HC Deb 15 March 1995 vol 256 cc901-2
26. Mr. Alan W. Williams

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what the total number of people working for the National Rivers Authority was (a) when it was first established and (b) on the latest available figures.

Mr. Atkins

At the end of March 1990, NRA. staff numbered 6,535; at the end of March 1994, the figure was 7,709.

Mr. Williams

The Minister will know that the establishment of the National Rivers Authority was supported by the Labour party and has proved a great success. Does he agree that the excellent people in pollution control will form the basis of the Environmental Protection Agency, and that their good work must continue in that agency?

Mr. Atkins

I am delighted to say that the hon. Gentleman is entirely correct. The NRA and the people involved with it have done a great job. Many people involved in angling, for example, believe that the water bailiffs perform significant and important tasks along the river banks. During the progress of the Environment Bill, the Government intend to ensure that the NRA, like the other agencies to be subsumed into the new environment agency, will continue to play a very important role.

Mr. Jessel

As my constituency has more River Thames bank than any other constituency in Greater London, I can inform my hon. Friend that the River Thames is in excellent condition, which is a great credit to the National Rivers Authority and to the Government who established that agency.

Mr. Atkins

As a fellow riparian Member, with the River Ribble forming a substantial part of the boundary of my constituency, I know only too well what the NRA has achieved. I am delighted that my hon. Friend and I agree on that issue, as on so many others.

Mrs. Helen Jackson

Does the Minister recognise that there is concern within the National Rivers Authority about the reduced level of staffing foreshadowed in the annual report published two days ago? That will do nothing to assist the National Rivers Authority in taking necessary action on the issue of abandoned mines, which was raised at the Coalfield Communities Campaign conference. We cannot address that serious issue without having sufficient staff levels in the monitoring agencies such as the National Rivers Authority.

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Lady, like so many Opposition Members, believes that more people should be involved in performing those tasks than we believe is warranted. As I said to the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), the NRA is an extremely efficient organisation WHICH has performed extremely well over the years. It has improved its operation, increased its productivity and done the job more efficiently.

The hon. Lady's point about abandoned mines is well taken. I had a very interesting and constructive meeting with her right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip only yesterday, when we discussed those matters at some length. He agreed with me that, give or take a nuance or two, he and others support what we are trying to do.