New clause 21 - Temporary sprinkler bans

Water Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 21 October 2003.

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'After section 76 of the WIA, there is inserted—

''76A Temporary sprinkler bans

(1) If a water undertaker is of the opinion that a serious deficiency of water available for distribution by that undertaker exists or is threatened, that undertaker may, for such period as it thinks necessary, prohibit or restrict, as respects the whole or any part of its area, the use for the purpose of watering private gardens of any water supplied by that undertaker and distributed by means of a water sprinkler or similar apparatus.

(2) A water undertaker imposing a prohibition or restriction under this section shall, before it comes into force, give public notice of it, and of the date on which it will come into force, in two or more newspapers circulating in the locality affected by the prohibition or restriction.

(3) Any person who, at a time when a prohibition or restriction under this section is in force, contravenes its provisions shall be guilty of an offence and liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

(4) Where a prohibition or restriction is imposed by a water undertaker under this section, charges made by the undertaker for the use of a sprinkler or similar apparatus shall be subject to a reasonable reduction and, in the case of a charge paid in advance, the undertaker shall make any necessary repayment or adjustment.''.'.—[Mr. Drew.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am delighted to move the new clause at this particular moment, not least because it allows me to stand up and get the different parts of my body working again. The new clause is very straightforward and I hope that we will get a positive response from the Minister. It has the express support of one of the well-

known water companies, which has asked my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood and for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) and me to draw attention to a particular problem during water shortages.

The company has made it clear that it hopes that the era of hosepipe bans has come and gone. However, the use of sprinklers for watering gardens is a problem for the company during water shortages. At the moment there is nothing that it can do outside of a hosepipe ban, which is too restrictive. The company has asked me to argue that the new clause has considerable merit, and I am happy to do so. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider how it might be included in the Bill; I am happy for the clause to be considered on Report.

I am wary about returning to earlier debates about golf courses. If we consider some of the less important ways in which water is used when there is a severe shortage, clearly watering gardens with sprinkler systems—which can seem rather an amusing side to the subject—is, in fact, a serious issue. If a hosepipe ban, which I hope will not happen, were to come about, and sprinklers were subject to little restriction, that would gall neighbours. I hope that the Minister will consider the matter and see whether there is a way of including the new clause in the Bill.

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean

I am interested in considering measures such as that which my hon. Friend's new clause seeks to introduce, including ways in which to restrict excessive and unnecessary use of an important resource such as water. However, has my hon. Friend any explanation for two things that occurred during the almost unprecedentedly dry summer? Why have we not heard that ''phut, phut, phut'' sound of sprinklers on lawns throughout the suburbs, as we might have done five or six years ago when there was a drought? Secondly, why are people not calling for a restriction on sprinklers? We have had a dry summer, but there has been sufficient water.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. Contrary to what some might think, I do not go around in the middle of the night checking who has sprinklers on. I am merely relaying information.

Even though we have had a very dry summer—I was talking to the Minister last week and he said it might be the driest summer on record—we have managed to deal with the problems of drought. The issue of sprinklers is potentially a real burden. If water companies say that they are a specific problem, we should take notice. I hope that the Minister can respond positively on those points.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:45, 21 October 2003

I can give my hon. Friend some assurances. He is right about sprinklers; they are large water users. The subject was touched on briefly in a previous discussion. It is a long time since I had a sprinkler. When I did, I had to pay for a permit from Anglian Water to use it. As it happened, my children were small, and they used to spend a lot of time playing with it. They eventually jumped on it and broke it into a thousand pieces. I have not had one since. How's that for an environmentally friendly act?

I am sure that my children did not know that is was one at the time, though.

There may well be a case for a ban on sprinklers; that is an interesting point. It has crossed my mind, too, that there has not been a lot of controversy about people using sprinklers during this very dry summer and autumn. I would like to think that people are becoming more responsible and sensitive about water resource management, and that they think it better to let the lawn go yellow than to use large quantities of water. That is the excuse that I use about my lawn, anyway.

I assure my hon. Friend that section 76 of the Water Industry Act 1991 provides a power to impose temporary bans on hosepipes and similar appliances, and that includes sprinklers. There is a power in the Bill for banning sprinklers if it is considered that there is need to do so.

I hope that I have met my hon. Friend's concerns. I am happy to talk to him further on the subject if he feels that other measures need to be taken, but—in relation to water resource management—if there is a need for a ban, one can be put in place. As I am not involved with sprinklers, I cannot remember, but I am pretty sure that in some places, such as my area, anyone who wants a sprinkler has to have a meter fitted. That is not a bad policy.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I thank the Minister for those reassuring words. It is true that in our area—I cannot speak categorically—a specific permit is needed for the use of a sprinkler. That presupposes that the permit could be withdrawn, so that is another means by which the use of sprinklers can be controlled. I am reassured that there are the means by which to do so, but we should make it clear that they are to be used in extremis. It is not something that an undertaker would do very willingly, but it draws attention to the fact that, rather than a wholesale ban on the use of water—

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the response of water companies in extreme situations is somewhat unimaginative? It is not just a case of the volume of water; it is a question of the water pressure available to other consumers, whether industrial or domestic. If water companies are seeking to put bans in place, it would be sensible to limit the hours, too, so that, for example, it would be possible to put a sprinkler on overnight. Secondly, should not water companies discriminate between domestic sprinklers for vegetables and those used on lawns?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

There is merit in what the hon. Gentleman says. Clearly, there may be reasons why someone needs a sprinkler system other than because they simply want to keep the garden green. They may be growing something on a semi-commercial basis in their garden, and that could be affected if there were a complete ban. There are reasons why it is probably not appropriate to take forward the new clause, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.