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Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West): If the hon. Gentleman checked the figures, I think he would find that in the period around 1976, when the industry was nationalised and accountable to the then Labour Government, investment levels were halved by the Labour Government. That must have had a major effect on the problem of bad pipes, rotting sewers and the leakage factor. If the investment had gone in under the Labour Government, we would not be in the mess that we are in now.

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Mr. Dobson: Thank you, Mr. Rip Van Winkle. The Tory party nationalised the water industry, taking it out of the hands of the local authorities that had run it so well. No doubt the hon. Gentleman voted for that. Certainly, the Secretary of State voted to nationalise the water industry. They should know that when the water industry was nationalised, average investment per year under the Labour Government was a third higher than the average under the Tory Government. As the hon. Gentleman would have known if he had come into the debate, virtually all the investment since has been entirely at the expense of the taxpayers and drawn from the massive subsidy that the companies were given at the time of privatisation.

Yorkshire Water's insulting answer to the catalogue of lunacy that we have heard about today is to apply, God help us, for a charter mark and appoint a new public relations official on £80,000 a year. No wonder the people of Yorkshire are sick to death of what has been happening. No wonder they are turning in greater and greater numbers to the Labour party, the party of the Members of Parliament and councillors who have spoken up for local people and local businesses and have not proved to be apologists for Yorkshire Water.

Labour's representatives have told the truth. They have exposed the facts and suggested sensible answers to the problems. Conservatives have always defended the pay and perks of the water company bosses. Now they are even reduced to defending their leaks. I remind the House that leaks are running at half a million gallons a minute. That means that during this debate, 45 million gallons of water will have leaked out of the water pipes of the companies and 6.5 million gallons will have leaked out in Yorkshire alone.

The Secretary of State has sent the Minister along to defend the position. He is going to have a job because it is what the Tory party believes in--subsidised private monopolies ripping off the public.

12.14 pm

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration (Mr. David Curry): The purpose of this debate should be to try to give some reassurance to the people of Yorkshire and to show them that we understand their deep concerns. I should be very happy to engage in party political warfare at any time at the hon. Gentleman's invitation, but the purpose now must be to get some facts before the people of Yorkshire.

I should like first to deal with what has already been done and then look a little towards the future. At the moment, some 35,000 tonnes of water is being tankered daily into Leeds, which is about 17.5 per cent. of demand; 20,000 tonnes of water is being tankered into Kirklees, which is about 18 per cent. of the demand; and 12,000 tonnes of water is going into Calderdale, which is 24 per cent. of the demand. Up to now, we have granted 20 drought orders, the most important of which have dealt with four categories of activity: first, reducing the flow of water from the reservoirs in the Pennines back into streams that were originally designed to boost the supply of water for the wool textile industry in Yorkshire in the 19th century; secondly, giving Yorkshire Water the authority to take water from the Ouse and the Wharfe; thirdly, enabling Yorkshire Water to tap special sources of water, such as ornamental reservoirs and water-skiing surfaces; and, fourthly, prohibiting non-essential uses.

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Yesterday my Department approved an order to allow the use of borehole water and for the owners of the boreholes to sell or to give that water to other people. We have received--or, I imagine, will receive within the day--applications for two new drought orders. We have also received a demand to cut further the compensation flows from reservoirs. Some 28,000 tonnes flows from the reservoirs into the streams daily, which represents about 20 per cent. of the supplies to Kirklees and Calderdale, and the application is to reduce that flow.

We expect to receive an order--I believe that the advertisement has already been published in Yorkshire-- for further extractions from the Wharfe to be made at Arthington to supply Leeds and at Lobwood in the Hollins for Bradford. We shall consider those orders as rapidly as we are permitted to do under the statute. We shall also, however, fully take into account our wide responsibilities when we consider those orders, including environmental considerations.

A number of hon. Members mentioned the question of the pipeline. I think that it would be helpful if I were to make a few remarks about that. Three questions have to be settled. First, the National Rivers Authority has some concern about the environmental effect of water from the Tees being added to the Swale and the Yorkshire water system. That is a legitimate concern and it clearly has to be decided. Secondly, in regard to the level of extraction at Moor Monkton, there is a problem of pumping capacity and the pipelines. One could argue that the most urgent need is for pipeline work on the link between Moor Monkton and Eccup and for the pumping facilities to be put in place. Thirdly, there is some concern about the level of pesticides in the water from the Ouse and the ability to treat it before it enters the drinking water system. That is again a legitimate environmental concern. If one were to act, with due risk, immediately, people would later ask, "But were the serious issues that were raised borne in mind?"

Mrs. Mahon: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Curry: No. I have not intervened on other people and I have very little time.

I must make it clear that I believe that Yorkshire Water must as a priority deal with the bottleneck at Moor Monkton. I believe that it has to continue work on the pipeline option, and I wish to make it absolutely clear that no planning problems will be allowed to stand in the way of the construction of that pipeline. We can authorise the construction through the use of drought orders, and we will not hesitate to do so.

On the purchase of water, I shall make one thing clear. When one water undertaker has to take water from resources controlled by another, it has always had to meet the reasonable costs. Under the privatisation arrangements, that system continues. If there is no agreement on the reasonableness of the cost, the Office of Water Services has to arbitrate.

I must inform the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson), therefore, that I am moved by his concern for the shareholders of Northumbrian Water, but there might not be quite the bonanza that he anticipates on their behalf because of the requirement that the water should be sold at a reasonable cost. I certainly welcome the embracing of the capitalist ethic by at least that member of the Labour party, however.

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The postponement of the earlier public hearing was due to a Government decision in the light of advice from the National Rivers Authority to allow those major abstractions from the Wharfe.

The public inquiry has just concluded and we have not yet received the inspector's report, but my advice is that we are likely to do so today. I wish to make it absolutely clear, as I have made it clear in Yorkshire and at a series of meetings with Yorkshire Water, that there is no question of the Government simply receiving the report, allowing a decent interval to pass and signing it through. Before he even contemplated the emergency drought orders, the Secretary of State would want to be convinced that they were the last of all possible last resorts and that the only alternative was to run out of water. I must emphasise that point because any impression that the inquiry was a mere formality to provide cover for a Government decision is not true. I have spelt that out categorically in those terms to Yorkshire Water as clearly as I am spelling it out in the House.

Let me spell this out clearly, too--in the present circumstances, that order will not be made. The measures already taken, particularly the reduction in compensation flows from reservoirs, even given below-average rainfall, will permit the reservoirs to fill. Until now, the problem has been the constant decline in reservoir levels and concern about the quality of the water that was left at the very bottom once they got to between 11, 12, 13 and 14 per cent. of capacity. The measures that have been taken should permit the reservoirs to fill. If we were to accede--I emphasise the conditional because we have to take the decision in the light of all our responsibilities, including environmental ones--to the two most recent requests and had the option to change the terms of those requests in giving the consent--it is not merely a question of saying yes or no, because we can vary them--the reservoirs would be able to fill more rapidly.

The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) asked about the compensation arrangements. The statute lays down the position. If an emergency drought order interrupts supply, compensation is ruled out under long-standing statute law, which has stood under both Labour and Conservative Governments. It is for the Director General of Water Services to decide to hold an inquiry. As the House will know, he has been following the matter very closely indeed.

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