§ 'The provisions of the Public Bodies (Admission of Press to Meetings) Bill shall apply to the meetings of the Welsh Water Authority and each regional water authority in England.'—[Mr. Denis Howell.]
§ Brought up and read the First time.
§ Mr. Howell
New clause 3, dealing with the right of access by the press to meetings of the water authorities, is of considerable importance. That right has been historic, traditional and of considerable importance for many years, not just to the press but to the public interest as a whole. The Government propose to remove that right of access not just to meetings, but to papers and the thinking of managerial and scientific advisers in the industry. We are amazed at the breathtaking character of that proposition.
Most water authorities derive their undertakings from local government. For the past 100 years the press has had access to essential information and to the managerial decisions and policy considerations involved. We must consider whether that traditional access has been of any importance. The only answer is that it has been of overwhelming importance, especially during the nine years since the passing of the Water Act 1973.
The elimination of the press from water authority meetings should not be considered in isolation from other proposals in the Bill. We must also have regard to the fact that every local authority in the land will have its elected local representatives eliminated from the membership of water authorities. In addition, every regional water authority will no longer be accountable to the ombudsman in his investigation of any abuses that are brought to his attention by customers or local citizens. Indeed, because the Government propose to eliminate local councillors and access to the ombudsman, the press will be the only effective presence available at water authority meetings. That makes media access even more important and vital than has previously been the case.
As a substitute to this great democratic safeguard that we have always enjoyed, the Government propose a cosy round-up of information to be provided by the water authority chairmen at the conclusion of each principal meeting. Of course, the press and, therefore, the public, will be told only of issues and matters that the chairmen and authority members bring to their attention. What a ludicrous proposition.
The essence of our democratic system is that the weight of public pressure can make itself felt. Such public campaigns and pressure can be educated, informed and effective as a result of the information available before the meetings take place. Most of us would agree that the greatest weakness of all in the nationalised industries—this applies to gas, electricity and the Post Office as well as to water—is that the consumer council system, on which the Government are now choosing to rely, has in practice proved totally inadequate in generating public interest and creating legitimate public pressure. That is something about which we must be concerned.
215 6.45 pm
Let me name a few of the issues about which the public should be informed so that there can be proper debate and so that sensible pressures can be brought to bear on water authority members. These are issues in respect of which total access to information by the press is of considerable importance. There is the strategic planning of our water resources. Any hon. Member who has been a Minister in the Department of the Environment knows perfectly well that there are now various means by which additional water supplies can be made available for the benefit of consumers. It should be remembered that when we talk about the water cycle—the provision of water, its use, its clean-up and its return to the system—we are talking about a time scale of not less than 20 years.
Once an alternative Government are in office and are pursuing policies to get the economy moving again, we shall need more water to sustain industrial recovery. Water authorities such as Severn-Trent will then have to decide whether to build additional reservoirs or whether to transfer water by the river basin system from areas of plenty to areas of scarcity. That very problem confronted me at the time of the great drought, but it is now relevant to hon. Members who represent Wales and who are concerned about the pricing policy of the water authorities. A third option, which a Select Committee in another place reported on last week and seems to favour, is the provision of additional water using the bore-hole system.
Such matters are of importance to water authorities, be they in Wales or the English regions. Many people have differing views about such matters. For example, every time it is proposed to build a new reservoir in the middle of Dartmoor, concern is expressed by amenity groups, conservationists and others. That is the first of the great issues that should be argued publicly from day one. The moment an engineer proposes to build a reservoir, extract water from a river system or obtain water by boring, the public are entitled to a say. They have legitimate opinions to express not only on the practicality and cost of such proposals but on the amenity considerations. Strategic planning is, therefore, of cardinal importance.
Nowhere in the Bill are we told who is to be responsible nationally for strategic planning. We are abolishing the National Water Council but nothing has yet been put in its place. One can only assume that either it is to be left to the Thames water authority separately to make what it can of national strategic planning needs or it will all be done in Whitehall by the Ministry, which thinks it knows better than anyone else. The Minister should tell us what he proposes or else the press will be left to ferret around, as they certainly will, members and employees of regional water undertakings. It is much better to be open with them, give them all the information, and let them have access rather than have them ferreting round because from my experience the results of that are likely to be more embarrassing to Ministers.
The second point to which I draw attention is the importance of pricing policies. The average water bill for each household is about £65. We hear a lot of argument about it but when we think about not having clean water and adequate sewerage arrangements available, which might be the case next week, we realise what good value for money the £65 per annum is. There are very few issues that have been more emotive in recent years than the increasing price of water. We know many of the reasons. Often people equate the cost of the supply of water, 216 sewerage and drainage services with what was previously a bill for only one of those processes, the supply of water. Whatever view one takes about the cost of water it is of considerable public interest and there should be full access to information and to the discussions within water authorities.
Under the same heading of pricing policies, the relationship between the capitalisation of the undertaking and the revenue implications of those capital undertakings which affect pricing is also of great importance.
I turn to the abuse of power. No one can deny that during the nine years of the existence of the Water Act there have been occasions when the press have thought it right to report what they believed to be abuses by bureaucracy concerning the water industry. Many illustrations immediately come to mind. I do not think it will be challenged that abuses have existed and have been brought to our attention by the press, which does a great public service, enabling Members of Parliament to table questions. We would not have known about many of these matters had it not been for the vigilance of the press, particularly the local press, in reporting them. Those of us who have been on the receiving end of press comments which we did not like often had cause to smart. In our more sober and rational moments we appreciate that it is vital in a democratic system that the press should have access to meetings.
I was astonished that one of the reasons given by the Government for terminating the right of access by the press should have been that advantage had not always been taken of the right and that the press had not turned up at every meeting. We must be honest and admit that that is true. The press does not turn up at every meeting of Committees of the House. Although we are safeguarding its interests, it is not particularly plentiful in its presence now. That is not the issue. The point is that it knows in advance what a committee will be discussing and it has the right to attend if it wishes. It must make a judgment. We cannot expect newspapers to send reporters to every meeting of every public authority to which they have the right of access. It would be economically impossible. To suggest that we eliminate the right because it is not exercised at every sub-committee meeting in the land is such a nonsensical proposition that I am amazed it was ever put forward.
Health standards are of vital importance. There is also the question of wage negotiation and industrial relations about which I will say nothing because that will be the subject of the next batch of amendments. When a water authority takes up an attitude on wages and industrial relations, the press should have the right to be there to present the information to the public. Another important matter to be dealt with by water authorities, is sport and recreation policy. Again, I will not elaborate on that because we have just had a debate about it.
Originally these matters were brought to our attention by the Guild of British Newspapers Editors. Most of us are indebted to it for this example of its vigilance in examining Government proposals. In the press release issued on 11 January, the guild says that having looked at what the Government said in Committee it has no reason to change its fundamental objection to the proposals. The guild draws attention to what the Prime Minister said in her maiden speech in 1960 when she introduced the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Bill. We would like to reinstitute those provisions in relation to water authorities; 217 although Mr. Speaker, in his wisdom, has not selected that amendment I think I may refer to it. The Prime Minister quoted the following words:Publicity is the greatest and most effective check against any arbitrary action."—[Official Report, 5 February, 1960; Vol 616, c. 1351.]All that any one can say to that is amen.
At Question Time today, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) asked the Prime Minister why, when she had introduced that Bill which she wished to apply to everybody, she was now against the principle in respect of water authorities. The Prime Minister said it was because water authorities would be different under this Bill. If I took down correctly what she said, she said that they will now be executive bodies. Of course, that is our great objection to the whole of the Bill. It seeks to remove the water industry from the democratic process and to turn water authorities into executive bodies. I can only say in response to the Prime Minister's reply, "game, set and match." The Prime Minister conceded the whole of our case against the principle of the Bill. Local authority is being butchered. The Prime Minister did not put it in that way but that is what she meant. Local democracy is being butchered and executive control is being substituted for it.
The Guild of British Newspapers Editors also tells us that the size of the authority ought to have nothing to do with the principle of admission and points out that regional health authorities are no bigger or no smaller but roughly the same size as the proposed water authorities. It regards the voluntary code of practice asa shabby substitute for a legally established right of access".That is something with which all hon. Members must agree.
Labour Members have not tabled new clause 3 for purely political advantage, although I hope that there will be some political advantage in seeking to secure the democratic rights of the British people and the traditional rights of access for the press. We are interested in the essential question how we should govern the affairs of national industries—particularly in one where it is proposed that 10 boards will operate where previously there was only one authority—with regard to access information for the press and the need, indeed, the duty, to stimulate the right sort of public discussion arising out of such information being readily and freely available to the media. That right, which has existed since the beginning of the water industry 100 years ago, should be maintained. It is a disgrace that the Government are proposing to eliminate it and we shall most certainly be pressing new clause 3 to a Division this evening.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. John Spence (Thirsk and Malton)
I shall not delay the House for more than a minute or two in speaking on new clause 3, which I support. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) will remember that, during proceedings on the Water Bill in 1973, which was piloted through the House by Sir Graham Page—when I did a small bag-carrying job for him—we had considerable difficulty in getting the House to accept the admission of the press to water authorities' meetings. It was achieved only by the great efforts of Sir Graham Page. That was a battle which Conservative Members fought to win.
I am disappointed that the Minister—who is not only a Minister but a friend—should see fit not to accept the 218 remonstrations that have been made both in Committee and elsewhere to include the right of the press to attend water authorities' meetings. It is no answer to the points made to refer to such bodies as the Central Electricity Generating Board or the National Coal Board or such area institutions. Those bodies were established a long time ago and certain aspects of their activities would be subject to the surveillance of the press if we were creating such bodies now. Nor do I regard with favour the exclusion of the press when the activities of the new water authorities are described as being executive and are not subject to the ombudsman's jurisdiction. That is a step backwards, not forwards. The water authorities are rate-levying bodies and people have the right to be represented.
I ask the Minister to consider carefully what he is doing and not to be subverted on the way but to stand up and fight for the right of the press to attend the meetings of bodies which are charging people rates. He will know from his constituency postbag that such matters are the subject of considerable correspondence and dissatisfaction. I see nothing in the Bill which will remove that.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I welcome, as I am sure all hon. Members will, the forthright and succinct speech of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Spence). No doubt he shares a water authority with the Minister. They both represent constituencies in Yorkshire. The Minister should listen to the sound common sense of a fellow Yorkshireman on this occasion.
The advice of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton is firmly planted in the traditions set by the Prime Minister in 1960 when she moved her private Member's Bill—the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Bill. In her maiden speech she dispensed with all the customary formalities about the beauties of Finchley and got straight down to business, moving the Second Reading of her Bill. In doing so the right hon. Lady was forthright and clear. In addition to what was quoted earlier by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), she said:I do not know whether hon. Members generally appreciate the total amount of money spent by local authorities.She then went on to give the figure of £1,400 million a year for England and Wales. How times have changed. The Prime Minister went on to say:Those sums are not insignificant, even in terms of national budgets. Less than half is raised by ratepayers' money and the rest by taxpayers' money, and the first purpose in admitting the Press is that we may know how those moneys are being spent.That is surely right. To remove that from an industry that is spending large sums of money that are raised by direct levy, by direct precept upon the British ratepayers, is indefensible.
The Prime Minister went on to use the words that have already been quoted. In doing so, she was quoting, topically enough, from the Franks report, although on a different subject from the current one. It was:Publicity is the greatest and most effective check against any arbitrary action.She went on to say:That is one of the fundamental rights of the subject"— [Official Report, 5 February 1960; Vol. 616, c. 1350ߝ1].Yet here we have one of her Ministers coming before the House asking hon. Members to remove the effect of her legislation from this important area of activity. It is impossible to find any justification for that.
The first people to notice the damage that would be done were not only the newspaper editors but the local authorities. I have had correspondence from local 219 authorities in my constituency, not of any particular party political persuasion but a mixture of independent and party political councillors, expressing their strong objection to the removal of the press from meetings of a body which will be able to levy rates through the rates machinery on their ratepayers. They have become accustomed to the fact that they must be subject to the scrutiny of the press at all their meetings. It sometimes irks them when they are criticised but they accept it as part of the democratic process. They do not see why a body with the powers and financial resources of the water authority should be free from such public scrutiny.
I cannot understand why the Government should want to exclude the press. Can it be that the embarrassment that was caused when some local authority decisions were shown by the press to be ludicrous and extravagant has built up in the Department of the Environment a feeling that we should protect water authorities from such criticism and scrutiny in the future? The uncovering by the press of abuses and waste in the water authorities was a major and necessary public service.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the answer might simply be that it is for the same reason that the board of ICI or Courtaulds would not allow representatives of the press access to their meetings?
§ Mr. Beith
They have similar misgivings and reservations, but the boards of ICI and Courtaulds are not spending the money that the ordinary British ratepayer has to pay in water rates. That is levied upon them and is not the same as the choice to buy a company's products or shares. A body that can levy rates upon the British people, that is not elected by them and to which the press has no access, is in an indefensibly protected position. Therefore, it will be likely to behave badly. If such protection is built up around a public body, some of the most important safeguards against unwise, extravagant and careless action are removed.
In answering my question this afternoon the Prime Minister's reason for excluding the new water authorities from the purview of her legislation was that these are to be executive bodies. That is a bogus argument. Hon. Members and the British people, both in local authorities are elsewhere, are concerned about the authorities precisely because of the executive power that they will be able to exercise. They are not merely executive bodies, but policy-making bodies. They will make policies over whole areas of activity and decide how to spend large sums of money. It is the same sort of responsibility as local authorities exercise, and it should be subject to public scrutiny and accountability. The members should be elected and not appointed by the Minister. At the very least, there should be proper public scrutiny of such power. To say that we are talking about executive bodies is to dismiss the range of their responsibilities or to imply that, due to the nature of their power, they are somehow entitled to be protected from press scrutiny.
Underlying the Bill is the Minister's philosophy about the new shape of the water industry. It appears that both he and the Prime Minister mean that under the new system the members of water authorities will not have any powers but will do as the Minister says. They are appointed by the Minister, so they will go away and do exactly what they are told. They will make no decisions of any consequence, 220 so there is no point in sending a lot of journalists along to report an authority's meeting, when the only subject of debate will be what the Minister has told it to do and how the members should set about doing it.
If that is the Minister's view of the water industry he should come clean and tell us so. He should make it clear that hon. Members will be able to ask questions about every activity of every regional water authority. The Minister will be making the policy decisions and the authority members will be his executive servants, like civil servants who work behind the counter in local DHSS offices. Let us get the picture clear and understand the type of parliamentary accountability that is implied.
However, if the bodies are to enjoy—as the Act implies—considerable autonomy and freedom to plan expenditure and to make policy decisions, they will then behave like any local authority, with money raised in the same way. Therefore, they should be subject to the same scrutiny as local authorities. If they are not, the worst abuses will follow. I cannot see how the Government can possibly defend their stance tonight by seeking to exclude such bodies from proper press scrutiny.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
The fiction is that, after the Bill's passage, water authorities will be purely executive businesses, and will not need press surveillance. However, that is entire fiction.
Let us consider some of the policy-making functions—as opposed to the pure business functions—to be carried out by water authorities. We must ask ourselves whether the press should monitor the arguments and discussions that eventually result in policy decisions. Unless the press monitor them, the public will be inadequately informed about them and unable to bring pressure to bear to influence them. The provision of recreational facilities involves the admission of the public to or exclusion of the public from, reservoirs and their surrounding land. It also involves expenditure, and a decision about how much should be spent. Those are not business or executive matters, but policy issues. They are political issues, with a small "p".
The folly of direct billing has resulted in an increase in total costs to the consumer and in a significant increase in the office space demanded by water authorities. That space is paid for not only by consumers, but by those who are connected neither to the water mains nor to the sewers. They are paid for through a tax imposed by the water authority. Environmental service charges are nothing more or less than a tax, and I do not agree with the principle of an entirely nominated body imposing taxation. The Minister's argument is that it represents only a small proportion of the total cost. We have heard that argument before. It is said that it is only a small baby, as if the principle is any different. Of course the principle is in no way different.
We should have gone in the other direction and set up directly elected water authorities. The system of indirect nomination by local authorities has been a failure, because their members have not considered themselves accountable to the local authorities that appointed them. However, the Bill calls for more, not less, press monitoring. We should be clear about that. In theory, local authority nominees used to have a majority on the board, even if 221 they never really chose to exercise their power, and like others who do not choose to exercise their power, in the fullness of time lost it, and bewailed its loss too late.
Our only recourse will be, as Members of Parliament, to ask the Minister to dismiss the chairman and members of the board. The Minister has made a rod for his own back. In future, he will be very busy. As the only source of remedy, he will rightly be at the receiving end of all the criticism. After all, he has written into the Bill that the powers will fall on his shoulders through elected Members of Parliament. There is no other avenue of redress, so the Minister and his successors will have a busy time.
The clause is essential because of the political—with a small "p"—decisions that the body will take. For example, how much will be spent on new and lavish headquarters and on staff perks, such as new motor cars, paid for by the consumer, who has no redress? Will that be concealed from the public who pay for it? Alternatively, will the arguments take place in the presence of the press and the media? They must do so.
My hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues are fond of saying that there is a parallel with the gas industry. However, someone who is not connected to the gas supply does not pay any gas bills. Therefore, there is no analogy, and my hon. Friend should be well aware of that. Similarly, the extent of flood prevention work is a political decision. The Minister may say that such subjects are for the decision of land drainage committees. That may be so, but the resources at the disposal of the land drainage committees will be provided by a body whose members are not appointed by elected bodies.
Once again, everyone will have to look to the Minister for redress. I foresee an even busier future for him in my crystal ball. What arguments could be advanced against a press presence? We know the type of argument that will be advanced. It will be said that a merely executive business is involved. However, that argument is not tenable, because it does not accord with the facts. That is why I shall vote for the new clause, which is not only excellent, but vital in the public interest.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) on his succinct argument, and on clarifying the matter for all of us. I also congratulate him and his hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Spence) on having the courage to say that they disagree with the proposals in the Bill and intend to vote accordingly. This is one matter that is more important than the views of the Government Whips' Office, and the issue on which the House, above all, should be prepared to stand up and say that it believes in the principle of democracy and accountability. Part of that principle is open access to the meetings of public bodies such as the one that we are discussing in this amendment.
Just over a decade ago those of us who served on the late lamented local authorities campaigned in various ways against the 1972 Local Government Act. On my local authority there was general unity among the three political parties. We all felt that the Act would not help local democracy, and that the creation of the new and bigger authorities would make local democracy a thing of the past and create bureaucratic and remote bodies. Regardless of our party allegiances, we should all now be inclined to say that that is what happened.
222 Immediately after the 1972 Act was put on the statute book, the previous Conservative Government embarked on the wild gamble of amalgamations, changes and new bodies. One of the gambles was the creation of the regional water authorities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), who knows more about these matters than I do, said earlier that the price of water is about £65 per household, which he said could be regarded as a bargain. Water is, after all, an essential part of life and if that is a reasonable and legitimate price, we all accept that that is the price that it is necessary to pay. However, I know that that price is considerably in excess of the price of water at the time that the regional water authorities were formed. I would hazard a guess that, compared to the rise in the rate of inflation since the mid-1970s, the price of water has increased fairly dramatically.
As the hon. Member for Tiverton said, part of the aftermath of the creation of water authorities was separate billing. I agree with him that no one will ever convince me that the adoption of such a procedure did not lead to an increase in administrative staff. As the hon. Member also pointed out, it led to an increase in the somewhat palatial headquarters of the water authorities, not the least the Severn-Trent water authority, which more or less covers my constituency.
Many of the excesses of the Severn-Trent authority became public knowledge through the activities of local and evening newspapers covering the area. It seems to me that the new bodies will be concerned to exclude newspapers so that embarrassing news can be covered up. However, without the activities of the newspapers in my constituency and in the Severn-Trent water authority area, many of the things that have come to light would not have done so.
Reference has already been made to the fact that the present water authorities will be replaced by these executive bodies. I do not approve of executive bodies, and that is not because nobody has ever asked me to serve on one. However, they are noticeable for their belief that they know what is good for the rest of us.
When the present Government decide to set up an executive body, alarm bells ring. I look round my region, which I share with my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath, and I notice that where the present Government have responsibility for the reappointment of members of executive bodies, they follow party political interests. I was going to say that anyone who shows sympathy with the Labour party is replaced, but I should say that anyone who is not an apparently devoted member of the Conservative party is removed and replaced by someone who is regarded as politically more sound.
If the present Government are to appoint these bodies, they will not depart from their practice since the 1979 election. We shall have an executive body packed with Conservatives with free time on their hands, one-time whiz-kids who, thanks to the bankruptcies in their companies due to the policies of the Government that they appear to support, have enough time on their hands to do the paid bidding of the Government of the day.
My hon. Friends, and many Conservative Members who have spoken, regard the presence of newspaper reporters at meetings of such bodies as essential. The borough of Sandwell has had four members of the Labour party serving on it since its creation. The borough is also well served by having two evening newspapers. If the 223 executive body to which we are referring was meeting exclusively in London and met on Saturday, the Minister could argue that it would not be necessary to admit the press because London does not have a Saturday evening paper. However, my area has two evening newspapers, and two on Saturday as well, with two sports editions to follow.
The exclusion of representatives of the Sandwell edition of the Express and Star and the Sandwell Evening Mail would not only be resented by the editors of the newspapers—and is, as I shall show—but would be a great disservice to the people of the borough. The people of the borough will be responsible through their rates, levied by the executive body, which the Minister will doubtless blithely describe, without any democratic say or any knowledge of what has taken place at meetings of the new authority, unless they bothered to turn up to the press conference. There they will be given glossy handouts, a cup of coffee and be sent on their way.
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is correct.
Tonight, in the Sandwell Evening Mail, there is an interesting editorial. The editor, Mr. John Bradbury, has given me permission to quote from it. Unfortunately, he had to read it over the telephone, as a copy of the paper has not arrived within the precincts of the House. It says:If the Government has its way the water workers will be employed by immensely powerful new authorities completely unaccountable to the public. The Bill … means that meetings will not be open to the press. The press is the representative of the public. Its presence ensures that there is some check on the activities of such bodies.In the face of protests the Government has come up with a sham form of press representation. Press conferences after meetings. These will merely report what decisions have been taken and publicity will not influence those decisions.The editorial goes on:It is ironic"—that is not a word I would use personally but I must quote my evening newspaper accurately—that this shabby substitute is put forward by an administration supposedly devoted to the principle of open government.7.30 pm
It goes on to repeat the speech made by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) back in 1960 to which the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has referred. I suppose one could argue that there is good reason for her change of heart. At that time, she was not Prime Minister. Now that she is, she knows what is good for us. However, she does not evidently know what is good for the editor of one of my local evening newspapers. The editorial goes on:Yet her Government propose to put no such check"—that is the check of democracy and accountability—on water authorities. They will be able to levy rates and yet be unaccountable to ratepayers. There is still time for second thoughts.I would have thought the prospects of a change of mind by the Minister were fairly minimal. I would have thought the prospect of the hon. Gentleman accepting this Sensible new clause was fairly slim. I know him moderately well and recognise that he thinks for himself. I hope that he will not merely read a brief containing all the excuses beloved of civil servants to show why the light of press 224 accountability should not shine on this executive body. Before making such a speech, if he intends to do so, the hon. Gentleman should know that he has not so far found any friends in the House. I do not believe that the House of Commons, with its belief in democracy, accountability and the right of the press to report meetings of public bodies, will accept the clause as it stands but will demand that the new clause should be passed.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) but the Minister will find that he has a friend on the Conservative Back Benches who wishes to support the decision taken by the Government. I have been a journalist. I have attended and reported council meetings. I am aware that there are occasions during council meetings when the press are asked to leave and dutifully troop out, returning when the council decides the moment when they can be allowed back. One can overstate the effectiveness of the press sitting in on meetings.
I have referred to council meetings. If the water authorities are to be accepted as excutive bodies, our thinking has to change accordingly. If they are executive bodies spending public money, so are nationalised industries. When they charge for water on a meter, are they levying a rate or simply charging for water? In the same way, nationalised industries charge for their services. The analogy can be drawn to the extent that water authorities came within the purview of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries of which I was a member. It seems to me to follow that we cannot accept a certain amount of press intervention for one executive body without applying the same condition for other publicly owned executive bodies. By the same token, if the water companies are not required to have the press at their board meetings, why should the water authorities, if they are executive bodies?
A further argument has to be advanced. Will an executive be able to do its job better, more frankly and more effectively and will it be able to discuss in greater detail and in total honesty all that needs to be discussed if it knows that the press is sitting at its elbow taking everything down? The water authorities will be much smaller. Their executive boards can be likened to a board of directors. The decisions of such a group of people will be more properly reached if they are fully discussed and put together rationally without the press actually being present at the discussion.
By offering the voluntary code of practice and by insisting upon press conferences at the end of board meetings and other meetings, we are enabling the presss to find out from those who run the authority the reasons for the decisions that they have reached. To hear Opposition Members, one would think that the press lacked the ability to discover what goes on behind the closed doors of all authorities. Yet, every day of the week, we can read about what happens in the Cabinet, in Government Departments, in the Labour party's private sanctums and in the alliance, among the friends of the alliance and the alliance itself. All that information is made available to us every day of the week. However, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) in particular tries to argue that if the press is not allowed to sit with the executive around the table it will not be able to inform the public about what the water authority is or is not doing, how it reached a decision and 225 the basis for that decision. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman is so naive. He is putting forward special pleading because he believes that through clause 3 he can embarrass the Government.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
As the Prime Minister herself has demonstrated at the Dispatch Box today, it will be easier for the press to know what has gone on in Cabinet and secret Select Committees than it will for the press to know what is happening in water authorities. The reason is simple. Everyone knows what is on the agenda of the Cabinet. Unless the chairman of a water authority is prepared to tell us, no one will know what is on the agenda of a water authority.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I am not sure that I follow the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's comments. I cannot see how the press conference, which is part and parcel of the voluntary code, could take place without the press being aware of what has been discussed at the board meeting. In those terms alone, the press would have an agenda. No self-respecting journalist aware of a local problem will allow those who speak at a press conference to get away with it. I hope that the chairman and chief executive of the authority will be required to be present at such press conferences. I see those conferences as vital in achieving accountability, which I agree should be available to the press in relation to decisions.
When the proposals in the Bill were first announced to the House the statement was made by the present Secretary of State for the Environment. I asked if his statement meant that in the future water authorities would be accountable to this House on the Floor of the House, meaning that the Secretary of State would answer for them. My right hon. Friend replied that it did. That is accountability that did not exist before. The accountability that allows every hon. Member to question the Secretary of State together with the fact that the press will be able to take part in press conferences, where those making the decisions can be questioned, gives a new measure of accountability. It is sufficient accountability to make any ratepayer believe that he will be as well, if not better, informed than in the past.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop
I trust that my hon. Friend has passed on that valuable information to the Table Office so that it will accept questions which until now it has been unable to accept.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that until the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, the Table Office does not need to take new instructions from anyone.
I read the Guild of British Newspaper Editors document with interest and some sympathy, and although my local editor has asked me to persuade the Government to think again about allowing the press into all the meetings of the water authorities, I cannot convince myself that that will make for a more accountable water industry than we have had in the past, nor that it will not create an inequality between those executive bodies running our water industry and the executive bodies that run other state-owned industries.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
We have heard a fascinating speech—the only speech supporting the Government, as I am sure the Minister will have noted. The speech was about the important presupposition that 226 henceforward we shall be able to table any and every parliamentary question that we want and get answers. We shall not be blocked at the Table Office. We shall not be blocked by Ministers saying that it is not their responsibility. We shall be able to ask these questions and get full and meaningful answers. That was the presupposition of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson). I see the Minister nodding. Now he shakes his head. Now he has a look of uncertainty, even horror. I hope that that horror and uncertainty will find their way to the Back Benches, and that the hon. Member for Newbury will understand that his assumption is not shared by his Front Bench. We are not quite so certain whether we can ask all these questions and get the answers. In other words, the activities of water authorities will be kept from the public, and we shall continue to be unable to ask the questions in this place that we should be able to ask.
My constituents come to my surgeries week after week with problems about their water supply. They have a leak, or there is a problem with the water supply, sewerage, or something else. They tell me that they have been to the district councillor, who says that he cannot do anything about it. They have been to their county councillor, who tells them that the Gwynedd county council can do nothing. They tell me that they have tried to get at the water authority, but they cannot find the office. So they ask me to raise the matter in Parliament. We know the answer to that. We cannot raise the matter in Parliament. We are told that it is not a ministerial responsibility, that it is a matter for the nationalised industry, the board. We are told that these important matters, which are brought up in my surgeries week after week, will be discussed by the board behind closed doors, where no one can scrutinise what goes on. It is no wonder that there is frustration in Wales, and no doubt elsewhere, at the way in which the water industry has developed in recent years.
I would say to the hon. Member for Newbury that there is a massive difference between a press statement at the end of a meeting and someone sitting listening to the meeting. If the press statement is comprehensive and balanced, at the very best it reflects only what happened at the meeting. In all probability it will be less than that and will involve a weighting or trimming or will have a presentational aspect. So what comes out is not quite the same as what went on at the meeting.
Our friends in the press are left with only one option, and that is to nose around among members of the authority, employees, waste paper baskets, or whatever is available, to get a story. No doubt the story that goes out is unbalanced, not because of any fault on the part of the press but because they are not allowed access to the fundamental information.
Like the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), I was a member of a local authority before coming to this place. That was before reorganisation. I know that from time to time sensitive decisions are taken in local authorities, and that when that happens the press are asked either to go out or not to report what they hear for five minutes, or perhaps half an hour. Invariably, the press cooperate, and there is no doubt that the press would cooperate in the same way when sensitive decisions are taken in the water industry.
As in local government, discussions in the water industry will take place outside formal meetings. There will be discussions of technical matters at managerial 227 level, where the press are not involved. So some of the more sensitive matters are decided some time before the final decisions are taken. That does not stop discussion. It does not paralyse the water industry to think about the important issues that face it. Those issues are important and are becoming increasingly important. For example, the escalating costs of replacing sewers will involve community after community in the coming months and years, and there will be massive decisions of priority in public expenditure. Decisions will have to be made to carry out one project and reject another, and those decisions will affect the communities involved, where every house will be affected by those decisions. So the communities should know what is going on in their name.
I believe that the authorities should be directly elected. I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) said, although I do not remember getting his support when the Wales Bill and the Scotland Bill went through Parliament. However, we regarded that as a method of getting democratic control of the water authorities and others.
The water authority, in particular, needs democratic control and scrutiny because, as has been said, it has a tax-raising power. That is the difference between this industry and other nationalised industries. Other nationalised industries charge a price in relation to the commodity they sell and the volume of the commodity they sell. In this case, a rate is charged. Industrial and commercial consumers may have a metered consumption, but, for the vast majority of citizens in each water authority it is a rate, and that rate is not related to the use of the commodity, but to the rateable value of the property in which they live.
There is a small shop in my constituency, which I have mentioned before. It has a wash basin and a toilet, and it was paying £800 a year in water rates. It was a scandal. That shop has a direct interest in the decisions that are taken, and it should know what is going on within the walls of the water authorities.
There are arguments between water authorities. There was the recent one between the Welsh water authority and the Severn-Trent water authority. The position is unsatisfactory for Wales, because our rate in the pound is twice that in the Severn-Trent area. The final decision was taken at ministerial level, and we had to wait 15 months for it. If the water authority were more open, I am sure that there would have been greater pressure to ensure an earlier and a better decision.
There have been examples in Wales where the press has done good service for the water industry. The press found that the Severn-Trent water authority was using massive assets in Wales and paying virtually no rent at all. The press reported that, and the issue came under public scrutiny. Whatever the merits of the issue, it was the press who projected it in such a way that people in local government and in Parliament could pursue the matter.
In my view, there is an overwhelming case for the press to be allowed in to report the activities of the water authorities. There is a danger of manipulation of the press. I have a nasty suspicion that what we heard earlier today in the statement on the Falklands was a form of manipulation of the press, making sure that the story put forward was the one that was wanted by the Executive. I 228 have a feeling that, in the case of the tragic shootings that we heard about in Kensington earlier this week, there was an attempt to manipulate the press to make sure that the story was projected in the way that the authorities wanted. Equally, I suspect that shutting the press out of water authority meetings is another attempt to ensure that what is projected is what is wanted by the establishment, and not necessarily what is in the interests of the people they serve.
I beg the Government to look again at the matter. If we in this Chamber cannot get the change that is needed by means of this new clause, I hope that the other place will achieve what we cannot do and ensure that there is a safeguard for the people.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I think that since 1973, when the water boards were set up, Members of Parliament on both sides of the House have received more complaints about the cost of water. There are possibly two reasons for this. First, water is now charged separately and is no longer a part of the rates. Secondly, the cost of water has increased and there is no scope for metering. The charge is related entirely to rateable value.
I can see no reason why there should not be scrutiny of what is spent. It is clear that there is public anxiety. It is no good comparing the water industry with the gas industry. One does not have to have gas but it is necessary to have water. Those who do not have main drainage are always involved in the argument about sewerage connection. We know that there is much dissatisfaction on that score.
What control have ratepayers over the scale of the charge which is levied? The answer is "None". We are faced with a clear problem because the water authorities are not accountable to ratepayers. However, I believe that they must be accountable to Parliament. When the Post Office was accountable to Parliament, there were so many small issues brought before it that in the end parliamentary control was removed for various reasons. We are dealing now with another nominated body which is levying tax. Surely the old maxim "No taxation without representation" is as applicable to water as to anything else. If the water industry is compared with other nationalised industries, I say that the other industries should be subject to more scrutiny than they are at present.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
There is a strange inconsistency in the Government's position which is being revealed as the debate progresses. It should be remembered that the Prime Minister promised during the 1979 general election that there would be more open government. We are not getting that open government. In the clause which deals with access by the press to meetings of water authorities, we are being given closed government.
This is a contentious issue which we debated at great length in Committee. Following the Minister's comments, some of us were led to believe that the Government might be more forthcoming than they have been. There were representatives of the media who for 10 days or two weeks felt that the Government, because of what they had heard within their profession, were possibly going to give way. However, there has been no flexibility apart from the introduction of a code of practice, which has been described by the Guild of British Newspaper Editors asa shabby substitute for a legally established right.229 I believe that the House will be grateful to Conservative Members who have expressed dissent from the Government's decision. I am glad to note that they will be joining the Opposition in voting against the Government. There must be many of their hon. Friends who think in a similar way. If there were to be a real and objective debate on this issue, I am convinced that there would be a majority against the Government. There will be Conservative Members supporting the Government tonight who have not fully considered the issue and who have ignored the representations made to them, which have also been made to the Minister. In his short intervention the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Spence) said that the Minister had a mailbag from the media within his constituency and from other constituencies in which the strongest representations are made against the Government's position.
I shall refer to correspondence that I have received since the debates that took place in Committee from representatives of the media. I shall draw on a letter that was written by the North-Western Evening Mail, which serves a part of my county of Cumbria. The editor, Mr. Tom Welsh, states:Can I mention again the argument that the press has made little use of its right of access to water authorities in the past? Whether this is true of the county as a whole I do not know but it is certainly untrue in the case of the Evening Mail. The North West water authority's meetings at Warrington discussed many important issues affecting my readers. These include the ever increasing cost to consumers, the region's chronic crisis over supply, the construction of the new pipeline from Hawes water, the deterioration of the Victorian sewerage system and the serious pollution around our coast"—that is the coast of Cumbria. He continues:Under the 1960s Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act the press has the right to receive committee documents relating to those meetings to which we have access and guidance from the Ministry of the Environment, and under the administrations of both political hues it has been agreed that this material should reach the press in adequate time to publish it, so that members of the public affected by decisions of the various authorities have the chance to make their views felt. In many cases our articles have been based on such documents rather than attendance at the meetings. In future we shall not receive those documents and therefore shall be unable to warn our readers about matters which may have the greatest significance for them.That is a denial and betrayal of democratic principles and the Minister and his friends should feel ashamed of themselves for bringing such a proposition before the House.
In a letter to a number of hon. Members dated 11 January, the Guild of British Newspaper Editors replied to a point made by the Minister in Committee and stated:Water authorities, unlike the Gas and Electricity Boards, are rate levying bodies. We believe that they should therefore be directly accountable to the public whose money they are spending.Again, the Minister rejects that argument. In doing so he betrays democracy on an essential principle. I shall omit the references that the guild makes to the Prime Minister's statements in the early 1960s. They have been well rehearsed this evening and it is for the right hon. Lady to defend the clear inconsistency in her position. However, it continues:We are not impressed by the argument that the press should not attend because the new Water Authorities will be smaller than at present.What a spurious argument. The guild adds:The Regional and District Health Authorities are of the same size and the press are admitted to their meetings. In any event 230 the number of people seated round a table cannot seriously be thought to be so crucial that a long-established legal right should be removed at a stroke.How right it is in making that statement. What does it matter how large the body is? What matters is how important the decisions are that are being taken and to what extent they effect the constituents of all hon. Members. The guild argues that theproposed code of practice would be wholly unsatisfactory. It would apparently require there to be press conferences after all board or main committee meetings. This would mean that the press would be informed only of actual decisions taken and would be unable to report the way in which such decisions were reached. The proposal has been put forward as if press conferences would be something new which, of course, is not the case.Later it states:We do not accept that admission to the meetings of the proposed consumer councils or admission to the meetings of the full Authority where there are special circumstances, whatever these may be, will be sufficient to ensure that the public are informed about what the Water Authorities are doing.There have been perhaps thousands of pieces of correspondence that have come before hon. Members. We could have the Benches full of hon. Members on both sides of the House quoting their letters from editors, from newspapers, from journalists and from all organisations that will be affected by the Government's stupid decision.
I shall give some more quotations. The Press Gazette Group is a London newspaper group. The editor, Mr. Bill Field, writes:It seems to me that the Bill represents another threat to the ability of newspapers to freely report matters of public interest".In its original correspondence to me, the North-West Evening Mail said:The exclusion of the press would mean that much less information would be available to the public about the operation of a vital public service. Water charges have become a highly controversial subject and now it seems that important decisions affecting the public are to be reached behind closed doors.The Government's proposal is totally at variance with every commitment and promise that they made at the general election. They promised open government. This is closed government. The British people do not want it. The Government should recognise that and remove this idiotic proposition from the Bill.
The Cumbrian Newspapers Group comments:You must be aware that there is strong public feeling about water boards. For decisions about this public service to be taken in secret will only fuel controversy and criticism.That is a small portion of the views expressed to my hon. Friends about the nonsense of the Government's position. In correspondence to me dated 18 January, the Guild of British Newspaper Editors asked four crucial questions, to which I ask the Minister to address himself when he replies to the debate. Those questions were:Will the Water Authorities have the discretion as to what matters are put before the consultative committees or will every issue for decision by the Authority also be considered by the relevant consultative committee? Will such matters always be put to the committees before the relevant decision is taken or will there be occasions on which the Authorities will only in fact make a formal reference after decisions have been made but before their announcement? Will the committees have available the full documentation and information on which the Boards themselves will take decisions on any matter? Will the committees have powers to request and receive any papers and documents they wish from the authorities?231 The guild asked those questions because they are crucial and in the public interest. The Minister should reply to them all. I shall persist in intervening during his reply until we receive clear undertakings on each count.
There is the issue of what the public will no longer see, hear or know until the decisions have been taken by the water authorities. My constituency is in a part of the country in which every endeavour, manufacturing and recreational—whether angling or paper making—is directly related to the water industry and water amenities. In the county of Cumbria more bodies than in other parts of the country have a direct interest in what is going on in the water authority. Historically, they have been able to look to the local media to see the process of decision-making and to make their comments to whatever authority they wanted. They do not have confidence in the consultative arrangements that the Minister provides for in his amendment. They feel strongly that the Government are removing precious historic rights that they believe are important if they are to carry out their functions. They believe that the media should have access to the water authorities. They look to the Government to ensure that changes are made, even as late as Lords amendments, to secure what they believe, I believe and the majority of the House would believe if all hon. Members were free to vote as they wished, to be the public interest.
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
We all accept that information is a vital part of our democratic system. When information is difficult to get at Government level, it does not inspire confidence when such information is made more difficult to obtain from a quango such as the water authorities. That is deeply worrying to the people.
I shall give two examples showing how difficult and evasive the Government have been, not with regard to the Franks committee about which we heard today, but with regard to the gathering of information. When my hon. Friend the Member for Carmathen (Dr. Thomas) tried to ascertain what was the use of the dioxin-carrying weedkiller 2,4,5,T, on a number of occasions questions were asked of different Departments. Each reply stated that only 3 tonnes of that weedkiller were used in the United Kingdom. When my hon. Friend asked how much of that weedkiller was imported to the United Kingdom the answer was that such information is not separately distinguished in "British Overseas Trade Statistics". That answer did not say that such figures are available from Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. In 1980, 58 tonnes of 2, 4, 5, T were imported into the United Kingdom. Such evasion does not give us confidence that the information that the Government are giving us is either accurate or up-to-date. It seems to be deliberately evasive.
My second example is about the Armitage report on transport. It recommended that fuel injection equipment in heavy lorries should be made tamper proof in line with regulations in other countries. When I asked the Secretary of State for Transport which countries required such tamper-proof equipment to be fitted, I received the following answer from the Under-Secretary:As far as I am aware, only Sweden has a requirement intended to reduce the possibility of tampering with fuel injection equipment."—[Official Report, December 1982; Vol. 33, c. 461.]Further inquiries on my part to the Automobile Association led to the information that Sweden, 232 Switzerland and Czechoslovakia have such equipment. The answer by the Minister had been prefaced by the evasive phrase:As far as I am aware".Therefore the Department of Transport is in no position to find out where in the world those devices are fitted, but the Automobile Association can find it out quickly.
I shall refer now to information about the water industry and the position in the Principality. The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs has beeen examining it recently. While the people of Wales anxiously await the report of the Committee, which has been delayed for a number of reasons, the evidence of that Committee has been published. It is most informative. Of all the witnesses who came before the Select Committee only the Welsh CBI opposed the continued right of public access to water authority meetings.
It is interesting that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts), defended that right when he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs on 2 December 1981. He is well versed in the problems of water in Wales and stated in his evidence:I do not want to draw analogies but there are analogies in other services where they operate very efficiently. Nevertheless they hold their meetings in public. I do not really see the need for privacy in decision making as overriding the need for effective action as the Authority sees it.I fully endorse that and I am sure that the people of Wales also support the view so cogently put by the Under-Secretary. I sincerely hope that the Government's retrograde step in seeking to limit press access will be reversed today. So far, only one Conservative Member has befriended the Government on this.
The headquarters of the Welsh water authority is in Brecon, so it is not an easy journey from, say, Rhossili in the western part of my constituency to see the authority performing its decision-making role. The journey will be virtually impossible by public transport when the full effects of the Government's cut in rate support grant have worked through the local authorities, with reductions in bus subsidies and consequent cuts in services, and the Gower pony will be just about defunct.
The press is a vital instrument of information transfer when the senility of public transport in rural areas is aided by the Government and the Commissioner for Local Administration may no longer investigate cases of maladministration alleged to have been committed by water authorities. With the changes proposed by the Government in the Bill, it would seem sensible to establish a new ombudsman with substantial powers which are currently denied to the Commissioner for Local Administration.
Under the agency agreements between water authorities and local authorities, sewerage functions are discharged by district councils. As I said in the Standing Committee—and I shall continue to pursue this until the problem is solved—a number of my constituents in Sybil street and Hebron road in Clydach live in daily fear that their kitchens and living rooms may at any time once again be flooded with raw human sewage. Even in the tourist haven of Oxwich my constituents face a similar problem.
The Welsh water authority decides the priorities of sewerage schemes as between the conflicting claims—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he must relate his remarks to the admission of the press to water authority meetings.
§ Mr. Wardell
I was just coming to that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Welsh water authority and other water authorities have an agency agreement with regard to the discharge of sewerage functions. The press can draw attention to problems of the kind that I have described throughout Wales and in other areas.
It is important to remember that we are dealing with a rate levying authority whose members will henceforth be nominated exclusively by Ministers. It will handle large sums of public money but will be accountable only to itself, without a press presence at its meetings.
The retrograde nature of this was highlighted in the Western Mail—the national newspaper of Wales—on 13 July, with the following headline:Welsh Water Authority dry up in secret meetings".If the Western Mail believed that the Welsh water authority was drying up last July, permanent aridity of information will rapidly become the norm if the Government have their way on this crucial issue.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Like other Opposition Members, I support new clause 3 and the need to allow the press to attend the meetings of the new water authorities.
When I talk to my constituents, when canvassing and at other times, I find that many of them, sadly, take the somewhat cynical view that politicians in general say one thing and do another. The Government's attitude to the new clause neatly illustrates that. Governments of all political persuasions in this country have supported the belief that there should be far more freedom of information and that the public should have greater rights of access to the information on which decisions are made. Yet in cases in which the Government could actually do something about that this is what happens. The Government say that they are not prepared to allow the press into meetings to report what is being done on behalf and with the money of the people of this country. That is deplorable.
The Government offer only two possible reasons. First, they argue that the press do not attend very regularly now. Secondly, they make comparisons with other nationalised industries. It is extremely important that we enjoy rights even if we do not always exercise them. The Stockport Express and the Stockport Area Messenger, for example, certainly cannot afford to send a reporter to every meeting of the North-West water authority, but when they know that a problem will be discussed that is of particular interest to the people of Stockport they need the right to have somebody at the meeting to report what is said and to make it clear to the people of Stockport that their views are being put, whether by elected representatives as in the past or by the new appointees, so that they can exert an influence and, if necessary, political pressure to ensure that the people of the area have a fair deal from the water authority. Nothing will convince people unless they know that somebody can attend the meeting and actually hear the views put. That is extremely important. Of course, there will be many occasions on which local newspapers will not send reporters. Nevertheless, they should enjoy the right to do so if they wish.
234 The Government's other argument is that water authorities should be treated like other nationalised industries, which do not have to put up with the press at their meetings.
Many people believe in the importance of freedom of information. We should examine ways of opening up many nationalised industries to more public scrutiny and more, rather than less, public access to information.
I am fully aware that some industries are competing with foreign competitors. There is the argument about trade secrets and the problem that public access would have with regard to foreign competition. However, apart from matters that may be confidential perhaps because they are of a personal type about an employee—which is already covered by existing legislation—there is no information involved in water authority meetings which is inappropriate for public debate.
The only way to achieve proper and informed public debate is to ensure that meetings are reported in the media and that the issues are discussed. When I travel round my constituency, one of the bodies that comes in for most criticism is the North-West water authority. One reason is that my constituents know little about it. That has much to do with the way in which the authority was set up. The only way to break down that barrier is to encourage people to attend its meetings.
The Government claim that the new procedure will be streamlined and that there is much more chance that the press will report the issues. As a result, the public will be better informed about the problems that face the water industry and they will be happier to pay their water rates if they know the money is being spent wisely and there is public discussion of the priorities. If water authorities' affairs are carried on behind closed doors, people will be more cynical about authorities and will increasingly demand that water authorities be democratically controlled. The sooner that happens the better, but meanwhile, there should be media access to all meetings.
§ Mr. Ogden
I agree with the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) in one regard only—I support new clause 3. I disagree with him about the level of criticism of the North-West water authority. During the present Parliament I have received only two complaints from constituents about the activities of that authority. Both constituents are vocal and know where to find their Member of Parliament. That puts what the hon. Gentleman said into perspective.
I should like to have pursued the points that the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) raised about the accessibility of the Welsh water authority from the wilder parts of Brecon and Clydach. I congratulate him on making a lucid, cogent, competent and extensive Second Reading speech in a discussion on one amendment. I enjoyed his speech. I hope that he is always as successful as he was tonight.
The Minister is smiling. I should not like to wipe the smile off his face. Perhaps he would like to intervene later to clear up a matter that was raised by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson). I normally admire his speeches. However, he confused some of his arguments a little today. He confused those authorities such as gas, electricity and coal that charge for services with those that charge a rate.
Carried to its logical conclusion, the argument of the hon. Member for Newbury is that it is not necessary for 235 the press to attend water authority meetings because Members of Parliament will be able to safeguard their constituents' interests by asking the relevant Minister questions in the House. A logical development of that argument is that we might as well close down Hansard, the BBC's recording of the House and press coverage of the House. That is ridiculous. I read the Sunday newspapers to find out what is happening here. Nevertheless, what questions will I and other Members be able to ask the relevant Minister, whether he be from the Department of Trade, the Department of the Environment or the Welsh Office? What questions will hon. Members be able to get through the Table Office? What detailed questions will hon. Members be able to table about the day-to-day activities about roads, streets and sewerage charges? We will want to be able to ask more than merely who is the chairman or vice-chairman of an authority and what costs are involved. What questions will the relevant Minister and his colleagues be able to answer? If the Minister wants to take that point up now I shall gladly give way. I hope that he will answer that point before the end of the debate.
The Minister will remember that, in Committee, we debated press access. With his usual charm, the Minister gave us a whole host of things about press access to consumer councils. We were talking not about press access to proposed consumer councils, but press access to water authority meetings. We had hoped that in the few weeks since then, some arrangements would have been made between the newspaper fraternity—the Guild of British Newspaper Editors—and the Ministry. That has clearly been rejected. A guild press release has already been referred to. It said of the proposals:The Guild regards this as a shabby substitute for a legally established right of access.It continued:In the view of the Guild the Government's admission that there might be circumstances in which the presence of the press might be justified shows that to exclude the press and public from the meetings of the rate levying authorities is a retrograde and dangerous precedent.Those are fairly powerful criticisms from a body that relies considerably on the good will of Government to perform its news collecting service.
Who first suggested that the press should be excluded from the meetings of the new water authorities? Was it a ministerial idea? Did the proposal come from the water authorities? If so, from which authorities? It has always been assumed, although it has never been stated in debate, that the present proposal is being presented to the House by the water authorities through the Government. The unspoken suggestion is that the proposal is being made so that water authorities can get on with their business quietly and privately. It is intended that they will be able to slip measures through without anyone knowing about them. That conclusion may be incorrect, but any competent, effective and efficient water authority such as the one that we have in the north-west, in spite of occassional criticisms of it, should be more than willing for members of the press to attend their formal meetings. It should not be content merely with a face-saving press conference. Water authorities should be ready, able and willing to use the press to get the good news over. To deny access to the press is to deny water authorities a channel of communication that they should accept. I hope that the Minister will answer my questions even though his speech 236 may have been prepared. Who suggested that the press be excluded—the Government or the authorities? If it was the water authorities, which ones did so? Secondly, what questions will hon. Members be able to ask in the House?
Will the Minister examine the matter? Press access has done no harm and much good. The proposal places the new authorities under some doubt from the start. It clouds their initiative and their style. It is a handicap that they must overcome.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw
There can be no doubt that the issue of press access has created the greatest degree of controversy during the passage of the Bill. The press has been effective in alerting hon. Members about its anxieties. However, we must note its absence from the Press Gallery—but perhaps it is only a paper tiger.
The main issues in the debate stem in part from misunderstanding and in part from genuine concern. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) said that the Bill would result in the elimination of local authority representation on the new-style boards. That is not the case. There will be at least two representatives in each of the water authorities. The most significant part of the Bill is the substantial change in local authority representation, from being the majority in large organisations—boards of 62, 47 or 35—to two persons on a board of nine or 15.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
It is a question not of numbers, but of substance. The present local authority members are appointed by local authorities and, through them, have a degree of accountability to the ratepayers.
I am pleased to see the Secretary of State in the Chamber. I offer him my congratulations on his preferment. I am sure that he will wish to appoint people with experience in local government, but they will not be accountable to local government. That is a substantial change.
§ Mr. Shaw
I take the right hon. Gentleman's point. On reflection, he must recognise that even under the existing regime the composition of a water authority does not include representatives from all local authorities within its region.
The character of the new authorities is fundamentally different from the local authority majority structure that it will replace. That, above all else, is the most important reason why the review of press access resulted in the decision that it was no longer appropriate. We must bear in mind that the Bill will move the character of the authorities away from the local authority, open forum type meeting to an executive style.
§ Mr. Spence
In whose opinion was press access not appropriate to the new authorities? Is that the Government's opinion, the opinion of the administrators or the Civil Service? What about the consumers whom we represent? Have they been consulted?
§ Mr. Shaw
It is the Government's opinion that that is the right decision to make, and it is for the House to determine whether that should be so. That is why we are debating the matter. I shall seek to justify that. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission recommended that there should be a fundamental restructuring of the authorities. It was critical of the scale of authorities, of the 237 management structure within them—it examined the Severn-Trent authority—of the communication and control problems and of the large consumption of time in the administration of the committee system which, ultimately, produced a 47-man authority. An independent third party important investigation was carried out and the advice was that changes in structure should be considered. Hon. Members have not denied the general feeling on both sides of the House that water authorities have not earned the accolade of great achievement that we wish them to earn. Therefore, change is desirable.
The second problem is whether the proposals are a fundamental denial of the rights of the public, the water consumer, Members of Parliament and those who seek to scrutinise public bodies, which should be resisted à l'outrance—as, I suspect, the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) would have us do. Undoubtedly that would be the case were we proposing total exclusion while not seeking to offer any public scrutiny of water authorities or their activities.
§ Mr. Shaw
I shall reply to that point in a moment. Total exclusion of the press has been implied by many hon. Members. They have questioned how that relates to public scrutiny.
The regional water authorities, will still be subject to an immense range of public scrutiny. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission has already been used and, under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's leadership, will continue to be used as a major vehicle of public examination.
The report and accounts of the water authorities, laid before the House in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, will be displayed to show every aspect of the water authorities' activities, performance aims, investment appraisal, manpower trends and all the other matters that one would wish a publicly accountable body to show in public.
It will still be possible to ask a wide range of questions of Ministers who are accountable to the House for the ways in which the water authorities operate. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) will be interested in the precise nature of those ways. As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know better than I, the policy for the acceptance of questions must be determined by the Chair. The decision that we have reached now will not be changed by the Bill's provisions. Presently, Ministers are prepared to answer questions on a wide range of matters, such as broad policy issues, charging policies, investment policies, manpower, and other matters relating to water authorities. Those are currently available for scrutiny through the parliamentary questions procedure. That will remain the case.
If it is believed that this width of questioning is inadequate, I give an undertaking to the House, subject to the agreement of the Table Office, that we shall extend it. The House has a right to know what the water authorities are doing in relation to their reports.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister of State to make such a statement?
§ Mr. Shaw
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I accept that the House must be satisfied that the questioning of water authorities on the report and accounts laid—the information that is provided—is sufficient for my right hon. Friend and me fully to discharge our ministerial obligations.
§ Mr. Beith
I appreciate that the Minister is trying to be helpful to the House, but if the Bill makes no changes in the areas in which Ministers are subject to parliamentary questioning, it follows that there can have been no change in the relationship of power between Ministers and the water authorities. Otherwise, there would have been implications for parliamentary questions. In what sense has the character of the water authorities changed? I do not mean their style or how many members they have, but their range of responsibilities. In what sense have they become executive bodies in a way that they were not previously?
§ Mr. Shaw
That will largely depend on how the authorities operate under the powers contained in the Bill. I remind the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that under the Bill's provisions, every member of the water authority is appointed by the Minister concerned. There will be total ministerial responsibility for appointments, which is rather important.
It is already known that the Government are involved in many aspects of water authority capital expenditure and external financing limits. We must then ask ourselves whether there will be sufficient access and opportunity for the media and for the public in the water authority areas.
A point that we made in Committee about the availability of information to the press won considerable ill-will from both hon. Members and gentlemen of the press. It is not a shabby substitute to increase such information.
The House must understand that the press is admitted by statute to about four, five or six water authority meetings a year. With the new proceedings, the fact that the boards are smaller should enable water authorities to meet more frequently and should certainly enable a substantial reduction in the committee structure that is so prevalent at the moment. At each meeting the press will be informed of the matters that are to be discussed and the water authorities will be available afterwards at a press conference to answer questions about the meeting. Press conferences are not usual in all water authorities, but the opportunity to question those who have taken decisions at meetings will be increased modestly.
The second range of new access provisions—the code of practice—has been called a shabby substitute. The code of practice will be drawn up between the chairmen of the regional water authorities and the Guild of British Newspaper Editors. I hope that the guild will recognise that as an opportunity to determine, with the chairmen, the rules under which the press wishes to have access to water authority information. I hope that the press will take advantage of that proposal and that the chairmen and the guild can arrange a code of practice.
239 The availability of information at consultative committee meetings will be substantial. I made it clear to the Committee, and I make it clear to the House now, that the guidelines will show that the consultative committees should have the opportunity to probe into anything that they consider appropriate. They will have information about charging policies before charges are made and they can ask questions about and discuss investment policy before investment decisions are made. It is important that they have access to information that is sufficient correctly to discharge their obligations. The guidelines must be drawn up with the fundamental objective of exposing the water authorities' activities to public and press scrutiny.
I add to that the fact that the consultative committees will meet, for example, not in the head office at Warrington, which is many miles from Carlisle in the North-West regional water authority, but in every division of every regional water authority several times a year. Thus, an evening paper published in Lincoln need not send a representative to Huntingdon for meetings that occur five times a year, but can become involved in what affects the local services of the water authority in Lincoln. That is a substantial advantage to the public and the press. I will not accept, either from my hon. Friends or from Opposition Members, the allegation that we are shutting the book and preventing water authorities from offering their activities for scrutiny by the public and the press.
Hon. Members could say "But they may not take advantage of it". They may say that the statutory right to attend five or six meetings a year, which the press currently enjoys, will cease. That statutory right will cease, just as local authority membership of water authorities—which at the moment is a majority in each authority—will also cease when the Bill is passed. The two factors ran hand in hand and were both part of local authority structure and of the fact that local authority meetings were open to the press. However, it is not sufficient to say that water authorities are only rate-levying or tax-levying bodies. It is true that they charge and that domestic charges are largely based on rateable values. I regret that fact in many respects.
We have tried to increase the availability of metering. Had the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) been here, I should have told him that the shop that pays an £800 water bill would benefit from a metering system, if it is to be made available by the Welsh water authority. However, the main objective of the water authority is to discharge statutory functions and to ensure that the consumers of its services, whether domestic or commercial—commercial users account for nearly half the revenue of the water authorities—receive fair, full and effective service. That is what the new proposals in the Bill are designed to achieve. The press will have substantial access to the water authority. The public will have substantially more access to the water authority. This House will have as much access as it now has, and probably more, as Ministers will in a sense be more responsible through their appointments for the operation of water authorities and will seek to discharge those responsibilities to this House.
The group of amendments consists of the new clause and a Government amendment. The Government wish to make it clear that the right of access under the 1960 legislation is indeed affected by the Bill. I commend that 240 amendment to the House. The new clause should be resisted on the ground that I trust I have persuasively put forward.
§ Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda)
The Minister's reply has been the most insensitive reply that I have heard either in Committee or during this debate. I believe that the Government will regret their decision because it is unwise, insensitive and out of tune with the needs of the people. New clause 3 would entrench the existing position of the press. It would not increase that position but merely preserve it as it is now and help to preserve the rights of people as they are now. Amendment No. 31, which the Minister is supporting, is a denial of existing rights to the press and through it to the people of this country.
It is significant that only one speech has been heard in support of the Government. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) wishes to change his point of view after hearing the Minister's reply on whether water authorities are becoming more answerable.
The Minister said that the position had not been changed by the Bill. If that is the case, any hope we have of tabling parliamentary questions will be as hopeless in the future as it is now. Nothing will have been changed on that score. It is remarkable that the Government are pushing this amendment through. They have traditionally talked about open government. The speech of the Prime Minister has been quoted on so many occasions that I do not propose to repeat it, but bearing in mind what she said, I should have thought that Conservative Members would be voting with the Prime Minister and the Opposition for new clause 3 this evening.
As to the decision to refuse to allow the press to attend meetings of the water authority, did that suggestion emanate from Government quarters or from water authority quarters? The argument is that it has been necessary to do this because the character of the water authority is now fundamentally different. The only real difference is the size. The new water authorities will have to carry out exactly the same functions, and will have exactly the same powers, as the water authorities today. If size is an argument, it is surely a nonsensical argument when many organisations in this country are of the same or smaller size as the new water authorities that do in fact admit the press with no adverse effects upon their operations. In Welsh terms there is the Land Authority for Wales and there are regional health authorities in England and other health authorities.
It has been argued that the new water authority may become more executive in character. As my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of this debate, many matters of considerable public importance will be dealt with by the new water authorities irrespective of their size, planning, prices, abuses or misuses of power, health, standards, wages and a wide range of other matters. The public has a right to the earliest knowledge about those matters. It has a right to know before the final decision is taken. It is no good holding a press conference after the decision has been taken. It is crucial that the press know so that they can inform the public before any decisions are taken.
The Minister tried to sell us his new code of practice. Far from criticising him, I imagine that the Guild of British Newspaper Editors would have offered him its badge of honour. Does the Minister really believe that the Guild of 241 British Newspaper Editors is so foolish, ignorant and dull that it does not appreciate this new extension of power which the Minister suggests he is offering? The truth is the very opposite. If we deny the press the right to attend water authority meetings where the crucial decisions are taken, it is no substitute to say, "But you can go to the consumer councils", because the councils are not decision-making bodies.
The code of practice also suggests that the press may be invited to attend certain water authority meetings. Which? Will they be invited to any meeting that is likely to be embarrassing to the water authority? I do not believe so. The press will be invited only to those meetings that suit the purpose of the water authority, not the interests of the general public.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Did my right hon. Friend note that the Minister refused to reply to the four questions put by the Guild of British Newspaper Editors about its relationship with the water authorities? Will he press the Minister, even now, to answer those important questions?
§ Mr. Jones
The points contained in the letter of the Guild of British Newspaper Editors have been spelt out at considerable length. I have referred to some of them. In fact, the Minister's contention that amendment No. 31 increases the availability of information does not stand up to examination. The Bill will create 10 powerful super-quangos. If the public is to be protected against those organisations, we must ensure that press involvement is extended rather than diminished.
This House has a long tradition of concern for democracy, but we cannot have an effective democracy unless at the same time we have a well-informed democracy. That is what this issue is all about. New clause 3, although dealing with the freedom of the press, deals equally with the rights of the individual. If we support the idea of a well-informed democracy, we must recognise that that cannot be achieved without a well-informed press.
I hope that all hon. Members will vote for the new clause, including those Conservative Members who spoke against the Government's proposal. Above all else, if this House fails in its duty tonight, I hope that the other place will seek to correct the error of our ways.
§ Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 221, Noes 273.244
|Division No. 42||8.53 pm|
|Abse, Leo||Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)|
|Adams, Allen||Buchan, Norman|
|Allaun, Frank||Callaghan, Rt Hon J.|
|Alton, David||Campbell, Ian|
|Anderson, Donald||Campbell-Savours, Dale|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Canavan, Dennis|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Cant, R. B.|
|Atkinson, N. (H'gey,)||Carter-Jones, Lewis|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Beith, A. J.||Clarke, Thomas (C'b'dge, A'rie)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Cohen, Stanley|
|Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N)||Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Conlan, Bernard|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon A. (M'b'ro)||Cook, Robin F.|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Cowans, Harry|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Crawshaw, Richard|
|Brown, R. C. (N'castle W)||Crowther, Stan|
|Cryer, Bob||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||McElhone, Mrs Helen|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)|
|Davidson, Arthur||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||McKelvey, William|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)||McWilliam, John|
|Deakins, Eric||Marks, Kenneth|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton)|
|Dewar, Donald||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Dixon, Donald||Martin, M (G'gow S'burn)|
|Dobson, Frank||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Dormand, Jack||Maxton, John|
|Dunnett, Jack||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Eastham, Ken||Meacher, Michael|
|Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|English, Michael||Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Ewing, Harry||Moyle, Rt Hon Roland|
|Faulds, Andrew||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Field, Frank||Newens, Stanley|
|Fitch, Alan||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Flannery, Martin||Ogden, Eric|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Ford, Ben||O'Neill, Martin|
|Forrester, John||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Foster, Derek||Palmer, Arthur|
|Foulkes, George||Park, George|
|Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)||Parker, John|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Parry, Robert|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Pendry, Tom|
|George, Bruce||Penhaligon, David|
|Golding, John||Pitt, William Henry|
|Gourlay, Harry||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Graham, Ted||Prescott, John|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Hardy, Peter||Race, Reg|
|Harman, Harriet (Peckham)||Radice, Giles|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)|
|Haynes, Frank||Richardson, Jo|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Home Robertson, John||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Homewood, William||Robertson, George|
|Hooley, Frank||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Howell, Rt Hon D.||Rooker, J. W.|
|Howells, Geraint||Roper, John|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)|
|Huckfield, Les||Rowlands, Ted|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Ryman, John|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Sever, John|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Sheerman, Barry|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)||Short, Mrs Renée|
|John, Brynmor||Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Silverman, Julius|
|Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Snape, Peter|
|Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)||Soley, Clive|
|Kerr, Russell||Spearing, Nigel|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Spence, John|
|Lambie, David||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Lamond, James||Stallard, A. W.|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Stoddart, David|
|Leighton, Ronald||Stott, Roger|
|Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)||Strang, Gavin|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Straw, Jack|
|Litherland, Robert||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Lyon, Alexander (York)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|McCartney, Hugh||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Tilley, John||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Tinn, James||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Torney, Tom||Williams, Rt Hon A. (S'sea W)|
|Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H. (H'ton)|
|Wainwright, E. (Dearne V)||Wilson, William (C'try SE)|
|Wainwright, R. (Colne V)||Winnick, David|
|Walker, Rt Hon H. (D'caster)||Woodall, Alec|
|Wardell, Gareth||Woolmer, Kenneth|
|Weetch, Ken||Wright, Sheila|
|Wellbeloved, James||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|White, Frank R.||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|White, J. (G'gow Pollok)||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Whitehead, Phillip||Mr. George Morton.|
|Adley, Robert||Dunn, Robert (Dartford)|
|Alexander, Richard||Durant, Tony|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Dykes, Hugh|
|Ancram, Michael||Eden, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Arnold, Tom||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Eggar, Tim|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne)||Elliott, Sir William|
|Atkins, Robert (Preston N)||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th, E)||Eyre, Reginald|
|Baker, Kenneth (St.M'bone)||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Fairgrieve, Sir Russell|
|Banks, Robert||Faith, Mrs Sheila|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Farr, John|
|Bendall, Vivian||Fell, Sir Anthony|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Benyon, W. (Buckingham)||Finsberg, Geoffrey|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Fisher, Sir Nigel|
|Best, Keith||Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Fox, Marcus|
|Blackburn, John||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Blaker, Peter||Gardner, Sir Edward|
|Body, Richard||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Gow, Ian|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Gray, Rt Hon Hamish|
|Bright, Graham||Greenway, Harry|
|Brinton, Tim||Grieve, Percy|
|Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon||Griffiths, E. (B'y St. Edm'ds)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Grist, Ian|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Hannam, John|
|Budgen, Nick||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Hastings, Stephen|
|Butcher, John||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Hawkins, Sir Paul|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Chalker, Mrs. Lynda||Heddle, John|
|Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul||Henderson, Barry|
|Chapman, Sydney||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Churchill, W. S.||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)||Hill, James|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Holland, Philip (Carlton)|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Hooson, Tom|
|Cockeram, Eric||Hordern, Peter|
|Colvin, Michael||Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)|
|Cope, John||Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Corrie, John||Irvine, Rt Hon Bryant Godman|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)|
|Critchley, Julian||Jessel, Toby|
|Crouch, David||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)|
|Knight, Mrs Jill||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Knox, David||Rossi, Hugh|
|Lamont, Norman||Rost, Peter|
|Lang, Ian||Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.|
|Latham, Michael||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Lawrence, Ivan||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lee, John||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Shepherd, Richard|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Rutland)||Shersby, Michael|
|Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)||Silvester, Fred|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Sims, Roger|
|Loveridge, John||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Smith, Sir Dudley|
|McCrindle, Robert||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Speller, Tony|
|MacGregor, John||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Sproat, Iain|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Squire, Robin|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Stainton, Keith|
|Major, John||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Marland, Paul||Stanley, John|
|Marten, Rt Hon Neil||Steen, Anthony|
|Mather, Carol||Stevens, Martin|
|Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus||Stewart, A. (E Renfrewshire)|
|Mawby, Ray||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Stokes, John|
|Mayhew, Patrick||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Mellor, David||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Thompson, Donald|
|Moate, Roger||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Moore, John||Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)|
|Morgan, Geraint||Trippier, David|
|Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)||Trotter, Neville|
|Murphy, Christopher||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Myles, David||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Neale, Gerrard||Viggers, Peter|
|Nelson, Anthony||Waddington, David|
|Neubert, Michael||Wakeham, John|
|Newton, Tony||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Nott, Rt Hon Sir John||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Onslow, Cranley||Walker, B. (Perth)|
|Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.|
|Osborn, John||Waller, Gary|
|Page, Richard (SW Herts)||Walters, Dennis|
|Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil||Ward, John|
|Parris, Matthew||Warren, Kenneth|
|Patten, John (Oxford)||Watson, John|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Wells, Bowen|
|Pawsey, James||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Percival, Sir Ian||Wheeler, John|
|Peyton, Rt Hon John||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Pink, R. Bonner||Whitney, Raymond|
|Pollock, Alexander||Wickenden, Keith|
|Porter, Barry||Wilkinson, John|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Williams, D. (Montgomery)|
|Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Mr. Archie Hamilton and|
|Renton, Tim||Mr. David Hunt.|
|Rhodes James, Robert|
§ Question accordingly negatived.