I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to comment on the situation.
Parts of the country are certainly facing water shortages this year. The severity of the shortages differs very much from area to area, but the effects are localised, depending on the pattern of water supply and the measures open to the water authorities to make alternative arrangements.
As my right hon. Friend made clear to the House last week, I have set up a group of senior officials and representatives of the water industry to assess the situation to keep me in touch on a weekly basis, and to advise what contingency measures may be needed in addition to the plans that the water authorities have already made. The group will meet regularly, and Ministers will be discussing its first report with the chairmen of the regional water authorities next week. At this stage, it appears that the immediate position is under control. Given sensible use of water by domestic consumers, industry and agriculture, the water authorities tell me that they hope to avoid major interruptions of supplies during the summer, although there is bound to be local inconvenience, and possibly even a degree of hardship. There may be specific problems in relation to spray irrigation.
As regards the particular situation in Northamptonshire, where storage reservoirs are about one-third full and the River Nene is very low, steps have been taken to transfer in extra quantities of water from Grafham Water, and a Drought Order has been made to allow maximum advantage to be taken of any storm flows in the Nene that may occur. The water authority tells me that these measures are proving effective.
This assessment, as I have made clear, is on the basis of our having something like an average rainfall this summer. But we are already working with the water authorities on the contingency measures that would be needed to deal with the problems of an altogether different order that could arise with an abnormally dry summer.
The crucial thing is that people should use water sensibly and prudently. The water authorities are in the best position to judge what economies are needed in their individual areas, and people should follow the guidance they give.