HC Deb 23 April 1985 vol 77 cc837-48 10.20 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)

I beg to move, That the draft Water and Sewerage Services (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 27th March, be approved. One needs to be a quick change artist, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with the orders being brought forward as quickly as this.

The order deals with escapes of water from mains and pipes belonging to the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland, which is the sole water authority there. It would, except in certain circumstances, make the Department of the Environment strictly liable for loss or damage resulting from escapes of water onto agricultural or forestry land from a water main or service pipe belonging to the Department.

Until recent years, water authorities throughout the United Kingdom were liable to compensate only for loss or damage resulting from an escape of water caused by a water authority's negligence. Property owners, however, could insure against loss or damage caused by escapes of water from water mains, but it has always been extremely difficult, throughout the United Kingdom, to insure agricultural or forestry land against that.

Following many years of pressure from farming and land interests in England and Wales, section 6 was added in Committee in the House of Lords to what is now the Water Act 1981. It creates a liability, which is not confined to agricultural or forestry land, on English or Welsh water authorities for loss or damage caused by all escapes of water from water authority mains. That provision was included after a promise made on Report in this House.

As often happens when proposed legislation is amended at a late stage, the effect of the coverage given was not fully realised. Because of the breadth of cover provided, water authorities have found themselves having to pay large sums of money to persons who would, in the normal course of events, have no difficulty in obtaining insurance against the risks covered by the legislation.

In 1982–83, over £14 million was paid by water authorities in England and Wales. Of that, only £100,000 was for damage to agricultural and forestry land. In 1983–84, the figures were nearly £2 million and just over £80,000 respectively. The money went to people whose agricultural or forestry land had been damaged by water from burst water mains. The effect has therefore been that in each of those years less than 5 per cent. of the money paid has been going to the bodies whose difficulties originally raised the need for legislation.

In addition, it has been discovered that of the compensation paid probably as much as 80 per cent. is paid to insurance companies through injured parties, or direct. The beneficiaries of section 6 of the Water Act 1981 have therefore been insurance companies and the losers have been the payers of water rates.

Inquiries of those companies have revealed that the provision of legislative cover has had no effect on the premiums payable for damage caused by water. The vast majority of claims against insurance companies for water damage are as a result of burst pipes or overflowing systems within property or floods from rivers overflowing.

I repeat that it should be kept in mind that the cost of meeting these claims, as with all other costs, is in fact borne by the consumers either through the rate bill or by direct charges.

The Water Act 1981 did not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland, but it was indicated in Parliament at that time that the law in those two countries would be changed in due course, although there has not been a lobby for it in Northern Ireland.

Scottish legislation was enacted in section 57 of the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Act 1982. It was wisely more tightly drawn, and it confined its cover to those suffering loss or damage resulting from an escape of water on to agricultural or foresty land; that is, to those who could not normally obtain insurance cover.

In bringing foward the amendment to the Northern Ireland water legislation, we propose to follow the Scottish rather than the English path and to deal specifically with the problem which first gave rise to this legislation, that is, the uninsurability of agricultual and forestry land against water damage risk.

The draft order was considered by the Environment Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly and was debated in the Assembly. The report of the Assembly recommending no change to the proposal was laid before this House on 19 December 1984, and all of us will have seen that report.

Prior to the laying of the order before this House, a number of Northern Ireland hon. Members made representations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) to follow the English rather than the Scottish legislation. Among the 30 non-governmental bodies consulted on the legislation, only one made that representation. I can well understand why hon. Members made that representation. They were desirous that the law in Northern Ireland should be the same as that in England. It will be the same as that in Scotland—a country which has had close links with Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the Minister with responsibility for the environment in Northern Ireland, has communicated with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction, who has agreed to consider whether there should be a change in the English and Welsh law on the lines of the Scottish law.

I stress that the unexpected results of the England and Wales legislation have put money into the pockets of the insurance companies at the expense of the payers of water rates. They take up with the authorities damage done to their client's property by burst water mains and collect the costs from the water authority despite having themselves received premiums to cover such liabilities.

As one who believes in personal responsibility and containment of Government expenditure, I support the move to the present Scottish system and not the England and Wales system, especially bearing in mind that the England and Wales system is being reconsidered.

I must also stress that the order does nothing to remove the existing rights of individuals to pursue claims against the Department if it is negligent. On the contrary, it provides cover for a section of the community which has difficulty in insuring against damage which may be caused by escapes of water from the Department's water pipes. If this order is not passed tonight, the holders of agricultural and forestry land in Northern Ireland will be at a disadvantage compared with their counterparts in England, Wales and Scotland.

As hon. Members are anxious to raise points on the order, I shall not go through the articles one by one, unless hon. Members so desire. It is the general theme of the order that concerns us, and I commend it to the House.

10.28 pm
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

As the Minister has indicated, the order has its roots in section 6 of the Water Act 1981, which relates to England and Wales. When we ask that the same law be applied to Northern Ireland as to England and Wales, we are at least consistent. We are asking only for the principle that has already been followed to everyone's advantage.

I appreciate that this matter has caused some difficulty for water authorities in England and Wales, but that is not a good argument for suggesting that the people of Scotland or Northern Ireland should be deprived of a benefit that, perhaps, is more widespread than the Government may like but that would be of real benefit to some people in the community.

When the corresponding legislation for Scotland was being discussed, I noted from Hansard that, while the Labour party was anxious to support such legislation for England and Wales, it took the opposite view for Scotland, and did so on not particularly good grounds. The grounds were that there is a different set-up for water authorities in Scotland, where councils were the responsible body, and they could not afford the extra burden. I rather fear that the Labour party was taking that line on the advice of the councils in Scotland rather than on published figures, because it is difficult to get hard and fast figures on the cost of the application of section 6.

When the order was first published in September, I noticed that Northern Ireland was not being treated as England and Wales were. I asked what the effect of this difference in the law was, as I am of an inquiring mind. I wrote to the Minister and asked for his observations, and with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) I went to see the Minister. Despite the representations that we made forcefully and clearly, the order was published, and we are now discussing it.

A number of points have to be made about this order. As a general principle, we should try to have all public utilities on the same footing one with another throughout the United Kingdom, because they are all providing a public service to the community.

The water authorities have an absolute statutory duty laid on them to provide water to private individuals, and therefore Parliament has, over the years, given them the right to lay pipes where ever it is necessary to provide the water supply. If an individual builds his house alongside a major water main, he is accepting the risk inherent in that, because water under pressure is a pretty potent instrument if it gets out. However, if the high pressure watermain is laid alongside an already existing house, that risk was not there, the individual does not want it, and it is being imposed on him. On that ground alone, I would have thought that the water authorities have a powerful moral reason to provide compensation to an individual whose property is damaged by a burst watermain. However, the individual does not have that right now, unless negligence can be proven, and will not have it in Northern Ireland even if the order goes through. On the other hand, he can get compensation automatically in England and Wales.

Until section 6 of the Water Act came into force, the water authorities could not insure, and therefore they did not have the legal liability to compensate those whose property was damaged. Since the passing of the Water Act, surely the water authorities can insure that they have a legal liability to compensate. Cannot the water authorities in Northern Ireland insure themselves against damages? Has that possibility been explored?

In the debate in the other place on these issues, it was said that everybody paid water rates, and therefore all would be contributing to any compensation that was paid. It may well be that the system in Scotland is different from that in England and Wales, but the system in Northern Ireland differs from both. In Northern Ireland we all have to pay for the water that we consume. We are all metered. We all make payments to what is in effect a Government body. I can see no good reason why the burden for the damage suffered should not be spread among the water consumers rather than that the Department of the Environment should have to find extra money. Perhaps that is a suggestion that should have been considered.

I remember that the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), then the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, said in this House that the Government believed that the Water Bill had been greatly improved by the inclusion of clause 6. Something must have happened since then. Perhaps it was the harsh light of experience that made the Government change their mind. The Government should be trying to claw back. They should not be depriving the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland, and indeed the insurance companies there, of the benefits that they should enjoy. Surely they have as much right to the money for compensation as the people 'of England and Wales.

One of the excuses made in the other place with regard to Scotland was that there was simply not enough time to consult all the interested parties. There has certainly been time to consult interested parties in this case, and efforts have been made to do so.

I believe that the Government have not proceeded correctly. I would have preferred them to follow the English and Welsh legislation. A mistake made in one place could perhaps then have been remedied across the board when a suitable opportunity occurred.

The report by the Northern Ireland Assembly was an astonishing document, produced after an astonishing investigation by the environment committee and the Assembly.

The Assembly was satisfied, and it welcomed the Scottish standards. The agriculture committee of the Assembly was satisfied too. I am sorry that neither of the chairmen of those committees is present this evening. They might have been able to tell us, and the people of Northern Ireland, why they took such peculiar decisions.

The Ulster Farmers' Union was satisfied. The Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers' Association was asked, apparently, and did not reply. The Department of the Environment was satisfied. The general public in Northern Ireland was not consulted by the Assembly. They had no opportunity to put their view. Apparently, one body consulted asked for the English and Welsh procedure to be followed. Could the Minister tell us what it was? Whatever it was, that body showed a wee bit of wit.

The Assembly stated that it was grateful to all the bodies that had assisted in the preparation of the report. Let us think about those bodies. Why should the Ulster Farmers Union not have been satisfied? It asked only about the agricultural aspect, and the agricultural aspect was met. The union was not worried about the domestic householder. It is not clear whether the Agricultural Producers Association was satisfied, as it did not reply. The Department of the Environment was satisfied. It told the Assembly what the Assembly wanted to hear.

The one person who could suffer from the bursting of a massive pipe was the domestic individual, and his interests were not protected.

Many years ago, when I represented the city of Londonderry, the water main to the city burst in the middle of a housing estate occupied by people who, at best were poorly paid and, for the most part, were unemployed. We should try to protect such people who, perhaps because of age, sickness or poverty, are unable to insure themselves and therefore suffer considerable personal loss. The houses were built across the hill in fairly long blocks, and some had 3 and 4 ft of water in them. A large water main with, in this case, 500 ft of head behind it, can shove out an awful lot of water in a short time. Such people get hurt, as they get no compensation from anybody and they are those who can least afford it. It is no excuse to say that insurance is available, as it is not always in force, for the reasons that I have given.

The Assembly also noted that Parliament was assured that the law would be reformed in Scotland and Ireland. I have not managed to lay my eyes on the relevant Hansard of this House, the other place or the Scottish Grand Committee, although I assume that it will be of this House. I should like to know whether Parliament was told then that the law for Scotland and Ireland would not be the same as that then being passed for England and Wales. If the House had been told, I feel that many more questions would, or should, have been asked.

The Assembly was worried about the effect on public expenditure. That might come as a surprise to some people. There is a means of spreading the compensation burden evenly, because all consumers are metered. Why did the Environment Committee and the Agriculture Committee in the Assembly and the Assembly in general allow the order to pass without challenge?

The Assembly said that it recognised the extent of the Scottish and of the English and Welsh legislation. I believe that that is not an accurate reflection of what happened. I cannot believe that anybody explained the practical effects to the members of those Committees, or to the Assembly. Officials in the Department of the Environment did not tell them, and the Minister did not tell them. Unfortunately, nobody in those Committees thought to ask the right question. The agriculture bodies were happy, as they got what they wanted, but nobody spelt out to members of the Assembly what the result would be.

I have no doubt that the Minister with responsibility for the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland was told of the effect. I believe that his civil servants advised him, even if he had not the wit to spot it himself. Members of the Assembly and its Committees were not told, as the Minister would have been told, because the Assembly is served by civil servants who are not responsible to it or paid by it.

In other words, the brief was prepared by civil servants who were responsible to the Minister and to the interests of the Department, rather than to the interests of the Assembly. The order seemed fairly harmless, at worst, and, at best, helpful to the agricultural community. That is why I am glad that we are in this House. We can act as a longstop and ask the questions that were not asked in the Assembly.

The Department of the Environment presented to the Assembly a long letter which contained a statement that I should like to have clarified. The Department pointed out that the regional water authorities in England and Wales who are responsible for sewerage also undertake prosecutions. Can those bodies undertake prosecutions against the Crown?

The question of the treatment of sewage occupied the Assembly when considering the order. I shall be writing a lengthy letter to the Minister tomorrow about the Kilrea sewerage works. We corresponded on the subject a year ago, but a serious problem remains. The sewage has been troubling people for years and it seems that the Department of the Environment is falling flat on its face.

That is the sort of matter with which the Assembly concerned itself. It did not worry about the domestic property that would be damaged and the problems that would be caused to the people living in that property.

The Department said in its letter to the Assembly that the whole matter would be reported to the water council. What can that council do about reports that are presented to it? I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) has joined us, because he was prominent whenever section 6 of the Water Act was being debated. I trust that he will support us tonight. What can the water council do about bad sewerage works in Northern Ireland?

We are discussing an important matter because it raises the question whether all citizens of the United Kingdom shall be treated alike, shall stand equally before the law and have the same benefits, or whether some shall be treated differently.

The Labour party failed in its representations on behalf of Scotland, having argued one case for the people of England and Wales and another for the people of Scotland. The Government failed to protect the people of Scotland and are failing to protect the interests of the domestic sufferers in Northern Ireland. I hope that it will not be long before these matters are corrected.

10.48 pm
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

It is wonderful how a lesson gets inculcated, first one way and then another. The second order which the House is considering returns to the theme of the first yet approaches it from a different and novel angle.

It is a pretty pickle that has been committed by the Government which the House is invited to contemplate tonight. Before 1981, the code of law in all parts of the United Kingdom in these matters was the same. In that year, the Department of the Environment in England and Wales, for reasons unconnected with the matter which is under discussion, decided to go ahead on its own, and had its own Water Bill for England and Wales.

Into that Bill was inserted under persuasion in both Houses a clause which was ill-considered, of which the consequences were not foreseen and which the Government had reason to regret. Before long it was discovered that as a result of that provision £14.5 million a year was being paid out to unintended recipients, mostly in the form of insurance companies, to alleviate the burdens and obligations that they had undertaken in the policies that they had written.

So the Government wondered what to do. One might think that the simple thing to do would be to amend the Water Act 1981 and to remove the disastrous and offending section. But then there is a saying, much current in Treasury circles, that one cannot take butter out of a dog's mouth. The proposition of introducing a Bill into the House of Commons to amend the Water Act 1981 by deleting section 6 did not commend itself, surprisingly enough, to the managers of Government business, to the Whips or to those who might have been expected to ensure that that legislation got through.

So since 1981 the Water Act for England and Wales has been left severely alone to go on its riotous course, subsidising the insurance companies, but it occurred to the Government that they had still to deal with the other parts of the United Kingdom. They took Scotland first. They had a favourable course there, because whereas in England and Wales the sufferers, mainly the water authorities, are impersonal and not very popular bodies, in Scotland the water authorities were none other than the elected county councils which, as we all know, are so popular that everybody is anxious to take part in the relevant parts of the United Kingdom in the forthcoming elections to return even more worthy representatives to those bodies. The Government got away with it in Scotland and they succeeded in passing a Scottish water measure without the blemish which had unhappily been allowed to disfigure the England and Wales Act.

Then, of course, there was left Northern Ireland. "Easy," said the Government. "We do not have to legislate for Northern Ireland. We do not have the embarrassment of having to bring in a Bill and pass it through all its stages. Goodness knows what trouble there might be when people discovered what we were up to. We can do it by an Order in Council. That is how we legislate on transferred subjects for Northern Ireland. So we will just produce an order on the lines of the Scottish measure, without the blemish of section 6 of the Water Act 1981. If they do not like it, they will have to lump it because that is what Orders in Council are about."

It turned out, as my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) said, that by some strange inadvertence the curious Northern Ireland Assembly apparently liked it but the rest of us do not like the fact that what has not been remedied in England and Wales because it would involve legislation is omitted in respect of Northern Ireland because we do not have to be legislated for, but can just be governed by Order in Council.

We come back to the same old grievance. We have returned to King Charles' head—the evil of legislating differently for different parts of the United Kingdom and in particular of legislating for Northern Ireland by means of an Order in Council.

What ought to be done — surely the Treasury's interest must be engaged—is that the Water Act 1981 for England and Wales should be amended. It is a minor scandal that when the Minister in Northern Ireland in the Department of the Environment communicated with his opposite number in England and Wales he received a vague and distant suggestion that the Department might get round to considering what to do in England and Wales. I have to say to the Treasury—if my voice will reach it —"Wake up; there is £14.5 million a year there to be saved for the trouble of introducing amending legislation. Surely you can lean on the Department of the Environment to the extent of getting it to put its house in order in England and Wales and save that substantial sum from going every year down the drain as a result of that blunder."

Until that is done, until that happens, and certainly until there is a definite assurance that that is going to happen in England and Wales, we in Northern Ireland will not sit down under the indignity, because we are legislated for by order in Council, of having imposed upon us what the Government are afraid to impose upon England and Wales. Against that we are duty bound to protest. So strongly do we feel that duty upon us that many of my hon. Friends and I have temporarily quit the electoral field in Northern Ireland in order, alone of all the parties of Northern Ireland represented in the House, to make sure that our grievance is heard and is marked.

Let me once again, therefore, reaffirm what the grievance is. That grievance is that, by reason of the fact that in Northern Ireland we are under temporary arrangements, annually renewed, legislated for by Order in Council, that which ought to ge done in England and Wales and which would save £14.5 million in England and Wales if it were done there, is imposed upon us by sleight of hand. We do not like it. We protest against it, and despite the fact that the order is beneficial to the agricultural and forestry interests in Northern Ireland, as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom, we shall protest against it in the proper manner in due course.

10.56 pm
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

It is fortunate for me that I do not have to answer the argument put forward by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), although I congratulate him, as I often do, on putting his finger on the essential matter that preoccupies Northern Ireland Members. I had some sympathy for the Minister—

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

We all have.

Mr. Bell

Several of us here have great sympathy for the hon. Gentleman.

I had greater sympathy for the Minister when he was trying to explain to the House the problem that he had, as he moved to the Scottish system, of trying not to put money into the hands of free-thinking, free market insurance companies and take it out of the pockets of the hard-pressed water ratepayers in Northern Ireland. I know that the Minister believes sincerely and deeply in free enterprise, and that he also believes in restrictions on public expenditure. Therefore the dilemma that he faces is understandable.

I took on board the comments of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) when he said that in this matter what he described as a wee bit of wit should have been used. We might all benefit from that wit when we discuss the great ironies and illogicalities of orders which, as the right hon. Member for South Down said, are different in Scotland from those in England and Wales, and are now in parallel with Northern Ireland and Scotland. It would be of some puzzlement to the British public if they were aware of the great variety on this matter.

The essence of the order is aptly contained in the explanatory note dated August 1984 provided by the Department of the Environment. Essentially, it is that the order amends the Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1973 by inserting a new article 57A, which makes the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland liable for damage caused by escapes of water on to agricultural or forestry land. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East referred to the domestic user of water and said that that was not covered by the order. The liability under the order is absolute and covers escapes of water from pipes for which the Department is responsible. That covers water mains and service pipes coming within the Department's responsibility.

It is true, of course, that when the proposals came before the Environment Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly, although the proposals were generally welcomed, concern was expressed at the damage caused to agricultural and forestry land by escapes of harmful substances such as sewage and chemicals coming from equipment, plant or premises for which the Department has a vested responsibility. However, even absolute liability, to which I referred earlier, cannot be that absolute. The order will not extend to certain undertakings empowered by statute to provide public services; for example, railways and road transport undertakings. In addition, the Department will not be obliged to compensate a person who suffers loss or damage through an act for which he is wholly responsible. In essence, therefore, the basis of the order is that damage caused to uninsurable agricultural or forestry land shall be covered, but that there is a limit to the burden on public expenditure.

If I may revert again to my barrister training, I note that in the past liability rested with the Department only when an escape had been caused by the Department's negligence. The question of negligence might be relevant to the home owner who finds himself the subject of a burst water main and is not covered by insurance. He might nevertheless be covered by negligence. This principle was established by an English legal precedent, Green v. Chelsea Waterworks, and that was decided in the Court of Appeal as long ago as 1894.

Some reference has been made to the position taken by the Ulster Farmers Union. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East made the apt point that such proposals and such an order would be acceptable to the farmers union. The reasons for that are obvious. It has also sought additional amendments to cover leakages of harmful substances even in very small amounts which can lead to serious damage and losses to users of waterways, including farmers and livestock farmers. It appears to me that the farmers union, while it draws attention to valid points, goes further than this order should go.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East makes the point that possibly the wrong questions were asked in the Northern Ireland Assembly and by the Environment Committee. It is right, as he said, that we are the backstop, the ultimate legislators who must try to put the right questions in the right circumstances. The Environment Committee recognised that there was a distinction between water and sewerage operations, whereby the Department had sole control over the former, whereas third parties can discharge effluent, pollutants and the like. It recognised also the increased financial implications should the area of liability be broadened. It also accepted the high level of public scrutiny to which the Department is subject in Parliament and in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

I should like to take on board all the points made by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), who never ceases to draw the attention of the House to the various anomalies which we face when we are dealing with such orders. He puts them in a constitutional context as well as a practical and pragmatic context. The Opposition take note of the various points that have been made and the differences between Scottish and Northern Ireland legislation and that of Wales and England. Nevertheless, we feel constrained to support the Government and to commend the order to the House.

11.3 pm

Dr. Boyson

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), as always, expressed a measured, careful and in many cases sound view, although I cannot agree with everything that he said.

The hon. Member referred at the beginning of his speech to Scottish Members. There is no sign that any Scottish Members feel aggrieved by the fact that legislation was brought forward for Scotland of the type proposed for Northern Ireland. Scottish Members could easily have intervened in the debate this evening, but none seem to be bursting through the doors to say that rising movements throughout Scotland are protesting that they are not having the same privileges of paying their insurance premiums, twice, as it were, with the company then getting back the money from the water authorities — in that case, as the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) said, from the local councils.

I do not think that it is a question of the amount of money. The right hon. Member for South Down referred to the £14.5 million that I mentioned earlier. That is a lot of money. Of course, everything could be said to be on the margin. Mention has already been made of "Bleak House". As Mr. Micawber said in another Dickens novel, happiness or misery depends upon whether one is sixpence below £20 or sixpence above £20. I enjoy agreeing with the hon. Member for Londonderry, East when I can, but I must mildly rebuke him over his remarks concerning the £14.5 million. That was a considerable issue. The right hon. Member for South Down said that he hoped that the Treasury was listening because if the legislation which now applies in Scotland, and is to apply in Northern Ireland, were introduced in England and Wales there would be a considerable saving to the public purse.

The Assembly has been referred to time and again. Today, I ate with one of the chairmen of committees in Northern Ireland, although he was not the chairman of the Environment Committee or the Agricultural Committee I met the chairman of the Department of Finance and Personnel Committee today. But the Assembly's recommendation is clear. The Environment Committee recommends that no change be made to the draft Water and Sewerage Services (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. That was its view.

In my opening remarks I said that, of the 30 nongovernmental bodies consulted on the legislation, only one had made such a representation. As I knew that some hon. Member would ask me about that, I made a note in the margin about that body. As the hon. Member for Londonderry, East implied, it was the Law Society. I did not include that at the beginning, because it did not particularly strengthen my case, but I had it in reserve if required. But whether or not it was the Law Society, we are here as legislators, and Assembly Members were making their comments as people elected to represent the Northern Ireland electorate.

It should be pointed out that the Association of Local Authorities, Shelter and the Northern Ireland Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux were also consulted, yet none of them was against the proposal. They either did not reply—although they were not busy electioneering at the time—or they nodded in agreement from their offices.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East queried whether the Crown could be sued. I am not a lawyer, and I should perhaps take legal advice on that. I was hoping that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) would save me from having to answer that point. But I doubt whether the Crown can be sued in that regard. As the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, who spoke for the Opposition, said, the right hon. Member for South Down often puts matters on a more general constitutional plane. Since being privileged to be a Minister for Northern Ireland, I have listened to the logical and careful arguments that the right hon. Member has regularly put forward. He said that the grievance had been heard and marked. I am not quite sure what marked means in this case, but as a former schoolmaster I know that one can either tick it or put a cross against it. I shall leave my response to his comments there.

The right hon. Member for South Down used a phrase that I had never heard before, about taking butter from a dog's mouth. One problem is that once one legislates so that certain people have additional privileges, it is difficult to take them back.

Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)

Fifty million of them.

Dr. Boyson

Probably fewer than that in England and Wales. I always say that one cannot take a bone from a dog without being bitten. I do not usually find dogs eating butter. They are usually eating bones.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), who is responsible for the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland, wrote to the Minister for Housing and Construction about what could be done to rectify an error that was made at that time in section 6 of the 1981 Act, and the last line of his reply was: I am happy to assure you that we will think again about the way in which section 6 has operated. We thought again when we laid this order and decided that it was not our job to put money into the pockets of the insurance companies, which drew money from people and then got it back again, so that they were paid twice over, without any sign of premiums being lowered. It is not our job to stop people from being prudent and insuring when possible, because we believe that they should be prudent. It is not our job to increase Government expenditure—the hon. Member for Middlesbrough agreed that that has been my consistent view — but, where people cannot insure — the pressure for the original section 6 came from the fact that it was almost impossible to insure forestry and agricultural land—the Government should step in.

On those counts we commend the order to the House. I trust that my right hon. and hon. Friends will support it in the Lobby when right hon. and hon. Members opposite show their displeasure with the order.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 94, Noes 6.

Division No. 193] [11.10 pm
Amess, David Lang, Ian
Ancram, Michael Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Lester, Jim
Baldry, Tony Lightbown, David
Boscawen, Hon Robert Lilley, Peter
Bottomley, Peter Lord, Michael
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Lyell, Nicholas
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Macfarlane, Neil
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Maclean, David John
Bright, Graham Marlow, Antony
Brooke, Hon Peter Maude, Hon Francis
Brown, M. (Brigg & Crthpes) Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Bruinvels, Peter Merchant, Piers
Butcher, John Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Mills, lain (Meriden)
Chope, Christopher Moate, Roger
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Neale, Gerrard
Conway, Derek Neubert, Michael
Coombs, Simon Newton, Tony
Couchman, James Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Durant, Tony Parris, Matthew
Emery, Sir Peter Pawsey, James
Evennett, David Portillo, Michael
Fallon, Michael Powley, John
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Proctor, K. Harvey
Forth, Eric Roe, Mrs Marion
Fox, Marcus Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Freeman, Roger Silvester, Fred
Gale, Roger Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Galley, Roy Steen, Anthony
Garel-Jones, Tristan Stern, Michael
Goodhart, Sir Philip Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Gow, Ian Sumberg, David
Gregory, Conal Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Thurnham, Peter
Gummer, John Selwyn Twinn, Dr Ian
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Waller, Gary
Hanley, Jeremy Watson, John
Hargreaves, Kenneth Watts, John
Harris, David Whitfield, John
Hayes, J. Wiggin, Jerry
Heddle, John Winterton, Mrs Ann
Hickmet, Richard Winterton, Nicholas
Hind, Kenneth Wood, Timothy>
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Yeo, Tim
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Hunt, David (Wirral) Tellers for the Ayes:
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Mr. John Major and
Knowles, Michael Mr. Peter Lloyd.
Beggs, Roy Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Clay, Robert
McCusker, Harold Tellers for the Noes:
Marek, Dr John Mr. A. Cecil Walker and
Nicholson, J. Mr. William Ross.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the draft Water and Sewerage Services (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 27th March, be approved.