§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill provides for the reorganisation of the machinery for executing functions relating to water in England and Wales. These are water conservation, water supply, sewerage and sewage disposal, prevention of river pollution, fisheries, land drainage and recreation—matters which are sometimes wrapped up in the general term "water services".
This is a radical reconstruction. I suggest that it is none the worse for that. It takes its place alongside the reorganisation of local government and of the health services in this Government's overhaul of the administration of the country to keep pace with the problems with which we shall have to deal through the remaining decades of this century and into the next.
Reorganisation of this kind seldom evokes enthusiasm, because it looks far ahead and perhaps lacks the whiff of glamour that surrounds the pressing crises of the day. It is never universally popular, because it changes the accepted way of things and because no one person can be expected to find every last item of a reorganisation of this kind to his liking.
However, I hope to persuade the House of the importance of the Bill, to demonstrate that the proposals in it are those best adapted to deal with our emerging water problems, and to convince the House that the Bill is urgently needed.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, arranged for the simultaneous publication with the Bill of a document setting out the "Background to Water Reorganisation in England and Wales". I hope that hon. Members on both sides, and others outside, will have found that document helpful. It discusses the needs and sets out the six major objectives of Government policy.
35 These objectives are as follows: first, to secure an ample supply of water of appropriate quality to meet the growing demand of the people, industry and agriculture while at the same time ensuring that it is not wasted; secondly, to provide adequate sewerage and sewage disposal facilities to cope with the natural increase in water use and with new housing, industrial and agricultural development; thirdly, to ensure that the vital contribution of land drainage and flood protection to urban and agricultural areas alike is maintained and, where appropriate, expanded; fourthly, to achieve a massive clean-up of the country's rivers and estuaries by the early 1980s; fifthly, to make the widest use of water space for other purposes, including recreation and amenity and, where appropriate, the protection and development of salmon and fresh water fisheries and the provision of water need for navigation; finally, and not the least important, to protect the interests of those who may be affected by proposals for the development of water resources in any of these respects.
We all have to accept that the rising demand for water will involve the transportation of water over long distances using river systems to a large extent for this purpose. Increased demand also means that there will be a greater re-use of water. Those two operations by themselves will need careful handling. The problem is accentuated by the growing complexity of industrial effluent. This demands increasingly sophisticated treatment and a careful watch over the potential hazards to public health.
A large programme of investment is involved and must be carefully coordinated if it is to yield the maximum benefit.
At present, the management of water services in England and Wales is divided between 29 river authorities, some 160 water undertakings and about 130 sewerage authorities.
The House will recall that in September 1969 the Government of the day asked the Central Advisory Water Committee to consider how water services could best be organised in the light of the proposed reorganisation of local government. In its careful and very thorough report "The Future Manage- 36 ment of Water in England and Wales", which was published in April 1971, the Central Advisory Water Committee criticised the fragmentation of water authorities and recommended that these should be drastically reduced in number. The committee pointed to the need for reorganisation to secure overall planning of all aspects of water management and to provide an effective system for converting the plans into action and the programmes into actual works.
Hon. Members who are interested in these matters will know that the committee had conflicting ideas about the precise system of organisation required. However, it is significant that the members of the committee were all agreed that water services were becoming increasingly multi-purpose and that the various activities must be co-ordinated throughout fairly extensive regions. The committee's members also all agreed that this co-ordination must be carried out by regional water authorities which should have extensive new powers and responsibilities. That is the foundation of the Bill.
Against the background of the Central Advisory Water Committee's realistic appraisal of the situation, my right hon. Friend who is now Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, as hon. Members will recall, announced the Government's proposals to this House on 2nd December 1971 and issued a circular and memorandum on the same day. This was followed by a series of consultation papers which went into greater detail on many of the aspects of the proposals, and these papers were given wide circulation and publicity. We have also had discussions with many bodies, in particular the local authority associations. So I hope the House will be satisfied that the publicity for these proposals, the consultation documents and the consultations themselves have been particularly thorough.
It is, of course, no surprise to many hon. Members that we received diametrically opposed views on many matters, but I believe that what we now propose in the Bill strikes a reasonable balance. I can assure the House that I for my part have certainly tried to take full account of the various representations which have been made to me. Two 37 things have been pretty generally agreed: first, that changes must be made; and, secondly, that regional water authorities are needed to plan and to co-ordinate.
The real division of views has been on whether or not the best way to achieve our objective is through either basically a one-tier or a two-tier structure. The Government are satisfied that the main objective of the reorganisation, which is to provide integrated management of water, can only be fully achieved by a unitary structure. It is important to remember that the CAWC report specifically made the point that water services are becoming increasingly multipurpose. We take the view, therefore, that the regional water authorities should be sufficiently responsible for all water services, that they should own all the assets and that they should be solely responsible for finance. But it would still be possible for other bodies to act, in effect, as their agents in appropriate circumstances. That, in essence, is the structure proposed in the Bill.
The alternative structure, which was favoured in one form or another by, for example, the local authority associations, is basically a two-tier system. That would have the river water authorities, presumably of about the same size as the Bill proposes—although, clearly, that is the sort of thing about which there is always room for argument—but with simple planning and co-ordinating responsibilities. Below them would be bodies like the present water undertakers, sewerage and sewage disposal authorities and river authorities.
However, I think that that proposal suffers from a fatal defect. That proposal and others like it rest on the supposition that there would be some system of control by the regional water authorities over the second-tier authorities. It seems to me that this would be either so loose as to be ineffective or so tight as to be inappropriate in dealing with elected bodies.
There is, in my view, a clear distinction to be drawn between the tight control which the regional water authorities would exercise over water companies, where they will, in effect, have full operational control over the companies' sources and bulk supplies, and what is fitting for bodies of elected members. Therefore, I 38 am convinced, as I hope the House will be, that the provisions in the Bill governing the constitution of the regional water authorities provide a far better way of associating the democratic element in local government with the administration of water services in the new system.
It will be noted that the Bill as now presented proposes that in all the regional water authorities the local authority members will have a majority over the chairman and the other appointed members. That is an important change in the proposals as they were originally canvassed, and I hope it will be seen as a real attempt to meet some of the objections that local government would not be sufficiently associated with services which are of great concern to local people
Of course, as the House will recognise, the regional structure that we propose is not just an adaptation of the structure set up by the Water Resources Act 1963. It is radically different, and, therefore, the central structure needs to be changed accordingly. In the new situation, therefore, with effective regional water authorities it seems right to replace the Water Resources Board by the creation of a National Water Council, but I am sure the House would wish me to pay tribute to all that has been done by the Water Resources Board and its staff. They have rightly been held in high regard for what they have done.
There will now be only 10 large and strong regional water authorities. This, I believe, will make it possible to devolve power to the regional level and so avoid the heavy centralisation that other proposals would involve. I do not believe there is room for a three-tier executive structure.
In effect, the proposals in the Bill rest on maximum devolution from the centre and a clear line of command between the Secretary of State and the regional water authorities. There is, however, a need for a body at the centre to provide a forum for the discussion and examination of matters of common concern to all regional water authorities and to procure and provide common services like training and the testing and approval of water fittings. Beyond that, it does not seem necessary for the National Water Council to have executive functions which would interpose between the Secretary of State and the regional water authorities, 39 although obviously there will be matters which Ministers would wish to discuss with the National Water Council since it provides the most convenient way of consulting regional water authorities collectively.
It is also right that there should be a good planning organisation at the national level, and we believe that our proposals for a central water planning unit, whose tasks would be set by a steering committee composed partly of representatives of the Departments concerned and partly of the National Water Council, which would be given complete independence to publish its reports, provide the most effective answer.
Before dealing with the detailed provisions in the Bill, I should like to refer briefly to some other differences between the Government's original proposals and the Bill itself. First, I have decided that, while it could be argued that the integration of the British Waterways Board with the new regional water authorities might have many advantages, such a change is not necessary to achieve our present purposes. The Bill does not, therefore, cover the British Waterways Board, and consequently the board and the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council will remain in being with their present responsibilities.
The new regional water authorities will have a duty to promote and foster recreation, and here is a field in which the British Waterways Board has played a great part. I expect it to work closely with the regional water authorities in discharging this function. I am sure that in practice it will work out perfectly well. I think the British Waterways Board has done a good job. A Conservative Government set it up and a Labour Government expanded some of its responsibilities, so we all have an interest in it.
Secondly, the House will note that the Bill does not contain the proposed provisions for the more effective control of water pollution following the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Report of the Committee on Sewage Disposal—the Jeger Report. That will be a matter of some disappointment to many, but it does not mean that we do not regard them as very important. Indeed, they 40 are so important that we need to take a little more time to ensure that they are fully comprehensive.
Those provisions will be covered, together with other aspects of environmental pollution, such as waste disposal, following the recommendation of the Committees on Solid Toxic Wastes and or Refuse—the Key and Summer Reports—and noise abatement, in legislation which we would wish to introduce during the lifetime of this Parliament.
The relevance of the Bill to these matters is that with the Local Government Act 1972 it creates an administrative framework within which new and larger authorities will be able to move more effectively into matters of environmental protection. Another change is that, in view of the proposal to give local authorities the majority representation on the regional water authorities, the proposed regional consultative councils are no longer necessary and are not provided for in the Bill. The new local authorities are the people with whom consultation should take place on these matters.
The Bill is commendably short—at least, I hope that the House will regard it as such—amounting to 36 clauses. Since it is concerned with reorganisation, naturally there are a great many provisions dealing with detailed machinery. These are contained in the schedules. I do not propose to go through the Bill clause by clause but it would probably be helpful if I mentioned some of the major provisions.
Clause 1 sets out duties of the Minister regarding national policy for water. Land drainage and fisheries remain the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. A Minister from that Department will be present during the debate to take note of what hon. Members may say on matters affecting that Ministry. I am glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary is here.
Clauses 2 and 3 deal with the establishment, areas and constitution of the nine regional water authorities for England and the Welsh National Water Development Authority. The English aspects are more particularly set out in Schedules 1 and 2. Clause 4 deals with the establishment and constitution of the National Water Council. Clause 3(1), as well as providing for the appointment of the 41 majority of the members of the regional water authorities from the local authorities, provides for the appointment of the chairman by the Secretary of State, of two or three members by the Minister of Agriculture, and of the remaining members by the Secretary of State. The size of the regional water authorities will determine whether the Minister of Agriculture will appoint two or three members. In these clauses there are special provisions for Wales, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Welsh Office is here to deal with any matters connected with Wales.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
Is the Minister saying that the Secretary of State for Wales is to remain silent on a subject of major importance in the Principality? Is he not to speak today?
§ Mr. Rippon
The Minister of State will intervene. Everyone realises the importance of these matters to Wales. Much as we should all like to speak, it is not always easy to arrange this.
§ Mr. J. R. Kinsey (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
Will the Secretary of State tell us whether the Welsh authorities will be having any of the Birmingham representatives on them, because Wales is one of the most important sources of supply for Birmingham?
§ Mr. Rippon
—whose views can easily be represented through my hon. Friend the Minister of State. We are careful in these matters to make clear that Wales has a great deal of autonomy in these affairs. Obviously, in certain respects we in England have an interest in what happens to the water in Wales.
Part II provides for the transfer of functions from the existing authorities to the regional water authorities, for consequent adaptations to the powers relating to these functions, and for certain special arrangements. The first of these special arrangements governs the relationship of statutory water companies to the 42 regional authorities. The Government believed, after careful consideration, that there was no good reason to extend the scope of the public sector by abolishing the water companies and transferring their assets to the regional water authorities. At the same time we recognised that to secure integrated management the regional water authorities have to exercise a considerable degree of control over the water companies, and that is achieved by Clause 11.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
Will the Minister explain the different method of treatment of the private water companies and the public authorities?
§ Mr. Rippon
I explained when we were considering the question of one-tier or two-tier authorities that there was a distinction in the relationship which can be established with an elected body and the relationship which can be established with a statutory company where the degree of control that a regional water authority exercises is very great indeed. I have carefully read the debate which took place in this House on 2nd August last year when the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment gave at column 725 in much more detail the reasons for the Government's decision. Private statutory water companies do a good job, and they are prepared to act more or less as agents of the regional water authorities. There would be little point in paying compensation to them in these circumstances for doing what they are prepared to do in any event.
The second special arrangement concerns sewerage. Clause 15 requires the regional water authorities to arrange for their sewerage functions to be discharged on their behalf by the new authorities and, where appropriate, by the new town corporations. The arrangement is that the local authorities, subject to general policy direction by the regional water authorities, will be able to initiate proposals for new sewerage works, which the regional water authorities will pay for but which will be carried out by the local authorities. This arrangement, which has been reached after friendly and useful discussions with the local authority associations, is an important element in associating local government with the work of the regional authorities.
43 I turn now to fisheries and land drainage. Fisheries are dealt with in Clause 17 and land drainage is dealt with in Clause 18 and Schedule 4. The terms of reference of the Central Advisory Water Committee excluded fisheries and land drainage. Nevertheless, as the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture last August made clear, decisions about the treatment of land drainage and fisheries functions have to be made in the new context. They are both important and integral parts of river management, which is currently the responsibility of the river authorities. It follows naturally that these two functions should be transferred to the regional water authorities.
The provisions of Clause 17 on fisheries in effect embody what was foreshadowed in the Minister's announcement. The clause provides that the new authorities will be under a statutory duty to maintain and improve the well-being of the salmon and freshwater fisheries stocks. The regional water authorities will consult salmon and freshwater fisheries interests in their areas through a system of advisory committees to ensure that the voice of the interests is heard. No major change is proposed in the financing by the new authorities of their salmon and freshwater fisheries function. They will continue to obtain the greater part of their revenue for this purpose from rod and net licence fees. It is, however, proposed that the deficit will be made up from the water charge instead of from the precept as at present. We believe that in their general concept these arrangements command the widespread support of those concerned with these valuable resources.
Likewise the proposals for land drainage have the general support of the many interests concerned, whether they are urban or agricultural. Apart from a few points of detail and the special arrangements for London, they are the same as those announced last August by the then Minister of Agriculture. They recognise the basic characteristic of land drainage; that, because of its interconnection with agriculture and because of its immediate importance to low-lying areas at risk from flooding, land drainage calls for local involvement. The essential ingredients are local initiative, local decisions and local action. One of the members to be appointed to the regional 44 water authorities by the Minister of Agriculture will also be appointed by him to be the Chairman of the statutory Regional Land Drainage Committee through which the authority will be required by Clause 18 and Schedule 4 to carry out its land drainage functions. A bare majority of the committee's members will be appointed by local authorities, and the remainder by the regional water authority and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
The regional committee will be required to submit, through the regional water authority, schemes for the establishment of local committees. These schemes, which we expect will usually be based on the present river authority areas, will require the approval of my right hon. Friend.
There are three other important features about the land drainage provisions to which I should draw the attention of the House. First, under Clause 22 the new water authorities will be placed under a statutory duty to survey the need for land drainage works and to draw up and put into effect programmes for carrying them out. Those programmes will require the approval of my right hon. Friend.
Secondly, the intention is to continue the present system of financing land drainage mainly by means of precepts on local authorities and internal drainage boards, and by charges on agricultural land. But Clause 18 provides for the possibility of switching to the water charge after 1978.
Thirdly, the special arrangements for land drainage in London are set out in Part IV of Schedule 4. Essentially they preserve the Greater London Council's responsibilities for land drainage in what is called the London Excluded Area. These arrangements take full account of the need for the GLC to press on with the important task of building the Thames barrier, for which parliamentary approval was given last year.
I turn next to recreation. The Government attach great importance to the implications of their proposals for recreation—what is called the "fourth dimention" of our water policy. Consequently, Clause 19 places on regional water authorities the express duty of putting to the best use for recreation such rights in 45 the use of water and associated land as may vest in each authority.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has taken a great interest in these matters, and I have no doubt that he will be able to say something more about that aspect, which is important, if he catches the eye of the Chair at the end of the debate.
Problems will no doubt arise common to all the water authorities, in fulfilling their duty on recreation. In order to advise Ministers, the National Water Council and the regional water authorities in carrying out their respective functions in this sphere, the Bill provides in Clause 21 for the formation of a Water Space Amenity Commission.
Part III deals with finance. The financial aspects of the reorganisation are vital, and we have embarked on a thoroughgoing study of financial and economic objectives for the water services as a preliminary to consultations with the new authorities.
I do not propose to attempt to prejudge the outcome. But something needs to be said about the initial effects of the Bill on charges. The Bill provides for the net cost of all water services, except land drainage, to be met by way of charges. The net cost of land drainage will continue to be met, as hitherto, by precepts on local authorities and internal drainage boards and charges on agricultural land.
As the Financial Memorandum says, reorganisation is not expected to lead to significant changes in total expenditure on water services in the short term. In the longer term, we look for useful, if at present unquantifiable, economies.
The grants specifically payable in respect of these services are relatively small in amount and are to continue, at any rate for the time being. But expenditure on some of the services, notably sewerage and sewage disposal, has been borne on the rates in the past and now will be collected separately as a charge.
Charges for water supply and other services will look higher unless account is taken of what should be a corresponding reduction in the rates.
§ Mr. Rippon
I am completely stumped by that question. I shall ask my hon. Friend to reply to it at the end of the debate.
I return to safer ground, the changes in grant. It will be well understood by the House that many changes will be taking place at the same time as water reorganisation as a result of the local government reorganisation, and obviously these matters will have to be considered in greater detail when we have regard to changes in the system of both rates and grants.
Clause 28 deals with the installation of meters. There has been a lot of misunderstanding of what our consultation paper said about metering, and I welcome the opportunity to clear it up.
We did not say, never have said and do not say now, that metering should be introduced straight away. Indeed, we used the high estimated cost—about £500 million if every house were to be metered —to make the point that universal metering is unlikely to be achieved for a considerable period of years. All that the Bill does is to empower regional water authorities to charge by metering, and to introduce this for different consumers at different times.
The fact that we have now provided for majority representation by local authorities on the regional water authorities represents an additional safeguard. But we should bear in mind that many small consumers might well welcome metering.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman comment on the following most important sentence in his background paper, which in referring to regional water authorities on page 31, states:In all probability they will, like the nationalised industries, require target rates of return on capital employed.Does he agree that that means that the municipal water undertakings will become much more like private undertakings, in that hitherto they have not required a profit and now the Secretary of State expects them to make one?
§ Mr. Rippon
I think it is reasonable that those criteria should be applied. The important thing to bear in mind is that there will be a majority of local authority representatives on the regional water 47 authority, and, therefore, there is no reason to suppose that there will be any dramatic change in the manner in which these undertakings are run. Even the charges that the private companies are allowed to impose are very much controlled.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydvil)
The Secretary of State has repeatedly spoken of the safeguards that the English authorities will have in that the majority on the regional water authorities will be from local authorities. There is no guarantee that the Welsh National Water Development Authority will be similarly constituted.
§ Mr. Rippon
My hon. Friend the Minister of State will deal with that point. We need to make special provision for Wales. The Welsh tend to get what they want in the way that they want.
Part IV contains a number of miscellaneous provisions. I should like to draw attention in particular to Clause 30, which provides for the establishment of the Water Services Staff Commission, covering England and Wales. Its task will be to handle the arrangements for the recruitment and transfer of staff to the new authorities and to safeguard the interests of the staff affected, advising the Secretaries of State on any steps they should take for this purpose.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I have already taken the step of setting up a Water Services Staff Advisory Committee. We think that is essential to give the staff concerned the necessary reassurance that their interests are already being cared for.
The Chairman is Sir Patrick McCall, former Clerk of the Lancashire County Council. The committee's first meeting will take place this week.
It was a distinguished Member of this House who said in 1849:Sewers are in, and not before time.He was speaking in the early stages of the great public health movement of the nineteenth century, a movement of which Britain was a pioneer. The present environmental movement is sometimes regarded as uniquely modern. In fact, the crusading spirit underlying what we are all trying to do has much in common with 48 what the great propagandists, administrators and engineers of the nineteenth century were doing.
We might say today that water services are in. I believe that in introducing and considering the Bill we are inheritors of a great tradition, and are making an effective advance on what has been done by our predecessors.
Taken in conjunction with the proposals which we have on hand for further action on pollution, we are building a second great wave of preparation for dealing with the health and prosperity of our people. Of course, there are differences between us which cross party boundaries. In fact, they are found in various organisations. They are the sort of differences that are bound to arise on anything that is worth discussing. However, on the essential aim and purpose of the Bill we are sufficiently at one for me to be able quite confidently to commend the Bill as a whole to the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
There are about 20 hon. Members who wish to speak and to put forward local and other points of view. They all seem to me to have an equal right to speak. I shall get them all in only if hon. Members are brief when making their speeches.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
We used to have a Ministry of Housing and Local Government. In those days the Ministry ensured that houses were built and that local government was based on the principles of local democracy. We now have the Department of the Environment. It builds fewer houses and is busily engaged in the desecration of local government and local democracy.
§ Mr. Howell
The Under-Secretary is not speaking in this debate, but I hope that during the Committee stage we shall have the opportunity to hear what he has to say in support of the Bill.
The Bill fits into a familiar pattern. It follows last year's Local Government Act. In that Act we saw the break-up of our local government system. The 49 Opposition thought it was their duty at that time, week after week and month after month, to draw attention to the growth of regional bureaucracy. We highlighted that matter when the Bill returned to the Floor of the House. It is our case, certainly in the sphere of local government, that the real and vital decisions will be taken increasingly by the regional arm of Ministries and not by elected local authorities.
Since the Local Government Act we have seen further proposals which take us down the same road. Local Government is to lose much of its responsibility. Appointed boards are to replace elected councillors. As a result of this Bill every local authority in the land will lose its water undertaking. Appointed regional authorities will replace those undertakings. At the same time as that is happening, privately-owned water companies are to be left in private hands.
There is evidence of the growing concern about these movements and trends in local government. There are doubts which are shared by local authorities of all political persuasions. I received a letter during the weekend—and perhaps other hon. Members received a copy—from the Greater London Council. It is signed by the leader of the GLC and the leader of the Opposition. They are concerned about the loss of local authority services from their control. They have estimated that as a result of the Local Government Act, this Bill, proposals for the health services and other relevant proposals, the GLC will lose 25 per cent. of its functions and staff. That is the measure which they are able to make of these incursions into democratic local government.
At the core of the Bill is the fact that more and more power, if it does not go through to the regional arms of Ministries, will go directly to Ministries and Ministers. Under these proposals not only will the man from the Ministry know best but he will be the only man who will know anything. That will happen because so often the information which we and local representatives should have, as a basis upon which democratic discussion and argument about the development of public services can be sustained and maintained, will in many cases not be available to the people who need it.
50 Our first objection to the Bill is fundamental. We consider that it is another step towards the destruction of local government as we know it, where elected councillors are known and answerable to the people they represent. Furthermore, the Bill denies the principle of public ownership of water supplies. Water resources are our national and natural heritage. They belong to the people. We are entitled, as a society, to harness these resources for the use of the nation without private exploitation.
Associated with the principles of public ownership on control of water is another principle which is just as important—namely, the plentiful supply of water as of right for our people. That supply should readily be available. For the first time the Bill proposes to metering of water. The ability to pay for water, whether it is in the short or long term, is to supersede the right to have a ready supply according to the need of the domestic user. We cannot support that proposition. It is no wonder, therefore, that every local authority, controlled by majorities of differing political complexions, has rejected the Bill either directly or through its local authority association.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the improvements that the Government have in mind. There is no disagreement in that respect. There is likely to be a chronic shortage of water and there needs to be reorganisation based on the hydrological cycle. We need to adjust our machinery to ensure that that is brought about. The Opposition agree that the geography of the river basin and the water supply does not fit in tidily with our units of political control and our system of government. Therefore, it is probably the one service which the system of government has to be tailored to meet.
§ Sir Frederick Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that that argument applies equally well to the rather artificial division between England and Wales in hydrological terms?
§ Mr. Howell
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has a point which should be pursued. Indeed, I know that it will be pursued by my right hon. Friend 51 the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas). In fact, the proposals for England and Scotland make the rest of the proposals in the Bill almost a nonsense as they are completely contradictory. I take into account the point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making. When we are dealing with water resources the only common sense thing to do is to take Great Britain as a whole, to look at the amount of water available for the country as a whole and to look at the needs of the country as a whole. Any other approach to the problem would seem to be superficial.
There is no shortage of water. It has been estimated that there are 41,000 million gallons a day in an average year. That is far in excess of the requirements of the country. The problem is the collection of water and its transportation from areas of plenty to areas of need. It makes sense—we agree about this—that the authority that deals with the supply and transportation of water should also deal with the treatment and disposal of sewage and waste at the end of the day.
I pay tribute particularly to the working party on sewage disposal, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) which issued the report, "Taken for Granted". It did an outstanding job in concentrating our attention on the deficiencies in this aspect of the service, Rereading it over the weekend, I was interested to find that a number of authorities are still discharging undiluted sewage into the sea, or certainly only partially-treated sewage, and are still putting into our river system disposals at far higher levels of impurity than any of us would think right and proper in this day and age.
I confirm at once that anything the Government or the new organisation can do to insist upon proper levels of purity in the waste disposed of either in our rivers or in the sea will be supported by the Opposition. In the interests not only of hygiene but also of the normal recreational seaside pursuits of the nation it is time that our people, when they visit our beaches, should be free to do so without having to suffer the uncertainties and unpleasantness of so much pollution of the sea around our coasts.
52 We support the view that water supply and distribution is a growth industry. I understand that it is estimated that each man, woman and child in the country uses about 31 gallons of water a day. This is increasing as more and more washing machines and so on become available and more and more cars have to be washed. More and more water is being required for the civilised purposes of life. The amount of water being used by industry is also expanding at a very considerable rate. For example, 160 tons is required for the manufacture of one ton of paper, and a tremendous amount of water is used by the electricity industry for cooling towers, and so on.
We are not quite sure, since it has not yet been spelt out to us, what the arrangements will be between England and Wales on the one hand and Scotland on the other, but the only thing which makes sense in the modern context of water supply is the establishment of some sort of national grid system, and that is what the Opposition want to bring about.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made two concessions which we welcome—one major and one minor. The minor concession is that each regional authority is now to have a bare majority of local authority representatives. The right hon. and learned Gentleman himself used the phrase "bare majority". At any rate, that is what most local authorities believe.
§ Mr. Rippon
They will have an absolute majority on the regional water authorities, and on the larger ones a considerably higher proportion of the members.
§ Mr. Howell
There is certainly one case at least where the majority will be only one and I believe that there are other such cases. I do not believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's concession, such as it is, is very meaningful, in the first place, some of the regional water authorities will be far too large for any sensible democratic means of control, and we object to the continual use of appointed representatives to such bodies. We all know that under this Government kissing goes by favour. We can all see what is going to happen when we look at the new structure. We have 53 seen similar examples in other appointments by the Government. If ever there were an opportunity for packing these bodies with blue-eyed boys representing the political and philosophical ideology of the Government of the day, it is present in this Bill.
§ Mr. Rippon
I resent that suggestion. Successive Governments have been particularly careful to ensure that there is proper representation on bodies of this kind of all political parties. I have been criticised recently for my predecessor's action in having appointed to a board five Labour and one Conservative member, so the hon. Gentleman will see that it does not work out exactly as he suggests.
§ Mr. Howell
This matter is undergoing continual research on this side of the House. When we look at the appointments to new town corporations, rent scrutiny committees, hospital boards and the like, we see that increasingly they are being packed with Conservative supporters of one sort or another. Time and again, Labour supporters are being removed—the Post Office is an infamous example. I hope that when the next Labour Government come to office they will undertake an immediate review of the political backgrounds of all those people being appointed on the nomination of the Government.
Why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman find it necessary to have to appoint the chairmen of these regional water authorities? They are very important people. Each one of them will find his or her way on to the national water authority. This means that the Secretary of State, by his power to appoint the chairmen of the regional authorities, is giving himself the absolute power to appoint the national water authority. If the principles of local government are not to be denied, as they should not be, the regional water authorities should at least be allowed to elect their own chairmen. They know their own people best. We shall try to bring that situation about in Committee.
The major concession is the scrapping of the proposal to break up the British Waterways Board. The canal system is now to be kept as an entity. I pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that decision. I do not 54 expect him to comment, but I do not believe that we should have had that decision had his predecessor still been in his office. We welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's decision.
There is a very good lobby of inland waterway users now, and we are glad to see it. They have risen up in their wrath and the Government have reacted. It is perhaps a reflection on our system of local government, and certainly on the public relations of the local authority associations, that although they were equally vehement and unanimous in their objections, no similar head of steam could be got up on their behalf in protest against the undermining of local democracy in the Bill.
I hope not to be accused of too much contradiction when I say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has moved in this respect from one extreme, not to the other extreme but to the position where the canal system is not to be broken up but to be maintained. Indeed, the system is not mentioned in the Bill at all. How the Government can approach the organisation of our water resources without saying in the Bill exactly how the canal system will fit in, particularly in respect of land drainage and recreational possibilities, is almost beyond belief, but we can return to the point later in the passage of the Bill through the House.
I said that the omission of public ownership of water resources was a serious deficiency. We can harness the water resources of the country properly only upon that basis. In so far as the Secretary of State dealt with it at all, he seemed to make that point. I became even more concerned than I was before he spoke. He twice told us that the regional water authorities will now, for all practical purposes, have complete control of pricing policy and the sources of supply of the private water companies.
If this is to be the case, if there is to be this rigid control over the private water companies by the regional water authorities, why on earth have the private water companies been left out of these proposals? There can be only one answer—profitability. If we associate that with the proposals in the Bill for metering then we can begin to see why the Government, for absolutely doctrinaire reasons, have taken that point of view.
55 Another phrase which has been brought to my attention this weekend, which has emerged from two separate sources and is becoming part of the common jargon, is that of a "State within a State". It is referred to when dealing with the power to concentrate the machinery within the Ministry. The whole of the planning function, particularly land drainage and the formulation of national water policy, is to be conducted by bureaucrats within the Department of the Environment.
This raises a matter of considerable importance. There can be a national water policy only if there is some body at the centre planning resources, transportation, reservoir building and so on. This must conflict with the quasi-judicial functions which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to fulfil. How can there be a Ministry responsible for planning and building reservoirs, and all the other things which cause concern, which is at the same time exercising a quasi-judicial function over the approval of the building of such reservoirs? There is seemingly a great contradiction.
§ Mr. Howell
As my hon. Friend says the Secretary of State has just used the powers I am illustrating. We shall require an explanation of this apparent contradiction.
There has been much concern about the fact that we are to be left with 31 private water undertakings. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor issued his proposals and was consulting people, one or two reactionary Conservative authorities set about disposing of their public assets to private water undertakings. This is a shameful and disgraceful business.
I have particularly in mind the example of Brighton which has disposed of its assets for about £2 million to the Mid-Sussex Water Company. We shall certainly try in Committee to stop that sort of thing from happening. I am not sure whether it would be in order to make that retrospective to the date of the Secretary of State's first proposal. I make it clear that the next Labour Government will reserve absolutely their rights in this matter, certainly to bring 56 these undertakings into public ownership and to have regard to the chicanery by which some public authorities are being handed over to private undertakings.
I come now to the National Water Council which is mentioned in Clause 4. I cannot believe—I am not sure whether this is the right adjective to use in terms of this industry—that any more anemic national body has ever been set up. If we look at the powers and functions we see that a chairman has to be appointed by the Secretary of State. The Chairmen of the regional water authorities are also to be appointed by the Secretary of State. There are to be 10 other members, eight to be appointed by the Secretary of State and two by the Minister of Agriculture. What are the powers of this great national authority? There are four. The first is to advise upon matters of common interest. There is no executive responsibility. The second is to promote and assist the efficient performance of water authorities. There is no authority and no power to deal with any water authority that does not accept its advice.
Thirdly it has to establish a scheme for testing and approval of water fittings. The fourth power is to prepare a scheme for training and education within the industry. If that adds up to a job of work for about 20-odd people of considerable eminence then I must be a Dutchman and so must a great many other people.
§ Mr. Howell
I come now to the regions. Here again there is cause for concern about the establishment of the regional authorities. At present I am more concerned about the size and the remoteness of these authorities as defined in the Bill. The one I know best, since it includes Birmingham, is the Severn-Trent authority. Birmingham has built up a magnificent water service with the aid and cooperation of our Welsh colleagues. It is a service which has served not only Birmingham but almost all stopping points along the pipeline. Now, not only is Birmingham to lose its public water undertaking, but it is to be allotted only two members on the new authority.
Just look at the size of the authority. It stretches from Wales on one side right across to the North Sea on the other. 57 How can an authority of that size, even if we have to base our proposals on the hydrological pattern and on the geological basin, be justified in terms of local government? I am not surprised to hear that some criticisms are coming from the Greater London Council.
There is a proposal to set up a regional authority stretching from the Cotswolds to Canvey Island. This again is regarded with some contempt. Our London colleagues are right to draw attention to the fact that if we are to have a regional water authority at all then the Greater London Council is a regional authority. That was its purpose when it was created by the previous Conservative Government, in face of our opposition. That being the case, and since it is not disturbed by the new round of local government functions, it ought to be given immediate power to act as the regional water authority for its area. We shall certainly try to bring this about in Committee.
To come back to the position of the Greater London Council, how can an elected local council responsible for the whole of London not be responsible for the River Thames? It is an absudity that the River Thames is now to be removed from the control and influence of the GLC.
§ Mr. Rippon
The Thames is a long river which has never resided within the confines of the GLC. This was faced years ago on the reorganisation of Greater London. Even now the GLC is not responsible for the Metropolitan Water Board, the Thames Conservancy or the Port of London Authority.
§ Mr. Howell
But now is the appropriate moment for changes. Changes in this direction would have been welcomed by all the bodies to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred.
Much more serious is the removal of direct responsibility from elected local councils. What is so special about the water industry that it is to be removed from immediate local government control? This cannot have been done on the basis of past performance, as the Under-Secretary of State has made clear in a letter of 15th August 1972 to the President of the BWA:The case does not rest upon allegations of past failures. Indeed, the Government con- 58 sider that in general the present responsible bodies have served the country well. In particular I am fully conscious of the achievements of the water supply industry in this country and the considerable change which it has undergone in recent years in pursuit of the policy set out in the 1945 White Paper.What is the thinking—
§ Mr. Howell
I could not have written it better myself. The great difference is that I should not be idiotic enough to write those words about the past performance of local authority undertakings and then proceed to abolish them all without a logical explanation why those authorities which have done so magnificently in the past cannot be expected to rise to the occasion in the future. In his speech today the Secretary of State got nowhere near trying to justify that proposition. We wait with bated breath for the more intellectual endeavours of the Under-Secretary of State when he comes to address us on this subject.
The Opposition have the strongest objection to the imposition of charges based on metering supplies of water to domestic consumers. There is obviously a case for charging a man who uses a hose pipe for cleaning his car or in his garden, but traditionally water has always been readily available at modest cost. The water industry is probably our most efficient industry and has served us well It does not matter whether the metering is to be introduced immediately or in the long term. The Secretary of State has embraced the philosophy that a charge based on metering is right and proper and should be introduced gradually. We totally reject that proposition. It is against the public interest. It will operate against the interest of large families, who should be encouraged to use water. This is classic Conservative doctrinaire policy. The Minister who thought this up must regret that it has not been found practicable to bottle and sell the air we breathe. No doubt had it been possible that proposal would have been included in the Bill.
§ Mr. Charles Simeons (Luton)
Do I understand from the hon. Gentleman's reference to large families that he has found a method of making small boys wash?
§ Mr. Howell
I am glad to say that in my household they do. I cannot answer for anybody else's household. If small boys do not wash, their mothers have to wash them, and they also have to wash their clothes.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
So that I am in possession of all his thinking to enable me to reply, is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Labour Party is against all forms of metering?
§ Mr. Howell
We are against the metering of water for domestic purposes.
I deal now with the policy which we in Opposition would have welcomed and which we in government will seek to enact. We believe in the public ownership of all the water resources of the country. That is the linchpin upon which we base our policy. We should place those water resources under the authority and executive control of a strong national water board with responsibilities for research, supply, transportation—possibly by means of a grid system—pollution, disposal and overall responsibility for recreation. We rule out any proposal for charges based on metering to the domestic user. We also want the national water board to have responsibility for maintaining the canal system as a national entity.
§ Mr. Rippon
Would the hon. Gentleman allow a majority of local authority representation on that strong centralised body? How would it give greater control to local authorities?
§ Mr. Howell
I was about to say that the national water board would be composed of the chairmen of all the elected regional authorities. The board would be one step removed from direct local authority representation, but it would be composed almost entirely of local authority representatives.
If we accept the hydrological pattern, we must accept the establishment of regional water authorities. We should like them to act mainly as wholesalers for the supply of water to all the local authorities. The local authorities would contract with the regional authorities for the supply of water they require for their districts and would be responsible to the regional authorities for purification of the effluent and disposal under conditions 60 of purity approved by the regional water authority.
We go along with the Government's regional proposals in thinking that the regional water authority should have special responsibilities for recreation, angling and boating, which can best develop on the basis of public ownership of water. Our regions would be much smaller than those proposed in the Bill. In Committee we shall seek to create a greater number of smaller regions which are not so remote from the people. The basis of our policy is that there should be a direct relationship between consumer and local authority. We see no reason why the local authority should not continue to be responsible for the supply use and disposal of water for all people, including industry. There should be direct accountability between the water consumer and his local authority and we shall seek to bring this about.
The Bill acknowledges the crisis that will face us unless we act to mobilise the whole of our water resources. The Government acknowledge that there is no case against the local authorities on their past performance as water undertakers. There is more reason to be sceptical about the way in which some authorities have performed drainage and sewerage functions, particularly in coastal areas, but these matters can and should be dealt with by a strong national policy in which national standards are laid down and imaginatively and energetically pursued.
Almost every single responsible authority is against the Bill. The Minister and his colleagues have no friends anywhere. The County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the urban district councils and rural district councils and also the British Waterworks Association have all rejected the concept of bureaucratic control embodied in the Government policy. There has never been more public attention to this question than there is today, and public concern can express itself properly only when there is the fullest access to those responsible for the service and, in the last resort, the right to change those who are in charge and to do so by the democratic process of the ballot box. This is what local government and local democracy are all about. It is because these principles are denied in this Bill that we shall divide the House against it.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) has treated the House to a torrent of mainly unconstructive criticism. I listened avidly to ascertain what were his main alternative proposals. He did not use the word "nationalisation", for that is too dangerous a word for the Labour Party. But he kept on saying that the principal thing they would do would be to bring into public ownership statutory water companies which will remain functioning as they are under the Bill.
If that is an indirect method of nationalisation, and if it means the gathering of everything else that will come under the Bill by way of water supply into the kind of organisation which nationalisation generally implies, I would remind the hon. Gentleman of the late Nye Bevan's famous dictum that nationalisation of water supplies would not produce a drop more water.
I am sure that the whole House regrets the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) owing to illness. He has always taken such an interest in our debates on water. Indeed one cannot represent constituencies such as the Isle of Ely and Huntingdonshire for as long as we have both done without becoming fascinated by water and everything to do with it. In fact, there are people who say that we have developed web feet. In Huntingdonshire we have 25 miles of the River Great Ouse, 10 miles of the River Nene, about 60 miles of contributory rivers, thousands of acres of rich fenland and at Graffham Water we have the largest artificial lake in England, which the Under-Secretary of State recently was good enough to visit. He was, I know, impressed by what he saw, because there we have perhaps the most notable example in the world of a publicly-owned reservoir in which the advantages of water conservation, nature conservation and a wide range of recreational activities, especially for young people, are all combined under one authority.
When the Bill was published, I read it eagerly but with some fear because I did not like the Government's original proposals in 1971. Some welcome improvements have been made by the 62 Secretary of State, and I wish to give a general welcome to the Bill. However, I am still unhappy about some important features of it. I can appreciate the administrative convenience of having these multi-purpose authorities, each having eight functions, which makes each of them into an octopus. In East Anglia the regional water authority would stretch from the Thames Estuary right up to the Humber and would embrace no fewer than five existing river authorities. That will make it into a giant octopus and I believe that it is too large. There may be a reason for this which may have something to do with the proposals for the Wash barrage. Whatever the reasons for inflicting such an enormous multipurpose authority on the greater part of the east of England, we should be told the reasons and I trust that they will be valid.
I regret the abolition of the Water Resources Board. What is more, I suspect the reason for doing so, and it is one which must also spring to the mind of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State because when we were in opposition he and I were among those on both sides of the House who fought a long hard battle against Whitehall to get the old Ministry of Housing and Local Government to change its mind about flooding more farmland to build reservoirs instead of getting on with the feasibility study for the Wash barrage. He and I spoke in a debate on the subject late one night.
§ Sir D. Renton
Yes, we were aided by our hon. Friend. It was not until the Water Resources Board recommended an immediate feasibility study—which did not come immediately but only after further pressure—that we made progress. It was only then that Whitehall was over-ruled. It seems clear to me, and I believe that it must also be clear to the Under-Secretary of State, that the proposed Central Water Planning Unit within the Government service set out on page 30 of the Blue Paper will mean that the completely independent advice of the Water Resources Board will be replaced by less independent advice from Marsham Street, and it would take a lot to convince me that I am wrong. No 63 doubt this central water planning unit or CWPU will become known as "coopu" and will be barely distinguishable from a coypu and just as unpopular. It will have to advise water authorities presumably as well as advising the Minister on the advantages of conservation schemes. It will also have to advise on the objections to such schemes, and it will thereby have a conflict of interests.
I believe that we ought to have second thoughts about the total abolition of the Water Resources Board. I am not sure that the Bill gives any clear indication of who is to be mainly responsible for doing the research which is so important. I had hoped that some kind of independent people would be made at least partly responsible for research since in my view it should not be entirely within the Government service.
I welcome the decision to leave land drainage in the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In the Fens, land drainage is of vital importance to us. We have an elaborate, well-tried and efficient form of administration in which farmers and landowners take part. It is a three-tier system. We do not want it changed. We do not want the giant octopus to interrupt the good work being done by the Great Ouse River Authority, the North and Middle Level Boards and the many internal drainage boards. As I read the Bill and as I listened to my right hon. and learned Friend, I gained the impression that all would be well and that farmers would continue to have their say by means of these internal drainage boards. I should not like to see the regional land drainage committees consist entirely of local government members who might not know the bottom side of a fen dyke from the top side. I hope that we shall continue to have this participation in this part of the work by people who know about it.
As for the powers of the Secretary of State with regard to drainage charges and water charges for spray irrigation, I am sorry to see that the system of appeals is no longer to continue. I hope that there will be second thoughts about it. It is highly desirable and it may be desirable to get a reasonable degree of uniformity of principle with regard to charges all over the country.
64 I am sorry to see that angling interests seem to be losing out when it comes to their being represented on the regional water authorities. On each of the five river authorities which will make up this colossal East Anglia Regional Water Authority there are at the moment two fisheries representatives, making 10 altogether. Under the Bill there will be only one at best, if there is one at all. I can assure my right hon. and learned Friend that many thousands of voting anglers will not be happy about this. I am not making an unreasonable request. I merely ask my right hon. and learned Friend to ensure that there are at least two. That is merely doubling the possible maximum at present, which is one. However I am told that if on each regional water authority there are two fisheries representatives, in addition to the fisheries advisory committee, it is just possible that honour may be satisfied.
I pay tribute to the work which the hon. Member for Small Heath did, work which has been carried several stages further by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, in seeing to it that recreational interests are given the fullest consideration.
There is a serious conflict of different recreational interests. To take the most obvious one, water ski-ing, which I think is a splendid sport, is quite incompatible with angling, a sport which I also support but in which I do not much indulge. Then we find that bird-watching, which can be said to have wider conservation interest, can be incompatible with angling during the nesting season. I mention those as simple examples of the conflicts which arise.
We now have the sports councils which under their present aegis are trying to deal with this matter. In relation to the River Great Ouse, 25 miles of which runs through my constituency, the Eastern Sports Council said:The attractiveness of the area has already created problems of congestion.We have to face the fact that in the past 20 years our country has become more and more overpopulated and more affluent with the result that the pressures on the relatively limited places for water recreation as they exist at the moment are tremendous. Graffham Water itself is becoming a place where the pressures 65 are enormous at summer weekends. The sports council made one very good suggestion and I hope that it is one which, even if not written into the Bill, will at least be considered by my hon. Friend and everyone concerned. It said:Serious thought should be given to the unsatisfied demands of water ski-ing, speed boating, and sub-aqua. These should be catered for in selected pits which are not to be river-linked, with the noisiest sports away from the built-up areas.Water ski-ing is about the noisiest sport of all. I do not want to get into detailed argument about this difficult matter at this stage, but we should be thankful that we have Ministers in charge of the Bill who are aware of the importance of getting the recreational priorities right.
I wish them well in this very big new venture. But I say to them in all candour that if they want this venture to succeed they will have to make quite a number of improvements to the Bill in its remaining stages.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) was critical of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell). The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on, very agreeably, to concur in most of my hon. Friend's criticisms. However, that is what we expect from the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
Superficially the Bill appears to have many attractions. We all agree with the major objectives which the Secretary of State outlined. For the first time in our history we have a Bill which brings under overall management the complete hydrological cycle—water conservation, distribution and reclamation. When we debated the Water Resources Bill 10 years ago many of us regretted that we did not then take more comprehensive steps to cover the whole range of services. That Act was the first piece of major water legislation ever to come before this House. On the whole it has worked well, and a warm tribute is due to the river authorities and to the Water Resources Board—to Sir William Goode and his colleagues —for their work over the decade. I hope that the staff at Reading and elsewhere and the expertise that they have accumulated over the last 10 years will he re- 66 tained under the new set-up. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will give us that assurance when he winds up.
On closer analysis, however, the Bill is disappointing and is open to severe criticism on several counts. I should have liked to deal in detail with a number of matters—the implications for agriculture, land drainage, sewerage and sewage disposal, and so on—but I will obey Mr. Speaker's exhortation and be brief, as so many hon. Members wish to speak.
The first major weakness is the proposed structure of the water authorities set out in Clauses 2 and 3. I thought that the Secretary of State's justification for the new structure was weak and unconvincing.
It is proposed to create, not democratically based authorities, as public opinion would wish, but further nominated bodies to add to those which already proliferate. Schedule 1 defines the nine very large authorities which will not only be responsible for the overall planning and control of services, but for detailed day-to-day administration. A large body may be appropriate for planning, but when it comes to running the services, which are important to people locally and impinge on their day-to-day lives—I am thinking particularly of the housewife—those authorities appear to be far too large and remote. For example, the Severn-Trent Water Authority would be an enormous geographical spread with a huge population. The consumer, who, after all, is the most important element that this House must always consider, will be far removed from the large machine which the Bill Bill proposes to create.
This is a deplorable trend and goes contrary to what the Government have promised—namely, to secure the interests of the consumer in society. The Bill proposes to set up administrative leviathans which can ride roughshod over the individual. We have seen this mania for centralisation in the interests of efficiency in the electricity and gas industries. If the householder has a complaint and is fortunate enough to have a telephone, he has to ring a remote office and speak to a clerk who passes the complaint on to another clerk. The household has to suffer frustration and delays in the processes of getting a small fault rectified. This is happening all the time in other 67 industries and it is likely to take place in the new set-up to be created under the Bill.
The Secretary of State has argued that local authorities will have a majority of all appointees in the new bodies. In most cases it will be a very small majority, but this is not the same as placing the responsibility in the hands of directly elected councils, people whom the consumer knows and can approach personally with a grievance. Our unique experience in my constituency proves that a county council can run this service efficiently and economically. About 30 years ago our water service on the island was deplorable. The Anglesey County Council promoted its own Water Act—the first county council to do so—and went on to build two reservoirs. Today almost every household in Anglesey has a piped water supply and a reasonable water rate. The County Water Committee is directly answerable to the electorate. It seems an exemplary arrangement, but the Bill will destroy this efficient, democratic authority and allow private water companies to remain in being.
I submit that this is the more reprehensible against the background of local government reorganisation. We are to have new, larger and, we hope, more efficient local authorities. The Government have said that they wish to see these authorities with stronger powers and functions. Yet in this Bill, a few months later, they proceed to reduce the direct responsibilities of these local authorities. I hope that from now until Third Reading they will think again and accept amendments to correct these grave deficiencies.
The financial provisions in Part III, which the Secretary of State explained, are quite inadequate. They are vague and need clarification. The charges scheme empowered in Clause 27 can be made by these remote authorities seemingly without reference to anybody.
Even more sinister and objectionable is the power in Clause 28 to install domestic meters. The levying of the water rate by an elected authority is a reasonable and fair way of raising revenue. The Secretary of State tried to fob us off with anodyne words on this question of meters. However, the fact 68 remains that for the first time in our history water meters are proposed to be put into homes. The housewife with children, the working man in a dirty job, the disabled and the older members of the community will have to watch the meter. This is an indirect method of rationing the one commodity which this country has in plenty. Anybody who objects to this proposal had better watch out. The clause empowers the appointment of officers who will have power to enter houses and to install meters, and if the householder refuses to open his door he can be hauled before the magistrates and fined £50.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to me the difference in principle between an electricity and a water meter?
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman should know the distinction. This is the much-vaunted Conservative freedom that the hon. Gentleman was preaching about at the General Election. This proposal will be regarded with contempt in Wales. I wonder whether the Government have thought of installing meters in the reservoirs in Wales. If they did, mid-Wales would be almost as wealthy as some of the sheikdoms of the Middle East. I hope that Clause 28 will be thrown out bell, book and candle, because it is a most objectional provision.
This brings me to a body with a very grand title—the Welsh National Water Development Authority. Translating it into Welsh it sounds even grander—Awdurdod Cenedlaethol Datblygu Dwr Cymru. When I read that first I thought we were getting the authority to end all authorities. When I got down to the "nitty gritty" of the Bill I found that it was just another regional authority with a big slab of Wales carved out and given to the Severn-Trent Water Authority. Edward I and Henry VIII could not have done any better.
I then searched for the name of the Secretary of State for Wales. After all, he has quite substantial powers at present. I found his name as one of the promoters of the Bill, but thereafter his name is not to be found. The Welsh National Water Development Authority advises the Minister, and he appears to be the Secretary of State for the Environment.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Thomas)
I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman who, after all, held the office of Secretary of State. He will know that the words "Secretary of State" in the Bill describe both the Secretary of State for the Environment and myself in the context of the Bill and in respect of our particular responsibilities.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am even more surprised at the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He knows that if he is to be a responsible Minister with powers under the Bill this should be made clear in the definition clauses. There is no mention in the Bill of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If he is one of the responsible Ministers under the Bill, that should be written in. No doubt the omission will be put right in Committee.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
The right hon. Gentleman knows the contents of the Local Government Act. He knows the Ministers responsible under that measure. My responsibilities come under the generic title of Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman should know that the Secretary of State has responsibilities which are shared with other Secretaries of State.
§ Mr. Hughes
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should look at Clause 1, which refers to the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for the Environment. It is proper in Bills where Ministers are referred to for their portfolios to be specified. That has not been done in this instance.
The House will realise that we in Wales are going through a particularly bleak period. Our natural resources have been run down, with serious results for our economy. Coal, slate and tinplate are a shadow of what they were in terms of employment, rationalisation of steel has dealt a savage blow in recent weeks, but the one thing that we have in plenty is water. It is our most valuable natural resource. The Bill deals with its future conservation and distribution and yet, as we read the Bill, the Secretary of State for Wales plays no part in it. I say to the House that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George 70 Thomas) and I would not have borne this humiliation.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
The right hon. Gentleman is always courteous, and I am obliged to him for giving way. I assure him that he is making a bad point. The reference to the Secretary of State means the Secretary of State for Wales when it comes to dealing with the Welsh National Water Development Authority. Does the right hon. Gentleman support what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) said was the Opposition's policy? If he does, I must tell him that if that policy were adopted Wales would not be in control of her water resources.
§ Mr. Hughes
The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not listen to my hon. Friend's speech. If he reads it in HANSARD tomorrow he will realise that he misheard my hon. Friend. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that he is specifically included as the Minister for the purpose of the Bill——
§ Mr. Hughes
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that he is the Secretary of State for the purpose of the Bill when it comes to dealing with the Welsh authority and that it will be answerable to him and advise him specifically about the conservation and distribution of water in Wales, that goes some way towards satisfying me that the position is not as bad as might have been thought.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
Is it not inexplicable that, despite these powers being given to the Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. and learned Gentleman should run away from the debate and have no intention of contributing to it?
§ Mr. Hughes
My right hon. Friend is making a perfectly proper point. The Secretary of State for Wales knows that no subject arouses greater concern or interest in the Principality than the one being debated today. It is therefore deplorable that he has not seen fit to intervene in the debate but has foisted upon the Minister of State this difficult task.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I am again obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving 71 way. I agree that the House is extremely interested in this subject, and in particular in the views of the right hon. Gentleman who is very much respected in Wales. I was very disturbed to hear the policy unfolded by his hon. Friend. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with that policy? If he does, and if it were implemented, all the water resources in Wales would be under the control of a United Kingdom authority. That is different from the proposals in the Bill, which puts these resources under the control of the Welsh National Water Development Authority.
§ Mr. Hughes
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is walking a dangerous path. He knows the Labour Party's policy on this issue. It was made clear during the Committee stage of the Local Government Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that we believe that the conservation and distribution of water should be one of the functions of an elected Welsh council. The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave an undertaking that this function would not be disposed of in advance of the report of the Commission on the Constitution. Under the Bill the Government are disposing of this function contrary to their undertaking.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The right hon. Gentleman is dealing with a vital matter which affects the whole of Wales. I recollect that when he was Secretary of State for Wales he gave an undertaking that no community should be submerged without his having a right of veto. To the eternal credit of the present Secretary of State for Wales he vetoed the proposal to submerge the Dulas Valley. The point that is worrying the whole of Wales is who is to have the right of veto not only in regard to the area under the control of the Welsh National Water Development Authority, but also over the vital areas of Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire where the water resources are to be under the control of the Severn-Trent Water Authority.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am sure that the Minister of State will reply to these points which are of considerable substance.
I have detained the House for longer than I had intended. That is mainly 72 because of interventions. The Government, with their lack of sensitivity, have succeeded in making what should be a broadly uncontroversial measure into a highly-charged Bill and one with the gravest deficiencies. I shall be glad to vote against it in the Lobby tonight.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) and I shall pick up one point in relation to Wales as I move through what I hope will be a short speech on this important Bill.
As hon. Members' interests are so much in the limelight it is right that I should declare certain interests which I have. I am Vice-President of the Association of River Authorities and the Salmon and Trout Association, president of the National Council of Salmon Nets-men of England and Wales, Vice-President of the Association of Municipal Corporations and Rural District Councils Association, and a member of the National Farmers' Union and Country Landowners' Association. I hope that that is a sufficient spread to render me reasonably neutral in my approach to what, apparently, is developing into rather an emotive subject.
I should like to pay a real and heartfelt tribute to all those who work in the water industry. When I turned on the tap this morning, and subsequently when I pulled the plug, I thought of all those unsung heroes down the line who were working on sewerage operations all over the country. I often feel that the water industry is the Cinderella of all our public undertakings, but it deserves a special tribute for the splendid work that it does year in and year out.
May I pay a special tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for a practical approach to an extremly difficult and pretty intractable problem? I give him a high mark because he is trying, not to destroy but to merge all the existing organisations, and that very merging is a difficulty.
I shall not cover all the points previously covered. Suffice it to say that I welcome the fact that the British Waterways Board has been retained and that 73 separate functions for land drainage are envisaged under the Bill.
I should also like to say how glad I am that the statutory water undertakers are being permitted to carry on. Having been the Member of Parliament for Chester for 16 years now, I think that our statutory water undertaking is the only organisation in our area concerning which I have never had a single complaint in 16 years. That is a fairly good tribute to the way that that particular water company has carried on. That is not in the least unique in this field of statutory water companies.
I shall now make only three quick points. First, on administration, the success or failure of the Bill will be judged as to whether the administration works. Secondly, I join with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) in saying how sorry I am about the probable demise of the Water Resources Board, for very much the same reasons as my right hon. and learned Friend gave, and which were also given by the Opposition Front Bench. Thirdly, I have a serious comment to make on the finance of these water authorities, because I believe that on finance the Bill is a little on the weak side.
With regard to the administration—this is terribly important—what will emerge is a tripartite function between river management, sewerage and sewage disposal and water supply. As I understand it, a transitional period is envisaged of some three or four years. I do not believe that that is a sufficiently long period, judging by the time it took to merge the river boards and river authorities. We have only just got over those mergers, and it is 10 years since the Water Resources Act 1963. In the jargon of the river management people today, we are to have provisional management units, which I shall refer to henceforth as PMUs. All these existing organisations, which are operating in areas which are by no means co-terminous—by that I mean that a river authority, water undertaking and enlarged sewerage authority, water undertaking and enlarged sewerage authority will have different boundaries—as PMUs will have to operate for three or four years. We cannot stop water or sewage flowing. But 74 at one and the same time the PMUs will be losing staff to the new regional authority.
There is only a limited number of super experts on water supply and water organisation. There will be a movement of staff from the existing authorities to the new ones. This transitional period will be longer, and we should look most carefully at the staff position and make it clear to those staffs of the existing water undertakings, whether sewerage, water supply or whatever, that their jobs are secure and that there is a future for them. This will not be easy to do, but the success of this whole scheme will rest on the success of reorganisation in the transitional period.
Top management is most important and must be looked after, because there will be a tremendous weight of responsibility on top management in the sheer reorganisation alone, without thinking up new schemes for the future plus current management.
I welcome very much the fact that local authority representatives will be on water authorities. From a practical point of view, they never vote en bloc, so it does not matter whether they have a bare majority, or whatever kind of majority. I see the local authority representatives as representatives of the consumers. That is terribly important. I also see them there also in a consultative capacity.
My experience tells me that this blend of appointed representatives and local authority representatives works extraordinarily smoothly when dealing with water, which is one of those unique spheres in our public life where politics plays practically no part.
One special interest—on what is really a Welsh point—is with regard to the Welsh National Water Development Authority—and I must get the title right. The city of Chester is to be taken into Wales for this purpose. We have no objections to that. We are used to working with Wales and are very happy to do so. I make one plea to the Secretary of State, through the Minister of State, namely that the headquarters of this authority should not be placed in Cardiff. If I were to be puckish, I would suggest that it might be put in Chester; but if I were to be realistic, I would hope that it would be put in mid-Wales. It is 75 extraordinarily difficult to move from north to south in Wales. Communications are not good. My second plea is that when the Secretary of State for Wales, presumably, is introducing the order constituting this special authority, he should always nominate at least one representative from that part of England, indeed Cheshire, which will be within the Welsh water authority.
I pass now to a much more serious point, namely the decision to abolish the Water Resources Board. This is rather a tragedy. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire has expressed extremely good reasons for that, as has the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell). Unfortunately, the major planning for water is going within the Ministry. I should have thought it very much more satisfactory for the Minister to have a "buffer state", whether it is a report from an independent commission or from the Water Resources Board. Ministers can then judge the thing independently in their quasi-judicial capacity. That aspect needs to be thought through again, and I believe it would be helpful to Ministers in the future.
Here I want to make a couple of points about fisheries. With regard to the National Water Council, which is not a beloved organisation of mine, apparently two members are to be appointed by the Minister of Agriculture. Naturally it springs to mind that these representatives will be concerned with agriculture and land drainage. It may well be that the fisheries representative will be crowded out. It is essential because fisheries are important in all their aspects, which are very many, and I therefore trust that consideration will be given to a third representative who would have specific knowledge of fisheries. The same thing applies to the appointment of the fisheries representative to the water authorities. I have a little more to say about the National Water Council, in that it appears that all the central research work with regard to fisheries is now to be done in the Ministry. It used to be done by the Water Resources Board. It is quite unrealistic that at regional level the research is to be done by regional water authorities but at central level it is to be done by the Ministry. This is a retrograde 76 step. I hope that a fresh approach will be made there.
Now I tackle the much more intractable and gritty subject of the finance of these water authorities. I believe that it is quite right to envisage metering for domestic supplies. It will not come in my lifetime. Nevertheless, it is realistic to pay for a commodity as one uses it. That is the whole object of this provision. But I am alarmed by two things I have read. One is in the excellent blue book issued by the Ministry, at paragraph 121, in which it gives the clear warning thatcosts will rise in real terms.The Association of Municipal Corporations has given me a very interesting memorandum. The Association's comment isThe financial provisions are vague and imprecise.I agree entirely with the AMC about the vagueness and imprecision of the financial provisions. I know also that costs in real terms will rise. Therefore, the central question is from where will the money come?
I was responsible for the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act 1961. When putting that measure through the House, I went down the main sewers of Manchester. I saw the enormous storm water overflows and I knew of the differences between "separate" sewerage and combined sewerage. I do not think that in the foreseeable future we shall see what is called separate sewerage in our country, just because of the gigantic cost.
What concerns me, first—I have two points here—is that in our old industrial areas where there is a serious pollution problem, on the north-east coast and some areas of Lancashire and the Midlands, where there are fantastic pollution problems, costs will be very great. Under the present system of financing sewerage, there is a big element of rate support grant which is attributable to sewerage alone.
It is incontrovertible that through the rate support grant £50 million a year goes to local authorities to help them pay for their sewerage functions. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State was hazy about the financial organisation he envisages under the Bill. There is no doubt that there is power for the Secretary of State to make grants. If, as I 77 gather, it is intended that all the money should come through charges, what will happen to the £50 million which at the moment goes to sewerage authorities?
Secondly on finance, some regional authorities will have very much heavier costs, especially with regard to sewerage, than others. Whereas under the Bill there are equalisation schemes for costs within an authority, there is no government equalisation scheme for charges between authorities. Therefore, there may be disparate charges as between the various authorities when they are functioning. There should be some provision for a central equalisation scheme for charges. The outlook on charges for consumers is bleak. It has been reliably estimated that casts will rise, if the existing grants are not forthcoming, by 35 per cent. to domestic consumers and 40 per cent. for trade users. This is extraordinarily serious.
I plead for sensible economy in the use of water. There was no reason why this morning I should have used possibly half a gallon of water to wash my teeth when I could very well have washed them with half a tumblerful of water. I had the tap running, I put my brush under it and did not bother about turning the tap off because the supply is not metered. People are prepared to leave a tap running but they would not dream of going out of a house with the lights switched on. There are great opportunities for economy in the use of water.
I am most anxious about the effect of the financial provisions. I shall support the Bill, but I must express the hope that we shall receive reassurances about the rate support grant or its successor which is so important to cushion the effect on consumers.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I add to the plea uttered by the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) about the headquarters of the new Welsh National Water Development Authority, that it would be conveniently placed in mid-Wales somewhere between Chester and Cardiff, possibly in Newtown in my constituency.
It is easy to over-simplify the question of water. One hon. Member asked what the difference was hydrologically between England and Wales. There is none. 78 Hydrologically, there is no difference between England and Scotland or England and the rest of Europe. Since the days of Strongbow Englishmen have argued, "Politically, socially and economically why should not Ireland be part of the United Kingdom?" It is the same kind of argument as is advanced about water. It is oversimplification.
I represent a part of the country which is probably the greatest natural reservoir for future inland water supplies in Wales or England. The Upper Severn basin in Montgomeryshire is an area where people have been prospecting for water for a long time. Yet this area is the one part of Wales which is taken out of the Welsh National Water Development Authority and put under the Severn-Trent Water Authority. This is a very important matter for the people of Wales.
When the subject of water is mentioned in Wales, highly emotional feelings are stirred up. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) congratulated himself and the city of Birmingham on that city's cheap water supplies. My part of the country has often struggled for social and economic improvement, yet we supply Birmingham with cheap water.
Water is our greatest natural resource, yet people in Birmingham get it for practically nothing. The hon. Gentleman can congratulate the city of Birmingham on having this cheap water supply, but what benefit do people living in my area get from it?
This underlies the fact that the question of water is not a simple one. It is not only a highly emotional but also an economic problem and therefore should not be viewed as a simple matter.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I was careful to say that these arrangements have been brought about with the co-operation of Welsh colleagues. It may be that we should pay a little more for our water. The city of Birmingham is the biggest ratepayer in the hon. and learned Gentleman's area and considerable advantages have accrued to the hon. and learned Gentleman's authority, Cardiganshire, and other authorities as a result of Birmingham's activities there. Put the other way round, if the city of Birmingham were not a big ratepayer in the hon. and learned Gentleman's area because of its 79 water activities there, things in the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency, bad as they are now, would be much worse.
§ Mr. Hooson
I will not follow this point to its extreme. It will be a very important matter in the future. What benefits does the area from which the water is derived gain from the development of its greatest natural resource?
It is obviously sensible to have a national policy for developing our water resources. Whether one lives in Wales, in England or in Scotland, one must agree that there must be a national strategy. In my political capacity and also in my legal capacity, as I represented the objectors in the Dulas Valley inquiry, I have come to blows from time to time with the Water Resources Board. Yet over the years I have had considerable respect for the board's work.
The Government are making a great mistake in abolishing the board. The board has acquired great expertise. I have no brief for it, because I have come in conflict with it more than any other hon. Member, possibly, yet when I was invited to an open day in Reading last year I was greatly impressed to realise what a great deal of expertise there was and how the lessons of the Dulas Valley inquiry, and so on, had been absorbed.
If we are to have a body to recommend national strategy, to conduct and co-ordinate research, and to co-ordinate the work which is needed to be done nationally, I am all for having a water resources board for England, a water resources board for Wales, and a water resources board for Scotland, with the separate boards meeting together from time to time to decide national strategy. That, it seems to me, is a sensible approach.
The second matter with which ordinary people are concerned is that when the strategy is decided and one is considering the question of one's immediate water supply, the disposal of sewage and so on, clearly these functions should be co-ordinated. But also their control should not be remote. It is very important that we should not have these very large authorities virtually self-contained, very remote from the people. I have no doubt that when it comes to the question of nomi- 80 nation to such boards, in the Tory Party it will be found on this, as on every other issue, that blood is thicker than water. I am sure it would be the same with the Labour Party if they were nominating to these bodies. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the Liberals."] No, we in the Liberal Party appreciate water.
I think that there is a danger of creating authorities which are far too large. The whole tactical concept of the Government is wrong. There should be national decisions on strategy. There should be a water resources board to decide national strategy, with separate ones for England, Wales and Scotland. Thereafter I think the authorities to carry out the strategy should be much smaller than are proposed and much more subject to local authority control. There ought to be a means of conveying complaints directly to the elected representatives. I shall therefore certainly vote against the Bill tonight, for a number of reasons.
Lastly, I want to come to the point that most affects the people of Wales, and particularly people who live in my constituency. The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) raised a very interesting point. It is very difficult in reading this Bill to decide who is "the appropriate Minister". That term is used both in the definition clause and in Clause I. Who, for example, is the appropriate Minister when it comes to the Upper Severn Basin which is within the Severn and Trent authority and does not come within the Welsh National authority?
Let us face reality. Take, for example, the prospecting by the Water Resources Board in the upper part of Montgomeryshire to ascertain whether there was a suitable valley as a reserve for a proposed scheme in Radnorshire. Suppose it had been decided to ask for a public inquiry and that such an inquiry was held. Who would decide? Would it be the Minister, the Secretary of State for the Environment, or the Secretary of State for Wales? This is a vitally important problem for Wales. It is the area of the upper Severn with which the people of Wales are most concerned. This Bill does not make clear who is to decide.
I always understood when the right hon. Member for Anglesey was Secretary of State for Wales that he would retain 81 a power of veto over any plans put forward for the submergence of any valley in Wales. One has to consider not only the economic questions but the social and cultural life of Wales as well. This is why it is such a difficult matter. I understood that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas), when he was Secretary of State for Wales, followed exactly the same principle and reiterated it. I understand that the present Secretary of State for Wales has also followed the same principle, and in the Dulas Valley inquiry he rightly decided that social and cultural considerations far outweighed the case made by the Water Resources Board. Who is going to be the real watchdog of Welsh interests in this matter in the future? Who is going to have the right of veto? Will that right be with the Secretary of State for Wales or the Secretary of State for the Environment, or will it be a joint decision?
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. David Gibson-Watt)
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for allowing me to answer him straightaway. The final decision will remain, in the area which he was discussing as well as in the rest of Wales, with the Secretary of State for Wales.
§ Mr. Hooson
I am glad to hear that. But will this be written into the Bill? It is very important. As the Minister of State knows, from time to time undertakings have been given in this House which years later have been ignored. Of course, I would accept from the Minister of State what he says about his intention and the intention of the Government, but unless it is written into the Bill, what will bind a future Government? This is of vital importance to Wales. I do not think that any Welsh Member could possibly support the Bill in its present form without absolute safeguards being written into it.
It is my belief that the Upper Severn Basin should be included under the Welsh National Water Development Authority, and there should be a liaison committee formed with the Severn and Trent Authority to liaise on that area. Once the strategy is decided, the matter of administration could be arranged under the Welsh Authority. I appreciate that when a river rises, as the Severn does, in 82 Wales and flows through into England and back into Wales, it is not easy to administer it piecemeal, but I am certain that, in view of the importance of this matter in Wales, the present arrangements are not sufficient. They provide no satisfaction to the Welsh people, and the Government will have to think again very deeply on this and other aspects of the Bill.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
I could not help thinking that any foreigner who had been listening to the interesting speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) would have been absolutely staggered to hear that in any place in the United Kingdom water raised highly emotional feelings. Yet I am the last person to deny that that may be so, particularly in Wales. One did not have to listen to the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech to be aware of that, in the light of what one has heard and read on many previous occasions.
The hon. and learned Gentleman, like the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell), expressed his concern about the regional authorities and their size in particular, and the hon. Member for Small Heath expressed his concern about the great regional bureaucracies, although later he said that it was the Labour Party's policy—not that the Labour Party will ever have the chance—to establish regional water authorities. There seemed to be some contradiction in what he said.
It seems to me that if England and Wales could be divided neatly into regions which were as relevant to local government as they were to economic planning, or to the health service, or to sport, or to the provision of gas and electricity, or indeed water, or any other public service, there is no doubt that we could have elected regional councils which would be responsible for all these matters and which at the same time would satisfy everyone's democratic instincts. But, on the whole, it simply is not possible to regionalise England and Wales into all-purpose regional authorities in a manner which makes sense economically, socially and geographically.
Yet so often, on the other hand, in the light of modern considerations, it seems 83 to be wise and sensible to run many public services on a regional basis. Therefore, in the light of this consideration we are faced with the need for ad hoc bodies, and in their establishment and in the face of a greater or lesser conflict between the interests of democracy and efficiency there is bound to be controversy. It is absolutely inescapable, but that seems to me to be no reason for baulking that issue, and I am very glad that the Government have faced up to this issue of the re-organisation of water.
For the reasons which have been propounded by my right hon. and learned Friend I believe that the Government are not only right to have regionalised water but are right in the comprehensive powers they have proposed for the Authority. In one respect those powers are not comprehensive enough. The British Waterways Board's responsibilities as a navigation authority on certain parts of certain rivers, such as the Lee or the Severn as far as Stourport and the Trent, should be transferred to regional water authorities. The new authorities are to be responsible for land drainage and flood prevention and to keep these responsibilities separate from the responsibilities of the navigation authorities in regard to dredging and maintenance would seem to be potentially wasteful and to duplicate work.
Clearly the Government cannot be accused of lack of consultation with all interests or of not making concessions as a result. But I believe, in contradiction to what has been said by hon. Members earlier, that it is a pity that local government should have persuaded the Government to change the composition of the regional water authorities and to increase local government representation. I say that not because I am against the interest and influence of local government—very much the opposite. I am concerned with the need to provide a structure which will be efficient and which will ensure that there is reasonable opportunity for democratic pressure. If instead of doing what they have done the Government had continued to think of the new authorities as regional executive boards, had strengthened the consumer councils that they had proposed, had possibly given those councils still greater powers than was suggested in the original circular, 84 and had strengthened the local authority representation on those councils, they would have produced a better structure for the organisation of water than is now before us. In persuading the Government to move in the way that it has local government might have done itself a disservice.
There are two extra points to which I hope my hon. Friend will refer when he sums up. One is about the appointment of chairman. I have some sympathy with the point raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath. I cannot understand why it is necessary for the Secretary of State to be responsible for the appointment of chairman.
My second point relates to fisheries. The Minister of Agriculture's powers to appoint a member with experience in fisheries management is much too restrictive. That should embrace experience in fisheries and fishing. Like everyone who has spoken so far, I regret the proposal to abolish the Water Resources Board. The National Water Council is an extremely emasculated edition of the Board. The Board's greatest merit was that it was independent both of Government and of the river authorities, as it could have been in the future of the regional water authorities.
The degree to which the new council is likely to be a puppet of the Secretary of State is emphasised by Clause 4(9) and (10). They provide him with the right to give powers or to take them away, it seems at almost any time and according to his whim. But it is perhaps most regrettable of all that research should have been taken away from a central body and should now be divided between the authorities and the Central Planning Unit.
I welcome the provision in Clause 17 that the regional water authorities shall be given duties with regard to fisheries. But I hope that the advisory committees which it is proposed should be set up will not be thought of necessarily as the only fisheries committees. I hope that usually a fisheries committee will be established under Clause 6. For example, in the Severn and Trent Regional Water Authority there might be an advisory committee which would cover the Severn which was largely concerned with game fishing. There might be another advisory 85 committee which would cover the Trent which is largely concerned with coarse fishing. On the other hand, however, there should be one main fisheries committee to co-ordinate fisheries matters. The main committee should be established under the provisions of Clause 6.
I welcome the provision to establish a land drainage committee to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) referred. Like him I believe the greatest possible credit for this provision should be given to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) who I regret is not able to be here today to take part in the debate. The land drainage committees should work perfectly satisfactorily on the analogy of a local education authority within a county council.
Finally, I cannot see how the Water Space Amenity Commission will fit in with the work already undertaken by the Sports Council. It would seem at first sight that the new commission might to some extent derogate from the powers of the Sports Council and I wonder, in view of the existence of the Sports Council, whether the new commission is necessary. Apart from those points and, no doubt, a number of other small ones, the Bill is sensible in its objectives and in the manner in which it sets out to achieve them. Undoubtedly some changes are needed but it will be possible to amend the Bill to take account of those changes during its passage through the House.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)
We are here dealing with a vital matter. Water is something that everyone demands and that everyone needs. I was disturbed therefore by what I regarded as the complacent speech from the Secretary of State. I spent many hours upstairs on the Standing Committee which considered the Local Government Bill. I concede that the House is concerned about the future of local government but the Bill seems to strike another blow at the powers and functions hitherto exercised by local government. The reorganisation of local government will have a profound effect upon the country and I am not sure that it will be advantageous to the nation. I am deeply worried about the future of local government.
86 We talk a great deal about participation, local democracy and so on. The Government have said a great deal about taking power from Whitehall and giving it to the regions and the localities, but here we have one more ad hoc body which takes away from local government, those who choose to serve and, worse still, those at the receiving end, one more opportunity to participate in the administration of the service. I shall come to the consumer element a little later in what I promise will be a very brief speech.
Water is essential to planning and housing. We are considering housing when we consider the recreation of our people and the protection of the environment. All the services that are naturally administered at local level are interested in an adequate supply of water.
I welcome the concession concerning local government representatives on the regional authorities, but the Minister has not gone anything like far enough. I am terrified by the ultimate intentions behind the noises he made today, and the support he received from his back benchers, about the powers in the Bill.
I want to concentrate on my own area, the Northumbria authority, where there will be 10 local authority representatives and nine representatives appointed by the Minister. That is not much of a concession to local government and local administration. The district councils will be very large. In my constituency we are to have one that will cover in area half of the new Durham county. That district council may well have no representative on the new Northumbria water authority.
As it stands, the Bill will abolish any consumer interest. If people are to be able to make complaints, they must be able to do so to a body that is seen to have responsibility. In large areas of the new regions there will be district councils with no representatives, which makes nonsense of consumer participation.
The hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) said that he had never had a complaint about water and the supply of water, though I have. However, some of the provisions of the Bill will cause complaints.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) reminded us of the power given to officers to enter premises. Under Clause 27, even when 87 the householder is temporarily absent, an officer has power to obtain a warrant and enter premises. I thought at first that perhaps that power had been carried forward from other legislation, and that there was no intention to enforce it.
I am terrified by the opinions expressed from the Government benches. Government Members have talked about water as if it were a commodity, like an article that can be bought across the counter. To meter water to domestic users would be an attack on hygiene and health. It is not the sort of commodity that can be rationed according to the purse. Is it now to be said to a youngster who is a member of a large family that if he evades washing he will be helping the housekeeping money? It would be a serious matter to tell those who need water most, the large family, that they must use only what they are prepared to pay for, as registered on a meter. I should like the metering powers to be removed from the Bill.
I am concerned by the abolition of the Water Resources Board and the Minister's decision. Under the Bill we are to have a body with no executive power. How shall we get people to serve on it? There will be an argument between the Department of the Environment, the Welsh Office, the nine regional water authorities and so on.
The Minister is to take powers which give us great cause for concern in the light of what has been happening in the North East. Water is very important to the North of England. The Northern Region has suffered greatly from being dependent on heavy industry. It is gradually transforming itself. We are embracing the new industries and going ahead to serve the nation economically once again. The demand for water is bound to grow. The Secretary of State was very unwise to say blandly in an interview the other day that there would be no water shortage in the North in the next three or four years. Anyone who has seen the increase in consumption knows that it is very unwise to forecast the future supply position in the region because of the demands of incoming industry—the new steel complex and so on.
It was proposed that we should have the largest single water conservation 88 scheme yet undertaken in Britain at Kielder. The Government have paid tributes today to the board's independence, expertise and ability to make a judgment without being subject to the pressures to which the Minister or local authorities might be subject. The board recommended the scheme in its study of the North, saying that it would provide water sufficient to meet all our needs in the northern area until the turn of the century.
We had a public inquiry which lasted six weeks and cost over £100,000. Everybody was allowed to have his say. The objectors were given full scope. In his report, which is now available, the inspector recommended that Kielder should be allowed to proceed. Everybody thought that that was that, that we could now get on with the job, which had been held up for 12 months for the public inquiry to take place.
I mention that because I am concerned about the proposal to abolish the board and to put the Minister in a special position with regard to such decisions. In the northern area public authorities of various political colours, trade unions, river authorities, water boards and other bodies are all in favour of the scheme. Now the Minister has said that he wants to reconsider the matter. In an interview with the Newcastle Journal, he said that another public inquiry would probably be necessary. That decision is regarded as scandalous. The sooner the Minister has another look at the question and gives authority for the scheme, which has the support of representative opinion throughout the North, the sooner we shall be satisfied.
The provision of water is a social service, not a technical exercise. It should be referred at all levels to the electorate and their direct representatives. It is not the technologist or the planner who should decide for the electorate. When we consider the provision of water and the establishment of a new reservoir, we must balance all kinds of opinions. No one is more concerned than I am to preserve and enhance the environment. The amenities at some of the reservoirs we have provided in the North are very welcome.
Nevertheless, there are opposing views. Controversy is aroused, and naturally so. 89 It seems that that controversy can be resolved satisfactorily only when there is a strong regional authority with power to make the decision, and those who make the decision must be directly responsible to the electorate so that they feel they are involved in the decision-making. The provisions in the Bill go quite counter to that point of view. Although it has been said tonight that water resources do not fall within the normal regional authority, if one reads the minority report of the Redcliffe-Maud Report, Mr. Senior's comment and suggestions for regional authorities could be harnessed to meet the problem which we are discussing.
I want to see regional or provincial government with directly elected representatives. I believe that the regions need legal and financial power, but that power must be used responsibly. Such power is used responsibly when representatives are responsible to the electorate. However, there must be a wide enough area of control and there must be maintained a balance between various interests. I think that there has been an arbitrary decision against the real interests of the northern region. I am very concerned about some of the proposals and I shall vote against the Bill tonight.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Elliott (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
I first declare an interest. I am a director of the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company. Secondly, I have the honour this year of being President of the Water Companies Association.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong). We come from the same part of the country. I share with him the concern which he has rightly expressed about the water supply in the northern region in the years ahead. I wish only to refer to the Kielder water proposal, which he discussed at some length, by saying that I hope my right hon. and learned Friend can come to as speedy a decision as possible about the timing of any alternative scheme. It is true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that my right hon. Friend's somewhat surprising decision has caused considerable concern throughout the North of England. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that water is essential. 90 We should not, as we are inclined to do, take it for granted at any time.
A great deal has been said about metering. I do not wish to say much more about it than to point out that we must get clearly into our heads that if we do not pay for water by using a metering system it must be paid for through our rates. Several hon. Members have spoken about the considerable waste of water in this country, and that argues for metering at some stage. The North of England, as the hon. Gentleman said, is conscious of a water shortage. At a time like this metering is a much more feasible if much more expensive proposition than at any other time. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the consumer's interest should always be paramount.
I refer in his absence to the speech of the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes). I used to listen to the right hon. Gentleman with great interest when he was Secretary of State for Wales. I did not think that I would ever hear him utter such pleasing phrases to Conservative ears as he did tonight. He talked about the interest of the consumer in society. He talked, rather pointedly, about the undesirability of any authorities—such as the electricity and gas undertakings—riding roughshod over consumers. I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Durham, North-West in that regard.
There are certain proposals in the Bill which are desired by both sides of the House and all parties. Both sides of the House recognise a responsibility for public health, and water is extremely important in this regard. Investment on a large scale is needed not only in the North of England, where it is needed to provide more water in the right places, but to achieve a massive clean-up of the rivers and estuaries throughout the country.
I agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) that there is general agreement on the long-term improvements envisaged in the Bill. However, I do not quite agree that local authorities are to lose all their power when the Bill becomes an Act. I welcome very much the fact that regional water authorities are to have a local authority majority in their representation. However, it must be common sense and extremely desirable that the Minister should have power to appoint to 91 these all-important bodies those persons who have a specialist knowledge, be it of agriculture, industry or water. I should have thought that with a local government majority and with specialists the regional water authorities could work extremely well. Generally, I welcome the Bill.
The history of the supply of water in this country is fascinating. Legislation over the years has been progressive and successful. It is worth recalling that we have the best water supply in the world. Ninety-nine per cent. of the population of England and Wales now has piped water. That compares with 60 per cent. in the United States and 40 per cent. in France. However, we must never be complacent about the supply of water. We must recognise the need for more and more water with each succeeding year.
Desalination is years away. The most recent estimate is that in five years' time it will cost two to three times as much as water drawn from present sources. We naturally think about desalination because we read about it in letters and statements and it comes up in the natural process of thought. It is often raised in discussion. Desalination is raised over and over again, and that is quite understandable. Somebody said to me the other day that if we can put a man on the moon, we can, surely to goodness, take the salt out of sea water. The answer should be stated clearly that from an economic point of view we are quite a long way from doing so.
The proposals in the Bill represent a realistic approach to an increasing need. The Government are to be congratulated on preserving the best elements of existing services in the proposed integrated structure. I welcome the retention of the statutory companies. I am sure that the companies will be efficient agents of the regional water authorities. A great deal has been said about the departure of the local authority undertakings.
Personally I should have been happy with sensible amalgamations. There have been sensible amalgamations both in the statutory company sphere and in the local authority sphere during a number of years. I should have been happy if the local authority undertakings were also to become agents of the regional water authorities.
92 The number of water undertakings has been considerably and sensibly reduced since the end of the war. We now have 160 undertakings, and it is worthy of note that of the 18 largest nine are companies, and that although the number of statutory companies has been reduced from 85 to 30 the percentage of the population served by them is still 20 per cent. Amalgamations have been sensible, and it is satisfactory to realise that in reorganising the industry the Government have recognised that to build on that which is most efficient in any industry is sensible, for it is my contention that the statutory companies have been efficient, are efficient and are giving a very good service to the community and should certainly be retained.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey talked of consumer interests. It is so true that those consumers served by the water companies very much appreciate the service they receive. It is also true—and one should bear it in mind—that the water industry in this country started with the establishment of the companies. The company with which I am associated had its 174th annual meeting last summer. For 174 years, I am pleased to realise, it has given good and efficient service to the community.
I stress that these are statutory companies, brought into being by private Acts of Parliament. They are wrongly described often enough as "private" companies. It is wholly incorrect, inaccurate and absolutely unfair to suggest that they are motivated by a profit motive only, as the hon. Member for Small Heath did.
The situation is not so. Their profits, their charges, their dividends and their reserve funds are controlled by statute. They give an excellent service to the community, but, in that they are statutory companies as against local authority undertakings, they are able to recruit from industry and various other walks of life in addition to those experts from the water companies they benefit from—men who have given and continue to give sensible advice and make, by their guidance, these companies efficient water undertakers.
The heart of the matter is that the average return on money invested in the statutory undertakings is 6.8 per cent. 93 If anyone suggests that there is profiteering in that sort of return on capital, I am afraid that they just do not understand the money market. The average price of water dispensed by the statutory companies amounts to 3.5p per head per week, and if that is not a reasonable charge for water, I do not know what is.
I would very much fear nationalisation. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) that the word has not been mentioned by hon. Members opposite, but that we should mention it because that is exactly what the taking over of the statutory companies would have meant—nationalisation of the water industry. I would very much fear the effects on charges and on the consumer of the nationalisation of the statutory companies. It is, therefore, on this point that I wish to make my contribution to the debate. The companies are managed as efficient undertakings. Their activities may be controlled but they retain the flexibility and the initiative of private enterprise.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
There have been one or two generous references to the work of the Working Party on Sewage Disposal, of which I had the honour to be chairman. I want to refer to some of its recommendations. When I was invited by my noble Friend, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, to take the chairmanship I must confess that I was filled with dismay. But it proved to be an educational process and I would not have missed it for anything. We spent a great deal of time thinking about what we should call our report. In selecting the title, "Taken for Granted", we had two reasons for so doing.
The first reason, borne in on us through our months of work, was that the public takes so much for granted clean water and sewage disposal—so much so that if anything goes wrong it creates a terrible sense of disaster. The second reason was that we became very much aware of how the people who work in the water and sewage industries are also taken for granted. This applies from the people at the top at executive and scientific level in the Water Resources Board—and I add my plea that this body should be maintained—right down to the under- 94 paid, under-appreciated staffs who carry on the day-to-day, mainly unlovely work which is absolute essential. We made 38 proposals, but I hasten to put your mind at rest, Mr. Speaker, in that I do not intend to go through them all now. But there are one or two to which I must refer.
We decided that the function of sewage disposal had to be considered as part of the whole water cycle, together with water conservation and the control of the quality and quantity of the flow in our waterways. We established that there must be this total integration of the whole water cycle. Having discovered that sewage consists of 99.9 per cent. water and that the re-use of treated effluent is really our main source of water supplies, this conclusion seemed inescapable. But I recognise the Secretary of State's difficulties because we had a minority report, signed by two gentlemen—one Labour and one Conservative—rejecting this total watershed approach in favour of maintaining a local authority approach, rather on traditional lines. I think that we must try to have some meeting of minds about this dilemma.
This does not only apply to water. It is one of the basic problems of our modern society. There are so many sectors of life in which we are having to have larger and larger units for the sake of efficiency and economy which yet make the person at the receiving end of the goods or services feel that he is smaller and smaller and farther and farther away. Therefore, I accept that we have not found the total answer to the question of how the public can feel some sensitive response to complaints and to ideas.
I say at once that the ordinary man does not always find it at the town hall. Many local authorities whose work we encountered during our visits throughout the country really had such a disgraceful record in sewage control that they seemed to me to be having a deathbed love affair with their sewage farms only when they felt that there might be some ending to their authority. But that does not mean to say that I am satisfied that even the improved arrangements which the Secretary of State has put into the Bill meet the anxieties of ordinary people. There is a feeling on the part of many people that there is some chap "up there". I can only leave this problem 95 with the House, because if we can solve it when it comes to the question of water consumption and use, we will really have a breakthrough on many other fronts.
I associate myself with the total opposition—it is official Labour Party policy—to the proposals about meters. I add only one or two other reasons to those already given. First, the use of manpower in any non-productive form is a most wasteful and inflationary element in any country's economy. I regard as totally wrong the idea that we should add to the number of people going back knocking on doors, finding the occupiers out and going back again, to the number of accounts sent out, and to the number of bills which have to be paid.
What is more, such a proposal reveals an ideological approach to the use of natural resources which I cannot share. The idea of metering puts the use of one of this country's most plentiful natural resources on to a totally commercial basis, which I cannot accept.
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) that there is a danger of water shortage in this country. The daily wastage of residual run-off is 41,000 million gallons. That is three times the amount of water we use every day, just running away. I ask hon. Members to compare that with the quantities of water which we use in our homes. With a rising standard of living, the use of water for household purposes will increase, and at present we use about 31 gallons per head per day. That may sound a lot, but it is minimal compared with the quantities used for industry.
One ton of aluminium drinks 300,000 gallons of water. It takes 160 tons of water to make one ton of paper, and 400 tons to produce one ton of synthetic rubber. I should like to see more work being done on the saving of water by its re-use in industry. For example, I found that, on average, it takes 37 tons of water to make one ton of steel, but in certain cases, as a result of research which has been going on, it has been possible to reduce that 37 tons to four tons to produce one ton of steel.
I ask hon. Members to bear those figures in mind when considering how the harassed housewife is supposed to bully 96 her children into not pulling the chain every time, or not having a bath every night. It is those figures which show where the great scope for change and economy lies, and we should concentrate our attention to that end.
I should like to have heard something more exciting about the possibilities of future research. Water-borne sewerage is older than the Romans. Why do we still do it that way? In Sweden—I should not recommend to the House anything of which I did not have personal knowledge—I found an excellent system of vacuum toilet disposal in which air is used instead of water for the carriage of the effluent. Instead of using 16 pints of water every time the flush is operated, this system uses only two pints. As a practical housewife, perhaps I should explain that that is the amount of water needed to clean the bowl, the actual carriage of the effluent being done by the vacuum disposal system.
That system was used in the Munich Olympic village, and I heard of no complaints. Also, it is being used extensively in the Swedish navy. Let us remember that the discharge of untreated sewage from ships and pleasure craft is one part of this problem which calls for a great deal of thought. It is one of the biggest pollutants nowadays, and we all know how it can spoil the pleasure of boating and sailing for many people.
If we put the possibilities of research of that kind into proper perspective, we can set about doing something far more creative than spending time talking about putting meters into people's homes.
I come now to one point arising specifically out of our Working Party Report. We were most anxious that the new authorities should have control over effluents right to the mouths of rivers and three miles out to sea. On 2nd December 1971, the Minister told the House that the new authoritieswill be responsible for the sewage disposal arrangements throughout the whole of their area, including coastal areas".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1971; Vol. 827, c. 688.]I have not been able to ascertain how far out their control would go, though I find a reference in Schedule 2 to theSeaward boundaries of water authority areas for general purposesand at the top of page 40 there is what I take to be the proposal that, subject to 97 certain exceptions, the seaward boundary would be the low-water mark on the coast of the area. In my view, that is not far enough out. It will not deal with the problem of dirty beaches and the pollution of the coast which has been causing so much anxiety to so many people.
We wanted control to extend at least three miles out to sea. I understand that following the Stockholm conference, there were discussions about pollution of the sea. We ought to start by ensuring that our immediate inshore waters are under some sort of control from that point of view.
As I say, it ought to be possible for the appropriate authorities to deal with the problem of sewage discharged from boats. We made a categorical recommendation in our report that such discharge should be forbidden, but, apart from some efforts made under byelaws on the Norfolk Broads, there has been a great deal of complaint but very little action.
I hope that the Minister will make clear that the new authorities will be eligible to receive grants under the Countryside Act for the purpose of expanding recreational facilities under Clause 19.
I am sorry to have to enter stern opposition to the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North on the question of private water companies. These companies, which represent between one-quarter and one-third of the water industry, are specifically preserved under Clause 11. I regard this as unacceptable, and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell), speaking from our Front Bench, made clear that the private water companies will be taken into public ownership by Labour.
It should be noted that the maintenance of the private water companies as such is contrary to the advice of the Central Advisory Water Committee, which no one could call a politically motivated body. The Metropolitan Water Board issued a statement on 1st February saying:We are still of the opinion that the private companies should not be retained in the proposed organisation. There is no justification for treating them any differently from other types of undertakers, and they will unnecessarily complicate the task of the Authorities.When the Metropolitan Water Board makes such a categorical statement, a 98 more convincing answer must be given than we have heard so far.
Having spent a good deal of time, it seems, with sewage, on dirty beaches and wading through the effluent from factory farming—we have not had time to deal with that today, but it is a matter of increasing importance in the whole subject of sewage disposal—I awaited publication of the Bill with great interest. It does not meet many of the recommendations which we made but I hope that it will be a starting point, and I accept it as such. I am glad that the Minister promised further measures soon on the aspects of water pollution, but I have to say, with regret, that the matters which I have briefly raised make it impossible for me, in spite of all my interest and concern in this matter, to support the Bill.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir Frederick Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
I begin by following the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) to a small degree on the subject of the meters which worry her and her hon. Friends. My experience in my constituency and otherwise is that my constituents do not at all appreciate the idea of paying for water through their rates, irrespective of how much they use. The idea that the present system is so popular that no one wishes to consider an alternative is flying in the face of reality.
I do not for one moment suspect that metering for domestic purposes is likely to come our way for a long time, for one of the reasons the hon. Lady gave, namely that the cost of installation and inspection is likely far to outweigh any economy that might be achieved. I have no doubt that in 10 or 20 years someone will develop a meter which sends an electronic message to a centralised computer. Then things will be very different.
It must be borne in mind that this proposition has been put forward on a number of occasions, under both Governments, to my knowledge. It has always been turned down purely on the technical argument that installation and reading would outweigh the benefits. To dismiss it and to imagine that attaching water charges to the rateable value of a house is an ideally logical arrangement is in my view nonsense.
§ Mr. Simeons
My right hon. and learned Friend will be interested to know that in my constituency meters are installed which can be read by telephone.
§ Sir F. Corfield
That is helpful. No doubt we shall get to the further stage I have mentioned in the near future.
Surely hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are not pretending that there is not a vast amount of waste among domestic water consumers as well as in industry. It so happens that unlike my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) I turn off taps regularly, partly because the hot water costs me electricity but largely because I was brought up in a house where we pumped every drop of water and we were very very short indeed. I can assure hon. Gentlemen that if we had used the 50 gallons per person per day which is now the average we would have been out of water after the first fortnight of any normal summer. I assure hon. Members that we were perfectly clean, and that a hip bath in front of the fire has a lot to be said for it.
§ Sir F. Corfield
I assure hon. Members that one can keep clean in every respect on a good deal less than 50 gallons a day. Everyone knows that.
I fully accept the necessity for a fully comprehensive reorganisation of the management of our rivers and of water generally. To a large extent the proposals in the Bill are an extension of those in the Water Resources Act 1963, with which I was fairly closely connected. It was argued later that the main defect was that we failed to give executive powers to the Water Resources Board on the one hand and, on the other, that we were not sufficiently drastic in cutting down the number of then river boards to fewer river authorities. Therefore we ended up with river authorities too few in number and too small in size. As far as I can recollect, in doing that we were acting contrary to the advice of the Proudman Report, on which that Act was based. I think we made a mistake. I would not go so far as to say that in cutting river authorities down to nine water authorities we are not going a little 100 too far. I have in mind the Severn-Trent authority, to which I will refer later.
My first main point is that we are superseding the Water Resources Board. Considering that it had no executive power, the way in which it has managed to achieve what it did by persuasion and tact among river authorities and without formal power earns it the highest respect. It is a great pity we are dissolving something which started so well. There used to be an old adage in Field Service Regulations: "Exploit success". It is no bad thing to build on success rather than to scrap it and start again.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman also agree that it is unwise to abolish the research activities of the board without putting anything in its place?
§ Sir F. Corfield
I am coming to that. There are two other aspects which have already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester. The concept of a central, quasi-independent body such as the Water Resources Board is particularly valuable in regard to planning. There is no doubt that to the public, however determined the Minister may be in trying to appear to be completely impartial in a planning appeal, it is a grave disadvantage when the planning initiative comes from his own Department. It is much more satisfactory if these proposals for reservoirs and so on come from a body such as the Water Resources Board.
In many cases they will come from the regional water authorities. There will, however, be combined schemes in which the main initiative certainly ought to come, if it is efficient, from the centralised body. It is much better that it should come from a body which is not directly under the Minister rather than from one within his Department.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) has mentioned the research side. We are splitting the research function and there is some doubt as to whether we will replace all that we should. I very much hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will re-think this situation and realise that there is something to build upon. It is unfashionable for hon. Members on this side of the 101 House to hark back to some of the things on which we prided ourselves in opposition. I would remind my hon. and right hon. Friends that we put in a lot of work with people who knew a great deal about this subject and we recommended then that there was a great deal to be said in matters of this sort, which are largely executive, for the hived-off Government agency. I hope that we shall not abandon that concept entirely.
The second point relates to the failure to appreciate that there is a natural division in terms of technique and expertise between management of a river basin and all that means and the distribution of water supply. Of course the management functions include ensuring that there is an adequate supply, of adequate purity. It is not the same thing as delivering it up the pipe into the tap. As hon. Members have said, particularly the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes), this is the end of the cycle which most affects the man in the street. We have made a great mistake in not preserving local authority water undertakings, whether local authority or joint boards, as well as the water companies as agencies to work in distribution. It is here that we have special expertise and much experience. It is here that we are operating closest to the ultimate consumer, where the local nature of the organisation is particularly important.
I should declare that I am a former president of the Water Companies Association, although that was an entirely honorary appointment. I welcome the preservation of the water companies, but rather than saying, as do hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches, "Why give them separate treatment from the other water undertakings?" I say "Why not give the other water undertakings the same treatment?" That makes sense.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) talked about exploiting water and about companies making a profit. I challenge him to look at the figures. He knows as well as I do that dividends are controlled by the Government, that capital issues have to be put out to tender, and that dividends paid by water companies are at present less than those paid by local authorities to service loans, for historical reasons. They certainly do not pay greater dividends than are forced by the 102 money market upon public authorities which have to borrow money to meet capital requirements. To talk about great profits is nonsense.
This mechanism of the statutory undertaker—the statutory water company—should indeed appeal to both sides of the House. The Labour Party should regard it as an admirable mechanism for bringing in private money and controlling the abuses which it always maintains exist. To the Conservatives it is an admirable mechanism for getting private money which otherwise would not go there into the public sector. We should all study this mechanism to see whether it can usefully be applied in other services.
I admit that the whole question of local authority representation is a difficult one. In my constituency when I have to take up a case that implies a criticism of a service carried out by the local authority itself, the natural reaction is to close the ranks and defend. If I take up with my local authority a case which concerns the Bristol Waterworks Company, the local authority's criticism is much more outright, the Bristol Waterworks Company is much more sensitive to that criticism, and it is quickly put right. It really does not necessarily follow that an authority run by elected representatives is the more sensitive to criticism by the consumer.
With these regional water authorities, local government is in danger of having the worst of both worlds. Not one of these authorities will be entirely operated by one local authority. Although there will be a majority of local authority representatives, any one local authority or any one county, even if it pulls in its district representative, will have a very small minority voice. It will be quite unable to say, as it could under a straight local authority administration, "We can guarantee to put this problem right." Equally, I suspect the local authority will be less virulent in criticism of an organisation on which it is represented than of an entirely outside body such as a water company.
To produce this highly unsatisfactory arrangement there will be on the London authority 40 members and on the horrible organisation of Severn-Trent, 38. When I was Parliamentary Secretary to the 103 Ministry of Housing and Local Government, 10 years ago, there were, I think, about 90 members of the Metropolitan Water Board. One can only say that water came to London despite the authority rather than because of it. Can anyone imagine a committee of 90 sitting down and making an executive decision? Of course not. It became a nice "ramsammy"—a lunch once a quarter—and the officers got on with the job. Thank heaven they did! To suggest that a committee of 40 or 38 can conceivably be an efficient executive body is nonsense. I hope that we shall try to ensure that the executive boards of these new authorities are much more streamlined and efficient.
And this brings me to the intervention I made in regard to Wales. It makes much more sense to join the Severn to Wales, and I hope that along the border the English are mature enough to go along with Wales without making a great national issue of it. But to join Severn and Trent! What sort of person do my hon. Friends think will be persuaded to represent the local authorities on that authority? They will have to travel miles, and at the end they will have to sit down with 37 other people knowing perfectly well that there is not the slightest hope of reaching an executive decision other than by rubber-stamping the officers' recommendation—unless they stay overnight when they will have difficulty in finding hotel accommodation. One cannot expect men of the necessary calibre in local government to serve on an authority representing an area of that size. I strongly urge my hon. Friend to think many times before he lands us with that.
I am not sure that the advice and expertise of the Water Space Authority Commission will be available to the British Waterways Board as well as to the new organisations. I hone it will be and that it will be made clear that the Waterways Board has been reprieved permanently, and that the axe is no longer hanging over it. Nothing is so disruptive to administration than the suspicion that the organisation is about to come to an end. There have been rumours of a further environment Bill. If there is to be one, I hope that it will be made abundantly clear that the British Waterways Board 104 can look to the future without this sword of Damocles hanging over it.
I am not sure that it is right merely to advise regional water authorities to establish a fisheries advisory committee. It should, I believe, be mandatory. In many ways fisheries are just as important as drainage. Local fishery aspects varying from river to river and from canal to canal have to be taken into consideration. It is important, as with drainage, to have delegation right down. I am very fond of fishing, but nothing is safer than the fish when I am about, so we need not worry about depletion.
To sum up, I should prefer the Water Resources Board to be built upon the basis of the local authorities relying much more on acting as agents in water supply. I should prefer the regional water authorities to be smaller and more streamlined and Severn and Trent to be severed; they are as incompatible in this context as are Lancashire and Yorkshire in others.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Gloucestershire, South (Sir F. Corfield) on his last points. I fear that in some parts of his speech his logic was somewhat at fault. He appeared to justify metering by a move back to hip baths. I do not go along with that.
I think all hon. Members will agree with me in wishing the British Waterways Board to continue. I hope that the sword will disappear from above its head. A lot has been done for the canals, and I hope that much more will be done, as it will, if the board is allowed to get on with its job.
I agree with what the right hon. and learned Member for Gloucestershire, South said about a possible alternative structure. Surely, the technique and experience in piping fresh water, the way in which dirty water is culverted and treated, and the way in which it is managed in rivers and moved from one place to another, whilst clearly of importance in terms of a water cycle, are three distinct techniques from the point of view of technical management and technical powers. What we wish to see for regional water authorities is effective management at the level of decision-making 105 in terms of quantity and quality, rather than on detailed management matters.
I am afraid that I cannot support the Bill. I agree with its ends, but by no means with its means. This is a pity, because so far questions of water policy—apart from the matter of private water companies—have not been party matters. However, the Government in this Bill have gone out of their way to make the subject of water more party political than it should have been.
We have had no Green Paper on this complex subject. This surely is an omission for a Government that is alleged to be devoted to the principle of open government. We have not even had a White Paper on the issue, and the apology for a White Paper entitled "Background to Water Reorganisation" is not entirely related to the Bill and is not a proper explanation of the Government's intentions. Indeed the Government's intentions were known only last Wednesday week, which has made it difficult for representative bodies to put their views to hon. Members in time for today's debate. This is reprehensible conduct by the Government.
Every hon. Member who has spoken so far has deplored the demise of the Water Resources Board, but so far the Government have not given the House a proper reason for dispensing with it. The previous Secretary of State for the Environment made some great speeches at Stockholm and told the world to organise their rivers and waters on a national basis. When the right hon. Gentleman returned home he smashed up the Water Resources Board. No argument has been advanced for this action. The only comment I have heard—and it was a comment made outside the House—is that Whitehall interests are jealous of the independence of this organisation. That is not a good argument for doing away with the board. The overriding argument concerning the judicial powers of the Minister being mixed with his executive functions is a forceful argument, to which so far we have heard no reply.
This point of view is taken outside this House as well as within it. I have an interesting document published by the CBI entitled "The re-organisation of water and sewage services", and on page 41 it says: 106The final major issue is that of forward planning. The CBI sees very considerable cause for regret at the proposed demise of the Water Resources Board in the form in which we now know it. In the few years of its existence it has had a remarkably successful record. It has built up an unrivalled technical expertise of a multi-disciplinary character and this, coupled with the considerable independence it has enjoyed, has made it a force to be reckoned with. Although the CBI agrees that the ultimate decisions on future long term plans must obviously rest with the Department of the Environment, it sees much merit in forward planning studies being executed by a body which enjoys a substantial degree of independence from the normal administrative work of Government Departments, which is insulated from political pressures, and which is also free of the possibility of embarrassing the Secretary of State in the exercise of his appellate functions.I never believed that I would agree with a view put forward by the CBI, and I hope that the Government will give rhyme and reason why they disagre with that sentiment.
The Metropolitan Water Board thinks that research should be under theNational Water Council, rather than in the Government's own creatures, the proposed Central Water Planning Unit and a new, ill-defined industrial research centre.When one reads the consultative paper on the new National Water Council and its satellite and inter-locking bodies, one is bemused by the various contortions of Government policy. The Water Resources Board says this about the Government's proposal:The Government's proposal is for a central planning unit staffed by civil servants and reporting both to Departments and to the Council. This proposal is welcome in that it recognises the need for central planning capability. But it has the serious weakness that the unit will serve at least two masters and will be unable to resolve conflicts which will necessarily and rightly arise between them. The central planning unit should be an arm of the National Water Council. We recognise that Ministers will also need some expert advice of their own, but we do not believe that this need result in any wasteful duplication of effort. The proposed Industrial Research Centre has a vital defect that it fails to bring together the existing range of research and development expertise to match the new range of functions on which the regional water authorities will need research and development support.That is a quotation from the 9th Annual Report of the Water Resources Board, which has received universal acclamation. I have quoted it at length because I feel it should be on the record. It is up to 107 the Government to say why they want to smash a successful organisation.
On the question of the regional water authorities it is clear that the chairman appointed by the Minister will be a key person. Since the National Water Council will be wholly appointed, it looks as though the Minister and Whitehall have drawn up this organisation for themselves. We at least now have an annual report from the Water Resources Board, and we shall not get such a report from central Government.
Irrespective of the other merits of the regional water authorities, I regard these proposals as a backward step for democracy. If the House lets the Bill go through as it is, it will be another step towards the Governments proposal for a semi-corporate State which is not acceptable to me or to many of my hon. Friends.
I turn to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Gloucestershire, South. I agree that it would be sensible and practical to have regional water authorities smaller than proposed with powers of co-ordination and direction over the movement of water in water courses, quality of water and the quantities to be assigned to various users.
An important matter which has not been mentioned so far is the control of ground water resources and licences for historic users of this water. There is no reason why the administration with regard to the supply and piping of water, once delivered, and the taking away of dirty water and its proper processing to the degree of purity required before it is returned to the system, should not lie with local government bodies, either on the new boundaries or in joint arrangements. There is a difference between the new overall functions of planning and the detailed engineering matters which are connected with undertakings. Such a combination would be an excellent way of taking together the two requirements of democratic accountable management and the overall national and regional planning needed for water cycle control. We must have a strong national body—and we are not getting it in the Bill.
I raise two matters which have not received proper attention during this 108 debate. The first is navigation and amenity; the second relates to arrangements for London. Navigation depends on the availability of water, but unlike land drainage, flood control, water supply and sewerage, navigation does not enjoy much financial backing. If there is not much of a financial stake, there is little chance of having a say in what goes on. But it is the navigator on the canal or river who relies on the good offices of the river authority for quantity of water and opportunity for navigation. Nowadays it is not just the navigable aspect alone which must be considered, but the total environment of the river, its surroundings, upkeep of banks and tow paths, ferries etc.
Under the existing organisation of river authorities there are varying standards of accountability for navigation and for amenities. The Thames Conservancy, the oldest river authority, has an excellent record in this respect, but examination of its accounts would show that a good deal of finance for navigation and amenity must come from sources other than the user. Yet this Government in their consultative paper say that the user must pay for the facilities which are to be provided. I challenge the Government to say how this will operate in regard to navigation and general amenity. It will not work. One of the fundamental points about amenity is that although we all enjoy it we cannot calculate its value to a nicety.
There is the so-called Water Space Amenity Commission. But it will have no powers. I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State not long ago and asked him why he thought it would be a protection for the navigator and for those concerned with amenity. His lame answer was that it would have access to the Minister. Who does he think he is kidding? Surely he is not seriously claiming that any body has power because it has access to the Minister. Local authorities have access to Ministers. Members of Parliament have access to Ministers, but they do not have any powers to control safeguards. In Broadland, the Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners have been at loggerheads with the river authority. On the Thames, the Thames Conservancy has been relatively good. However, we need statutory protection for navigation, but the proposed financial structure will 109 not allow the sort of amenity development which the Government talk about.
In reply to an earlier interjection of mine the Secretary of State agreed that the Government would make water services pay for their capital. This is not just a water reorganisation Bill. It is a Water (Future Profits) Bill. With the taking away of the rate support grant referred to by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) the central Government are doing away with their obligations in this respect. This is quite in line with the White Paper that they published when they came to office, which proposed to disgorge from the central Government anything which they did not have to pay for and to put it instead on the consumer. Water, navigation and amenities will be more expensive, but the central Exchequer will bear less of the cost.
It was right for the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) to say that the regional sports councils should be given teeth. He may not have gone that far, but I do. Each has Wits own water recreational sub-committee to deal with this matter. But at the moment the Bill does not deal with it.
I turn finally to London. I am staggered by what the Bill contains. When it was published just over a week ago we were told by Press commentators that it was a triumph for local government and that the Government had conceded majority powers to the regional water authorities. They said that London would retain its land drainage powers. Many people reading that—I was among them, despite my close interest in this matter—though that all was well and that London would keep its main sewers. I discover now that that is not so. While the Government give land drainage powers to the GLC they are not proposing to allow the GLC to keep its main sewers, sewage works, sludge boats and all the apparatus which goes to make the important network of London's main drainage.
If that is not astounding enough, those who have some experience of local Government are even more astounded when they remember that the whole history of local government in the last century was built upon the need to avoid disease by means of public health and drainage. The 110 Metropolitan Board of Works which built London's drainage system is the progenitor of the GLC. Along the river from this House one sees the embankment built by the Metropolitan Board of Works to take the east-west relief sewers. They put in a railway at the side. The GLC is responsible for the railway because of London Transport. It is responsible for the roads. It even says that there will not be so many lorries on them. It is at present responsible for the main great east-west sewers. Now the Government propose to take away the sewers. However they will leave the GLC the Holborn, the Walbrook and the Tyburn under its land drainage powers because they are supposed to be natural rivers. It may be that the Minister of Local Government and Development did not know that that was so. We shall have to iron out this matter in Committee. If there was ever a unit of local Government embedded in the very roots of London it is the main drainage and engineering services of the GLC. To suggest that they should be taken from the GLC and be administered by the Thames Regional Water Authority is ludicrous.
All this underlines the principle I made earlier, which is that it would be far better to enable the existing agencies to continue as agents of the water authority so that there can be linkage with all the other local services.
Sewers are concerned with the future planning of areas and the cost of putting them down is closely allied to the cost of development in any area. To suggest that in the Severn-Trent area this should be the responsibility of some large water authority which is virtually unconnected with planning is extremely questionable.
In opposing the Bill I hope that the Government will be prepared to make concessions in Committee affecting a matter which goes right to the roots of the whole of our local government tradition.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. David Gibson-Watt)
I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if at this point I intervene briefly in the debate. I hope too that the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) will forgive me if I do not immediately take 111 up the points which he made in his speech.
This Bill carries out the Government's promise to set up a Welsh National Water Development Authority.
The Government were greatly helped by the excellent report prepared by the Welsh Council on "Water in Wales"; in a number of important respects, the Bill's proposals go further than the Welsh Council itself had felt free to recommend.
The Welsh National Water Development Authority will have responsibilities in every part of Wales and will be the Government's chief source of advice on water policies in Wales. It will exercise the functions of a regional water authority but it will have a unique range of special functions as well.
One of the main principles of the Bill is that water services should be reorganised on the principle that river basins should be managed as a whole. On that point, the debate has shown that there is a certain amount of agreement. This view was accepted by the Central Advisory Water Committee and endorsed by the Welsh Council. In so far as the Welsh National Water Development Authority will exercise the functions of a water authority, it will do so in relation to river basins.
A special problem arises in relation to the border rivers—the Dee, Severn and the Wye. Their proper management must, of course, take account of national boundaries; but it must also be based on the most sensible means of managing these great river systems as a whole.
In the case of the Dee and the Wye this means that parts of England must come within the scope of the Welsh National Water Development Authority acting as a water authority.
In the case of the Upper Severn Basin a large part of Wales must come for water management purposes within the Severn-Trent Water Authority.
Paragraphs 41 and 42 of Schedule 3 of the Bill set out the arrangements which the Government propose to ensure that Welsh interests are properly safeguarded in the Upper Severn Basin. Thus, although the Severn-Trent Authority will be responsible for carrying out water authority functions in the Upper Severn, 112 it will have to consult the Welsh Authority on all matters of substance affecting the area. The Welsh Authority will be under a duty to keep the Secretary of State informed of its views on all matters about which it is in consultation with the Severn-Trent Authority. For the first time, therefore, the interests of Wales as a whole in the management of the country's water resources will be given a strong and effective voice.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
The Bill provides that it shall be the duty of the Authority to keep the Secretary of State informed. It does not say which Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
This point was raised earlier. The term "Secretary of State" is interchangeable as Secretaries of State are one and indivisible.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to answer the point. In the Welsh context it means the Secretary of State for Wales. I hope that what I have said will make him happy.
§ Mr. Temple
My hon. Friend has dealt with the position of English areas which come under Wales. Will he deal with the Cheshire area which is an English area which will come under Wales. Will our Secretary of State or the Secretary of State for Wales be responsible for the English area?
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
If my hon. Friend will be patient, I shall be making a reference a little later which covers the point he has made. However, I am grateful to him for raising it.
Paragraph 42 of Schedule 3 also provides that should it be necessary at any time for land to be acquired in connection with the construction and operation of a reservoir in Wales by the Severn-Trent Authority, this land will be conveyed to the Welsh National Water Development Authority which will lease back to the Severn-Trent Authority the land or other interests in it as may be appropriate for the purpose of the reservoir scheme. The land would therefore be held in trust by the Welsh Authority.
To answer the strong point made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), I repeat the assurance that in the final event if there is a 113 water supply dispute involving land in Montgomeryshire, the Welsh part of the Severn-Trent Water Authority, as this would be a planning matter it would fall to be decided by the Secretary of State for Wales. The point is that for planning matters in England it is the Secretary of State for the Environment and in Wales the Secretary of State for Wales.
The Government propose that there should be an order-making power under Clause 3(10) of the Bill to prescribe the constitution of the Welsh authority by Statutory Instrument after the Bill becomes law.
We want to be able to consider the recommendations of the Commission on the Constitution before proposing a definitive constitution for the Welsh authority. Because we will need to set up the Welsh authority in order to get on with the work of reorganisation before this can be done, we have in mind to provide an interim constitution.
§ Mr. Rowlands
The Minister is seeking to be given a blank cheque to enable him to appoint and constituted the Welsh National Water Development Authority, and the only reason he gives is waiting for Crowther". Will he confirm that if he introduces an order it will not be capable of amendment, but will have to be dealt with under the negative resolution procedure? In that event hon. Members will be deprived of any opportunity to amend the constitution and appointment of this most important water authority.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that any Secretary of State would have to face this problem in view of the Crowther Commission. The Secretary of State will have to come to the House and propose an order which will be subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
In framing it we shall be guided by decisions which Parliament will take on the form of constitution proposed for the regional water authorities. In particular, I assure the House that if the proposal that there should be a local authority majority on the English regional water authorities is found to be acceptable, the interim Welsh authority, too, will have a majority of members 114 from local authorities. The Government have already given an assurance that there will be representation on the authority of those parts of England in Herefordshire and Cheshire which fall to be administered by the Welsh National Water Development Authority, and I repeat this assurance.
I hope that what I have said about the Severn-Trent Authority will convince and persuade the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery to support the Bill. He made two major points in his speech. He said that it was sensible to have a national strategy and he was in favour of a National Water Development Authority. I hope I have given him sufficient assurance on those points to persuade him to support the Bill.
§ Mr. Hooson
I am not satisfied with this assurance. When the Dulas Inquiry was ordered by the Secretary of State it was not a planning matter. The inhabitants had resisted an application to carry out trial borings. The inquiry was ordered as a result of that, not before there was any general proposal. That is not covered by this part of the Bill at all.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I beg leave to disagree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. Although his knowledge of the law is probably greater than mine, I think that when he looks at the Bill more carefully he will find these two points are covered. There is no question of the Secretary of State for Wales not being the Secretary of State responsible in the final event for what happens in that part of Wales which comes under the Severn-Trent Authority.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
I realise that the term "Secretary of State" is interchangeable in certain circumstances. Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House the precise authority for what he has just said to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), namely, that the Secretary of State for Wales will be responsible within the Welsh boundary?
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
The authority is perfectly straight. The Secretary of State for Wales is responsible for planning matters in Wales.
§ Mr. George Thomas rose— —
§ Mr. George Thomas
I shall remember the Minister's bare courtesy. Will he tell us whether the Severn-Trent Authority reports to the Secretary of State for the Environment through the National Council or sends reports direct to the Secretary of State for Wales? Will he also confirm that the headquarters of the Severn-Trent Authority are at Nottingham?
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I do not see that there is a great deal of point in giving way to the right hon. Gentleman. If he will be kind enough to listen, I shall be coming to those two points. The headquarters is the very next point to which I am coming.
The new authority will be a very important public service, and the location of its headquarters and other major offices and works centres will be a matter of concern not only in relation to the proper management of water services, but in relation to our hopes for the development of employment opportunities generally. My right hon. and learned Friend told the House some time ago that he hoped the headquarters of the new authority would be in one of the smaller towns of Wales. I cannot say more on this subject at present.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I have no knowledge where the centre will be. I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the answer to that question. I am dealing with specific points regarding the Welsh National Water Development Authority.
In addition to the general powers in respect of recreation and amenity which would be common to all water authorities, the Bill places special responsibilities on the Welsh authority in the sphere of 116 recreation and gives it specific powers to fulfil these responsibilities. This reflects the Government's acceptance of the conclusion reached by the Welsh Council in its report "Water in Wales" that the development of water resources for recreational and tourist purposes could make a significant contribution to the economy of rural areas in Wales.
Wales has many natural lakes and also a large number of man-made reservoirs, few of which have hitherto been developed to their full recreational potential. If we are to make the most of the economic advantages which can arise from their use this development will need to be co-ordinated throughout the principality and the Welsh authority must be given effective powers to make a good job of it.
Hence the Welsh authority will be required to prepare a plan for utilising water space in Wales and any land associated with it for the purposes of recreation. In formulating this plan, the Welsh authority will obviously wish to have the closest consultations with such bodies as the Committee for Wales of the Countryside Commission, the Wales Tourist Board and the Sports Council for Wales. In addition, in respect of the plan for the Upper Severn Basin there will have to be the closest consultation with the Severn—Trent Water Authority.
The Bill provides for the establishment of a Water Services Staff Commission. I am glad to say that Councillor E. W. Williams of Mold, Flintshire, Chairman of the Central Flintshire Water Board, who has made a distinguished contribution to local government and water services in Wales, has agreed to serve on the Staff Committee which has been set up in anticipation of the establishment of a Commission.
The general idea of a Welsh National Water Development Authority has been warmly welcomed in Wales. We all hope that its establishment will open a new chapter in the history of the development of the abundant water resources of Wales in the interests both of Wales and of those great English conurbations which are able to take supplies of pure water from the uplands of Wales.
I hope that I have been able to shed a little light upon the Welsh provisions of the Bill and that this may be of help to the House.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
I very much resent the fact that we are to have three Front Bench speeches. I feel sure that Welsh Members will very much resent the fact that too little time is to be given to their real problems. I should have thought that the Government would have provided at least half a day in which to debate Welsh water which, as we have heard from Welsh Members, is a prominent part of what we are debating. Back benchers have lost 15 minutes of their time today. They have little enough time in which to speak, and I had therefore better get on with the debate without very much further criticism of what has happened.
What I am concerned about is that the Bill removes another power from local authorities. Time and again Governments come along and say to local authorities, "What wonderful chaps you are. What a good job you are doing. We love you. You experiment, and you lead the way in all sorts of ventures" but the next moment they take away yet another power from them. Only a short while ago the Government removed housing functions from the control of local authorities. Today the Secretary of State for the Environment, with a mandarin-like smile on his face, gave local authorities yet another pat on the back but in his hand he had a water dagger with which to stab them and remove some more of their powers.
We are all aware, and have been for a long time, of the need for reorganisation in the water industry. Successive Governments have encouraged and, indeed, tried to cajole water undertakers into forming larger and more advantageous groupings, and in this they have had some success.
I was associated with and, indeed, was an enthusiastic supporter of, an amalgamation scheme between Reading and county districts in Berkshire, although art that time, in 1957, we had to fight the local friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite before we could get anything done about it. However, after the requisite number of meetings at the town hall we managed to get the necessary Bill before the House. After 34 days before a Private Bill Committee, after agreeing to drop proposals to take into the amalgamation 118 a private water undertaking in Maidenhead, and at a cost of £100,000, we finally managed to do what the Government wanted local authorities to do, and that was to amalgamate into a more proper grouping. It may be that that daunting experience had some effect on other local authorities who wanted to do the same sort of thing, namely, to involve themselves in larger, more efficient groupings in order to assist the reorganisation of water supplies.
It so happened that I became a member of that water board and chairman of the works committee. We found an enormous task facing us. Indeed, my earlier belief that the water industry needed reorganising was confirmed. Outside the county borough many areas were in a parlous state. Many people had no pressure at all. Often by nightfall storage capacity was exhausted. At the slightest sign of a dry spell restrictions were slapped on, and water carts were not an uncommon sight.
The underlying problem was the lack of development of the system. Water sources had not been developed to meet the rising demand, storage facilities were inadequate and trunk mains were either not provided at all in many cases and in others were not of sufficient size to carry the necessary water pressure. During one mains replacement programme it was found that part of the system consisted of a wooden main, so we knew how long that had been in the ground.
Following the amalgamation the whole supply system has been transformed to the extent that there is not only an adequacy of water from properly developed sources but there is also reasonable security of supply from adequate storage and an improved distribution network. I can safely say that the amalgamation has been a great success, but the point I want to emphasise is that this amalgamation and reorganisation was brought about by local authority members themselves. Indeed, I go further and say that their success is directly attributable to the fact that they were responsible to their local authority and responsive to the pressures of those they represent.
The same sort of thing is true of the constituency that I represent in Swindon. There, the local authority has built up a fine water undertaking. It is second to 119 none in the country. It is highly efficient, it is providing a service that is envied by many, and it will not be excelled by any service that can be given by a regional water authority. The achievement is all the more remarkable as the authority was able, without any fuss or bother, to provide for the rising demand in water when the town was rapidly expanded.
It is also worth noting that except during the period when the Government decided to "take on" the manual workers in local authority services the quality of sewage effluent returned to the Thames by Swindon is top class, and second to none in the country. It is clear that local authorities, given the opportunity and the right sort of leadership, can continue to play a major part in water distribution and sewage disposal. In the interests of modern democratic practice, it is vital that they should continue to have some responsiblity for these services. I simply do not accept that ten regional water authorities will meet the needs of efficient and democratic control.
There is every reason to support the Opposition's proposals that water in itself should be in public ownership, that policy should be created by a national water board, and that the regional authorities should supply water in bulk to the new districts or groupings of them and leave the storage and distribution of water and sewage disposal to local authorities. This is possible and highly desirable.
Turning to the vexed question of charges, I take issue once again with the Minister on the question of metering. During the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on 2nd August last year, I said that I believed that the Government were giving a positive lead in the metering of water supplies. The Bill certainly confirms that the Government have set their hearts on having water metered for all consumers. I must reiterate that I am against this costly and unnecessary exercise.
The estimate for the countrywide installation of meters was given in the Minister's consultation paper as £500 million, but that figure is wildly out of date at present because of rising costs. I should have thought that a figure more like £600 million would be more realistic. Such an outlay is bound to impose a 120 huge burden of probably about £60 million a year on water consumers, for many years ahead, and inevitably must substantially increase the cost of water generally.
If the figures sent to Members of Parliament by the Taf Fechan Water Board are correct, the increase is likely to be about 40 per cent., since that Board states that the cost of all domestic water supplies in the United Kingdom is about £150 millon annually. But the matter of cost does not end with the installation of the meters. The meters have to be serviced and replaced when they are worn out. Experience in Philadelphia has shown that meters need to be replaced every four years. The most recent estimate of the cost of a meter happens to be about £7. Apart from that, meters are not all that reliable. I feel sure, also, that a large administrative cost will be incurred, and that was referred to by some of my hon. Friends.
I cannot understand why the Government have it so much in mind that metering is the only way of conserving water supplies. There are other ways.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)
The Government have never said that. In the Bill there is merely a permissive power to regional water authorities to use metering. But we have never said that that is the Government policy.
§ Mr. Stoddart
No, I accept that the Government have never said that it is Government policy. But I must say to the Minister once again that this was the only alternative put forward in the consultation document that was sent out. One can hardly blame hon. Members or the public for believing that this was giving a positive lead to the new regional water authorities in the matter of charges, that the Government were saying that the best way of doing it was through meters and, through metering, they would not only be able to balance their books, perhaps with some profit, but also be able to conserve waters supplies.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
My hon. Friend will probably remember that this afternoon the Secretary of State, in the Government's opening speech, stated that he agreed with the principle of the 121 use of meters. That answers my hon. Friend's points.
§ Mr. Stoddart
Yes, I think that he made that statement, although to be fair, he went on to say that it may be very many years before meters could be installed throughout the country. Nevertheless, all the declarations by the Government tend to make people believe that it is basically Government policy that water should be metered and that the new regional water authorities should be profit-making, should balance their books and, perhaps, make a certain amount on capital.
This changes the whole emphasis of water supply, from an emphasis which until the present has been based on service to the consumer to an emphasis based merely on the need to recover money expended and, if necessary, to make a profit.
I cannot help feeling that this policy is not only bad from the financial point of view, in that it will impose huge charges on the water authorities and, through them, on the consumer, but also that it has a public health aspect. The hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) talked about cleaning his teeth in a glass of water. We have to recognise the other end of the cycle, the sewage disposal end. In most cases the sewage disposal end depends at present on a dry weather flow of water. Indeed, if that flow is not maintained, if we use too little water, we shall find that our present sewage disposal plants will be unable to deal with effluent.
There is also the other aspect of public health. It was shown in the experiment of the Malvern Water Company, in which the company metered supplies to a certain number of consumers, that the people who used the least water were the poorest sections of the community, anyway. Is it suggested that by metering we should persuade the poorest section of the community to use less rather than more water? That is precisely what will happen if metering becomes the general order of the day.
I hope that the Government will give this matter careful thought. All professional opinion is against the Government on this matter. Nevertheless, the leadership is still there; there is still the impression that the Government intend the 122 regional water authorities to charge for domestic supplies through meters. I urge the Government to reconsider their policy and to make it absolutely clear —if this is so—that it is not their policy to force regional water authorities to adopt this practice.
In conclusion, I completely support my right hon. and hon. Friends' opposition to the Bill. We believe that the water industry needs reorganisation, but this is not the way to do it. It is not the way to do it to tell local authorities that they have no part in a service which they have administered very well over a very long period.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. John E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
Those of us who use or drink water—whether metered or not—downstream from Swindon will be grateful and relieved that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) has assured us that Swindon's sewage effluent is top-class. The hon. Gentleman described many of the urban problems. He will forgive me if I do not follow him further but turn to some of the rural problems contained in the wide ambit of the Bill.
I regret that the time factor between publication and Second Reading has been so short—13 days. I have found it difficult to consult my constituents. It may be that my circumstances are rather worse than those of some hon. Members, because I have European commitments; but 13 days, even for an hon. Member who is in the country all the time, is rather too short. Many smaller authorities have not had time to hold meetings and make the representations they would like to make. The quicker ones arrived by this morning's mail. No doubt a few will arrive after the debate has ended.
My constituents are very interested in water, whether from the land drainage point of view as farmers or whether from living in an area which alternates from drought to flood and where the costs of water distribution are high.
We can accept the strategic aims of the Bill without difficulty. My misgivings arise about the degree of concentration of power in the Department and by virtue of having so many ministerial appointees. I regret that there appears to be a lack of an independent source of thought and advice. In the whole subject of water a continuing dialogue is 123 needed between Government, water suppliers and an outside body such as the Water Resources Board.
Admittedly the Bill is better than the first proposals, which were to eliminate the functions of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. This would have been intolerable from an agricultural point of view. I remain suspicious and wary since the takeover bid was made and wonder how anyone came to think that it was ever a runner.
Whatever the Bill says, no reorganisation of power and duties will alter the facts of nature. Far more rain falls on the West than on the East. The business of farming depends to a surprising degree on alternately moving water off the land and bringing it back again. The whole process of land drainage is infinitely variable and intensely local, as befits the amazing diversity of our soil and climate.
I am not convinced that sheer size is an advantage in prosecuting overall national policies. I doubt whether it is desirable to concentrate responsibility so far back from the long front of coastline which is so vulnerable to the sea, or to have an area so big that members of a regional water authority cannot feel a sense of geographical responsibility for the area they represent.
Twenty years ago this week I was, as a member of a river board, struggling in the aftermath of the great tidal surge, the biggest surge for 300 years. It caused untold damage up the whole of the east coast. I remember feeling that the area of the East Suffolk and Norfolk River Board, as it then was, was enormous to cope with.
I declare an interest. On my farm I have made great use of Government drainage policy. Even 20 years after the great surge I still struggle from time to time with salt flooding, though my farm is six miles from the sea. Therefore, we on the east coast do not believe that the greatest size means the greatest safety.
The proposed East Anglia Water Authority could be subdivided. It is gigantic, stretching from the Humber to the Thames Estuary. The local East Suffolk and Norfolk River Authority considers that it is self-contained. It hardly imports or exports any water and, therefore, could exist as a separate regional 124 water authority. If that were thought to be too small, the Lincolnshire and the Welland and Nene River Boards could make a regional water authority on their own, leaving a less big one for East Anglia and Essex.
However that may be, it must be done in the course of the passing of the Bill because, if I have read the Bill correctly, there are no powers for reducing or adding to the number of regional water authorities should experience show that there has been a mistake and that either amalgamations or divisions should take place.
I turn to the question of the use of inland water for recreation. Clause 20, which deals with the duties of conservation, should make some mention of agricultural considerations. A list is given of the amenity items to which special regard is to be paid. That suggests that such special regard should override agricultural considerations. This is a mistake, because much of the natural beauty of the landscape is man-made and regard should be paid to agricultural considerations, because over the years farmers are the best conservationists. There may be arguments about moving hedges, but without agriculture the whole land would be so much scrub.
This is true in regard to the duties of the Water Space Amenity Commission. I think at once of the Norfolk Broads, which is probably the country's most used water space, man-made by the peat cutters. Although the Bill is likely to stimulate the recreational use of water, it does not meet, or provide for the meeting of, the serious problems of the Norfolk Broads.
The Norfolk Broads were not designated a national park, although a proposal to this effect was made some years ago. In an endeavour to reach a solution a consortium of local authorities produced a considerable report entitled "Broadland" which I commend to anyone who has had a holiday there. This is very good value at only 9p more than the joint price of the Bill and its background booklet. The recommendations are typical of the considerations that become relevant in the varied and conflicting use of attractive water space. The consortium recognised that the first and overriding consideration should be to preserve the unique character and charm of the Broads; the second, to protect 125 important local enterprises, especially water conservation; then to facilitate the pursuit of scientific, educational and nature study and, fourthly, to get the maximum of enjoyment for recreational and holiday purposes, whether waterborne or land-based, with a minimum of conflict.
For years there has been no agreement on the method of control and means of resolving conflict on the Broads, mainly because of a conflict between the interests of land drainage carried out under the river authority and those of navigation, discharged by separate Port and Haven Commissioners. There is common ground that more resources and a greater concentration of powers are needed and that any solution should be predominantly local but not parochial.
Therefore, I must put on record that there would be great resistance in Norfolk if control of the Broads were taken back to a remote authority ouside East Anglia proper. The Bill in its present form does nothing to resolve these problems, and I should like an assurance that the Government will not press on with these new policies while leaving the future of the Norfolk Broads in a state of deadlock.
I wanted to say something briefly about charges. Let me point out merely that there is going to be great resistance and anxiety about the prospective changes in water charges. I mention small residential users in scattered areas with these high distribution costs, on the one hand, or farmers wanting to use spray irrigation and putting back on the land the water which is either underneath it or beside it. Those are two spheres where there might be great argument about charges.
It seems to me absolutely vital that there should be scope for proper appeals and public discussion. If my right hon. Friend does not know why the appeal procedure was abolished, I beg him not to seek to explain the inexplicable, but to restore it. A Bill of this nature is bound to have a mixed and critical reception. All water Bills do. The importance of its objectives is undeniable, but they could be lost in administrative controversy and local anxieties. To make the Bill acceptable there needs to be much more clarification, and some amendment will be necessary in its further 126 stages. On that basis, but not without some misgivings, I support its Second Reading.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I support those hon. Members who have praised the Government for retaining the British Waterways Board. They have given way to pressure from interested parties who use the canals, and I think they are quite right to have done so, but I cannot understand why the British Waterways Board has been left out of the new system. Surely the canal system which crosses over from one watershed to another, and therefore should be kept in being for that particular purpose, should be fitted into any kind of national water policy.
The British Waterways Board and its canals constitute one of the most important drainage authorities in the country. It sells water. It has property of considerable value which may or may not require development. As has been mentioned already, it controls certain parts of rivers. I suggest that the British Waterways Board and the canal system should be incorporated into the new water system. Its chairman and officers ought to be members of the national authority controlling water so that they can coordinate its activities with those of the various regional boards.
Quite au elaborate system is to be set up for the development of amenities in the regional waterways. One of the most important functions of the British Waterways Board is to provide amenities for people to use the canals, whether they be anglers or boaters. In this case the amenity services run by the board will only be duplicating those set up in the rest of the country. Surely, there should be some co-ordination and unification.
The most important of all the reasons for keeping the British Waterways Board as a single entity is that we need a body to control navigation. It is desirable also that there should be common navigation standards on the other waterways. Many of our rivers, like the Thames and the Trent, are widely used by the public and we need the same navigation standards on those rivers as we have on the canals. I suggest that if we incorporate the board as a regional authority into the new water setup, it could also be given the job of 127 supervising navigation standards of all the other waterways in the country.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill) referred to the Broads. Certainly they ought to come in under this body. Their navigation requires controlling, and again co-ordination is necessary between the navigation, drainage and other needs of that area. Such canals which have been left out of this Bill should come under the board, which should not only run the canals that it has dealt with in the past but should be responsible for ensuring that the navigation standards are standard throughout inland waterways. That is common sense if we are to have a really national water system.
One or two other matters need to be dealt with. There is the question of income. At present the board raises income partly from charges for angling and boating licences, partly from selling water and letting off buildings. Its income has risen in recent years, but, on the whole, the board has been hampered through lack of capital, in getting on with its job. Over the years it has received a certain amount of Government subsidy. That subsidy has been fairly small. I suggest that in any new setup there should be a substantial subsidy at least for the first few years.
A great deal of interest has been shown by various firms in developing marinas on the waterways and building boats, but we shall only get such development if the waterways are there to be utilised. Therefore, there must be some expenditure on getting the waterways into a decent condition. I served on the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council for nearly three years and I am certain that it has done a very good job. One of its most important jobs was to make a survey of the remainder waterways in this country. It made detailed reports on the waterways, some of which, it said, ought to be abandoned altogether, whilst others should be made usable as soon as possible. Others, it said, could be be used immediately for angling.
There may be no immediate need to get them back into navigation but we should not ignore the possibility of that being done in the future. It is important that they should be kept in existence with their towpaths, and so forth, and it is most 128 important that the construction of new motorways should not be allowed to destroy them. One of the most important in this context is the Montgomery Canal on the border of England and Wales. That was threatened by the possibility of a motorway cutting across it, with the result that it might never have opened again.
The board has been handicapped by a lack of capital, but it has done a good job in interesting various local authorities in the work of renovating waterways. Forty local authorities have either been working recently or are working now with the board in getting various canals reopened. One of the most interesting aspects of the matter is the way in which the number of people who come in as voluntary labour has grown. There is nothing finer than to see many of our young people, who are prepared to do a practical job at weekends, helping to open up and restore canals.
I am certain that in years to come the canal system will be one of the most important amenities in the country, particularly for young people. Mucking about in boats is one of the most enjoyable pursuits that young people can engage in but the waterways must be there to enable them to do so. We must therefore consider this problem in the long term. Certain jobs must be done now and others must be put back to be attended to in the future. All round the North Derbyshire area is a complete ring of canals which are being reopened with the help of local authorities and voluntary labour. The Upper Avon is likely to be opened this summer which will provide another through system with the Stratford-on-Avon Canal. It is therefore most important to consider the future of the board in the context of our national water system. The whole problem of navigation needs to be dealt with on a national basis and not treated separately with the different areas taking independent decisions.
It is proposed to set up a Water Space Amenity Commission. It is also proposed to keep the Inland Waterways Advisory Council in being to work with the British Waterways Board. I believe, however, that if the board is to be brought under the National Water Council the Water Space Advisory Council should be used to co-ordinate the amenity needs of the country as a whole.
129 Some real powers should be given to the Water Space Amenity Commission. It might be suitable to examine requests for financial grants to particular waterways—whether they are rivers or canals —which might need money spent on them so that they may be reopened. A body along the lines of the University Grants Commission could look at these problems, and it should have money at its disposal with power to grant aid to schemes that it considers worth while.
Those proposals would give some purpose to the Water Space Amenity Commission. It would have money to distribute and it would be able to follow on the work of the advisory council in studying and making recommendations about waterways. That is clearly a job which needs to be reviewed from time to time as some canals are opened up and others come forward, ready for the work to begin.
Therefore, while I generally welcome what has been done in the Bill, I cannot support it because it does not deal with some of the essential matters that my hon. Friends and I have raised.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Six-minute speeches will enable me to call quite a few hon. Members, but I shall not be able to call every hon. Member who wishes to speak.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Bromley)
I hope that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his journey along the canals and waterways, because I want to develop a point first raised by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) and to deal specifically and exclusively with the situation in greater London under the Bill.
I begin with a brief quotation:Under our new style of Government we will devolve Government power so that more decisions are made locally.I hope that I shall not be accused of indelicacy if I remind my right hon. Friends that that is an extract from our 1970 General Election manifesto. It illustrates and underlines why so many people in local government, particularly within the greater London area, are so unhappy about the Bill, which proposes to transfer the Greater London Council's main drainage services and pollution con- 130 trol powers to the new mammoth Thames water authority. Instead of having directly-elected councillors controlling these vital services, we shall have the faceless men of the new regional water authority—non-elected, undemocratic and remote. That is a far cry from the devolution that we were promised at the last election.
In his opening speech my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State made great play of the fact that there would be local authority representatives on regional water authorities. But I remind him that in the case of the Thames water authority London local government has precisely 14 seats out of the total of 40, although greater London represents about 70 per cent. of the area of the new authority. That is not a particularly fair or balanced representation.
No one can defend the proliferation of small water and sewerage authorities. I am in no way challenging the principle of rationalisation. Indeed, I accept and support it, and therefore have no quarrel with the major part of the Government's legisation. What I am saying is that greater London presents a special case that deserves much more attention and consideration than the Government have so far given it. In London, and only in London, an effective regional authority specifically charged with the responsibility for strategic planning already exists.
The Greater London Council is an authority competent and eager to take over full responsibility for the capital's water services and to continue to tackle the unique problems of its tidal estuary. These problems are quite separate from those of the inland Thames, and again illustrate the absurdity of combining the tidal estuary with the upper reaches of the river within the proposed new mammoth authority.
Flood protection, for example, is a subject on which the Greater London Council has built up a wealth of expertise over the past eight years. The £50 million flood barrier scheme at Woolwich Reach is a major engineering project which has aroused interest throughout the world. The GLC's sewage disposal facilities, too, are acknowledged to be second to none.
It is not reasonable or rational to expect all this to be handed over to the 131 new water authority, either now or in 1980. Is it any wonder that both Conservative and Socialist members of the GLC and the London boroughs are united in their condemnation of the proposals and feel bitter and resentful about the provisions of a Bill that will deprive them of responsibility for the major water and sewerage work they have been undertaking on behalf of their ratepayers?
The case that the GLC puts forward in the debate is that it should be allowed to take over direct responsibility for that part of the Thames Water Authority which falls below Teddington Weir, which is roughly the dividing line between the inland Thames and the tidal estuary. I believe that that is a perfectly fair and feasible proposition. If it were implemented it would mean that the remainder of the proposed Thames Water Authority area would coincide roughly with the area now managed by the Thames Conservancy. With a population of over 3 million, it would still be comparable in size with other regional water authorities proposed by the Government under the Bill. It would thus be a perfectly viable unit.
Therefore, I contend that London is a special case. It is the capital city, and unlike other areas it already possesses a regional authority which has been established and in operation for eight years. It seems unreasonable to ask the GLC, in the interests of a notional blanket uniformity, to give up the powers it is exercising today, with skill, intelligence and expertise, to an untried and unrepresentative water authority.
I therefore beg my right hon. and learned Friend to listen, even at this late stage, to the insistent and unanimous appeals to him from the GLC and the London Boroughs Association. I must warn him that unless substantial concessions are made to London's point of view the ripples of resentment could spread much wider than the immediate issue of water. They could sour and undermine the whole spirit of local government in our capital city.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)
This has been a low-key debate. Possibly that has been due to the fact that the Secretary of State for the Environment 132 initiated the debate in a low key I noticed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman kept rigidly to his brief. That might indicate that he does not want to get too much involved in water and the Bill.
I am not going to say that I oppose the Bill in its entirety. Some good things have been added to the Bill. Like many other hon. Members, I oppose it because I am not too happy about some of the worst parts, which have been emphasised repeatedly.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State, who represents Hexham, in which I live, is now in his seat. I refer to a decision he made about the Kielder reservoir. My thinking is beginning to come around to the view that possibly he has deferred his decision or he has given a "no decision" until the Bill gets on to the Statute Book. He can then pass the buck to the 10 regional authorities, or leave it with them for a long while in the hope that someone else will have to make a decision. If that is so, I hope that he will admit it. If it is not so, I hope that later when his hon. Friend replies, there will be advanced some indication of why a "no decision" was made.
I hope that the House will excuse me from being parochial on this occasion. However, this matter is causing immense concern—so much so that many people who have not yet made representations will be doing so. It has spread dismay in industry. I speak as a person who served in an industry where water was one of the most vital commodities, and where it was used to a large degree. Unless the existing industry in the North-East can get some assurance about future supplies, it is doubtful if they will find sufficient impetus to expand its present output. The attitude of new industry was adequately explained by the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong).
The right hon. and learned Gentleman must know that even within his own party and amongst his supporters there is great concern. I hope that he will take note of what has been said so that maybe later this week he will give a further and more detailed explanation. If he does not do so, then he is not only causing a false degree of optimism in his constituency, where the proposed reservoir is 133 to be situated, but causing uncertainty and confusion in industry.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott), who is not in his seat, gave an excellent exposition of the qualities needed to be a director of one of the private companies. It is a poor man who cannot flatter himself on occasions, and the hon. Gentleman did so adequately today. However, I am at a loss to understand why the hon. Gentleman, an able hon. Member and, I understand, a good farmer, can be such an expert on this highly complicated industry. One of his colleagues happens to be Sir John Hunter, who is a good shipbuilder. No one would deny that. But what expertise does Sir John have which makes it desirable to put him on the board of a water company? I know that his ships have to float on the water when they are launched, but that is taking interest to ridiculous lengths.
My main criticism of the private company is the degree of perpetuation that is brought about by the appointments. I hope that the companies will take note. I hope that if they continue to make these appointments they will at least explain the technical abilities or qualifications. They may even be financial qualifications.
I welcome the decision to give some control over the amenities. Many years ago in this House I advocated the nationalisation of the rivers so that fishermen could fish all along rivers instead of only in the less popular parts.
I say this for the existing authorities—they have given pleasure to millions of anglers throughout the country by the way and the manner in which they have used the fishing facilities and made them available. I see them now expanding such facilities further, and that part of the Bill at least is a good idea. Millions of anglers will, oddly enough, thank the Secretary of State for that aspect.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Simeons (Luton)
I must declare an interest. I advise certain companies on the technical aspects of effluent treatment.
Two views can be taken of the Bill. Either we can look over our shoulders and opt out of the realities of the modern world, or we can look upon the Bill as a new start, meeting the needs of modern 134 technology. For the first time, the fact that water is part of a cycle has been recognised and it is logical that it should be treated as such. If it is, I believe that it is best dealt with by one authority over a wide area. The change does not, of course, overlook the very good work which has been done by sewage works belonging to local authorities, such as Luton, or by authorities which form parts of main drainage authorities. The Bill removes overlapping between one authority and another in respect of purification, provision of water and extraction. This, I believe, gives it enormous merit.
But all of this requires good direction, and I believe that the new National Water Council must have executive powers with its own support in terms of research and planning of water resurces. I too, lament the passing of the Water Resources Board—not just that its name should change but that apparently it is to be split. I believe this to be a great mistake. If the council has no planning unit, it will be in the Minister's pocket and it will not seem to be independent, which I believe it must be if it is to manage its own affairs.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
My hon. Friend will appreciate that the Secretary of State appoints the members of the Water Resources Board and that he will also appoint a proportion of the members of the National Water Council. Why does my hon. Friend assume that they would be independent when appointed by my right hon. and learned Friend to the board but not independent when appointed by him to the council?
§ Mr. Simeons
For the very reason that the Secretary of State has to act in a quasi-judicial capacity, and if he is having to make decisions, and then goes to the same body to make those decisions from which the council has to seek advice, no one will believe him.
I believe that the regional water authorities need have no specific members who represent local authorities. There is no reason why the members should not all be local authority members and no reason why there should be any local authority members at all. I do not see why water which passes under a certain area is a local authority matter any more than the 135 air space above it. No one suggests that local authorities should deal with aeroplanes. Where they do—as the Luton authority does—most people try to remove that power from them. The criterion must be that members of these bodies are chosen because of the expertise which they can bring to bear. In many instances, they will be drawn from those in all walks of life who have not the time to give to local government but do have an expertise from what they are doing in other jobs.
We are now entering an era of new chemicals with little known effects. Who can honestly say what the effects of the pill will be as more and more oestrogen enters the water? Can we say that in 20 years' time half the Members of the House of Commons will not suddenly become sterile? I hope that I am not getting my right hon. and learned Friend worried. But we are entering an era when the effects of chemicals going into the water are immensely important. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) could tell us of the immense panic which took place in his constituency, for example, when a mysterious taste suddenly appeared in the water. No local authority wanted to know anything about it. In fact, experts were called in from a much wider area.
Control in the technical sense will best be achieved, I believe, by offering a good career structure, and this the regional water authorities do. They will attract people qualified in water management. At present, water extraction has most of the graduates, and sewerage has very few. If those entering water management can see that there are good prospects, we shall have a much wider range of qualified people coming in.
Those qualified people must be supported by adequate monitoring equipment. Methods of detection involve skilled operatives, and this is an expensive matter in both people and equipment. Finance will be immensely important here. Proper quality control is expensive, but the alternative is periodic scares.
The method of pricing will have a vital effect on costs, and it may affect the ability of companies to compete internationally. The great virtue of the regional water authorities, I believe, is that they 136 can progress art varying rates. Where the rivers are clean, they must remain clean. Where the rivers are dirty, the rate at which those who are polluting the rivers alter their ways can be governed according to their ability to compete internationally.
The hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) referred very properly to the question of recycling. The pricing of water will do more than anything else, I believe, to influence recycling, because, once finance officers know what the cost will be, they will be able to advise their boards whether it is cheaper just to discharge and have the effluent treated elsewhere or whether it will be in their interest to treat and recycle.
The Bill is a good beginning for facing up to a highly complicated technological problem of the modern age. If we ignore the challenge, we do so at our peril. The opportunity must not be passed by.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
I object to the Bill on several general grounds. First, as the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) said, it is a departure from democratic procedures. Second, it discriminates against the local authorities as compared with the statutory private bodies. In response to an intervention of mine, the Minister said that the statutory bodies have done a good job. So have the local authorities. Why should we take over the local authorities and not the statutory private bodies? Also, the Bill is opposed by all the local authority associations, and that in itself would be sufficient to condemn it.
I come now to my constituency interest in Birmingham. Birmingham owns the reservoirs and dams in the Elan Valley in Wales—Mr. Deputy Speaker knows this well, because he once served on the Birmingham City Council—and it owns the Claerwen reservoir. These reservoirs supply Birmingham with its water. With great foresight, long before our time, the city fathers bought these reservoir areas and developed them, securing for the citizens of Birmingham a supply of pure and soft water which, though it may be equalled, is not surpassed anywhere in these islands.
These water resources will be lost to Birmingham. They will pass to another, 137 Welsh, authority, and then the Birmingham citizens or the members of the new authority will have to decide whether to buy back the water created by Birmingham, provided that the new authority is prepared to sell it in bulk to the authority of which Birmingham is a part. Naturally Birmingham looks askance at this. The first thing it wants to know is will it continue to get the supplies of water and the facilities which it has created. I would like a reply from the Minister about this.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) suggested that we had somehow cheated the Welsh out of their water. That is a piece of nonsense——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. The hon. and learned Member knows that he cannot conduct a running commentary. If the hon. Member gives way that is all very well, but not otherwise.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sorry. I have a little time left and it may be that someone else will still be able to speak in the debate. The hon. and learned Member implied that somehow or other Welsh farmers were being treated unfairly.
§ Mr. Hooson
I did not suggest that Welsh people had been treated unfairly. I said that people from whom the water is derived should gain the benefit from it. I have never heard such a conservative argument as that which says that because grandfather was prudent and far-seeing his descendants should in no way be deprived.
§ Mr. Silverman
As far as I know the water comes from Heaven. It is not provided by the Welsh. In this case the extraction of water from Wales has proved to be of benefit to the people of Wales as well as to the citizens of 138 Birmingham. It has provided employment for the people of Wales and it has also provided a considerable rating contribution. When a local authority there decided to celebrate the coronation in 1937 it held a party and put it on the rates. The major ratepayer was Birmingham which met 89 per cent. of the rates. The Birmingham ratepayers provided a party for the Welsh.
This is one of the minor instances of the benefits bestowed on the local population by Birmingham which has looked after the farmers there and provided employment. There are other reasons why it is desirable that there should not be separation, in the case of Birmingham, between the authority which supplies the water and the authority which distributes and consumes it.
The production of water is not like the production of electricity. It is a continuous process from the time it is collected to the time it is distributed. There are various forms of chlorination and purification taking place all the way, some in Wales, and some in Birmingham.
Supply requires a continuous connection between the place where the water is extracted and the place where it is consumed. If the reservoirs in Birmingham become too full it is necessary to contact the Welsh authority in the Elan Valley immediately.
If the function is divided between two authorities this continuous process will suffer. The efficiency of the undertaking will suffer if Birmingham's water undertakings are taken away. The present authority has managed its functions extremely well, with skill and with general regard to the public. I ask the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery to remember that a large number of my constituents are Welsh, and they derive the benefit of water which originates in Wales and is stored in reservoirs owned by Birmingham. There is a case for making an exception for Birmingham so that it continues to retain control over the supply of water from Wales.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
We have had a high-level debate in which every hon. and right hon. Member who has taken part has been very knowledgeable on the subject. We have listened to some who are experts. Not one speech, 139 except that which was made from the Government Front Bench, supported the Government's proposals for the abolition of the Water Resources Board. There has been a unanimous appeal to the Government to think again.
I was much impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons), who is obviously an expert in this field, as he confessed at the beginning. We are all nervous of experts, but we ignore them at our peril. The hon. Member for Luton warned the Government of the major mistake they are making. Anyone who has carried responsibility for water in Wales, as once I did, knows what a debt we owe to Sir William Goode and his colleagues, who have amassed enormous expertise, who are masters in research, and who will now be divided.
I believe that the time is opportune to reorganise our water resources. Both sides of the House acknowledge that the supply of water is a vital service which must be highly efficient, and that we cannot afford to waste any of our resources. But I verily believe that the National Water Council will be a toothless, bloodless body—a zombie-like body—instead of the full-blooded, all-powerful body that we need. The Minister is wrong to make such a body merely advisory. The board should be respresentative of the Sports Council. The National Anglers Council should be directly represented both at national and regional level. The three million anglers in the country have a great interest in these matters. They number more than the entire population of Wales, and the number is growing. We in this House have a responsibility to ensure that their interests are protected. I assure the Minister that when we discuss this measure in Committee we shall make every effort to ensure that fair play is given to those other interests.
I wish to refer to the problem in Greater London. We heard much about this subject from the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt), and my hon. Friends who represent London constituencies have outlined the offence given to local government by the Government's attitude. Sir Desmond Plummer is one of the most outspoken among those who have condemned the Government's attitude. He declared, 140 as reported in the Financial Times on 13th November 1972:Assets in which ratepayers have invested hundreds of millions of pounds would pass out of control of elected local government representatives into the hands of faceless bodies who would be unaccountable to the public for their management of water and sewerage control.Sir Desmond's charge against the Government is echoed by local government all over the country. Ratepayers have invested in waterworks a total of well over £1,000 million. There has developed in local government an expertise and knowledge of the industry, with an appreciation of the needs of consumers, but the Minister is now prepared wantonly to disregard these factors.
When the Government said that by making local government units larger it would give them greater responsibility, we thought that they meant what they said. But once again they are standing on their heads and they are consistent only in their inconsistency. The Government, with recent memories of the controversial debates on local government reform, now seek to introduce a measure which strips more real power from local government. But in this debate we have also had a taste of ideological differences. The Tory philosophy comes out clearly in this Bill, especially on the metering of water. The power given to the Minister allows water authorities to put a water meter in every home in the country. The Secretary of State said that this would not happen in a hurry, because it would cost £500 million to do it, but he hoped that it would come. This has been echoed by his colleagues all along the line.
§ Mr. Rippon
I did not say that I hoped it would come. I said that I thought it reasonable that bodies should have the power if they thought it right. It must be remembered that on such bodies there would be a majority of local authority representatives and that those authorities could take this action in regard to different classes of consumer.
§ Mr. Thomas
Since the Secretary of State has given powers in the Bill it is obvious that he wants them to exist. The true Tory philosophy has been repeated by hon. Members in this debate. The philosophy is that people should pay for the services they receive. The hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) is 141 quite clear about it. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite would return to the days when our children had to take coppers to school to pay for the services rendered. The Government want to put the clock back in this regard.
§ Mr. Simeons
On the subject of compulsion, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that this House gave permission for vasectomies to take place? However, that permission will not be universally applied.
§ Mr. Thomas
I hope that the hon. Member for Luton is not too worried about that subject. However, there is a world of difference between the Government and the Opposition when it comes to public services like water. We regard water in much the same way as we regard the health service, education, and so on. They are not services for which people pay when they use them and all members of the community derive the same benefits.
The Government fought the General Election on the promise of a better tomorrow. We are seeing more and more what that better tomorrow is like. If the Secretary of State gets his way not only will every house have its electricity meter and its gas meter. It will also have its water meter. Not only will it have its electricity board and gas board inspectors; it will have its water board inspector. As some of my hon. Friends have pointed out, water board officials will have power to enter premises whether people are present or no. I can imagine the storm from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite if a Labour Government had introduced a measure giving the right to bureaucrats to enter people's homes at will.
The Government also show their ideology in the way in which they have protected the private water companies. Everyone knows that the companies are not there because of a sense of public service. Everyone knows that they are interested in profit. They would not be there otherwise. Once again the Government have sold out to those who back them.
I turn now to deal with Welsh interests in this Bill. I am surprised that the Secretary of State for Wales has not yet realised his obligations to Wales and to 142 this House. He failed to make a statement to this House when the then Secretary of State for the Environment made a statement and was pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick), rather innocently I thought, who asked:When shall we have an opportunity of questioning the Secretary of State for Wales?The Minister—the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker)—replied:That is a matter for the Secretary of State for Wales but the information will, of course, be made available.The only trouble was that we could not find the Secretary of State for Wales. He made his statement not to this House but to the Press. There is a growing tendency on the part of this Government to feel that they can ignore the House and resort to making statements outside.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) ——
§ Mr. Peter Thomasrose— —
§ Mr. George Thomas
I will not give way to the Secretary of State tonight. We might as well understand that at the beginning. I will tell the House and Wales why. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should have been replying to this debate. Instead, we had that pitiful little intervention by his Man Friday, the Minister of State, who contributed nothing to the debate. The Secretary of State for Wales knows that in the measure before the House we are dealing with one of the most controversial issues in Wales, and he has elected not to take part in the debate.
§ Mr. Peter Thomasrose——
§ Mr. George Thomas
I will not give way. We have already had three Government Front Bench speakers tonight. We are entitled to our full time if I am to do justice to my arguments and to sit down in time for the Minister's reply.
§ Mr. Peter Thomasrose——
§ Mr. George Thomas
I am not giving way.
143 My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd asked the then Secretary of State for the Environment if he would try to ensure that his right hon. and learned Friend would come to the House and answer questions. The right hon. Gentleman replied:I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunity for the proposals of my right hon. and learned Friend on this topic to be debated in the Welsh Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December 1971; Vol. 827, c. 682–8.]If there is one Committee which it is difficult to get the Secretary of State for Wales to attend, it is the Welsh Grand Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not true."] Of course it is true.
§ Mr. Peter Thomasrose——
§ Mr. George Thomas
No. Normally I should have no hesitation in giving way, but the Secretary of State has elected not to address the House on this matter. He put up the Minister of State. I say no more than that.
The House will know that Wales has suffered great divisions over the supply of reservoirs. Every valley in Wales has a history of which our people are proud. Great feeling is aroused if it is only a little wayside chapel that has to be flooded. However, there are people in Wales who, for political purposes, are willing to exploit the emotions of our people. The Secretary of State knows as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) and I that in Wales water is a highly emotive issue. So the question of water boards and their relations with the Welsh people are of first importance to us.
The Minister of State in his brief interruption, said—and said with such pride, since he has been unable to say it for so long—that the Government have kept their promise of a water board for Wales. He was then thrown into the reservoir by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hopson), who was quick to remind him that under the Bill an important part of the water supplying area in Wales is not controlled by the Welsh authority, but by that enormous, elephantine body, the Severn-Trent Water Authority, reaching from Gloucestershire to the North Sea, with its headquarters at Notting- 144 ham. When the hon. and learned Gentleman pressed the Minister about the responsibilities of the Secretary of State in this regard the hon. Gentleman replied, "Of course my right hon. and learned Friend is responsible for the decisions that will be taken by the Severn-Trent Water Authority".
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would not paraphrase my speech but would, instead, look at what I said in HANSARD tomorrow. The right hon. Gentleman has made a bad speech so far, and I hope that it will be better from now on.
§ Mr. Thomas
The Minister of State must not speak to me in the way that he speaks to his tenants in Radnorshire. He is dealing with somebody else here. It is no good his bringing his old squire attitude to the House of Commons. We all heard the hon. Gentleman's speech. He said that of course the Severn-Trent Authority would have to consult the Welsh National Water Development Authority. Why cannot the shoe be on the other foot The Severn-Trent Authority is an enormous body. Why cannot we give the Welsh National Water Development Authority the obligation to consult the Severn-Trent Water Authority whenever vital decisions are at stake? We shall put forward this proposal in Committee, though I doubt whether we shall see the Secretary of State for Wales there. I have never yet seen him in a Committee, except the Welsh Grand Committee.
In his Press notice the Minister said—[Interruption.] The public school manners of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) do not reflect credit upon himself or his party. He said in his statement:The Welsh authority will be obliged to prepare all plans for utilising water space in Wales and any land associated with it. The Welsh authority will be able to acquire land.Every hon. Member who carries responsibility for a Welsh constituency knows that when land is taken for reservoirs there is a tremendous upheaval, and now the Government are planning to give a nonelected body the right to get this land. Does not the Minister think that he is making a rod for his back? Does he think that this will satisfy the Welsh people?
145 We believe in a Welsh water authority that is responsible to the Welsh people. We believe that it ought to be an elected authority. We have made this clear. The Government say that we should wait for Crowther, but that is one thing that the Secretary of State has refused to do with regard to local government and Health Service reforms. If the Secretary of State were to go ahead and provide us with an elected water authority for Wales and later found that it was necessary to amend that because of what Crowther said, there would be nothing to stop him from introducing the necessary amending legislation in the House.
The truth is that the Minister is taking power away from the Welsh people. He is transferring it to the bureaucrats, and this new water authority will be unrepresentative and, therefore, untrusted. It will be remote from our people. We were all worried—certainly I was worried—about the proposal for these large authorities in Wales. We are creating large authorities which are remote from ordinary people. But now, with this regional board, non-elected wherever it meets, the man in the street will not stand a chance with his representations, and my guess is that neither will local authorities.
We believe in a national water grid. There is no reason why the elected Welsh water authority should not sell the water to the national grid. We have complained all along about metering for domestic purposes. All I want to know is whether the Secretary of State for Wales will make one of his visits to Wales to tell us that he wants to see a water meter in every house, and that that is his idea of a Tory way. That would be the last that we should hear of him. The tap would be turned off then.
§ Mr. Peter Thomasrose—
§ Mr. George Thomas
No. The Secretary of State has thrown away his opportunity to speak here tonight.
Wales is treated on a basis quite different from that for England in this measure. The Water Space Amenity Commission does not apply in Wales because the regional board is to have the powers in Wales, unlike regional boards covering larger areas in England. We have no provision for a consumer council in 146 Wales, and we have been given by the Minister of State tonight an assurance that the majority of our regional board will be members of local authorities. I hope that I did not do the hon. Gentleman an injustice, but I think that that was the assurance he gave. But the Secretary of State will be the person who will select them all.
There is a threat to local government and to our democratic system in the Goverment's approach to the problem of the conservation and use of our resources. In this winding-up speech I have not dealt with the question of land drainage or sewage, but on sewage, the arguments are identical to those we have produced about water.
I want to say something about the costs. The hon. Member for the City of Chester reminds us that there is a £50 million assistance from the Treasury for sewage works now under way to help local authorities. We are told in the Bill that all costs of sewage will now have to be met by charges. Is this another example of the Government's transferring their burden from the Exchequer to the ratepayers? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] The ratepayers have had a raw deal from the Government.
In Committee we shall ensure, as far as we can, that this measure is amended, and that we bring a greater degree of democratisation into it. As best we can, we shall try to protect ratepayers and domestic consumers from the attack which the Bill makes upon them. We shall go into the Lobby tonight against this measure because it is anathema to us
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)
Before seeking to reply to the debate, Mr. Speaker, may I say that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development would normally be replying. He has taken a very considerable interest in this Bill, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) will be glad to know that he expects to serve on the Committee which will be dealing with the Bill.
I know that I carry both sides of the House with me when I say that I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), 147 who has taken a very special interest in land drainage and whose representations had considerable effect, is not able to be here tonight owing to illness, and I am sure the House will wish him a very quick return.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The debate has been characterised by a lucid and forward-looking exposition of a great and necessary reform by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State—a reform which is complementary to that of local government and also of the reorganisation of the health service. The reorganisation of the water services, along with that of local government and the health service, adds up to a third pillar in the modernisation of the machinery of government and administration in this country.
The debate has also been characterised by the very clear statement by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) that the Labour Party's solution to the problem of giving local authorities more control and to leaving more of the management of water in the hands of Wales is to nationalise the lot and take it away from them all, to be run by a nationalised United Kingdom board. No doubt this matter will be debated in great detail, but I am sure it is helpful to my hon. Friends to know that the Opposition's solution to the problem is to nationalise the lot.
Thirdly, the debate has been characterised by a number of points of well-informed comment and criticism from my hon. Friends and others on the benches opposite. They have dealt with the size and scale of the new water authorities. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) had some doubts about the size of the Anglian regional water authority, and I think the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) was concerned about the possible remoteness. He spoke of consumers being confronted by the need to telephone Leviathan. Then, too, a number of hon. Members have spoken on the subject of local authority involvement and the proportions that local authorities will have on the new water boards. 148 There have been a number of very good speeches about the importance of the Water Resources Board. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hopson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) spoke of that, as, indeed, did a number of others.
There have been some useful speeches, including a particularly valuable one from my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) on the question of financing and future charging policy. There have been a number of quite surprising revelations. For example, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Sir F. Corfield) told us how he pumped water for his hip bath during his early life. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Lena Jeger), whose report I was pleased to receive, told us of her expedition to examine the vacuum toilets of the Swedish navy, and I have no doubt that the House learned a great deal from that. I will see that the Boat Show is made aware next year of her researches, in case any persons in this country feel the need to take advantage of them. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester gave us a very intimate description of how he brushed his teeth and thereby used rather more water than he had intended.
However, this is a serious debate and therefore I want to deal with two essential aspects of the Government's policy. The first is that the future supply of water in this country gives rise to serious concern. We have plenty of rain, but most of it falls in the north and the west, while demand for water is growing in the Midlands, East Anglia and the South. As a result, some areas of this country are already facing potential water shortages, and a prolonged dry spell could leave some parts short of good water to drink. The basic reason is the rapidly rising demand. At present we consume about 50 gallons of water per person per day, about half for industry and half for domestic purposes. Within 20 years that will increase to about 100 gallons per person per day. The increase in demand reflects higher standards of living, with such things as more baths and more cars. It also represents the fact that modern industry uses 149 much more water, for example in chemicals, paper making and steel, and it is important here to look for greater economies in the use of water, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South.
The present reliable yield available to water undertakers is about 18 million cubic metres per day. The estimated demand within 20 to 25 years is 28 million cubic metres per day, leaving a gap of almost 10 million cubic metres per day which needs to be provided from other sources. That presents us with a serious problem that needs to be overcome. There are various approaches to the problem. We could build more reservoirs. They are unpopular in many parts of the country—not least in East Anglia and Wales—but they are necessary from time to time. The new provisions of the Land Compensation Bill, now in its Committee stage, will materially help.
Another approach is to provide for more estuarine storage. Here we are making good progress in studies of the possibilities of Morecambe Bay, the Dee and the Wash. No doubt the Secretary of State will find appropriate opportunities to make announcements when the time comes. We could also go in for large new groundwater schemes, such as that now envisaged in Berkshire by the Thames Conservancy. It is also possible that at some stage, though probably in the distant future, desalination will make a contribution.
Yet by far the most important contribution to our future water supply must come from the rivers; the rivers which can be used several times throughout the course of their length; the rivers where it is possible to augment the flow in the dry season from one source and then from another source at a different period of the year; the rivers which in this country must no longer be treated as drains and sewers but as regional water mains, capable of transporting large volumes of water over long distances from the sources of supply to the main areas of demand; and the rivers which are also capable, provided that they are not abused, of purifying and restoring the quality of their water for drinking purposes as they go along. The great virtue of rivers, endorsed within the Bill and by 150 a succession of Acts, is such that we must now make a policy of cleaning them and using them more effectively for water supply the centrepiece of any national water structure.
Already one-third of all the water we consume is taken from rivers which at one stage or another have already received large quantities of sewage and industrial effluent. This proportion is certain to increase. That is why the first leg of the policy the Bill embraces is to bring together and to plan together all the aspects of water conservation and supply, sewerage and sewage disposal, the prevention of pollution, fisheries, and land drainage and reclamation. I believe that that is the right policy.
At present 1,500 separate authorities are engaged in the task. I do not criticise what has gone before. On the contrary, almost all our water and sewerage services have been well managed. But I doubt whether we can cope with tomorrow's demand on the present basis.
I offer the House just two examples, beginning with water supply undertakers. Those who have to provide the water for our homes have an absolute duty under the law to provide all the water that people in industry need. Yet the river authorities upon which, in many cases, they have to rely have no absolute duty to grant them the licences to abstract.
Secondly, the river authorities have a statutory duty to keep the rivers clean, yet in many of their areas they have in practice only a very limited ability to control the nature and volume of the filth that various dischargers, both local authorities and industries, are putting into those rivers. It is not possible to clean rivers in the way that we shall need unless these various controls and agencies are brought much closer together.
That is the first fundamental reason for the proposed reorganisation. It is the reason for all-purpose authorities, which are at the heart of the Bill.
The second main leg is that we have reached the conclusion, after a great deal of study, that it is necessary to have authorities not only all-purpose but stretching over wider areas. The essential reason is that the rain does not fall, the rivers do not flow, and the water-bearing beds were not laid down, on the basis of any 151 local authority or other man-made boundary. Hydrological and geological realities, much more than political or administrative frontiers, need to form the basis of our water planning. I know that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South, who has studied the matter, will agree.
Moreover, the time is coming—it has already arrived in many parts of the country—when we shall need to move more and more of our water over long distances, crossing the frontiers of dozens of local authorities. We have already seen this in the Ely-Ouse scheme, which was comparatively easy because it crossed only one or two local boards and local authority boundaries. But I do not doubt that before long we shall need to plan the supply of water to London, for example, in terms not only of what is available in the Metropolitan Water Board area but of the water supply situation in the Cotswolds, the Chilterns and beyond.
In short, we must organise supply over a wider area, having regard to hydrology and geology and not simply to political and administrative boundaries. Therefore, I believe that the case is made out not only for the all-purpose organisation but for the regional authorities.
I come to the points made in the debate.
§ Mr. Spearingrose——
§ Mr. Griffiths
I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's point.
The hon. Member for Small Heath said that the Government's proposals did not have a friend in the world. But among the engineers and chemists who have sent us their support are the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Water Engineers, the Institute for Water Pollution Control, the Society of Chemical Industry and the Society for Water Treatment and Examination. Those are the technical people who support the Bill.
I come now to the administrators: The Society of Clerks and Treasurers of the Water Authorities, the Association of River Authorities, the Confederation of British Industry, the Central Electricity Generating Board, the trade unions, including the National Union of Water- 152 works Employees, and the Association of Waterworks Officers.
§ Mr. Denis Howellrose——
§ Mr. Griffiths
And now I turn to the environmental bodies. There is the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution—that is no small beer—the Committee for Environmental Conservation, which is the body that speaks for all the main conservation and environmental organisations in the country, the National Anglers' Council, the National Federation of Anglers and the Salmon Trout Association. If that is not to have a friend in the world, it is a position I occupy with some satisfaction.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I think that the Arch-druid of Wales spoke just now. I know that he will hate me to say this in view of the seriousness of his speech, but he made what any Archdruid would have regarded as a singularly pagan speech.
I turn now to the geography of the regions. A number of hon. Members have made the point that the regional water authorities cover a wide area. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire was concerned about the size of the Anglian authority. There have been a number of speeches on the general size of the Severn and Trent authority. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill) was concerned about the problems of Norfolk and whether they would be properly dealt with in so large a regional water authority.
The lines on the map are essentially hydrological. They are based on technical considerations and very wide consultations. I hope that the House will not approach them on a purely administrative and political basis. I think that my right hon. and learned Friend will agree that we can in committee look if need be at all the lines on the map. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend would not wish to stand in the way of any adjustments or amendments of the frontiers that make sense, so long as they are judged on wider grounds and not on only political and administrative grounds.
153 Hon. Members have asked why the Secretary of State should appoint the chairmen of the water authorities. It is possible to argue that question in many ways. The Central Advisory Water Committee's report on the whole favoured appointment by the Secretary of State. The reason is that the Bill lays upon my right hon. and learned Friend the obligation to work out and implement a national water policy. As the new regional water authorities will be crucial agents in carrying through what essentially is a national water policy, it is right that the Secretary of State should make the appointments.
The hon. Member for Durham, North West (Mr. Armstrong), my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) and the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) spoke about the water situation in the North-East. I cannot for a moment accept the assertion of the hon. Member for Durham, North-West that the decision by my right hon. and learned Friend to obtain more information before making any final decision about Kielder was, in any sense, as he put it, scandalous. It cannot be regarded as improper that my right hon. and learned Friend should want to place himself in possession of all the relevant evidence and to look at all the possible alternatives before he makes what is, after all, when a valley is flooded, an irrevocable decision.
My right hon. and learned Friend is well aware of the evidence. He will consider all the alternatives and he will make, as the House expects, an impartial and objective decision.
The hon. Member for Holborn & St. Pancras, South was concerned, and I understand her concern, that the recommendations of the report "Taken for Granted" have not been able to be implemented.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
May I have clear confirmation that the final issue about the future of the Kielder reservoir is not yet settled?
§ Mr. Griffiths
My right hon. and learned Friend will make his decision on that as soon as possible. But I must press on now because a number of other hon. Members have raised points which require answer.
154 I again congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South, as others have done, on her excellent report. She is disappointed that the Bill does not contain the pollution clauses to implement her recommendations. I share her disappointment. The clauses were drafted but I think that she will recognise that parliamentary time is limited. My right hon. and learned Friend has said that he hopes there will be opportunity in this Parliament for an environmental protection Bill to deal with the recommendations which she and others have made.
It may help her if I tell her that we have it in mind to bring before the House proposals to insist on information being published relating to discharges or applications for consents; to take action to protect underground water; to prevent accidental pollution, giving powers to the regional water authorities to take the necessary action; to bring under full control the discharge of public effluent into public sewers; to control discharges of water raised from working mines; and to control very tightly pollution from boats, particularly from sanitary appliances, and also to prepare for increases in the penalties for pollution offences. When time permits, we shall bring these proposals before the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester was concerned about the transitional period and how in practice this reorganisation will be implemented. I assure him that there will be no sudden change overnight, dislocating all the arrangements or, indeed, producing any hiatus. It is our intention, if Parliament approves, to set up the regional water authorities in shadow form by the middle of this year, and in this way their chairmen-designate will be able to help in preparations for the full-scale transfer in 1974, thus ensuring that there will be no disruption or lack of continuity.
In this connection, as my hon. Friend knows, we have set up provisional management units for all three of the services —water supply, sewerage and sewage disposal, and river management. For water supply, we have proposed, with the full support of the British Waterworks Association, that the provisional management units should, broadly speaking, be the existing statutory water undertakings. 155 Similar arrangements have been made in connection with the river managements —that is to say, the existing river authorities will continue to provide in the transitional period the provisional management units.
The area of greatest change will, of course, arise in sewerage and sewage disposal. The House will know, and I believe welcome, my right hon. and learned Friend's acceptance that the local authorities should continue to handle sewerage in their areas at the district council level within the overall strategy of the regional water authorities. We have set up a provisional working arrangement whereby something like 80 or so large and strong provisional management units will be operating on the sewage front. We have invited local authorities to join us in the steering committees, and although it is true that for some time the local authorities were unwilling and not happy, I am glad to say that they have now agreed to join in so that progress can be made along this front with all the others.
But I agree that the heart of the matter is the staff, and I assure the House that the Water Services Staff Advisory Committee, whose chairman is Sir Patrick McCall, former Clerk to Lancashire County Council, is starting work and is looking after staff interests all the way. We have gone to considerable lengths to ensure that this staff committee is broadly based. Lord Cooper, the former General Secretary of the General and Municipal Workers' Union, Dr. Millis, formerly director of the British Waterworks Association, the former Town Clerk of Birmingham, and the Chairman of the Central Flintshire Water Board are helping to make up this group, and I hope that their names demonstrate that the charge by the hon. Member for Small Heath that the Secretary of State is packing these authorities is not borne out by the facts.
I come now to the question of recreation. Without doubt, we need to make greater provision for people to enjoy the water space. About 5 million people regularly engage in water-based sports and leisure activities, and the time has come when we must say to all water undertakers not that they "may" but that they "shall" open their water space for the benefit of those who wish to use it for sports of all kinds. This is why 156 we are setting up, under the aegis of the National Water Council a Water Space Amenity Commission which will advise the Secretary of State and the water authorities on the performance of their statutory duties relating to the recreational and amenity use of water. It will consist of a chairman and members appointed by the Secretary of State, and I am glad to tell my hon. Friends that we shall make sure that angling interests are effectively represented upon that body.
I come now to the Water Resources Board——
§ Sir Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
My hon. Friend has not said anything about the commercial potential of the canals.
§ Mr. Griffiths
With respect, the canals do not come under the Bill. Perhaps we can deal with that on another occasion.
I had just referred to the Water Resources Board. I pay tribute, as other hon. Members have done, to the admirable work performed over the years by the Water Resources Board, by its chairman and its dedicated staff. One of my hon. Friends said that it was wise to invest in success. It is the very success of the Water Resources Board which has led us to the conclusion that rather different arrangements are needed.
The need for the water resources board arose from there being about 200 statutory water undertakers and 29 river authorities. Reorganisation will reduce their number to a much smaller group of all-purpose authorities. What we intend to achieve is that the planning side of the Water Resources Board will be kept, along with other planning agencies, as an independent source of advice to the Secretary of State and the National Water Council.
On the research side, we shall ensure that from the Water Pollution Research Laboratory, from the Water Research Association and from the Water Resources Board there is a facility by which the best methods of research are made available to the industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) spoke about London. Much as I sympathise with the views of the Greater London Council and of the London boroughs, I must remind my hon. 157 Friend that London local authorities have never been responsible for the whole of the Thames. They are not responsible for the Thames Conservancy. They are not responsible for the tidal river in so far as the Port of London Authority is the body concerned with pollution. It is just not true that some regional control of water is now to be taken from London. The Greater London Council will continue to be the land drainage authority in the Excluded Area, to be responsible for the Thames tidal barrier, and it will have a substantial proportion of the local authority membership on the new Thames Water Authority.
§ The Opposition by their speeches, with the exception of those from the Front Bench, have shown a good deal of understanding of this complex and difficult problem, but by their vote tonight they will demonstrate that, whenever a proposal for a modern and forward looking move is made, they are against it, as they are on this occasion. I commend the Bill to the House as good for the water industry and for the country as a whole.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 220, Noes 210.161
|Division No. 48.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Fisher, Nigel (Surblton)||Luce, R. N.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Fookes, Miss Janet||MacArthur, Ian|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Fortescue, Tim||McCrindle, R. A.|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Fry, Peter||McLaren, Martin|
|Astor, John||Gardner, Edward||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Gibson-Watt, David||McMaster, Stanley|
|Awdry, Daniel||Goodhart, Philip||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Maurice (Farnham)|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Goodhew, Victor||McNair-Wilson, Michael|
|Balniel, Rt. Hn. Lord||Gower, Raymond||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||Maddan, Martin|
|Benyon, W.||Gray, Hamish||Marten, Neil|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Green, Alan||Mather, Carol|
|Biffen, John||Grieve, Percy||Mawby, Ray|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Maxweli-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Blaker, Peter||Grylls, Michael||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Body, Richard||Gummer, J. Selwyn||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Gurden, Harold||Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire,W)|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Bowden, Andrew||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Moate, Roger|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Monks, Mrs. Connie|
|Bray, Ronald||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Monro, Hector|
|Brewis, John||Haselhurst, Alan||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Hastings, Stephen||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Havers, Sir Michael||Morrison, Charles|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hawkins, Paul||Mudd, David|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Murton, Oscar|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M)||Hicks, Robert||Nabarro, Sir Gerald|
|Buck, Antony||Hiley, Joseph||Neave, Airey|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn. G.(Moray&Nairn)||Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Nott, John|
|Carlisle, Mark||Holland, Philip||Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Holt, Miss Mary||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Channon, Paul||Hordern, Peter||Osborn John|
|Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Hornby, Richard||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)|
|Clegg, Walter||Howell, David (Guildford)||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Cockeram, Eric||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Coombs, Derek||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Peel, Sir John|
|Cooper, A. E.||Iremonger, T. L.||Percival, Ian|
|Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick||James, David||Peyton, Rt. Hn. John|
|Cormack, Patrick||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Costain, A. P.||Jessel, Toby||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.|
|Critchley, Julian||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Crouch, David||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Kershaw, Anthony||Raison, Timothy|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen.Jack||Kimball, Marcus||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Dean, Paul||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Dixon, Piers||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)|
|Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas||Kirk, Peter||Rees, Peter (Dover)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Kitson, Timothy||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Knox, David||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Emery, Peter||Lamont, Norman||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Eyre, Reginald||Lane, David||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey|
|Farr, John||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Fell, Anthony||Le Marchant, Spencer||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Fidler, Michael||Longden, Sir Gilbert||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)||Loveridge, John||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Scott, Nicholas||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Scott-Hopkins, James||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)||Walters, Dennis|
|Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)||Tebbit, Norman||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Shelton, William (Clapham)||Temple, John M.||Warren, Kenneth|
|Shersby, Michael||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Simeons, Charles||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Sinclair, Sir George||Tilney, John||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Trafford, Dr. Anthony||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)||Trew, Peter||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Soref, Harold||Tugendhat, Christopher||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Spence, John||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Sproat, Iain||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard||Worsley, Marcus|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Stodart-Scott, Col. Sir M.||Waddington, David||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Stuttaford, Dr. Tom||Walder, David (Clitheroe)||Mr. Kenneth Clarke and|
|Sutcliffe, John||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)||Mr. Marcus Fox.|
|Abse, Leo||Gilbert, Dr. John||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert|
|Allaun, Frank (Sallord, E.)||Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)||Mendelson, John|
|Allen, Scholefield||Golding, John||Mikardo, Ian|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Gourlay, Harry||Millan, Bruce|
|Ashley, Jack||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Ashton, Joe||Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||Milne, Edward|
|Atkinson, Norman||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Molloy, William|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Hardy, Peter||Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)|
|Bienkinsop, Arthur||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Booth, Albert||Hattersley, Roy||Oakes, Gordon|
|Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Heffer, Eric S.||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Broughton, Sir Alfred||Hooson, Emlyn||O'Malley, Brian|
|Brown, Robert C.(N'c'tle-u-Tyne, W.)||Horam, John||Orbach, Maurice|
|Brown, Ronald(Shoreditch & F'bury)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Orme, Stanley|
|Buchan, Norman||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Oswald, Thomas|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Campbell, L (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Padley, Walter|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Paget, R. T.|
|Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield,||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Pardoe, John|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Hunter, Adam||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)||Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||John, Brynmor||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Coleman, Donald||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Pendry, Tom|
|Concannon, J. D.||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.|
|Conlan, Bernard||Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)||Prescott, John|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Cronin, John||Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)||Probert, Arthur|
|Dalyell, Tarn||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Kaufman, Gerald||Richard, Ivor|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Kerr, Russell||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Kinnock, Neil||Roberts, Rt.Hn.Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lamborn, Harry||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Lamond, James||Roderick,Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n&R'dnor)|
|Dempsey, James||Latham, Arthur||Roper, John|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lawson, George||Rose, Paul B.|
|Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Leonard, Dick||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Lestor, Miss Joan||Rowlands, Ted|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Dunn, James A.||Lipton, Marcus||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lomas, Kenneth||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Eadie, Alex||Loughlin, Charles||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)|
|Edeiman, Maurice||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Ellis, Tom||McBride, Neil||Sillars, James|
|Evans, Fred||McCartney, Hugh||Silverman, Julius|
|Faulds, Andrew||McElhone, Frank||Skinner, Dennis|
|Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.||Mackenzie, Gregor||Small, William|
|Fisher. Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood)||Mackie, John||Spearing, Nigel|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||McNamara, J. Kevin||Stallard, A. W.|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Steel, David|
|Foot, Michael||Marks, Kenneth||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)|
|Ford, Ben||Marquand, David||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|Forrester, John||Marsden, F.||Strang, Gavin|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Marshall, Dr. Edmund||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Freeson, Reginald||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Mayhew, Christopher||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Garrett, W. E.||Meacher, Michael||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Tinn, James||Weitzman, David||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Tope, Graham||Wellbeloved, James||Woof, Robert|
|Urwin, T. W.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Varley, Eric G.||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Wainwright, Edwin||Whitlock, William||Mr. Ernest Armstrong and|
|Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)||Mr. Joseph Harper.|
|Walker, Harold (Doncaster)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Wallace, George||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).