HC Deb 27 July 1977 vol 936 cc623-4
14. Mr. Durant

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is currently the total number of full-time and part-time staff employed by the regional water authorities in England and Wales; and what is the percentage change since April 1974.

Mr. Denis Howell

I understand from the National Water Council that the latest available figure for full-time and part-time equivalent staff employed by the regional water authorities in England and Wales is 60,473 at 31st March 1976. There is no directly comparable figure for April 1974.

Mr. Durant

Does the Minister agree that his new Water Charges Equalisation Bill will do nothing to streamline or reduce staff because it will pay those authorities which now have to pay over to the receiving authorities to take on more staff so that they avoid paying over large sums to the receiving authorities?

Mr. Howell

I agree that the Bill will do nothing on staffing, simply because it is not designed to do so. It is designed to bring a sense of equality and fairness to Wales, East Anglia and northern areas which pay a disproportionately high charge for their domestic water supplies.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Will my right hon. Friend remind the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) and his Conservative colleagues that the Conservative Party was completely responsible for setting up the regional water authorities? Many of us sat up night after night in the House opposing that measure. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if Parkinson's law has operated here, as I suspect it has, it is entirely the responsibility of the Conservative Party?

Mr. Howell

My hon. Friend is quite right. I was on the Opposition Front Bench at the time and led our opposition to this increase in bureaucracy. I must point out that whereas every ratepayer had one local authority doing these jobs, as a result of the Bill introduced by the Conservatives ratepayers now find district councils, county councils, water authorities and health authorities involved. That is four bureaucracies for the price of one that we face as a result.

Mr. Arthur Jones

Is there any monitoring of performance between the various regional authorities? Does the Minister agree that it is a generally-held view that the provisions of the Water Charges Equalisation Bill are diametrically opposed to the management techniques which we desperately wish to see in the water industry?

Mr. Howell

I am not sure that that is right. No doubt the complicated reasons that the hon. Gentleman has put forward explain why he abstained from voting on my proposal. I must correct what I said a moment ago when I said that we now have four bureaucracies for the price of one. In fact we have four bureaucracies for more than four times the price of one.

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