(Transcript from "PM", Radio 4, 24th May 1991)

    The failure of the Government's Privatisation of the water authorities in
1990 has led to a steady decline in the quality of service, in areas where
those questioned in 1989 might not have realised that a decline was possible.
    After February's cholera epidemic, Health Minister Richard Slicker
pledged immediate action to improve matters. Until now, his problem has been
one of simple economics: the water companies have been unwilling to spend
money on health and safety improvements until either their profits are
greatly increased, or the Government agrees to fund the improvements.
    It was surprise to opposition MPs when Mrs Thatcher proclaimed that the
water businesses COULD be made self-funding, and that the Government was NOT
going to bail them out. Instead, she announced a bold new plan, in the shape
of the 1990 Emergency Water (Substance) Status Act.
    Yesterday the Act was passed by a narrow margin of 17 votes, and so we
sent reporter Henri Tuo to interview Mr Slicker.

T:  "Minister, how do you interpret the scope of the new Water Status Act?"

S:  "Well, broadly speaking the Act will lead to water becoming a more valued
part of people's everyday lives. No longer will they be willing to squander
water, or to flaunt its use in their gardens."

T:  "Yes, but isn't it rather an extreme measure to make it a prohibited

S:  "Not at all. It's entirely in keeping with Conservative philosophy. We've
always been strong on law and order."

T:  "But water's a natural substance. Anyone can obtain it, simply by
collecting it in their gardens."

S:  "Marijuana and cocaine are natural subtances anyone can grow in their
gardens. Surely you aren't suggesting that we legalise them?"

T:  "Well..."

S:  "Look at the health risks of water. Many hundreds of people in this
country have died from drinking water over the past few months. We can't
allow water abuse to continue."

T:  "But water's not dangerous if you're careful..."

S:  "Indeed not, but then neither is marijuana. However, it is a medical fact
that an overdose of water can be fatal. Ask anyone in the Lifeguards. Then
there's the frightening problem of addiction - children are exposed to water
by their parents, and before long they feel that they simply have to drink
water in order to get through the day."

T:  "Surely everyone has to drink water?"

S:  "Not at all. Mrs. Thatcher tells me that Denis never touches the stuff."

T:  "But what can you possibly hope to achieve by making possession of water
an offence?"

S:  "Well, for starters it'll make the price rocket, bringing a massive boost
in revenue to the Ten Water and Crack Pushers of England and Wales."

T:  "Water and...?"

S:  "Crack. After all, business is business. We also expect a massive boost
in recruitment to the Metropolitan Police's Drugs Squad, and a corresponding
fall in unemployment."

T:  "That's all very well, but won't water be difficult to obtain now that
it's illegal?"

S:  "Not at all. Nothing else has ever become difficult to obtain merely
because it has been banned. Just go to any Acid House party. No, I expect the
police will sieze a tiny fraction of the quantity of water entering the
market - perhaps one or two percent at most. It won't make any difference to
the amount available on the street, it'll just serve to make sure that the
price doesn't drop. I mean, look at the cost of a line of coke these days."

T:  "But surely you can see that this legislation is just plain ridiculous!
There is absolutely no evidence that pure water is at all harmful to anybody
- what's the point of making it illegal, when so many people want it?"

S:  "Ha ha! Very witty. You'll be expecting us to legalize pornography next."

    That interview with Health Minister Richard Slicker was by Henri Tuo.
Coming up next on PM, we report on the Government's new privatisation plan
for the Air Corporations of England and Wales...