National Policy Statement for Water Resources Infrastructure 2018 - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:17 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:17 pm, 11th April 2019

The noble Lord is rigorous in his questioning and I will be opaque in this answer: I would not want to pre-empt anything that may come up. Noble Lords have made some interesting comments, but I am not in a position to give the range of choices because I have not got that before me. I think it is always unwise to make policy on the hoof, but the noble Lord has made an important point.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, raised leakages, something we all feel very strongly about. Ofwat expects companies to justify their leakage performance commitments relative to the minimum level of leakage achievable and expects those companies with the worst records on leakage to go further. There is no doubt about it: Ofwat set out draft determinations for three fast-track companies: Severn Trent, South West Water and United Utilities. All three water companies had proposed a 15% reduction in leakage, but United Utilities is one of the companies with relatively high leakage. As part of the process, for instance, United Utilities has agreed to increase the reduction to 20% over the period 2020 to 2025. I know that this is an area the public feels very strongly about: we need to ensure that water is used wisely and that we reduce leakages very strongly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, raised water abstraction and the protection of the environment. As I said in my opening remarks, current levels of water abstraction from some sources will need to be reduced, because it is clear that the environment in some parts of the country is being jeopardised. That is in line with the water abstraction plan published in 2017 and river basin management plans. Clearly, we need to work with all parties to ensure that we get the right result for the environment, but yes, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, referred to, water is important for enterprise and for ensuring that this country has an economic heartbeat, so it is important that we get this right. Going back to the reason we are having this debate, we will need to invest in major infrastructure projects: that is at the heart of all the issues we have rightly discussed today. We must reduce demand but also have to attend to increasing supply. We want to go further in protecting the water environment because that is of prime importance. The noble Baroness also referred to loss of supply. The Government expect companies to increase their investment in water and sewerage in order to maintain a resilient network, fix leaks and prepare for severe weather. That is part of their responsibilities.

Looking through the key points that your Lordships raised, I hope that I have attended to quite a lot of them. I am certainly not seeking to kick any can down the road: in fact, that is not my style of words. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that that sounds as if I am about to drop litter, which of course I have a passionate phobia about. This piece of work—and today’s debate—is absolutely not about kicking this essential matter down the line. It is about having parliamentary scrutiny and consulting organisations that have a stake in getting this right for us all. I will reflect on Hansard, because key points have been raised on demand, climate change, net gain and—I have referred to this—support. We recognise that we will need both big national infrastructure projects and small-scale projects, which is part of what I have described in lay language as the balance of how we are good custodians of our water supply.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, spoke of difficult decisions. I agree. The whole purpose of this debate, and for taking this matter forward, is that difficult decisions have to be taken for the national interest. If everyone is to have water, that will mean that we may well, provided it is done properly, courteously and correctly, have to ask parts of the country about this—the busy south-east and other parts of the country where reservoirs, for instance, and other infrastructure projects will be not only in the national interest but probably in the local interest as well.

I shall read Hansard again and assure your Lordships that all the points that have been made, particularly given the experience of many noble Lords, will be very important in bringing policy forward. If any of your Lordships would like to have discussions and further meetings at any stage, I would be very pleased to accommodate that.

Motion agreed.