Amendments 11, 12 and 13 are consequential upon this. I beg to move.

    Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendments.—( Baroness Stedman.)

    On Question, Motion agreed to.


    [ No. 14.]

    Schedule 2, page 13, line 7, leave out 'three' and insert 'six'.

    My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 14. This has the effect of extending from three to six months the period for lodging claims for compensation. It recognises that in some cases a claimant may not have all the information necessary to lodge a claim within three months. I beg to move.

    Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—( Baroness Stedman.)

    My Lords, I am sure that is a very good idea; but before we leave these Amendments I should like to thank the noble Baroness for introducing and explaining them so clearly to us and also for answering so ably the sort of mini Second Reading debate which we have had at the same time. I should like to pay my tribute to the work that the Regional Water Authorities have already done in combating this situation—the worst by a long way for 250 years—and to wish them well in the use of these extra powers, which they will be very glad to have.

    I should also like, if I may, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, for teasing the Government about the conduct of their business and for saving me from having to do that, so allowing me to end this business with expressions of nothing but good will and best wishes to the Government for the enjoyment of their Recess, and the hope that they will return greatly strengthened, as they will need to be for our next business.

    My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind comments. I am grateful, too, for the co-operation of all sides of the House in getting this legislation on to the Statute Book. While I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, I also hope that, when your Lordships are away, the rains will come down in those places where your Lordships are not, and that some of our problems will be solved. I hope all your Lordships have a fine holiday.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.