HC Deb 02 December 1968 vol 774 cc1035-8

Mr. Gurden (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will make a statement on the destruction of the Birmingham water main supply from Wales.

The Minister for Planning and Land (Mr. Kenneth Robinson)

At 1.48 a.m. today an explosion occurred at West Hagley, near Stourbridge, fracturing two of four water pipes carrying the main supplies to Birmingham and adjacent areas. The explosion took place at a point where the pipelines cross the Kidderminster to Stourbridge railway line. No one was injured.

First estimates of the effect of the damage suggest that the capacity of the pipeline is likely to have been reduced by about one-third. Though this is serious and calls for economy in the use of water, there is no immediate threat to supplies to the areas served by the city's water undertaking; water in storage reservoirs is equivalent to a week's total demand.

One of the Department's engineering inspectors is on the spot and will report as soon as possible. It is too soon to say with certainty how long repair work will take, but I would expect a full flow to be restored in under a week.

Mr. Gurden

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he appreciate that the whole of the water supply for over I million people in the Midlands comes from Wales and that this is their only source of supply? What safeguards does he suggest against any such future incident, which could be very much worse if it was tackled in another place?

Mr. Robinson

I am aware of the facts about Birmingham's water supply, as stated by the hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether he is aware that Birmingham has proposals for increasing the storage capacity to about a month's supply. The protection of the water supply lines is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Mr. Abse

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the people of Wales will have heard with considerable dismay of this further act, an act which seems to indicate that extremists who do not belong to the main bulk of the Welsh people are yet again active? Will he have consultations with the Home Secretary to see whether a special squad can now be formed so that there can be a further probe into acts which are bringing most unfortunate disrepute to the people of Wales, who have nothing but friendship and understanding for the needs of the people of Birmingham?

Mr. Robinson

It would be premature for me to say anything about responsibility for the explosion while the police are urgently investigating the incident. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department will take full cognisance of what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Peter Walker

Does the Minister agree that this incident was particularly deplorable in that, though fortunately nobody was killed or injured by the explosion, it took place adjoining a railway line used by hundreds of passengers each day? Anything wrong with the timing mechanism could have resulted in great loss of life. The whole House will wish to express its horror at this incident.

Mr. Robinson

Yes, Sir. I agree entirely that the consequences of this action might have been very much more serious than they have proved to be. It is a very remote part of the railway line.

Mr. James Griffiths

May I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and say that the vast majority of the people of Wales will deplore this incident? As there have been several such incidents recently, will my right hon. Friend consult whichever Minister is responsible to find out whether it is possible to tighten up the arrangements for keeping explosives? It seems to be far too easy to get gelignite in these clays in Wales and elsewhere.

Mr. Robinson

This is a matter for my right hon. Friends. I am sure that they will take note of what my right hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Hooson

Does the Minister appreciate that the greatest safeguard that people can have is the apprehension of those responsible for these outrages? Is he aware of the great concern felt in Wales that no one has been apprehended and charged with responsibility for the recent series of outrages? Will he recommend to the Home Secretary that it is now time to call a conference at the highest level of police forces to deal with this matter?

Mr. Robinson

I would recommend the hon. and learned Gentleman to table a Question to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Howie

If the water supply of Birmingham can be endangered in this way in the future, does not this add urgency to my right hon. Friend's examination of the Wash Barrage, which might provide an alternative and safer supply of water to such places as Birmingham?

Mr. Robinson

The proposals that Birmingham has in mind at the moment would be an immediate solution to its difficulties.

Sir Knox Cunningham

As certain parts of these pipelines are vulnerable, would it not be wise to take special security measures over the next few months?

Mr. Robinson

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Several Hon. Members rose— —

Mr. Speaker