HL Deb 07 December 1972 vol 337 cc457-9

7.47 p.m.

LORD WINDLESHAM rose to move, That the Draft Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, laid before the House on November 21, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should explain that this draft Order is a further part of the programme of legislation which it is necessary to carry through for the reorganisation of local government in Northern Ireland. We have already considered education and libraries, health and personal social services, and a number of other matters which arise out of the recommendations of the Macrory Review Body.

At present, the responsibility for water supply and sewerage services in Northern Ireland rests on 79 local authorities which vary greatly in size. Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has not seen in recent years any major regrouping of water supply authorities. This fragmentation of responsibility provides little incentive to encourage the build-up of qualified teams of professional and technical staff; the economic use of expensive capital works; the introduction of modern automatic control processes, and the establishment of comprehensive maintenance programmes. It also leads to variations in the cost of services. It is for reasons of this kind that the Macrory Review Body recommended that water supply and sewerage services should become the direct responsibility of the Northern Ireland Ministry of Development.

Article 3 of the Order implements this proposal. It is the Ministry's intention to administer water services on the basis of four Divisions based on the major catchment areas in Northern Ireland. Each Division will be divided into a small number of sub-divisions which will deal with day-to-day matters. There will in future be an office of the new water organisation in nearly every major town in Northern Ireland, and these offices will work closely with the offices of other regional and local services. Although executive responsibility for water and sewerage services will be vested in the Ministry of Development from October 1 next, Article 5 requires the Ministry to consult with the new District Councils, and Article 6 provides for the Ministry to be advised by the Northern Ireland Water Council which will shortly be set up.

The existing law in Northern Ireland with respect to water supply and sewerage services dates back to the middle of the last century. The rest of the Order is, therefore, largely concerned with consolidating and updating the legislation which is necessary to ensure the proper provision of water supply and sewerage services. Parts III to VIII of the Order give the Ministry the necessary powers to acquire land and water rights and to carry out works. They deal with the provision of services to new consumers and new development, and set out the procedures which will govern the making of discharges of trade effluents to sewers. These provisions follow closely on the parallel legislation in Great Britain and pave the way for a considerable improvement in the organisation of water services in Northern Ireland. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, laid before the House on November 21, be approved.—(Lord Windlesham.)


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I must admit that when I was sitting on the Government Front Bench I found on occasion that I was called upon to explain policies with which I was not very familiar, and I found it a very educational experience. But I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, is getting a quite exceptionally broadly based education and will become an expert on many subjects. I am sure that he is helped in this by the excellence of the explanations with which he is provided to give to the House, not only in his speeches but also in these explanatory documents, such as the Proposal for a Draft Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order. It is extremely helpful to those of us who feel that we ought to show at least some interest, and see whether there is some very obvious point to which we should draw attention. Once again, of course, we are confronted with what is virtually a Bill. I do not know how long this process will go on, and I should not wish to claim that there is anything very much that one can do about it. But, as I say. I am impressed by the thoroughness; and, of course, a great deal of this follows very closely on the experience with regard to water legislation in Britain. So I certainly welcome the Order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.