Gummer in hot water over leaks

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

The Government was attacked from all sides yesterday as it published a programme for the water industry that was immediately dubbed an "inaction programme".

Frank Dobson, Labour's environment spokesman, said the biggest omission was a failure to make water companies tackle leaks causing the loss of 500,000 gallons a day: "It's water companies that waste four-fifths of the water, yet 56 of the 71 paragraphs of this document are devoted to talking about customers saving water."

John Gummer, the Environment Secretary, defended his report, insisting "sustainable use of water required action by everyone". He denied the Government's undeclared policy was to force water meters on people who did not want them.

The report, Water Conservation: Government Action, which has taken three years to produce, rules out a law requiring showers, which use less water than baths, to be installed in new houses and grants to encourage people to replace toilets with new ones using less water. It says the Government will "consider", "explore" and "keep under review" a series of measures aimed at cutting water use. In particular, it will consider rules limiting the amount of water used by toilets, dishwashers, washing machines and showers.

But, asked on the BBC's The World At One if people could expect new rules restricting the flow volume for showerheads, Mr Gummer said: "I've got no plans whatsoever to do it. I've got no powers to do it."

The action programme also rules out "mandatory leakage targets" for the companies, saying only that the Government will "monitor" progress in cutting leakage.

Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat MP, said the report was "a mind-boggling example of ministerial buck-passing", and the Government's attempt to pin blame on consumers added insult to injury. A Consumers' Association spokesman said: "It seems action is being taken entirely against the consumer with very little being taken against the water industry."

The report reignited the row over water-metering. Mr Gummer said: "Compulsory metering is quite wrong. I have no intention of doing that. But it seems to me that when you build a new house it's sensible to have a water meter. I think water-metering is a good thing.

nStrathclyde Water Services are considering supplying the Spanish with its "spare" water, it emerged yesterday. Strathclyde regional council said that "millions of gallons" of the region's water could be shipped to Spain if long-running negotiations succeed.

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