HC Deb 14 November 1973 vol 864 cc607-28

8.47 p.m.

Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

This debate takes place against a background of concern, anxiety and misgivings in the city of Manchester about the composition of the North West Water Authority.

The exclusion of the Manchester District Council from direct representation on the North West Water Authority is a gratuitous snub to a great city and to distinguished elected representatives and ratepayers of all political persuasions in the city, who have contributed so much time, ability, experience and cash to creating the acknowledged impressive and efficient Manchester water undertaking which, as the Minister well knows, will be transferred to the North West Water Authority from 1st April 1974.

It is perhaps worth while recalling that the Manchester water undertaking at present supplies water to a population of 1,240,000 in the areas of 27 local authorities, and that the city of Manchester has a population of 531,270 out of a total population of 7 million in the area of the North West Water Authority. Yet not one member of the 27-strong North West Water Authority now created is resident in the city of Manchester, or indeed in the detailed area to which the city currently supplies water. It is situations such as this which make people cynical of Ministers and Secretaries of State who talk glibly of community participation in the democratic processes. Manchester's water and sewage works and installations, valued at more than £200 million, are to be handed over to the North West Water Authority without Mancunians having any say in their future use.

The Chairman of the North West Water Authority, in what I felt, taking the most charitable view, was a smug, complacent and misleading letter to the editor of the Manchester Evening News on 18th October of this year, replied to the controversy now surrounding this issue in Manchester by conceding that Manchester would not be represented on the new authority. But he argued that neither would the cities of Carlisle and Liverpool and the county of Cumberland. He omitted to explain that he and a Mr. Fleming Smith, appointed by the Secretary of State, live in Carlisle, that a Mr. Jones, appointed by the Minister, and Sir William Sefton, quite properly elected by the Merseyside Metropolitan County Council, are resident in Liverpool, and that a number of members of the authority have their homes in the area of the Cumberland County Council; yet not one member of the new authority lives in Manchester.

The Chairman, Mr. Liddell, ended his missive to the Manchester Evening News by making a veiled reference to what he termed "Mancunian parochialism". I submit that that is an unworthy charge to level against a city whose ratepayers have contributed so much financial support to the building of the Manchester water undertaking.

I remind Mr. Liddell, the Minister and this House that it was not parochialism which built the series of impounding reservoirs at Longdendale in the Peak District National Park between 1847 and the end of the nineteenth century, or the building of the Thirlmere reservoir which was opened in 1894, or the Haweswater Aquaduct in 1940. It was not parochialism which prompted Manchester Corporation's waterworks department to create the tremendously attractive amenity and conservation areas in the Lake District and the afforestation schemes which it has created.

Longdendale, Thirlmere, Haweswater, Swindale, Ullswater, and Windermere are names which have special significance for the Palace of Westminster. The parliamentary battles over Manchester's Acts of Parliament designed to extend its water gathering grounds in the Lake District are almost legendary. But perhaps it is even more significant to remember some of the organisations which fought Manchester's plans for improving the North-West's water resources.

In 1961 Manchester's opponents to its Ullswater and Bannersdale proposals included the Lancashire River Board, the Cumberland River Board, the Lake District Planning Board, the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union. In 1965, in connection with the Ullswater-Windermere scheme, among Manchester's opponents were the Lake District Planning Board and the North Lonsdale Rural District Council. In 1973, in connection with the Shap Aquaduct legislation, Manchester was opposed again by the National Farmers Union and the Lake District Planning Board.

If we carefully examine the background of the individuals now appointed and elected to the North West Water Authority, we find members associated with all these organisations on the new authority—a classic case of Manchester's water undertaking being delivered into the hands of its traditional enemies.

One may well ask: how did this situation happen, and how can it be put right? The two seats on the North West Water Authority elected by the Manchester metropolitan district councils—the temporary Joint Co-ordinating Committee—were determined in the main by smaller authorities on the periphery of the city who manifested an understandable anti "big-brother" Manchester attitude, while the Minister and the Secretary of State made their nominations known before the elections took place.

This evening the Minister has the opportunity to put this injustice right. He has the power under Clause 3(9) of the Water Act 1973 to vary the membership of any regional water authority. Let him use it and give Manchester at least one voice on the new authority.

The present distinguished chairman of Manchester Corporation waterworks committee is not standing for election to the Manchester district councils and, therefore, I submit that the Minister might usefully consider him for nomination to the authority. Furthermore, the former Lord Mayor of Manchester, Alderman Grant, who stood for election to the Manchester district council seat, is yet another able and distinguished representative. Equally, there are other politicians on the city council who have served the city's water undertaking and the North-West with distinction.

I ask the Minister to consider the composition of the North West Water Authority and to give Manchester the justice which so far it has manifestly been denied. Water rates will no doubt inevitably arise under the new authority. I submit that it is not unreasonable for Manchester ratepayers to demand no further taxation without representation.

8.59 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

I shall be brief because my hon. Friend for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris) has covered most of the points. An unfortunate situation has arisen, a situation which, I am sure, the Secretary of State did not anticipate when he made his nominations to the new water authority. What has happened is that there is not a single resident from the area involved, an area with a population of over 1 million, serving on the authority, and this is a great pity. I certainly do not think the Secretary of State anticipated that this would happen.

Manchester waterworks at present supplies an area larger than the city itself. I am sure that the Secretary of State presumed that the district councils would elect one of the Manchester representatives with very long experience in handling a large water authority, but this has not happened. Inevitably at this stage in local government reorganisation there is some ganging up on what some of the smaller authorities regard as Big Brother. It is a pity, but it is so. I hope that it will die down. I accept that some of these authorities had their own water undertakings before and that others did not. Part of my constituency is situated in the city of Manchester and part outside, so I know the feelings of both sides on this matter. However, the situation remains that the largest water authority did not receive any representation.

I am concerned about the great deal of valuable experience that has been lost to the water authority. Councillors who have been members not only of Manchester's waterworks committee, but of its Rivers Committee, responsible for sewage disposal, have great experience—I say this with due modesty—of one of the world's great water authorities which has provided a good, cheap supply of water for many years. Its pioneering and imaginative projects, not only in water supply but in sewage disposal, have drawn the attention of people all over the world. Any one who has visited the Lakes, or the reservoirs in Derbyshire or Cheshire or within the city, has been tremendously impressed. Recently I met members of the Copenhagen city council who came specifically to see Manchester's water and sewage disposal plants. They were deeply impressed. Almost monthly Manchester has visitors from many parts of the world coming to see what it has done.

To put those schemes in operation over the past 100 years has meant having not only good officers to devise the schemes but councillors prepared and not afraid to make decisions, without a vested interest in a particular aspect of water authority work, wanting only to ensure adequate water supplies and sewage disposal for this huge industrial area.

This heavily populated area, with its record in water supply and sewage disposal, has no representative on this 27-strong water authority. The solution lies with the Secretary of State. He is able to make an additional nomination, or, at least, to assure us that he will seriously consider the points that have been put forward should a vacancy occur on the water authority. There is a geographical imbalance in the structure of the water authority. I hope that the Secretary of State will do something about it.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. Frank Hatton (Manchester, Exchange)

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris) has outlined fairly fully the grave disquiet in Manchester about its not having a representative on the new water authority.

As a former member of the Manchester City Council for 20 years and an elected member of the new Manchester district council I am gravely concerned about the effects of local government reorganisation, particularly in the North-West. We have here another example of democracy going out of the window.

The Manchester water undertaking, as my hon. Friends the Members for Openshaw and Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) have pointed out, has been built by the elected representatives of all parties who, when elections came along, could have been dismissed.

Within local government Manchester has been responsible for much of the pace-making which has gone on in our big cities and major counties, and it can be proud of its record. If we were drawing up a list of first-rate municipal enterprises the Manchester water undertaking would rank highly.

It was built by the elected representatives of the people, but after 1st April there will be a very different situation. Consumers in the area, when they take their queries to, or want to discuss some aspect of the undertaking with, those in authority will find themselves talking to appointees whose policy, even if they disagree with it, will be very much that of the Secretary of State. That is an undemocratic road.

I have never served on the Manchester waterworks committee but I have a very good knowledge of the ability of those who have run it. They have made an outstanding contribution to local government in the North-West. As my hon. Friends have pointed out, the water undertaking has gone far beyond the boundaries of the city of Manchester. Indeed, it has really been a regional water supplier for south-west Lancashire and north Cheshire.

It has been argued that Mr. Harrison, the engineer and manager of the Manchester waterworks undertaking and a very distinguished local government officer, will hold the chief appointment in the new authority, but, with all respect to him, that is not the answer. The new undertaking should be in the hands of the representatives of the people. Of the 27 members of the new authority 13 will have been appointed by the Secretary of State.

The great Davyhulme sewage works in Manchester treats sewage for 12 other authorities in the area and disposes of sludge for 12 more within the conurbation. Both in water supply and in sewage disposal the Manchester undertaking has taken the initiative in many ways in exploring new methods of water supply and sludge disposal.

Manchester is handing over capital assets totalling about £100 million. It is my belief, as it is that of many of my fellow citizens, that Manchester has the right, in view of its record, to be represented on the new authority. I ask the Secretary of State to think again even at this late stage in view of the impressive record of the city of Manchester, and to make available to one of its representatives a place on the new authority.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

My interest in the subject arises from the other end of the wicket, namely, the Windermere, Ullswater and Thirlmere end, the area which supplies the schemes which the Manchester water authority has developed so well. I live in the North and use that area for my leisure as do many thousands of people. What strikes me most forcibly is that the Manchester water authority has managed to develop extensive schemes without marring the beauty of the Lake District. A traveller in that area can pass through it without noticing any of the buildings, such is the care that is taken in the landscaping so as not to mar the beauty of the countryside.

I have another interest. I said in Committee on the Local Government Bill I had many reservations about the Secretary of State's pronouncements on the setting up of the new water authorities. Many of us were unhappy then and still are unhappy about that. Arising from the discontent with the manner in which water authorities were set up, there has been a continuing controversy in Manchester and elsewhere. My area is now described as the new Cleveland County, a non-metropolitan county—and I am unhappy about that. The chairman of the planning authority who has long service in connection with water schemes was not content with the representation on the new water authority for that area. If for such a huge area representation by only one member caused him to get upset, how much more cause has Manchester to get upset when it has no representation at all?

Large sums of money have been involved in three water schemes which have come to my attention. As recently as May the Manchester authority was concerned with a large pumping station project at Windermere involving an estimated capital investment of £3,751,000. A few months previously the authority was concerned with the Watergate treatment works. The tender price for contract No. 1 involving control room instrumentation, filter equipment, chemical handling and feed equipment, valves and penstocks, wash water pumps and disposal was £2,939,000. That work involves the use of men of considerable ability and a great deal of expertise.

Only a few months before, in October 1971, we had the Ullswater scheme, involving not only pumping stocks and pumping mains but tunnelling work and complicated connecting equipment. A gauging station had to be built and other works had to be done. The total sum involved was about £2½ million.

We should not be arguing with the Minister about who should be on the committee. It should be accepted that it is folly for the North West authority to deprive itself of the services of men who have been associated with the most recent and updated schemes.

Mr. Robert Redmond (Bolton, West)

The hon. Gentleman is adducing a strong argument, but does he agree that the Manchester Corporation is far from democratic in its present attitude because it has decided to introduce fluoride into the water it supplies to people in Bolton who have decided strongly against fluoride? Therefore, councillors elected by and responsible only to the people of Manchester are taking decisions for people to whom they have no responsibility. Will the hon. Gentleman bear that in mind when he is talking about these great schemes?

Mr. Leadbitter

That is a problem for the new water authority, and—

Mr. Laurance Reed (Bolton, East)


Mr. Leadbitter

Be patient. I know that the question of fluoride is sensitive, but in my part of the country it is already in the natural water. I understand that God is an exceptionally democratic person, and the Manchester Corporation is a darned sight more democratic than what happened yesterday when democracy was slapped in the face by the Government declaring a state of emergency. When talking about democracy, we should bear in mind that, if we cannot be consistent about an argument, it is better for us to remain seated. That is a far more restful position.

The debate having been made rather interesting as a result of the intervention of the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Redmond), who rose with the best of intentions and sat down disappointed, I come to the crux of the theme I was developing. It is not a question of who should serve on the water board. If it is accepted that the Manchester Water Board has incurred a capital cost in less than three years of nearly £7 million in providing updated equipment such as pumping stations, gauging stations and distribution systems, and accepting, as one must, that the work cannot continue without a great deal of expertise and experience, is it right to deprive the North West Water Authority of that knowledge and experience? Is it not right that the Minister should call in aid the provisions of the Act and solve the problem without an argument? It can be done without displacing anyone.

Those who have considered the wider spectrum of the water boards throughout the country and the manner of their institution have seen, as it were, a kind of heart transplant operation carried out in local government reorganisation without much of a chance to debate it.

We feel that there might have been a lapse in objective thinking, and I have tried to draw the Minister's attention to it. Some of the people on these boards do not appear to have any experience at all. They are there because their faces fit. They are there because they know someone. It is akin to a kind of honours list. Those who do the work are forgotten, while those who push their names forward the extroverts in the business—get the honours. It is simply a fact of life. I have no quarrel with that, because we live in a real world. After all, we have government by default.

I repeat that we live in a real world, but let the Minister accept something to justify our having to tolerate it. Let him accept a good argument when it is put to him. He has a solution. He has the men in Manchester who are able to do the job. The Minister has the experience and the authority. He is the Minister in charge of sport. Let him tonight be a sport instead of making all those difficult little calculations, even though his car broke down on the way here.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. Laurence Reed (Bolton, East)

I do not represent any part of Manchester, but I do represent part of Bolton, which lies on the outskirts of that city and into which it will be drawn under the local government changes. Bolton is to be represented on the new regional water authority.

I have listened with some amazement—in fact, I have been almost dumbfounded—to the claims of hon. Gentlemen opposite that Manchester should be democratically represented on the new regional water authority. The essence of their case is that it is an important area with a lot of knowledge, and it has made such an important contribution to water development that it should be represented on that body.

I have listened with amazement to the case put by hon. Gentlemen opposite, in the knowledge that Manchester City Council has acted towards my constituency in a wholly undemocratic manner. I suggest that such behaviour does not enhance the city's case for democratic representation on the new regional water authority.

I am referring to the decision of the Manchester City Council to put fluoride in the water which it obtains from the Lake District and elsewhere. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may be unaware that five or six years ago a democratic process was gone through in my constituency. There was a referendum on this issue. Referenda are what hon. Gentlemen want to hold on other issues. The turnout was 85 per cent., rather more than at General Elections, and the vote went overwhelmingly against the introduction of fluoride.

A decision has now been taken by Manchester City Council, on which Bolton is not represented, to force its decision upon us, yet when I received a petition signed by 22,000 of my constituents and wished to present it to the Lord Mayor of Manchester he rejected it. He will not even receive it. He will not even do me hearing my constituents' case. That is not the common, elementary courtesy of democratic behaviour.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not seriously advancing the arguments about fluoridation against the background of the composition of the North-West Water Authority? Manchester's case for representation on the new authority stands on nearly 80 years of history of providing water resources for the population of virtually the whole of the North-West. Surely the hon. Gentleman is not seriously arguing that, merely because Manchester City Council has taken an attitude about fluoridation of water, it should be denied access to this new authority.

Mr. Reed

No. I am not. I have listened to the case you have made. Many of us in the greater Manchester area would be prepared to support Manchester's case for representation on this authority, but what I am saying is that when you behave in this way you are not enhancing your case.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must address the Chair.

Mr. Reed

It was the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) who said that democracy had been thrown out of the window in this case. That is one of the important strands of the argument, as I understand it. If I wished to support it, I should find it very difficult to do so.

Mr. Marks

The point about fluoridation has been one of the problems of Manchester Corporation. The corporation has supplied a large number of districts, as well as the people who elected the members of the Manchester City Council. The part of my constituency in which I live is outside Manchester but takes Manchester's water. The council for that area wanted fluoridation. Thus, there was a problem for Manchester. Does the corporation have to wait till every council or every person in the area wants something?

Mr. Reed

As we see it, the proper authority to decide this issue is the new regional water authority which comes into being in April. Many councillors in Manchester have supported that view, even though they were in favour of fluoridation. We support that view because we shall be democratically represented, whereas we are not represented in any way on the Manchester City Council.

If hon. Members would like to encourage the Lord Mayor of Manchester to change his mind, to be a little more reasonable and to show a little courtesy in receiving the petition of my constituents on this matter, they might find that they have much wider support than they have at present. I am bound to say to hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House that it is not for the shouter to complain of the echo.

9.27 p.m.

Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris) for initiating the debate. I am also grateful to him for allowing me some of his precious time in order that I may make a contribution.

I was most interested to hear how Manchester has been slighted in this respect. I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will not try to make out that possibly there may have been an element of lack of natural justice here but that it is an unfortunate and an isolated example. The remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) were very much to the point. He said that one had a number of smaller district councils deliberately ganging up against a vast authority which they felt had assumed quite wrongly the rôle of big brother.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter), who is always helpful in these matters, mentioned the question of appointments. Here again I hope that the Minister will not lightly gloss over that point. I do not wish to cast aspersions against those who are appointed. This morning, however, I was reading the bulletin of the South West Sports Council, in which I noticed that one of the prominent members of the Sports council was being congratulated on appointment to the water authority. With the best will in the world, in making these appointments there is a tendency to start raking over the same sort of list of people already in these jobs to find people to put into the new jobs. I hope that the Minister will examine this matter. This is a problem applying not to water authorities alone, as the Minister will know, but to other appointed bodies such as hospital boards.

I have been interested to hear about Manchester because there is a similar situation in my own area, and I hope that the Minister will make passing reference to it. It has already been drawn to his Department's attention. Bristol has no representative on the new water authority in the South West. Here also, referring again to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, there is the same feeling that the smaller district councils have ganged up against the large authority.

I have reminded the House on other occasions that Bristol, with a population of 424,000, is by far the largest district council in the country. Indeed, its size is an embarrassment to the Government. It is such an obvious anomaly that I suspect that they would very much like to correct it in some way, but they have not got the courage. As I say, Bristol, like Manchester, is a very large district council—in fact, it embraces 47 per cent. of the population of Avon county—yet it has no representative on the water authority. This omission was denounced by our local paper, the Evening Post, which described it as extremely unfair and a very bad way to start reorganisation.

The district council-elect complained to the Minister, and the reply from the Department said, in effect, "We note the situation which you have outlined. Although you may have no representative on the water authority, the thing has been done according to what the law requires, and that is really an end of the matter."

It is absurd if areas of large population are to be penalised in this way. We must not forget that in our new local government system areas such as Manchester and Bristol will provide the bulk of the resources and the bulk of the expertise. Yet it seems that among the smaller district councils there are a number of pretty, narrow-minded and puffed-up men who seem determined to humiliate large authorities such as those of Manchester and Bristol.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)


Mr. Cocks

It undermines confidence in the new structure.

Mr. Laurence Reed

It is certainly not the intention of my constituency to humiliate Manchester, but, if Manchester behaves in the way it has, inevitably it makes it much more difficult to build the effective partnership which we must have in local government in our part of the country. The surrounding areas resent the Big Brother concept. What is more, one has to recognise that the surrounding areas have always tried to keep Manchester at bay anyway, and now that they are drawn in there are supicions. If we want to build effective co-operation, that must be taken into account. The high-handed arrogant attitude of the city of Manchester has quite the reverse effect. What is more, as I say, it is detrimental to Manchester's own interests.

Mr. Cocks

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention—I know that he has a great interest in water—and to some extent I take the point he makes, knowing how vexed is the fluoridation question. I admire him also for his independence of spirit, for only within the last 24 or 48 hours has he been given some sort of minor acolyte status on his side, yet here he is hardly off his feet since receiving the appointment. I had understood that it was usual in these matters to exhibit a certain reticence, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his active interest. I understand the point he makes, and I have some sympathy with it, but it is not germane to the issue we are discussing.

I remind the Minister that in both the Manchester area and the Bristol area everything was going extremely well in the provision of services, and whatever reconstruction and reorganisation has been necessary has had to be done because there has been a proliferation of smaller authorities. Surely these large areas should not feel themselves to be deliberately penalised in the reorganisation whether of water authorities, local government or whatever it may be. I shall be grateful if the Minister widens his reply somewhat to cover the more general situation.

9.34 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)

The debate has been principally about Manchester, but it has been nice to have one or two away teams from the neighbouring community of Bolton, Hartlepools and Bristol.

The only thing with which I agreed in the interesting speech of the hon. Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) was that I could have been somewhere else. I think that the half-time score in the match between England and Italy was 0–0. I cannot give the House the latest score.

In what was essentially a debate between Manchester City and the new Manchester United, which will be the body putting forward members to the regional water authority, it was interesting to have Bristol Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Hartlepools United on the field.

The object of the exercise is not to humiliate Manchester, Bristol or anyone else. The Water Act is concerned to enable the people of this country to have abundant supplies of clean water to drink, to have efficient bodies to manage their sewerage and rivers, and to have within each of the new important authorities a majority of locally-elected members to achieve a measure of democratic control.

Having grown up in the area not far from Manchester, having spent some time along the reservoirs of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed), and having not long ago visited the Manchester water authority, and seen some of its splendid works, both in sewerage and in water supply, I am the first to acknowledge warmly Manchester's undoubted achievement in the provision of water services not only for its own people but for the people of many communities in the conurbations.

The corporation has been one of the leaders in developing major new sources of water supply and transmitting them along its long aqueduct from the Lake District. As well as supplying Manchester, its system has become an indispensable part of the whole water supply structure in South-East Lancashire. I warmly congratulate it on its achievements.

Therefore, I well understand the concern of the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris), who initiated the debate, that the tradition of an outstanding service should be carried on. I can also understand that at a time when Manchester sees its water assets being transferred, quite properly, to the new regional water authority, people in Manchester could well find it hard that no representative of the present Manchester county borough has found a place on the new authority.

I should say in passing that I am gratified that the present engineer and manager of the Manchester Corporation's water undertaking has been appointed director of operations of the North West Water Authority. But I accept that the appointment of an official is not the same thing as the appointment of elected members.

I should like to explain briefly the principles on which members are appointed to the new water authorities. The matter was discussed in great detail in the Standing Committee on the Water Bill. We were seeking a proper balance between democratic control—a majority of the members coming from the properly elected local authorities—and a relatively compact authority, so that executive decisions could be taken. To find that balance between democratic control, which would tend to spread the numbers, and the need for an executive body to be reasonably small and compact is not easy.

We devised a somewhat complex formula, which applies nationally. Metropolitan counties have two members appointed to the relevant water authority by their county councils. In addition, they have a further two members appointed by the district councils within that county collectively. A non-metropolitan county with a quarter or more of its population in the area of a water authority will have one member appointed to the water authority by the county council and one appointed by the district councils in the county. And so it goes. It is easy to attack this formula, as it is easy to attack any formula.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

This is a most important matter not only for Manchester but for all the regions. My hon. Friend used the phrase "And so it goes." It would be very helpful if for the record he would spell out what was in his mind when he used that phrase. There is anxiety outside the House amongst the public at large who do not understand how people are coming on to these new authorities.

Mr. Griffiths

I shall be glad to explain, without detaining the House for too long. In the case of the metropolitan counties, there are two members from the metropolitan county council and two members from the districts within that county. In the case of the non-metropolitan counties, there is one member from the county council and one member from the district. This is in the case of counties with one-quarter or more of their population in the area of the regional water authority. In the case of a county which has only a small proportion of its population covered by the regional water authority—that is, between a quarter and a sixth of its population—the county council puts on one member, and that is the whole representation.

As I said, this formula is somewhat complex, but it was arrived at only after the most extensive consultations with the various authorities. It was most exhaustively scrutinised by both Houses, and I believe it has now come to be generally accepted as a formula within the country. On the basis of this formula, the water authorities have now been firmly set up with an almost complete complement of members.

I come at once to the concern that the hon. Gentleman expressed in his speech. He went a little far when he suggested that Manchester's very great water assets were now being delivered into the hands of its traditional enemies. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to pause before suggesting that a new authority a majority of whose members are elected members of the many local authorities throughout the whole of the North West is somehow to be regarded as an enemy of Manchester. These are people who dedicate a great deal of their time and effort to the public service. So I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not say that. I thought that he was a little unkind when he—in my view, quite gratuitously—saw fit to insult the newly-appointed chairman of the regional water authority who, I should like to say here and now, is a most excellent person in whom the Government have the most complete confidence.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

When I used the term "traditional enemies" I meant it in the context of parliamentary enemies and opponents. I meant it in the context of the individuals who over many years have been associated with organizations which have opposed legislation seeking to expand Manchester's water gathering grounds in the Lake District. I identified the occasions on which these organisations had opposed Manchester's proposals over a very long period.

Mr. Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman must make his own explanations. I hope that he does not persist in describing these people as Manchester's traditional enemies.

The hon. Gentleman's complaint was that the Manchester district council, which covers an area of great population, is not directly represented on the North West authority. We considered many other formulae than the one which has been accepted. We wondered, for example, whether we could put greater emphasis on population and allow the representation to derive entirely from that. But the result of that, because of the uneven distribution of population over wide areas, would have been that most of the water authorities were completely swamped in their membership by the great metropolitan areas. To take just one example in the North West, it would have been quite impossible to give Westmorland, Cumberland and areas such as that any representation at all under a formula that was based solely on population.

We also considered a formula whereby representation would derive from rateable values, but, again, we found that some water authorities would simply be swamped by the large industrial areas which, by definition, are the largest rate contributors.

The third formula was to go for water consumption, and, in a way, this seemed the most sensible of all. But, because industry is the largest consumer of water, it would simply have made the water authorities the representatives, to a great extent, of industry, which is what industry wanted but which we had to resist in the interests of a proper measure of democratic representation. So we had to come to a formula which achieves a reasonable balance. All the county councils are represented, and the district councils are also represented, though indirectly, by their own choice.

Coming specifically to the matter of Manchester, we wondered whether it would be wise to give local authorities some guidance, or even direction, on the face of the Bill as to how they should set about choosing the members who would represent them on the regional water authority. We gave long and anxious thought to this idea, not least in committee, but we came to the conclusion that it really would be insulting to elected local authorities in this country for Parliament and the Government to tell them how they should set about the business of choosing who should represent them on the water authorities. So Parliament, in its wisdom, decided that it should be for the local authorities themselves, even in the new metropolitan or county areas, to determine how they should select those two district council members to go forward to the regional water authority.

In the Manchester area, two were appointed by the new metropolitan county and two more were to be chosen freely by the districts acting together. The districts came together and chose. I understand, though I was not, of course, present, that they had a number of ballots and on a number of occasions they had ties. It has been said, although I have no confirmation, that they might have resolved one or more of those ties by that good old traditional method which has produced Members of Parliament from time to time—namely, the spin of the coin. All I can be sure of is that it was for the district councils themselves to decide how they would elect, and whom they would elect. Sure enough, they did it, and two names were sent forward to us.

May I quote from the letter which was sent by Mr. Calderwood, the chief executive of the Manchester district council, who wrote to my Department on 26th July? He said: I write to inform you that under the procedure agreed by the district councils in the Greater Manchester county area, the councils"— in the plural— nominate the under-mentioned members for appointment by the Secretary of State to the North West Regional Water Authority. There followed the names of two members from the Wigan district council and the Rochdale district council. That was a letter from the chief executive, and the House will notice that he said it was the result of the procedure agreed by the district councils. He gave no indication at all to us when he wrote that letter that there had been any difficulty among the district councils in arriving at that agreement and in making their free choice.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

The Minister ought properly to be fair to the chief executive officer of the Manchester district council. Will he now read the subsequent correspondence which Mr. Calderwood has written to his Department about this subject?

Mr. Griffiths

Of course I have read all the subsequent correspondence. But when the councils were asked collectively to give us two nominations, that was what they did, that was how they decided, and these were the names they forwarded. Since then, it appears that people in Manchester have started to disagree with the way in which their district councils put forward their nominations and to disagree with the choice because Manchester was not represented.

This is a matter in which it is entirely open to hon. Members representing Manchester constituencies, or anyone else for that matter, to criticise the way in which the district councils went about making their choice or to object to that choice. I hope, however, that no one will lay it at the door of this House or of the Secretary of State that when, under the statute, those district councils exercised their proper function they arrived at the wrong conclusion. They arrived at the conclusion which seemed to them to be the right one. It was their duty and their opportunity to make that choice. For my part I must accept it.

Water reorganisation will succeed only if there is the closest co-operation between the water authorities and the local authorities at all levels. The Act provides the necessary framework for such co-operation. It provides for the appointment of a majority of the members of each water authority by the local authorities. It provides for the retention, by each of the local authorities of a controlled function in sewerage. It provides that, in carrying out their duty to draw up long-term plans, the new water authorities will consult every local authority whose area is wholly or partly included within the area of the water authority.

I can assure the House that the new water authorities will also be required to have regard to local authorities' structure plans, local plans and development plans. There will also be agency arrangements between the water authorities and the local authorities. I believe that a close working relationship will develop among their respective officers.

In the case of Manchester, the councils having exercised their choice in accordance with the Act, the Secretary of State is not prepared to grant the request for a further member to be appointed, for one very simple reason. If we were to accede to the request from Manchester we should have no choice but to accede to similar requests which have been made all over the country, and the size of the authorities which would arise would be wholly unwieldy to make the necessary executive decisions. Furthermore, it would produce a quite different membership from that which, after the most careful consideration, was finally agreed upon by Parliament and was enacted in the Water Act.

Mr. John Wells

My hon. Friend has been good enough to point out that the majorities on these authorities, especially the one that we are discussing, comprise members appointed by democratically-elected organisations. But can my hon. Friend deal a little further specifically with the Manchester case, with people who may live in the Manchester area, who know about Manchester and its problems and who have been appointed to this authority for other reasons? After all, this is a typical water authority. My hon. Friend has made the point that he does not want the Manchester people to have an extra member since that would be a precedent. But what my hon. Friend says tonight will be watched very closely by other authorities. If he will not give Manchester a precedent by granting it an extra member, can he say what other Manchester residents or knowledgeable people will be represented on the authority?

Mr. Marks

Will the Minister consider my point about future vacancies and take into consideration what has been said tonight? In filling the 13 nominations from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and from his own Department, there was only one representative each from the two big cities of Liverpool and Manchester, and the one from Liverpool was a member of the National Farmers Union.

Mr. Griffiths

It is a most remarkable coincidence that there should be such an extensive agricultural interest within the county borough of Liverpool. None of the members put on to the water authorities by the Secretary of State is there to grind a particular axe. Members serve on these bodies in their personal capacity and take a broad view of the interests of the area as a whole.

There will be four members of the North West Water Authority from the Greater Manchester area. It is true that they are not within the narrow confines of the county borough. Four of them will come from the Greater Manchester area as incorporated in the new local government reorganisation legislation. This is not the end of the matter, and I hope that in future there will be further appointments. The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) may have a point in what he said. We shall bear in mind all these points of view, but I must ask the House to accept that it would be wrong to put additional members on to the authority because of the long history of one particular area with a large population. We must have regard to a proper balance between democratic control and the relatively compact size of an executive body.