HC Deb 01 May 1973 vol 855 cc1151-4


Mr. Arthur Jones

I beg to move Amendment No. 20, in page 10, line 35, after 'may', insert 'not later than 1st November 1973,'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It will be convenient to discuss at the same time, if the House agrees, the following amendments:

No. 21, in page 10, line 42, leave out 'not exceeding three' and insert ' of five';

No. 22, in page 11, line 5, leave out 'a water authority and an existing or other' and insert 'within a period of two months beginning with the date on which the water authority sent to the local authority their requirement under the preceding subsection, that water authority and that'; No. 23, in page 11, line 11, at end insert— '(13) Not later than the second year of the period of an agreement under subsection (11) above and thereafter at yearly intervals the water authority and the local authority being parties to the agreement shall review the desirability of continuing in operation the arrangements under that agreement, with or without modification, for a further period of one year following the date currently appointed for the termination of such arrangements, and in the event of any disagreement between the water authority and the local authority the matter shall be referred to the Secretary of State for determination under subsection (12) above'.

Mr. Jones

I would link the Amendments in two pairs—Nos. 20 and 22, and Nos. 21 and 23.

Clause 6 (11) recognises the difficulty inherent in the timetable proposed for the reorganisation of the water and sewerage services, and the amendments are directed towards the programming of the work. I asked whether the new regional water authorities will be ready on 1st April next year to take over responsibilities being entrusted to them by the Bill and whether they will continue to need assistance from those sections of local government responsible for some of the services which are to be transferred. If the existing authorities and the new authorities are not forewarned of the regional water authorities' likely demands on them well in advance of 1st April next year, it may be that the work cannot be undertaken. The purpose of the date of 1st November 1973 is to provide a terminal date by which new regional authorities must make their requests to local authorities so that the latter may be able to make appropriate staffing arrangements.

The other point is different in character and relates to the inconvenience or even the unfairness which could be caused for the new local authorities, and perhaps more particularly for their staffs, as a result of the clause. I refer to the uncertainty about the future and the degree to which their services will be required in the future.

Clause 6 (11) mentions a period not exceeding three years from 1st April 1973. That is a period which does not offer much in the way of career prospects for staffs. One interpretation is that the period could be of shorter duration, but I wonder whether my right hon. Friend does not feel that it would be preferable to provide a certain period of five years. Surely this is a more reasonable period for local authority staffing arrangements. Mention is made in the amendment of an annual review so that there will be a continual period of five years security on the basis of a rolling programme.

Mr. Graham Page

May I deal with Amendments Nos. 20 and 22 together first because they go together. It would be acceptable to have some form of time limit in the Bill, but it is not clear to me that 1st November 1973 is the right date for the purpose. I admit that it is the date prescribed by the Bill for the sending out by water authorities of draft orders for sewerage under Clause 15 and by statutory water companies under Clause 11. But that was criticised in Committee. I defended it then, for the time being at least, by pointing out that these arrangements were likely to be in a stereotyped form.

The arrangements under Clause 6(11) are likely to be extremely varied and a later date may be appropriate. Nor is this necessarily unreasonable from the local authorities' point of view. A typical case covered by the subsection will be one in which it is reasonable to continue to make full use of existing administrative machinery, for example revenue and rate collection, which a local authority would in any case be retaining for that purpose.

I should like to assure the House that I will consider the introduction of a time limit and at a later stage in the Bill, when we see how the Bill is progressing and when we know what time is left for us to deal with these matters, will give further consideration to the best date for that purpose. The question of prescribing the fixed period for reaching agreement can be covered at the same time. I apologise for not being firm on these issues, but they are points which we can assess only when we get to the stage of knowing when the Bill is likely to get the Royal Assent and when we know how long we have to deal with these matters.

On the other pair of amendments, Nos. 21 and 23, I would be happy to see the House accept Amendment No. 21, which is an extension of the three years to five.

I appreciate that it might be difficult for local authorities to retain staff to service this kind of assistance if the period during which it is required is as short as three years. As the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) will remember, there would be advantages if the initial period for the arrangements were in line with that laid down for the traditional working arrangements under the Local Government Act 1972. This would tie things up and it would be an improvement.

I am doubtful about Amendment No. 23. It is a question of reviewing the arrangements every year. I am not sure that this would give the proper stability for the transitional period. We do not want to pull the thing up by the roots to see how it is growing. It might be that this would defeat the purpose of the first amendment which I would like the House to accept. I would have to resist Amendment No. 23.

Mr. Arthur Jones

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, particularly for accepting one of the amendments. Accordingly I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made:

No 21, in page 10, line 42, leave out 'not exceeding three' and insert 'of five'. —[Mr. Arthur Jones.]

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