§ 3.36 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND SCIENCE (LORD SANDFORD)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, that the House do again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Sandford.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]
§ Clause 4 [Establishment and functions of National Water Council]:
LORD HENLEY moved Amendment No. 26:
Page 6, line 43, at end insert ("and planning;").
§ The noble Lord said: Late on Monday night your Lordships debated at some length three Amendments dealing with the central planning of water: they were my Amendment, the Government's Amendment and the Amendment moved in the name of the noble Lord, Lord 827 Sinclair of Cleeve, with various other names attached, which attracted great support. All those Amendments were withdrawn. I got the impression that many noble Lords were disappointed and felt that the National Water Council ought to be involved in central planning. I believe that many of your Lordships detected contradictions in the Government's ideas about such central planning. Evidently the Government have resolved some of those contradictions, if contradictions they were, because I understand that they are going to accept my Amendment No. 26, which is the one before your Lordships now. Amendment 26 bears on the same problems, in that it is trying to give the National Water Council responsibility for promoting the planning functions of regional water authorities. It adds the words "and planning" to the duties which are put upon the National Water Council. It is short and sweet and is less radical than the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve. In fact it is the shortest way to ensure that the central planning should be transferred to the National Water Council; indeed, it would involve the National Water Council as deeply as possible in the planning of water resources.
§ I understand that the Government would have accepted this Amendment if it had been moved in another place. I was tabled but it was not called. That is something that I do not understand. Nevertheless, in accepting it, I understand the Government have certain misgivings with regard to the word "planning". When the noble Lord dealt with the question on Monday he said that he found it too imprecise. And yet noble Lords discussed the planning functions of various bodies at some length the same evening without any apparent confusion or imprecision. Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, himself continually used the word and we had no difficulty in understanding him, though some of us at that time had some difficulty in agreeing with him. If, in acepting my Amendment now, the noble Lord can accept that word without restricting it in any way or rendering it meaningless, or weakening the effect of some other aspects of the Bill's provisions, I shall be happy. I beg to move.828
§ BARONESS WHITE
I think that we are in some little difficulty about this matter. I have the greatest sympathy with the purpose of the Amendment. It does not go so far as the Amendment of Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, but it is in the same direction. My difficulty is that at our last sitting we accepted a Government Amendment which referred to the planning duties of water authorities under Clause 23. As we said at the time, that was, in effect, a restrictive Amendment.
We did not accept it; we asked the Government to withdraw the Amendment on the grounds that it was too restrictive.
§ BARONESS WHITE
I beg your Lordships' pardon. The recollection of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, is correct and I am at fault here. It was because of the very danger that I was apprehending that we did not, in the event, accept it. If we do not accept Lord Henley's Amendment, then it seems to me that the Government would be in difficulties in carrying out the proposition, as I understood it, put to us by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford: that the Government wish to have time to see how their own proposals work in practice and that if, in experience, they are not satisfied with the results and we have not put specific provisions into the Bill—as proposed, for example, in the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve—the Government will be free to reorganise the system without statutory impediment. I wish to be satisfied that that is really so. If, in the clause as it stands unamended, one mentions specifically functions relating to research but not functions relating to planning, then surely the Government might be in some difficulty, even on their own premise, in carrying out the sort of reorganisation which some of us certainly wish to see and which the Government might, in the light of experience, also wish to see. It seems to me that this is what gives the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, its particular importance.
§ LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE
May I say that while I am glad to know that the Government take a favourable view of planning being within the scope, or under the authority, of the National Water Council, I feel that there is still 829 great substance in the point that planning and research should go together. While I certainly could not oppose this Amendment in the sense that planning itself should go there, I hope that its acceptance will not be regarded by your Lordships as an admission that research should not ever be so included. I indicated at the end of the debate on Monday evening that we proposed to return at the Report stage to this subject of planning and research being vested in, or under the authority of, the National Water Council.
May I just reassure the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, by saying that it does not seem to me that I am weakening Clause 23 in any way by adding the words "and planning" to Clause 4(5)(b).
§ LORD SANDFORD
I am glad to confirm that this Amendment is acceptable and will not cause any difficulties to the Government. The point I would make is that we are here discussing two rather separate things arising from Lord Henley's Amendment. There is the business of the planning function of the regional water authorities, and the role which the National Water Council have in promoting the planning functions of the regional water authorities. I am quite prepared to accept the noble Lord's Amendment, which would have the effect of adding "planning" after the ward "research", but that is in the context of what I was saying at the earlier stage of the Committee when I mentioned that it would be necessary, or at any rate desirable, to spell out what those functions were and make them more specific. I do not think that that will weaken what the noble Lord is saying. I do not think that it will restrict it, but it will just direct attention to Clause 23, where the kind of planning which is required of the regional water authorities is spelt out in more detail.
Subject to the retabling of my Amendment, which was No. 24, at the next stage, the noble Lord's Amendment is acceptable for the time being. I do not think that the Government are in any great difficulty whether the noble Lord's Amendment is accepted, my Amendment is accepted, or neither Amendment is accepted. It is plain for all to see that the regional water authorities will have 830 to undertake planning, and it is clear already, on the face of the Bill, that the kind of planning that they have to do is set out in Clause 23. Therefore we are all right either way; but a debate on the kind of planning they have to do, and the way in which the National Water Council has to do it, has been valuable and useful.
Running parallel with this discussion has been the further discussion which was made possible by my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve when he tabled his Amendment concerned with planning at the national level, and which is dealing with much longer-term events than the planning by the regional water authorities. Anxieties were expressed by several noble Lords about the pattern of the national water bodies that are going to be set up in future and which will inherit the work of various bodies such as the Water Pollution Research Laboratory and the Water Resources Board with which we have been familiar in the past. During that debate I gave the undertaking that, in the light of anxieties and comments and queries raised from all sides of the Committee, I would seek to prepare a further Paper, not only setting out what the Government intend to do but giving more weight to the reasons behind those decisions, which perhaps have not been sufficiently clear hitherto. In the light of that debate my suggestion was that we should have a further debate, if necessary, on the Government's proposals for the Water Research Centre, the Central Water Planning Unit, and the other central bodies. I believe that it was the opinion of the Committee, when we adjourned on the last occasion, that this course would now be the most convenient way in which to proceed. To sum up, that is what I propose to do, and in the meanwhile advise the Committee to accept the noble Lord's Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ LORD DE RAMSEYhad given Notice of intention to move Amendment No. 28:
Page 7, line 39, at end insert:
("( ) The Council shall establish a national water planning unit for such purposes related to the national use of water as the council may, with the consent of Ministers, specify from time to time, and the council shall make
such arrangements in connection with the establishment of this unit as will procure that:—
§ The noble Lord said: I am still not clear, and far from happy, about the relationships between the various central bodies, the National Water Council, the Central Water Planning Unit, the Steering Committee, the Water Research Council, and the Department of the Environment. I was proposing to deploy arguments on assumptions that may not be valid. I now understand that the Government propose to circulate Papers that may remove some of those fears, or may not. However, I must reserve my position at a later stage, and I do not move the Amendment standing in my name.
§ On Question, whether Clause 4, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ BARONESS WHITE
May I ask the noble Lord whether he will ensure that we have the Paper, which we shall deeply appreciate, in good time, so that we have some opportunity of consulting before we reach the Report stage?
§ Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.832
§ Clause 6 [Arrangements for discharge of functions of water authorities]:
§ 3.50 p.m.
LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE moved Amendment No. 29:
Page 8, line 44, after ("authority") insert ("and this general provision shall permit the appointment of an executive committee consisting of the chairman or the deputy chairman of the authority, and such other members of the authority as the authority may appoint including the Chairman or Deputy Chairman of the Land Drainage Committee; any such executive committee shall be charged with such duties as the authority may define, including the consideration in detail of recommendations from sub-committees and the formulation of proposals arising therefrom for the consideration of the authority; and any such executive committee shall be served by the principal officer of the authority.")
§ The noble Lord said: I hope that this is a comparatively simple Amendment. It is permissive and not mandatory. So far as I can see, it raises questions of procedure and administration rather than major questions of principle. Nevertheless, it is not unimportant and the reasons for putting it down are simply these. In the early days particularly, these new water authorities will have a great many problems which involve quite important questions of policy or administration. The Bill, as it stands, certainly gives these authorities permission to appoint committees or sub-committees as may be required. But the whole tenor of the paragraphs dealing with that aspect suggest that those committees ought to deal with particular subjects or problems. In the result, if there are many such committees, they will report direct to the full authority, and it does not require much imagination to appreciate that in a very short time the machinery will become hopelessly clogged unless some device such as an executive committee is adopted.
§ It may be said that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent an executive committee being appointed, and I think that is true. On the other hand, in practice, if there is no recognition of the possible existence of an executive committee, it is conceivable, if not indeed highly probable, that many of the committees or sub-committees reporting from time to time to the authority will require that their report should go direct to the full authority, which, I am afraid, would 833 simply not be practicable, because of the number of such committees and the number of recommendations from them which would arise. Those are the reasons why I am suggesting that a permissive power to appoint an executive committee should be incorporated in the Bill. I beg to move.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT (BARONESS YOUNG)
As this is the first time that I have taken part in this Committee stage, I should like to begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady White, for her very kind remarks. As we always listen with such respect to what she says, the compliment is the greater; and many other noble Lords have also made such kind remarks. Any inadequacies on my part will be entirely due to myself and not to the Water Bill or to the very considerable amount of excellent advice that I have been given.
When considering my reply to my noble friend Lord Sinclair, whose experience in these matters is so great, I re-read what he said on second Reading when he made a similar point. I entirely take his point that it could well appear that, with the number of committees under a regional water authority, there could be a lack of central direction and co-ordination. I hope, however, that I can reassure him on this point—and I say that for two reasons. First, as he himself has said, under Clause 6 it is within the powers of a regional water authority to establish such a committee, and I think, without in any way anticipating how such authorities will act, that they will attract the kind of people who will see the necessity for this kind of committee. However, the Government accept that it is desirable to provide guidance about the management structure, and last year they set up a committee, under the chairmanship of Sir George Ogden, the Town Clerk of Manchester, to prepare such guidance. The Secretary of State has now received the report of this committee and it will be published shortly. I cannot anticipate the full report, but it can be said that the committee are very well aware of the kind of problems to which my noble friend Lord Sinclair 834 has drawn attention. Their recommendations include the establishment of a Policy and Resources Committee as the central committee of the authority, under the chairmanship of the chairman of the authority. The Secretary of State will be commending these recommendations of the Ogden Committee to the water authorities as soon as they are set up. I hope that with those two reassurances my noble friend Lord Sinclair will feel that he has made his point and is able to withdraw his amendment.
§ LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE
I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. If it is understood—as I imagine it will be understood—that for practical purposes the Policy and Resources Committee would function as an executive committee, and if that is explained by the Secretary of State to the National Water Council which will give guidance to the water authorities on such matters, I imagine with the approval of the Secretary of State, then I shall be very happy indeed to withdraw the Amendment.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
Certainly. My understanding is that such a Policy and Resources Committee would, in fact, be an executive committee in the sense described by my noble friend Lord Sinclair.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 30:
Page 9, line 1, at end insert:
("(c) by any local authority;").
The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment, I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 46. The noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, has drawn attention to the fact that Clause 6 deals with arrangements for the discharge of functions of water authorities. Subsection (1) enables a water authority to
… arrange for the discharge of any of their functions
It seems to me rather odd that the Bill does not also provide for regional water authorities to enter into arrangements with local authorities in their areas where
it may be advantageous to do so; that is, with district councils, county councils, London boroughs and the Greater London Council.
In the case of sewerage functions which are dealt with in Clause 15, local authorities are required to carry out certain functions for a water authority, and they have no discretion at all in the matter. Subsection (5) of Clause 15 reads:
If within a period of two months beginning with the date on which any such draft was sent by a water authority to a relevant authority, the two authorities have not entered into the arrangements, the water authority shall, within seven days of the end of that period, notify the Secretary of State of that fact and the Secretary of State shall settle the terms of the arrangements which shall be binding on both authorities.
As I see it, there could be distinct advantage in securing the possibility of co-operation in regard to water, except that the arrangement should be by agreement and not obligatory. In this respect, the really odd thing about the Bill is that Clause 10 permits of just such arrangements in regard to the supply of goods and some services.
§ Clause 11 again places a local authority in a position in which it may be required to enter into an agreement under Section 1(1) of the 1970 Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act with the water authority for a period of five years to provide support services. But as I understand the position, it is the provision of support services only, and there are very strong reasons why there should be provision to enable water authority functions themselves to be carried out by local authorities on agreed terms if both parties are so minded and as long as it suits them both. In support, I would draw attention to the position of local authorities as open space authorities—a capacity in which, because of their detailed knowledge of their own areas and of the people who live in them, and indeed of the people who visit them, they are surely placed in a better position than the large and often far-removed regional water authority, who exercise water, recreation and amenity functions. If we take the monitoring of the water in the Thames tidal estuary. the Greater London Council possesses well-equipped laboratories and has long done the job. Incidentally. I rather think they will 836 continue to do this monitoring, come what may. But is it not sensible to anticipate that the G.L.C. would extend the service to cover whatever needs the water authority may have for scientific monitoring of the river? Clearly it is rather wasteful if two bodies are undertaking the same function.
§ There are other functions which could be undertaken on an agency basis, all with economy and in most cases with. I venture to suggest, greater efficiency and satisfaction. I think perhaps the one or two instances I have given will in themselves be self-evident as to the point I am making. The Amendment does not seek to introduce compulsory delegation, or anything like that, but only permissive powers; and I trust that the Amendment will be acceptable. May I say that it is submitted as a constructive and helpful Amendment, and at the moment I find it very difficult to anticipate that any valid objection can possibly be made to it. Since this is the first time I myself face the noble Baroness opposite on this Bill, may I say that I very much hope that she will be able to accede to my plea and say that the Government are prepared to accept the Amendment. I beg to move.
§ BARONESSS YOUNG
I should like to begin by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, that I accept the spirit in which he has moved this Amendment. When I in fact came to consider my reply to it, it seemed to me that it was essential to go back to the basic principle of the Bill, which is the proposal to establish ten regional water authorities which are to be multi-purpose and will have control over all the functions set out in Part II of the Bill. I have listened to many speeches, both at Second Reading and on the first day of Committee, which set out in detail these functions of water supply, sewerage, sewage disposal, water conservation, land drainage, fisheries and pollution. The point was made over and over again of the necessity, in view of the great difficulties facing us over our whole water situation, of having a decision and establishing powerful multipurpose authorities which could deal with them. So that when one looks at the Amendment before us—which for many of your Lordships has, I am sure, a great many temptations—I think one must recognise that what is being asked for is 837 a two-tier system under the regional water authorities. This, of course, becomes particularly attractive on the two parts which have been traditionally local authority services, the first being public water supply and the second being sewage disposal.
If I may turn to the question of public water supply first—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, mentioned this in some connection, as well as some of his other services—it will be known that since 1945 there has been a gradual change in the provision of public water supply from direct local government control to water boards, and there is very considerable evidence that, even had this Bill not been put forward in the particular form that it is in, there would have had to be even larger boards than exist already to meet the kind of situation that we face to-day. There has been severe criticism from the Central Advisory Water Committee on various aspects of this, but probably the most compelling reason for this Bill was the need to establish an adequate system of sewage disposal. As the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has said, so far as the sewerage system itself is concerned, this is in fact delegated under Clause 15 to district and London borough councils, who will be able to continue to maintain and operate their own local sewerage systems. But over the whole range of other matters the Government still feel that it is essential to establish this service under the regional water authorities.
Again, there have been very severe criticisms of the present situation, in which there are 5,000 separate sewage treatment works operated by some 1,300 local authorities; and even though I know that this number of authorities will be considerably reduced from April, 1974, the fact remains that there will still be some 400 of them. We have moved into a world in which the whole of the treatment, maintenance and operation of sewage works has become a highly skilled and exceedingly expensive operation. When one comes to consider this, and whether or not it could be conducted by local authorities on an agency basis, or something like that, I think we have to face the difficult fact that it is an expensive operation and that what one authority would have to pay for would frequently not be of benefit only to its 838 own electors but to those of another authority; and I myself have been in local government long enough to know what a very difficult procedure this is to carry out and to persuade people to adopt.
The noble Lord mentioned other possible functions which might come under this, but I think they are all open to the same kind of objection; that we should be establishing a two-tier system. In saying this I should like to make it quite clear that I am not in any sense criticising local authorities or local government for what they have done. This discussion gives us an opportunity to pay tribute to the staff of the authorities responsible for all these services and, of course, to the many people who have served in a voluntary capacity on their committees. But it is simply a fact of the complications of our industrial society that we must devise new organisations to meet present trends.
Perhaps I may conclude where I started. I have explained as clearly as I can the reasons that have led the Government to the conclusion they have reached; that is, the establishment of the regional water authorities. I believe that local authorities have been given a say in their work by now having a majority of the members of the regional water authorities. It will be very well known to all Members of your Lordships' Committee in public life that we can never please everybody, and I am given to understand that there were many other organisations which would have liked a much greater representation on the regional water authorities than they have, and which would have wished that the proportions were different. But we have in fact gone ahead and given local authorities the majority of the representatives there, and I hope they will regard this as a recognition of their work and of their knowledge in this field. For the reasons I have set out, I think it would be a mistake to go against the principle and introduce a two-tier scheme, because one has to see this whole organisation against the very serious national need in the provision and supply of water.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
May I thank the noble Baroness for the charming way in which she has refused to accept this Amendment; such a task 839 could not have been more charmingly undertaken. Having regard to her local government experience, however, I cannot help feeling that it could not have been a very agreeable task for the noble Baroness. I do not propose to take up all the points she made, but may I say that if anybody imagines that local government will be forever satisfied that they have been given a majority of members of regional water authorities with an appointed chairman I am certain that the years will bring evidence that such optimism is quite unfounded.
I really cannot understand why the Government—or is it the Department of the Environment?—are so inflexible on such a simple matter as this. There is here no request for power. There is no request for compulsory delegation. This Amendment seeks only to ensure that there may be an arrangement for the discharge of any of the functions, as between a regional water authority and a local authority, if it suits them both. To talk of that as setting up a two-tier system of administration does not make sense to me. The regional water authority will be under no compulsion at all. When I was moving the Amendment I refrained from giving many examples, but let me give one other to indicate how the Greater London Council could be of the greatest possible assistance. A very considerable amount of timber and other flotsam disfigures the River Thames and creates a considerable problem for small craft using the river. The Greater London Council would like to see this nuisance removed, bust has no power to take action. If the water authority could agree arangements by which the Greater London Council could take over the function of clearing the river of floating debris the job would be done much more quickly and probably more cheaply; and the regional water authority would be relieved of a responsibility which surely it cannot wish to have. May I ask whether the noble Baroness will have another look at this point and ask her right honourable friend also to do so. If she does not, I think that I may well have to come back to it on Report stage. If the Department is prepared to examine the matter, may I suggest, since the Greater London Council is probably the largest authority that would be con- 840 cerned, that the Department has further discussions with the G.L.C., as a result of which it might be able to come up with an Amendment that meets the point. I ask whether the noble Baroness is prepared to give that undertaking.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
Before my noble friend Lady Young is persuaded by the persuasive terms of Lord Garnsworthy's intervention to give such an undertaking, I should like to say a word in support of the line she has taken. It would be a mistake to give local authorities a status such as to lead one to expect that there could be schemes of delegation. The next Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, which I imagine goes with the one that he has just moved, would give local authorities a distinct status which would oblige the R.W.A.s to make such delegation schemes to them unless the contrary is determined by the Secretary of State. That would run completely contrary to the whole concept of the Bill, which is to form multipurpose regional water authorities over a big enough area to be completely comprehensive.
The sewerage function is just as important in this context as the water supply function. At present, the sewerage function is carried out by individual local authorities. As my noble friend rightly said, expenditure by one local authority does not usually benefit that local authority. It improves the condition of the effluent which that local authority is putting into the river but the beneficiaries are the authorities lower down the river. We are all familiar with the continuous conflicts, involving especially the biggest authorities, about the very large sums, running into millions of pounds, which are required to be spent to improve their effluent. That is one of the main reasons why there has not been faster progress in cleaning up the effluent from many big towns in this country, especially in the Midlands and the North. Therefore it is absolutely basic to the kind of progress that we want towards making our rivers cleaner, for amenity and for water re-use purposes, that the sewerage authority of the future, the regional authority, should extend over a big enough area; so that when the new sewage works are constructed at very great cost—and they will have to be in large numbers all over the country—the 841 cost should be borne by the whole region and not by just one local authority. Therefore it would be a complete mistake, and completely in conflict with the whole philosophy of this Bill, if we gave local authorities any status whatsoever to expect that there could be schemes of delegation of this kind. I hope that my noble friend will say firmly, and I am sure very charmingly, that this is simply not on.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, talked about my persuasive powers. May I say that I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will not be persuaded by the Chairman of the Thames Conservancy. This matter deserves very close examination. There is no thought of taking over major functions, or any functions. The sole object of my Amendment is to allow local authorities, if it is agreeable to the regional water authority and to themselves, to undertake such functions as may be suitable to both of them. I do not think that there is the slightest possibility of dangers arising such as have been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and I hope that the noble Baroness will look at this matter again, despite what the noble Lord has said.
§ LORD REDCLIFFE-MAUD
Before the noble Baroness, Lady Young, replies, may I put in one word? I think the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, is in such terms that it is fairly easy for the Government to reject it on the general ground that if you put an Amendment like this into the Bill it could be used to make the local authority members of regional water authorities who, we are delighted to hear, are going to be in a slight majority on the regional water authorities) regard themselves as a local authority group, a majority group and, as it were, ganging up in the interests of local government to get certain decisions taken by the regional water authorities. Those of us who have the respect that I have for local government believe that that is not what is going to happen and not what ought to happen.
It could be argued that if the regional water authorities have a general power to give a local authority responsibility for any part of their work, it would encourage 842 at any rate some members of the less enlightened regional water authorities to seek to re-establish the rights of local government in a field which many of us wish that local government was not being deprived of but which it is going to be deprived of under this Bill. In spite of the noble Baroness perhaps not being able to do more than repeat what she has already said in regard to the second plea of the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, I would ask her whether she could not take this matter back for consultation with her right honourable friend to see whether something could be done in these general terms to meet, among others, the totally reasonable point about allowing the Greater London Council to do the obviously sensible job of collecting flotsam and jetsam off the surface of the Thames. Would it not be possible to enable the regional water authority to use a local authority as its agent for certain purposes, without giving the general freedom for which the present Amendment asks and which, I am afraid, I can see the Government declining to give for these general reasons.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Nugent for his helpful remarks, because he has made clear this fundamental principle about the two-tier system. However, I see that what the noble Lords, Lord Garnsworthy and Lord Redcliffe-Maud, were talking about was not so much a two-tier system as greater operational flexibility. I understand that it is not necessary to write this into the Bill in this particular way, because subsections (10) and (11) of this clause already make sufficient provision for a water authority and a local authority to enter into arrangements for the latter to carry out specified operations or provide services for the former without the water authority delegating their functions or lessening their accountability. I have also been assured on the particular point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, about the G.L.C. wanting powers to deal with the flotsam in the River Thames. This would come under the new Government clause on recreation and amenity on the River Thames, which would enable the G.L.C. to deal with this particular problem. I hope that with that assurance the noble 843 Lord will feel able to withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she said, and particularly for her last remarks. I very much appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, had to say. I must say that I was on tenterhooks until he came to the last few words. I thought he was doing his best to build up a strong case against the purpose of my Amendment; but in the end he was extremely helpful because he underlined the point I was trying to make. Local government is not being treated as an equal party in this matter. The noble Baroness referred to subsection (11). The first words of that subsection read:A water authority may require an existing local authority who between the passing of this Act …".I repeat, "a regional water authority may require …". All that I am seeking to provide is that where a local authority is thought to be able to undertake a function better than anybody else, it should be possible to reach an agreement, and if the water authority thought they could better undertake the function they could open negotiations. I take the point that local government members in majority may gang together; but from my experience of local government I cannot see them—they representing a variety of councils—achieving that degree of unanimity. I doubt whether anybody with experience of local government can do so. I still hope that the matter may be looked at again, but in the light of what was said I withdraw the Amendment, while reserving the possibility of coming back again with another form of words unless the Government themselves on reflection feel that there is a point where they can be helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 30A:
Page 11, line 3, after subsection (11) insert:
("(11A) an existing local authority1 may require a water authority to whom functions or property of an existing local authority, a joint sewerage board, a main drainage authority, a joint board for sewage disposal or
statutory water undertakers are transferred by this Act to enter into an arrangement under section 1(1) of the said Act of 1970 with the first mentioned local authority or, where that authority is abolished by the 1972 Act, the local authority or one of the local authorities who replace the abolished authority, for a period of 5 years from 1st April 1974 to provide any services which between the passing of this Act and that date are being provided for the first mentioned authority by the section of the authority, board, committee or undertakers concerned with the functions or property transferred by this Act to the water authority, and it shall be the duty of the water authority who have been so required to enter into such an agreement, unless it is determined by the Secretary of State that the requirement is unreasonable having regard to the provision of those services immediately before that date and the operation of any enactment which comes into force on that date.")
§ The noble Lord said: It seems to me that the principal object of this Bill is to transfer responsibility for water and sewerage services from local authorities and joint boards to the new regional water authorities. Its main preoccupation is to provide for the continuing operation of those functions after April 1, 1974. In their anxiety to bring the transfer of responsibility into operation simultaneously with local government reorganisation the Government have not left sufficient time for the new regional water authorities to be established and fully staffed by the time they will be required to assume their statutory responsibilities. Recognising this, they have made provision in the Bill to enable the new authorities to call upon local government to continue to provide services corresponding with those which have been provided within the local authorities prior to April 1, 1974.
§ What the Government have overlooked is that the water departments and the sewage disposal departments of many local authorities provide certain services for other departments of the local authority or, in the case of joint boards, for one or more constituent authorities. For example, the chemists' department of the water or sewage disposal undertaking may carry out tests and analyses on behalf of the engineering, public health or supply departments.
§ It is true that the Bill makes provision in Clause 6(10) for the regional water authorities to undertake this kind of service for a local authority if it so chooses. The Bill does not, however, enable a 845 local authority to require the water authority to continue to provide this sort of service in the same way that the water authority can require a local authority to do so. It seems to me to be only right and proper that there should be mutual obligations in this respect, and the object of the proposed new subsection is to put the water authorities in a corresponding position to the local authorities under subsection (11) of the clause, with corresponding rights of appeal to the Secretary of State should the regional water authority regard the requirement of the local authority as unreasonable. This is a case of reciprocity, and a reasonable case of reciprocity. I admit that it is rather a lengthy Amendment to achieve a simple purpose, but it is surely a reasonable one. I hope that the noble Baroness will find it possible to accept it, because it will make for smooth working in a comparatively limited field. It is of course a limited Amendment, but one which to some extent might ease things for the future. I beg to move.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
This Amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion has said, is directed at the short-term trantitional problems that will confront local authorities in this coming year and thereafter. It is one for which We have some sympathy, although it might be thought that the problems which might be caused to local authorities would not quite be comparable to those which might be caused to water authorities, because local authorities rely on a great many common services, which water authorities do not. Nevertheless, the Government are anxious to do what they can to minimise any of these problems, and I am advised that if the noble Lord, Lord Champion, is prepared to withdraw this Amendment, because the drafting is not quite right, the Government will look at the matter again and discuss putting down an Amendment on similar lines at the Report stage.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I must say that in dealing with Clause 6, her first clause on this Bill, she is making a wonderful start.I am happy to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.846
§ Clause 7 [Rationalisation of holdings of property, and of functions]:
BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 31:
Page 11, line 14, leave out from ("desirability") to end of line 27 and insert ("in the interests of rationalisation, of doing either or both of the following, that is to say:
(2) In discharging their duty to consider the desirability of altering the boundaries of their area for the purposes of any functions, a water authority shall first consider those boundaries which are different for the purposes of different functions, and in discharging their duty to consider the desirability of transferring any property, they shall first consider any property of theirs held for the purposes of any functions which is situated outside their area as constituted for the purposes of those functions.
(3) If a water authority decide that it is desirable to do either or both of the things mentioned in subsection (1) above, they shall make a recommendation to the appropriate Minister or Ministers accordingly, and the appropriate Minister or Ministers may:
(4) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (3)(b) above shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.")
§ The noble Baroness said: This is a long Amendment which redrafts a whole section of Clause 7. It is necessary in a Bill of this kind to have some provision for rationalisation, because the present boundaries of the different types of authority responsible for water services do not coincide, and the boundaries of the water authority will differ initially for differing purposes. The Amendment is designed to make clearer the purpose of the clause, and it also limits the Order-making power contained in the clause for the transfer of property. Other Orders likely to arise in the interests of rationalisation—that is to say, Orders for the alteration of 847 boundaries—would be made under the provisions of Clause 2 of the Bill. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
Amendment No. 32 is a drafting Amendment. The term "river purification authority" occurs only in subsection (4) of this clause. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Page 11, line 39, leave out ("this section") and insert ("subsection (4) above")—(Baroness Young.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 8 [Transfer to water authorities of functions of river authorities]:
§ 4.35 p.m.
BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 33A:
Page 12, line 12, after ("shall") insert (",except where it is a reference to a specified river authority or is to be construed as such,")
§ The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 33A, and it might be convenient to take at the same time Amendments Nos. 33B and 36A. These three Amendments are drafting Amendments and they have a common purpose. They are intended to make it clear that the references to a river authority or to a river authority area whose meaning is modified by Clause 8, and the references to statutory water undertakers whose meaning is modified by Clause 10 are generic references and not references to an individual river authority or river authority area or to an individual statutory water undertaker, as the case may be. Provision will be necessary for modifying references to individual river authorities or river authority areas. In the case of such references which occur in local statutory provisions the necessary provision is contained in Part II of Schedule 5 to the Bill. In the case of references in other documents, the necessary provision would be included in Orders made under Section 254 of the Local Government Act, 1972, as applied by Clause 31 of the Bill.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.848
Page 12, line 16, after ("shall") insert (",except where it is a reference to a specified area or is to be construed as such,")—(Baroness Young.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 9 [Water Conservation]:
§ BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 34:
Page 12, line 25, at end insert:
("(2) The reference in this section to action for the purpose of augmenting water resources includes a reference to action for the purpose of treating salt water (whether taken from the sea or elsewhere) by any process for removing salt or other impurities.)
§ The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 34. I hope that this is a straightforward Amendment. It provides for water authorities to include treatment of salt water in action they may take for the purpose of augmenting water resources.
§ BARONESS WHITE
This is such an innocent looking Amendment that I am not surprised the noble Baroness said so little about it. However, I do not think we should let it pass without at least a comment on it, because the Amendment refers to one of the most important possibilities for the future, and one can suppose that it was left out of the Bill originally only by inadvertence, or maybe this is just a clarification. I think it is true to say that our earlier hopes that desalination would solve our water problems and prevent our having any more controversial reservoirs in Wales have been somewhat dashed by the failure of our brilliant scientists to find a commercially viable way of carrying out the process. They are able to do it technologically, but nobody has yet been able to find a method of doing it which is sufficiently cheap, so far as this country is concerned, at any rate, to be able to compete with water obtainable from other sources. I am of course delighted, if it is necessary to have the specific reference, that it should be included in tine Bill. I only wish that we could have further information from the Goverwment that they are more optimistic than I would suppose them to be. It we could 849 find a method of treating salt water economically it would take a great deal of the controversy out of the whole water situation. I say this with emotion, as a Welsh woman, because I know how fly fellow countrymen have been almost praying that we should find a method of dealing with salt water, which would save our beautiful countryside.
I must confess that when I first learned of these processes, and how they were used in Israel and other places, I was full of hope. Further investigation has dampened my ardour, however, because not only is the method very expensive but, on the present state of knowledge, one has to erect buildings on the foreshore which themselves might ruin the landscape—it would be a different landscape, of course, but it would be equally vulnerable. Therefore, although we are glad to have this Amendment included in the Bill, it must, I fear, be greeted with modified rapture.
§ LORD ZUCKERMAN
May I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Young, whether the language of the clause, and also of the Amendment, implies that a single authority will be able to do these things without reference to other authorities? As has been said, there is this question of desalination and it is not just a question of sea water but of any water that is brackish or may have been contaminated. There are methods which do not necessarily apply to sea water and which might prove to be economic. So I should like to know whether one single authority will be able to do these things without reference to any other authority, to the National Water Council or to the Secretary of State.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I should like to begin by reassuring the noble Baroness, Lady White, that to the best of my knowledge there is nothing sinister about this Amendment. The first simple point is that Section 135(4) of the Water Resources Act 1963 enables water authorities to take similar action for the purpose of eventually discharging the water into a source of supply in their area. This Amendment, through the re-enactment of Section 4 of the 1963 Act as Clause 9 of the present Bill, preserves the effect of this earlier provision which would otherwise have been lost. My understanding of this Amendment is that in 850 fact it is simply putting into this Bill what has been contained in previous legislation.
§ LORD ZUCKERMAN
I wonder whether the noble Baroness would forgive my asking a further question. In her very illuminating reply, if I understood it correctly, she said that it is a matter of transferring water from one course into another course within the existing region. We are now talking of removing water from one major water area into another water area—which could be quite a different thing.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
Yes, I take the noble Lord's point. My understanding is that under the Water Resources Act a river authority would be able to take action for discharging water into a source of supply in their own area. My understanding of this Amendment is that it would make it possible for a decision to be taken at executive level and that a regional water authority would be able to act on its own. I would add, since this is a somewhat technical matter and I am very conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, will be much more familiar with it than I am, that if I have not given an adequate reply I will write to him on this matter and give him further information.
§ BARONESS WHITE
With great respect to the noble Baroness, while I am sure we shall be delighted to know that she and the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, will be in correspondence with each other, may I say that there are other Members of your Lordships' House who would also like to know the answer to this question. We are dealing with matters which, if they are carried out at all, must be performed on a considerable scale and at very considerable cost. In fact, looking more closely at this whole clause it is not only desalination which worries one (and I must admit I have been in default here by not having checked the reference to the Water Resources Act 1963 as to the precise arrangements for direction), but it seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, has put his finger on a very important point. These are matters 851 which should not be left to the discretion of a single regional water authority. This brings us back to the question we discussed at an earlier stage: the responsibility for the coordination of these matters. I will not press this point further this afternoon because, as I say, I have not looked up the earlier reference in the 1963 Act to see precisely who has the duty of making directions under that earlier Act. However, I should like to put to the noble Baroness that although not only the Amendment but the clause itself looks innocent, if one looks into it a little further one finds that doubts are raised, and they are reinforced by the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
May I say to the noble Baroness, that whatever letter I write to the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, I will certainly write to her too, so that everyone may be fully informed, because I accept that this is a very important matter. I understand that the effect of the clause is that whatever actions a water authority may take. whether augmenting resources in its own area or transferring them to another area, may include desalination. When I rose to reply for the second time, the noble Baroness, Lady White, had raised a much larger point about desalination generally. My information on this matter comes from the Report of the Water Resources Board entitled Desalination 1972. In fact it seems to indicate that the cost of water from desalination has increased considerably more than that of water from conventional sources. It says this:.. We cannot foresee in that period "—that is to the end of the century—… any substantial contribution by desalination to water resources in England and Wales. There may, however, be small local applications where the additional cost may be judged worth while.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 10 [Water supply]:
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 35. Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 and the Amendment to leave out Clause 11 all deal with the same point. These Amendments seek to remove from the Bill those parts of it that would continue within the structure to set up the statutory water companies. I am very much a local government man and feel bound to say that while, in the context of the Bill, I accept the desirability of the local authority water undertaking being merged under the general framework of the water authorities, I can see no possible justification for the retention within that framework of the statutory water companies. The present position is that we have two bodies carrying out the same function: one called a statutory water company and the other a local authority water undertaking. In the interests of water management as a whole, the Government have decided that one is to go and the other is to remain in being. I think we are bound to ask why.
§ The local authority undertaking exercise their functions within a democratic set up. Some of these authorities are owned and operated by county boroughs, some by joint boards and some by other local government bodies. An outstanding example of this is the Metropolitan Water Board—surely an excellent example of a municipal co-operative. This Board is to go, and the statutory water companies are to find a place in the new structure. It must be noted that those companies are privately owned and managed in the interests of the shareholders of the company. I recognise that they have to be managed within the limits imposed on them by legislation; but the control of them, under Clause 11 of this Bill, will bear no comparison with the control that will be directly exercised by the regional water authorities on their own undertakings which the Bill takes away from the local authorities.
§ During the past year the Government have talked a good deal about strengthening local government, of hiving off powers from the centre to the local authorities. but I am bound to say that not much has been done to make a reality of that type of talk. The Housing Finance Act is still very much in our minds in this connection. That was something of a slap in the face for the local 853 authorities and their elected members. Now, by this Bill we are going to give them another slap, for good measure. We take away their water undertakings but leave somewhat comparable bodies that are privately owned in their existing owners' hands. If it is essential for the distribution of water for the management of the water cycle to be the task of the regional water authorities, surely that applies right across the board. There are some arguments, I admit, in favour of the private water companies, but those arguments stem rather from the fact that they are local in character rather than anything else. The arguments, as I understand them, are largely a matter of size and proximity to the people served by the companies. But the same arguments surely apply to the local authority water undertakings. They must apply equally, because both are local in character. The local touch will be lost when the management of water distribution by local authorities is taken twenty or perhaps many more miles away, as the case may be. I can see no possible justification for the existence of water companies which is not present in the existence of local authority undertakings.
§ I can, however, see the case, which is really the basis of the Bill, for the management of water from the source to the consumer being one operation. I can see the case for the employment of highly efficient and perhaps expensive technological equipment, with highly efficient and perhaps expensive brains to control it and plan its use. That means big undertakings, and for that reason I do not oppose the merging of the local authority water undertakings under the regional water authorities. I believe, with the Government, that this will provide an advantage. Indeed, if I remember something that was said in Committee in the other place, it is reckoned that eventually huge economies will occur as a result of the merging of bodies and control passing on to the centre of the regional water authorities. But if that is the case, it must apply equally to the statutory water companies. As I understand it, these statutory water companies account for 22 per cent. of the public supplies of water. That is an indication of the size of the gap which leaving them out will make in the overall management of water supplies by the regional water authorities.854
§ To leave water companies still in existence seems to me to make a nonsense of much of what the Government are trying to do by this Bill. I doubt whether the noble Baroness will be able to give me as satisfactory an answer on this Amendment as she did on the last one; but I fear that if her answer is not pretty good we shall have to take her through the Division Lobbies to show our disapproval of what the Government are doing in this connection. Of course, before making a final decision on this matter I shall listen carefully to what the noble Baroness has to say.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE
I have great respect for the fairness of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and I was not quite sure what line he was going to take in moving this group of Amendments. I had a suspicion that there was an element of a suggestion that this might be a good opportunity for deploying the arguments for a takeover of the statutory water undertakings. I do not think he has gone literally to that point; but the main theme, if I have understood him correctly, is a complaint about the disparity of treatment between the local authority water undertaking's position under the Bill and that of the statutory companies' position. I am not going to weary the Committee by attempting to enter into an academic argument on the principles of nationalising or taking over all the means of production of goods or services essential to the life of the community. I think our primary concern in this Bill is the efficiency of the water industry under the proposals of the Bill. On that basis I should like to crave your Lordships' indulgence for a few minutes to attempt to put the position of the water companies in perspective.
Statutory companies were the pioneers of the industry as it is to-day and ensured that 99 per cent. of the people in England and Wales now have a piped water supply as compared with 60 per cent. in the United States and 40 per cent. in France. In terms of availability of potable water to the population it can be claimed fairly that in this country we have the best water supply in the world. The history of water supply as we know it to-day began in the early years of the 19th century when the twin developments of the mass production of cast iron pipes 855 and the use of steam for pumping made practicable the provision of piped water supplies to service large areas; and companies were formed by local residents in the initial stages to provide this service.
The Public Health Act of 1875 gave local authorities a general power to act as water undertakers. By the end of the nineteenth century every large town had its own piped water supply, in some cases run by companies and in others by local authorities. In the early part of the twentieth century piped supplies were gradually—somewhat slowly at first, but more rapidly later—extended by local auhorities and companies to the surrounding countryside in their respective areas. By 1945 there were over 1,000 separate statutory water undertakings. However, following the Coalition Government White Paper entitled A National Water Policy, substantial regrouping and refinement of the industry was planned under the Water Act of 1945, and to-day the total number of undertakings is 160, of which 44 are local authorities, 85 are joint boards and 31 arc companies. Of the 18 largest undertakings, 9 are statutory companies.
In 1956 there were 85 statutory companies which supplied 20 per cent. of the water. To-day, by regrouping and amalgamation, largely under their own initiative but in harmony with Government policy, that number has been reduced to 30 statutory companies; and these 30 supply 20 per cent. of the requirements of England and Wales—a figure very close to the one quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Champion. Statutory companies are public companies incorporated by private Acts of Parliament. They are subject to the same statutory limitations as the majority of local authorities as regards maximum charges; their dividends on preference and ordinary capital are limited by Statute and the preference capital is noncumulative. The total issued capital of these 30 companies is £236 million and the average return is 6.8 per cent. Charges made by the companies for water supply approximate very closely to those made by local authorities. In general it is true to say that they amount to no more than is sufficient to meet their working expenses, to service the capital 856 employed, and to provide the necessary reserves for future development.
I certainly cannot speak for all companies, but from such experience as I have had—and I have had experience of a few—some of these companies are highly efficient, devote a great deal of time and money to research and technical improvements in the methods of supply, and have good relations, uniformly I believe, with their staff and with the public they serve. They have not as an Association argued against the reorganisation proposed in this Bill, although to some extent their independence is impaired by their being put in the position of acting as agents for the new authorities. So far as their own supply areas are concerned, it is a sensible arrangement, for their knowledge and experience will be pooled for the general benefit and there will be full mobility of staff between the companies and the authorities.
I believe the semi-independence of the companies and their responsibilities to their shareholders is a good thing for the industry, and I can foresee some healthy competition between companies and the other undertakings within the various water authorities: competition which I would hope would be for the benefit of both and for the public they serve. Quite apart from any Party political considerations or the costs and complications involved in takeover, it does not, in my judgment, make any kind of sense to take this part of the industry into national ownership. The industry is, I believe, on the whole, an efficient industry as it is. Under this Bill I hope it will become even more efficient.
§ BARONESS STOCKS
Surely all that the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, has said about the water undertakings could be said, and indeed has been said, by my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy about the local authority undertakings. I think if we let this arrangement stand the Government have a contradiction in policy. Personally, I am not in this matter pro-local authority; and I have a strong suspicion that the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair, is saying in this debate what he might have said very properly in the debate on Lord Brockway's Motion.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ BARONESS WHITE
I greatly dislike to quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord 857 Sinclair of Cleeve, because we are firm allies in another part of the Bill, but on this one I am afraid I cannot accept his proposition. As my noble friend Lady Stocks has said, what is sauce for the local-authority goose should be sauce for the statutory-company gander. The arguments are precisely the same. What are we trying to do in this Bill? We are trying to set up very large multi-purpose authorities which shall be responsible for the whole control of the hydrological cycle within their areas. The fact that 22 per cent. (according to the Minister in another place) of the water supplies in this country are in the hands of the statutory companies means that this is not something inconsiderable. This is a very significant proportion indeed of the total water supply. If we are setting up these large multi-purpose authorities, one of the objects of the exercise is to secure maximum flexibility. This is the reason given to the local authority companies, including the Metropolitan Water Board, which after all has a most noble tradition, why they should lose all their functions; why they should be absorbed; why they should no longer remain responsible for water supplies, sewerage and the rest: because they must in the greater good of the nation surrender these functions, surrender their tradition Of service, to the overriding requirements of national organisation and the regional water authorities.
What possible argument can one advance to differentiate between the local authorities and the statutory water companies in these matters? The noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, spoke about healthy competition. But, as he knows very well, under the arrangements of the Bill, and under the existing arrangements come to that, the statutory water companies are in fact so closely bound—and they will be further bound by the provisions of the Bill before us—that their freedom of action is considerably circumscribed. They are not permitted, as he himself confirmed, freedom of action so far as financial arrangements are concerned. The amount they are allowed to pay on their issued capital, and so on, is controlled. So I cannot see in the new set-up under this Bill what advantage the public gain from retaining what we frankly regard as an anachronism. Of course what the noble Lord 858 said about the functions of the statutory companies in the early days is correct. They were pioneers in many parts of the country. No one would deny it; but that, with the greatest respect, is not germane to the argument before us. We are not considering merits and past history; we are considering how to reorganise for the future. Sentiment apart—and sentiment applies equally strongly to local authorities—I cannot think that there is any really sound argument for this. The noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, referred to responsibility to shareholders. But then the local authorities have a responsibility to ratepayers. Where is the difference?
The only argument of substance which the Government have advanced is that it would cost money in compensation. But of course, on the other side, one would in the future be obtaining the revenue from charges which now flows to the statutory companies; those revenues would then come directly to the regional water authorities. No. This is really a matter on which we on this side feel the deepest possible regret and a certain element, I think, of resentment because we feel this is a distinction which ought not have been made. It is one of the only two Party political arguments in this Bill. For the rest, we have our differences of view and differences of interest, and so on, but this we regard as really a bit of straightforward political dogmatism. We cannot see that in merit there is any sound reason for exempting one-fifth of the water supply organisations in this country simply because they have a highly restrictive form of private ownership. It is not normal private ownership; it is not the private ownership where individual enterprise can have its head or anything of that sort; it is circumscribed in every direction. Therefore to our minds it is really very little more than a method of keeping certain local notabilities (shall I put it?) in positions of influence and power which they otherwise might not attain. I do not think there is very much more to it than that, and for those reasons, subject to what my noble friend Lord Champion may say, because it was he who moved this Amendment, I think this is an occasion on which we ought to record our disapproval.
§ LORD PEDDIE
I am prompted to intervene in this discussion because of 859 the assertion of my noble friend Lady White that this involves a matter of deep Party principle. So far as I am concerned it does not. So far as I am concerned, the matter truly at issue is whether or not this Bill creates an organisation and a structure that is efficient, and I cannot for the life of me see how and in what way taking over the statutory water companies as such would add to the overall efficiency.
At this stage I should declare an interest in the sense that I am a member of the board of a water company; but I would assure the Committee that my knowledge and my belief in the contribution made by water companies extends over a period far longer than I have been a member of the board. I have had some opportunity of studying the efficiency of statutory water company operations. I do not wish to repeat the comments that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve. There is not the slightest doubt that over past years—indeed in the early development in the water industry—the companies have made an outstanding contribution, but I would accept that, regardless of whatever contribution they made in the historical sense it does not necessarily have a bearing on the situation now.
I agree that it was a mistake not to retain local authority undertakings as well as the companies as agents to work in water distribution. But two wrongs do not make a right, and I rise now to challenge the point of view expressed by my noble friends that the water companies are motivated by profit alone and function for the benefit of the shareholders. That is just not true. It is not the case that water companies function solely for the benefit of the shareholders; indeed the average return on money invested is about 6¿8 per cent. (so I am told) which is far less than the charges on loans for local authorities. We have already heard it stated, and accepted by my noble friends, that the profits, charges, dividends and reserve funds are controlled by Statute. So in what way is there a justification for pulling them in, merely because the local authorities have not been given the same privilege?—which I think they should have had.
860 Speaking in terms of efficiency, I remember well an association with the P.I.B. when we made a very detailed survey of the whole of the water industry and the companies came out very well. I may also mention—when one is considering whether or not these bodies are run just for shareholders—that on the board on which I sit there are three men whose lifetime's work has been in water engineering. That is three out of seven. Two have had a lifetime's involvement in the administration and financial operation of water undertakings; another is deeply involved in the public and social life of that area. That accounts for six—and I forget about myself. I believe that the retention of statutory companies will add to the overall efficiency of water distribution and will maintain a closer link with users. In short, I see a measure of value in retaining statutory companies as agents: I see no benefit to the overall water distribution by accepting this Amendment.
Might not one solution to this problem be to give a certain number of seats on the new water authority to members of the existing county council?
§ BARONESS YOUNG
When the noble Lord, Lord Champion, introduced these Amendments, he expressed the hope that I could be as helpful to him on these Amendments as I was on the last one. But I am sure he will have realised, as I have done, that these Amendments constitute an issue of principle on which Members on each side of the Committee are divided. However, I was glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Peddie. and I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve for his remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Peddie, asked an important question; namely, whether or not the efficiency of the regional water authorities would be impaired by the existence of the statutory water companies—and he made it quite clear that in his opinion they would not. Because I think this is a matter which divides us, I should like to set out as fully as I can the reasons that have led the Government to the conclusions that they have reached.
The statutory water companies were created by local Acts to supply water and their profits are strictly regulated by 861 Statute. They have in general expanded their operations in recent years as a result of the regrouping of water undertakings, which has continued under both Labour and Conservative Governments. My information is that to-day there are 31 statutory water companies responsible for 22 per cent. of public water supplies, and they include a number of the largest and most efficient undertakings in the country. It is our view that the most important fact about them is that they represent an injection of private capital into the water industry, the amount of money involved being about £250 million. We believe that this feature ought to be preserved, if possible. Quite apart from anything else, it is obviously undesirable that the Exchequer should have to raise this amount of money to buy out the stockholders and shareholders unless it is essential to do so.
So we have looked for a way to retain the companies within the new system and we believe that we have found a way of doing so, as they will become agents of the water authorities. They are being incorporated into the reorganised system and placed firmly under the operational control of the water authorities. Clause 11, which one of the Amendments seeks to delete from the Bill, requires agreements to be made between the companies and the water authorities, or, in the event of failure, provides for determination by the Secretary of State. Certain functions of the Secretary of State under the Water Acts will be transferred to the water authorities, who will have the power to require the companies to carry out surveys, to give or take bulk supplies, and it will also have the power to take over the functions of a company should it default on its obligations.
The water authorities will take over the functions of the present river authorities in respect of the licensing and control of abstractions and they will be given new powers to take over compulsorily any source works belonging to a statutory water company, subject to the payment of appropriate compensation. Furthermore, the capital investment programme of these companies will be included in the capital investment programme of the regional water authority and will have to be submitted to the Secretary of State. We believe that by these means, by this combination of controls 862 and the fact that the statutory water companies will be financially independent, we shall be able to retain the companies but at the same time not interfere with the comprehensive management of water resources which is one of the features of this Bill.
§ BARONESS WHITE
May I interrupt the noble Baroness? She talked about retaining the companies: are the Government contemplating—as they think that these are such meritorious organisations—that there should be new ones, that they should be extended, or that there should be more of them?
§ BARONESS YOUNG
It is rather diffcult to foresee whether in the future anybody will wish to set up another private water company in these circumstances.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
As far as I know it would be possible, but if I am not correct in that I shall of course let the noble Baroness know.
Noble Lords raised the argument about the difference between the statutory water companies and the position of local authorities. I would say on this matter that we believe that by giving local authority representatives a majority on the regional water authority—which I think meets the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Braye—we have given them a real role to play in the whole of the management of water, whereas if they were put into the position of being subject to the kind of controls that the statutory water companies are going to find themselves subject to, they would not have the power and the freedom that they have enjoyed in the past and I think would find themselves in a much more unsatisfactory position than their representatives will find when they serve on the regional water authorities. I do not think that for them it would have the kind of independence and power that they have enjoyed in the past. They will find a more satisfactory role as members of the regional water authorities, rather than finding themselves in the same position as the statutory water companies are in. It is for these reasons that we think it is right to retain the statutory water companies. They will not damage our proposals for the regional water 863 authorities, we are keeping something which has worked very well in the past and we see no reason why it should not continue to work well in the future.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I find the arguments against the proposition that I put at the outset entirely unconvincing. The more I have listened, the more it seems to me that here is something which clearly ought to be brought within the terms of the Bill and be part of the undertakings of the water authorities. The fact that these water companies have done fairly well in the past—and I have no complaints to make about them —is no justification, it seems to me, for their continuation under the new set-up. I am sure that the noble Baroness and the other Members of your Lordships' House who have spoken in favour of water companies would say precisely the same about the water undertakings of the local authorities. They have done an extraordinarily good job in the past. In the interests of ensuring that water management is carried out, as the Government obviously desire that it shall be carried out, from the collecting of the water to its final consumption and use within that cycle, surely the water companies ought to go and the whole undertaking be conducted by the single body, the water authority.
§ The noble Baroness said that the profits of these water companies were limited by Statute. That of course is the case. I said that they worked within the bounds imposed upon them by legislation. But that does not, in my opinion, justify their retention in the new set-up. The noble Baroness told us that there was £250 million of private capital involved and that difficulty would be caused if the Government had to purchase those undertakings and pay that £250 million, or some such figure, for them. But I agree with my noble friend Lady White, that the servicing of the cost of purchasing these undertakings would be met from the revenue which would be derived as a result of the charges which would be made by the water authorities to those users who have, up to now, been using and paying for the water companies' water. I must also press the point which has been made, and the question 864 which the noble Baroness unfortunately did not answer, as to whether under this Bill it would be possible to set up any new companies in the future. I must admit that I do not think it a likelihood or a possibility.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I wonder whether I might give a more complete answer than I gave earlier. My understanding is that there is no provision in this Bill either to set up or to prohibit the setting up of any new companies. That would need separate legislation and it is rather difficult to foresee the kind of circumstances in which it would be necessary.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I think that answers the point. There is one other question I should like to ask before we depart from our consideration of this matter. Are the Government doing anything now to prevent some local authorities from selling off their undertakings to private water companies? It has been suggested that in some parts of the country local authorities are contemplating selling their undertakings before the Bill becomes operative—selling them, that is, to private water companies. Can the noble Baroness give us any information on this matter, and, if so, can she tell me, if there is to be such a move, whether the Government will step in to prevent that from happening? I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to obtain that information. So far as I can see, the pigeon post is working and there is just the possibility that there will be a flutter around that side of the House and that shortly the noble Baroness will find—not on the leg of the noble Earl, Lord Ferriers —the answer to the question that I am here posing. I sincerely hope that the answer will be that the Government will certainly take every step to ensure that these undertakings are not sold off by these local authorities in an endeavour to frustrate the will of the Government in this matter. I can go on.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
No, there is no need for the noble Lord so kindly to keep speaking any longer. I now know the position on the question of the re-grouping. I understand that there has in fact been one re-grouping; that is between the Chesham Urban District Council and the Rickmansworth and Uxbridge Valley Water Company, where an order has been 865 made and the date of operation is March 30 this year. There are three others that are before a public inquiry at the moment. There are two others that I understand are waiting for a public inquiry.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I did not quite understand what the noble Baroness was telling us. This is not a question of merging. The question here is as to whether the local authorities are preparing to sell off their undertakings or permit them to be merged within the bodies that she was talking about which will be the subject of the private inquiry.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. My understanding is that in the first case that I mentioned, these water undertakings would be merged and would be taken over by a private water company and that the others are subject to inquiry.
§ LORD CHAMPION
The only thing I can say about that is that the Government are clearly failing in their duty to the new undertakings that are to be set up, and I should be wasting the time of the House if I said any more about it. I shall certainly challenge the decision
§ of the Government in this matter by asking my noble friends to accompany me through the Lobby.
§ LORD PEDDIE
Before my noble friend resumes his seat, may I ask him to explain a point that he raised in his comments? He made the point that it would be possible to purchase assets of statutory companies and service those loans, or in whatever way it was done, out of the revenue of the statutory companies. As the present cost of the capital employed in water companies or statutory companies is so low, does he not agree that if financing was done along the lines he suggested it would cost the user more in consequence?
§ LORD CHAMPION
I do not think so. I do not think that when spread over the whole of the area of a regional water authority that that would be the effect of it.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 35) shall be agreed to?
§ The Lordships divided Contents, 40; Not-Contents, 93.867
|Garnsworthy, L. [Teller]||Segal, L.|
|Arwyn, L.||George-Brown, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Hall, V.||Shepherd, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Henderson, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Henley, L.||Slater, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Hughes, L.||Snow, L.|
|Champion, L.||Janner, L.||Stocks, B.|
|Chorley, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe. B [Teller.]||Stow Hill, L.|
|Clancarty, E.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Diamond, L||McLeavy, L.||Wells-Pestell, L|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Maelor, L.||White, B.|
|Douglas of Barloch, L.||Platt, L.||Wigg, L.|
|Foot, L.||Sainsbury, L.||Williamson, L.|
|Gardiner, L.||Seear, B.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Cowley, E.||Fortescue, E.|
|Amory, V.||Craigavon, V.||Fraser of Lonsdale, L.|
|Auckland, L||Cranbrook, E.||Gamer, L.|
|Aylesford, E.||Crathorne, L.||Gowrie, E.|
|Balfour, E.||Daventry, V.||Grafton, D.|
|Berkeley, B.||de Clifford, L.||Greenway, L.|
|Bradford, E.||De L'Isle, V.||Grenfell, L.|
|Brecon, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]||Grimston of Westbury, L.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Drumalbyn, L.||Hailes, L.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, B.||Dundee, E.||Hailsham of St. Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)|
|Carrington, L.||Eccles, V.|
|Coleraine, L.||Elliot of Harwood, B.||Hanworth, V.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Emmet of Amberley, B.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Conesford, L.||Falkland, V.||Jessel, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Ferrers, E.||Kemsley, V.|
|Courtown, E.||Fisher, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Moyne, L.||Sinclair of Cleeve, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L,||Somers, L.|
|Lonsdale, E.||Orr-Ewing, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Lothian, M.||Peddie, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Loudoun, C.||Rankeillour, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Redcliffe-Maud, L.||Tenby, V.|
|Luke, L.||Redesdale, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Reigate, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Lytton, E.||Rochdale, V.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Rockley, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Mancroft, L.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.||Windlesham, L. (L. Privy Seal.)|
|Merrivale, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.||Wolverton, L.|
|Monck, V.||Sandford, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Monckton of Brenchley, V.||Selkirk, E.||Yarborough, E.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L. [iTeller.]||Sempill, Ly.||Young, B.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 5.39 p.m.
Page 13, line 19, after ("undertakers") insert ("as such").—(Baroness Young.)
§ On Question, Whether Clause 10, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
On the Motion, That the Clause stand part of the Bill, there are one or two questions I should like to address to the opposite Front Bench. I think I ought to say that I am doing so because I am a VicePresident of the Central Fire Liaison Panel, and as a consequence I am aware of some concern on their part in regard to what is going to happen with regard to fire fighting. It is very difficult to exaggerate the importance of this, since the record shows quite clearly that the situation in regard to fire damage in Great Britain is getting no better, and indeed is rapidly getting much worse.
A report was prepared by the Central Advisory Water Committee for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and adopted in 1963, and it stated, inter alia:…so long as no charge is to be made to the public for maintaining supplies at hydrants or for water used in fire fighting we consider that there is no sufficient reason to charge for maintaining supplies to private fire fighting installations, or for water used by them.Water used for fire fighting should continue to be free of charge.No charge should be made for providing a supply for private fire fighting installations. nor for water used by them, but the water undertakers should be entitled to recover certain costs.868 These parts of this particular report do not appear to have been implemented, and there is concern lest charges for the supply of water for fire fighting purposes, including automatic sprinkler systems, should be levied in such a way as to provide a disincentive to industry to protect itself against fire. The Bill, in its present form, allows for directives by the Secretary of State on matters affecting national policy and matters of national interests, including directives on charging schemes.
At present, as I have indicated, water taken from a public main to extinguish a fire at a factory would not be chargeable to the company. The Bill, as it stands, is not clear whether water authorities will be directed to levy charges for water used in extinguishing fires. If the reply is to be that no charge is to be made for such supply of water, I wonder whether I might raise a further question, and ask whether water authorities will be expected to introduce a by-pass on the meter system in order that there will be a really adequate supply of water, because if the water does not need to pass through the meter the flow of water, I understand, can be considerably increased.
I hope that my question is clear. What directives is the Secretary of State likely to give in respect of charges, and has any thought been given, if no charges are to be made, to introduce a system which by-passes the meters? If this were undertaken it could, incidentally, in many instances, if not all, considerably increase the flow of water to be used for fire fighting purposes.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I hope that I can give the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, an adequate answer. I apologise to the Committee for some of the gaps in my 869 knowledge, but coming to this Bill somewhat late in the day I am not absolutely conversant with every part of it. My understanding on the question of water supply for fire fighting is that there is statutory provision that water authorities would make water available for firefighting. This is Part VIII of Schedule 3 of the Water Act, 1945. This position will remain unchanged.
On the second part of the question the noble Lord asked, the question of charges will be a matter for the National Water Council and the regional water authorities to work out in order to secure a common policy. This may not answer the question fully, and I think it would probably be for the noble Lord's convenience, and that of the people who have asked him to raise this point, if I wrote to him more fully on the matter, which I shall do.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. She has replied in a very gracious fashion. I must say that I am finding it somewhat distracting when there is a little subcommittee meeting going on in the corner of the Chamber. I am very grateful to her, and I am quite sure that if she writes it will be possible to give full consideration to the matter, and indeed I shall be glad of the opportunity to take advice from the panel.
§ Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 11 [Supply of water by statutory water companies on behalf of water authorities]:
§ 5.46 p.m.
BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 37A:
Page 14, line 17, at end insert—
("(c) the company's charges for the supply of water.")
§ The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 37A, and I should like to take with it Amendment No. 37D. These two Amendments go together and would make clear that the arrangements between a water authority and a statutory water company under Clause 11 may include provision about the company's charges for the supply of water. The second Amendment is consequential upon the first, and provides that the Secretary of State shall not so settle or vary arrangements under Clause 870 11 as to require the company to fix their charges at a level which would endanger their ability to provide a reasonable return on their paid-up capital. This limitation is to apply only so long as the company's undertaking is efficiently managed.
§ Since these two Amendments were put down on the Marshalled List my attention has been drawn to the fact that there may still be a defect in the drafting. I think that it would be for the convenience of the Committee to move the two Amendments now, but I may well have to come back at Report stage with a further Amendment.
BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 37B:
Page 14, line 28, after ("or") insert ("either of the parties may,")
§ The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 37B, and I should like to take with it No. 37C. These are both drafting Amendments: they are intended to make clear that if a water authority and a statutory water company are unable to reach an agreement about a proposed variation of the terms under Clause 11, either party may refer the dispute to the Secretary of State for determination.
Page 14, line 29, leave out ("may")—(Baroness Young.)
§ Amendment moved—
Page 14, line 33, at end insert:
("() The Secretary of State shall not so settle or vary arrangements under this section as to oblige the company to fix their charges at a level which will endanger their ability, so long as their undertaking is managed efficiently, to provide a reasonable return on their paidup capital, having regard to their probable future expenditure.")—(Baroness Young.)
BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 37E:
Page 15, line 6. after ("12") insert ("or under the said section 13").
§ The noble Baroness said: This Amendment provides that any order which a water authority might make under Section 13 of the Water Act 1945, as applied by the present Bill, declaring a statutory water company to be in default of its obligations and transferring its functions to the water authority, would have effect only if it were confirmed by the Secretary of State. The Bill already provides that any order which a water authority may make, requiring a statutory water company to give or take a bulk supply of water under Section 12 of the Water Act 1945, will be subject to confirmation by the Secretary of State. A default order would clearly be something of greater moment than a bulk supply, and it is therefore appropriate that it also should require confirmation by the Secretary of State. I beg to move.
§ Clauses 12 and 13 agreed to.
§ Clause 14 [Sewerage and sewage disposal]:
§ 5.52 p.m.
LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 37F:
Page 17, line 11, leave out ("and 42") and insert ("42 and subsections (1) and (b) and (2) of section 72 (insofar as those subsections related to the cleansing of cesspools, including septic tanks").
§ The noble Lord said: In many towns and populous parts of the countryside, there are places where sewage is dealt with in large and, in most cases, highly efficient sewage disposal works; but there still remain many premises—in particular, more remote houses and groups of houses in rural areas—whose drainage is to a cesspool or to a septic tank. This is normally an intermediate form of sewage disposal because, subsequently, the cesspool or septic tank is emptied by the local authority who remove its contents for final disposal elsewhere. The emptying of cesspools and septic tanks by local authorities, or for that matter by contractors, is therefore an integral part of the sewage disposal process. It should therefore be treated as such, certainly so far as finance is concerned. Some local authorities charge for the emptying service, while others provide a 872 free service at stated intervals and charge only for additional calls. But if a system is adopted there usually remains some charge on local funds.
§ In 1970, the Jeger working party on sewage disposal, in that excellent report, Taken for Granted, recommended that local authorities should provide a free and adequate service for cesspool emptying and septic tank clearance. The size of the problem cannot be clearly defined, but the working party to which I have referred estimated that there were probably about 1,200,000 houses which are not on main drainage, with about 3 million people living in them. That gives some indication of the size of the problem. It would be anomalous if this sector of the sewage disposal process were to remain a direct charge on local authorities, while all the other costs of sewage disposal became a responsibility of the new regional water authorities. It is accordingly the object of this Amendment to transfer the statutory responsibility for cesspool and septic tank emptying to the new regional water authorities, anticipating that under Clause 15 of the Bill they will make arrangements with the new district councils to undertake the actual day-to-day work of emptying on their behalf, but at their expense. I beg to move.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
As the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has said, the effect of this Amendment would be to transfer this function of emptying cesspools from local authorities to the new water authorities. This matter is one about which the arguments are somewhat evenly divided. It can be regarded as a function of public health and one which has been with local government, so we consulted local authorities in order to find out their views. The difficulty was that as a result of our consultations we had divided opinions from the local authorities. The County Councils' Association and the Urban District Councils' Association thought that it was a function which should remain with local government, while the Rural District Councils' Association thought that it should not, unless the authorities had "a constructive role in the wider aspects of sewerage." The Association of Municipal Corporations exprssed no view. Subsequently, however, the Association 873 of Municipal Corporations wrote suggesting that the function should be transferred to the water authorities. We have considered this matter further and have reached the conclusion that, if the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, will withdraw this Amendment, we can consider it again. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
I have no difficulty at all in responding to the invitation of the noble Baroness, and I am very pleased to do so. She very rightly said that the Association of Municipal Corporations finally made up their minds on this issue, and I have little doubt that they will have views which they will wish to press. I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I think I should correct any misunderstanding. The Association of Municipal Corporations wrote again, and the second time said that they thought the function ought to be transferred to the water authorities.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.59 p.m.
BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 37G:
Page 17, line 21, at end insert ("except any such reference in section 24(4) of the said Act of 1936,").
§ The noble Baroness said: This is a drafting Amendment. Subsection (2) of Clause 14 provides that references to a local authority, in the enactments relating to sewerage which are listed in the subsection, are to be construed as from April 1, 1974, as references to a water authority. This statement would be wrong, however, in the case of Section 24(4) of the Public Health Act 1936, which defines the length of a public sewer for which a local authority can recover the cost of maintenance from other persons. In that subsection, the term "local authority" refers to local authorities as they existed immediately before the beginning of the 1936 Act, and 874 it would therefore clearly be wrong to alter this meaning. I beg to move.
§ Clause 14, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 15 [Arrangements for discharge of sewerage functions]:
BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 39:
Page 18, line 19, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (5A) below").
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 39 I should like to take with it Amendments Nos. 44 and 45. The purpose of these three Amendments is to introduce greater flexibility into the provision for the discharge of sewerage functions. Clause 15 as at present drafted requires a water authority, under subsection (1), to enter into arrangements for the discharge of their sewerage functions, other than those relating to sewage disposal and any sewers at present vested in joint sewerage boards or the Greater London Council, by the local authority or by a development corporation. Subsection (4) states the date by which the draft arrangements must be sent to the relevant authority by the water authority; and subsection (5) provides for the Secretary of State to settle the terms of the arrangements if the parties are unable to agree.
§ These Amendments provide that in cases where the two parties decide, in the interests of efficiency, not to enter into such arrangements the water authority are not to take the actions required by subsections (4) and (5). It therefore gives a greater flexibility, and I beg to move the first of these three Amendments.
VISCOUNT AMORY moved Amendment No. 40:
Page 18, line 37, after ("sewer") insert ("or sewage disposal works with a designed capacity not exceeding a dry weather flow of 500,000 gallons per day").
§ The noble Viscount said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. I understand that my noble friend's object in these three Amendments—and I should like, if I may, to relate my remarks to Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 as well—is to enable regional 875 water authorities, in appropriate cases, to give control functions for sewage disposal, in the case of small sewage disposal works, to districts. This seems to me a sensible idea, because districts would have the technical staff to run such small sewage disposal works, and it would be done only in appropriate cases. I am moving this Amendment really in order to enable my noble friend to tell me her thoughts on these proposals. I beg to move.
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
Before the noble Baroness replies to the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, may I support the request for further information on this matter and reserve the right to say a few words on Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 on behalf of my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, who is prevented from being here to-day and whose notes I have been given? I will not repeat some of the Devonshire stories in his notes, as I do not have the advantage of the accent which he has, but I should like to raise one or two points after the noble Baroness has replied to the request made by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
I should like to support this Amendment and also declare an interest as a Vice-President of the Urban District Councils Association, which also strongly supports this Amendment. On Second Reading I spoke about the sewerage problem and said I hoped that the Government would seriously consider making agency agreements with local authorities for them to look after sewage plants as their agents. As the Bill now stands, local authorities have to look after all main drains as agents, but they are not allowed to look after the sewage disposal plants. There is a very large number of small plants throughout the country, especially in my part of the world, East Anglia, which have been built by local authorities and admirably looked after. They are nearly all new since the war, and they do not pollute the rivers and streams into which the effluent goes. If the responsibilities were divided, local authorities would have to look after sewers but not the plants. It would be necessary to split the staff and split the offices, and I think this would be all wrong. I hope that, as proposed in the Amendment, these 876 smaller plants, anyway, can be looked after by local authorities as agents.We have just had an Amendment to the effect that statutory water companies are to be allowed to look after water as agents. so in that' way they are second-tier authorities. I do not see at all why local authorities should not look after the sewage plants as agents, and if they do not look after them properly then the agency can be terminated. I strongly support this Amendment.
§ LORD SLATER
From this side of the Committee I should like to add my support to the Amendment so ably moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory. I think this is a step in the right direction. After all, for many years district authorities have been responsible for looking after sewerage and for laying down new plants, and they have been able to build up the personnel necessary to provide for their district the services for which they are responsible. Because of that standing I think it would be wrong, and a retrograde step, if we were to take away from the local authorities such responsibility as they have had for so long, and were to allow another section to take over such responsibility. I support the Amendment so ably moved by Lord Amory.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I am sure we have all listened with great interest to the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Amory, who, as we know, as President of the County Councils Association, has a great deal of knowledge and experience of local government. The difficulty the Government see in these particular Amendments is that, as in the case of Amendment No. 30 (I think it was), which we discussed earlier on, we believe that it would effectively involve the introduction of a two-tier system into the regional water authorities. I do not feel that I need to go over with the Committee all the arguments which were advanced earlier, save to say that it is the prime function of this Bill to introduce 10 regional water authorities which will be all-purpose authorities; and, of course, one of the principal reasons for making them cover such large areas is to deal with the whole question of sewage disposal, which is such a very complex and technical matter. In fact, we believe that the only way in which, in the coming years, we shall be able to manage the 877 disposal of sewage, the cleaning up of rivers and all the pollution problems, is to put the whole of sewage disposal under the regional water authorities.
However, I am advised that under the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970 as applied by the Bill, a water authority, if it so wishes, will be able to enter into an agreement with the local authority for the operation of such works. The local authority would be able to operate and maintain a particular sewage disposal works on behalf of a water authority, or to operate and maintain any trunk sewers which are not included in the arrangements under Clause 15 of the Bill, or to make professional engineering services available to the water authority for the purpose of designing small sewage disposal works and supervising contracts for their construction. I do not know whether this goes far enough to meet the points that the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, and his supporters have raised, but I think it goes a long way in the direction in which they are going, and I hope that they will feel able to withdraw this Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
First I should like to apologise to my noble friend Lord Gainsborough. I had no idea that he was the authorised delegate of my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. I intervened only because of the natural instinct of one Devonian to rush to the aid of another. I think I would there fore ask the Committee to disregard what I said earlier and to substitute the remarks of Lord Gainsborough. I think that both Lord Gainsborough and I will have been interested to have heard what the noble Baroness said. Apparently sewage work can be arranged with a district council. That, it seems to me, goes some way towards the points raised. I do not know Lord Gainsborough's view, but in the light of what my noble friend has said with his agreement I would beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The noble Earl said: In view of what has been said by the noble Baroness, I do not think it would be right to occupy the time of the Committee by speaking to Amendments 41 or 42. I do not move the Amendments.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
This is another drafting Amendment. Clause 15(3)(b) of the Bill refers to a joint sewerage board or main drainage authority" whereas Clause 30(g) which abolishes certain bodies refers only to "joint sewerage boards". The Amendment seeks to make the two references consistent and to resolve any doubts about bodies abolished by this Bill. I beg to move.
Page 19, line 16, leave out ("or main drainage authority").—(Baroness Young.)
§ Amendment moved—
Page 19, line 18, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
("(4) Subject to subsection (5A) below, a water authority shall, not later than 1st November 1973, send to every relevant authority with whom they are under a duty to endeavour to make arrangements under subsection (1) above a draft of the arrangements with the relevant authority.
(5) Subject to subsection (5A) below").—(Baroness Young.)
§ Amendment moved—
Page 19, line 29, at end insert—
("(5A) If at any time before arrangements are settled under this section a water authority and a relevant authority come to the conclusion that in the interests of efficiency it would be inexpedient to enter into any arrangements under subsection (1) above or, as the case may be, to be bound by arrangements settled by the Secretary of State under subsection (5) above—
§ On Question, Whether Clause 15, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
Before this clause passes from the discussion, I should like to point out that despite all efforts made (and I said this the other day) by local authority representatives of standing in regard to the functions to be allocated to the regional water authorities under the Bill, and despite the fact that the authority associations have said in the wisdom of their many years' experience that a more positive involvement of the local areas would take place, there seems to have been little move in that direction. As somebody who came from a rural area and represented one for many years, with the development of farming, so far as I am concerned not enough attention has been given to the problem of farm sewage in rural areas. In this excellent Jeger Report which is taken for granted, the original number of farms connected to the sewage system was put at some 4,000. Later, we are told, the Committee corrected that figure and give 10,000 farms. With the development of factory farming and disposal, because of more intense rural farming of farming sewage the cost per animal is much higher than the cost of moving in cities, despite the apparent simple, open, way of sewage disposal on farms. As civilisation presses more and more and urbanisation spreads into our beautiful rural areas (and that is as it must be, for men are living like insects these days) we are in duty bound to look in depth at this matter of farm sewage disposal. I still feel, despite all the talk in Committee and the many days spent in this House and another place, that this is a section of the Bill that has been completely forgotten or has not be treated in depth.
The other point I mentioned is the development of use in our laboratories of radio-active isotopes. These isotopes go into the sewage system. This is one of the things to which much more attention should be paid. The Jeger Report mentions at page 42 farms disposing of their slurry into the sewage system and some of the impractical ways of their 880 disposing of it. I will not weary your Lordships by quoting from the Report. It is available to your Lordships and is beautifully written. This Report is one of the "top ten" Reports of the century so far as demand for it is concerned. Even if there is not time now and we cannot correct this—and I regret that the local rural areas have not a bigger say in this matter—I would urge that we look carefully at the disposal of farm waste. Time is not on our side. This should be looked at now.
§ LORD SLATER
I was rather disappointed when the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, withdrew the previous Amendments. I did not make my protest at the time but in discussing whether this clause should stand part of the Bill, I am wondering what consultation took place with the sanitary inspectors' association and the sanitary surveyors who have been responsible for looking after the sanitation and sewage disposal for local authorities up and down the country for many years. The noble Baroness said in the course of her observations that an agreement would be arrived at between the water authority and the local authorities. We have seen some of these agreements arrived at in the past. We have seen delegation from local authority to district authority in highway development. Eventually the time arrives when the county authority (of which I was a member as well as being a member of the district authority) took away that form of delegation and took it upon themselves to become the highway authority responsible for the whole county highway development. I am afraid in the course of these agreements between the two forms of association that the time will come when, if the new authority (the higher authority, against that of the district authority) want to break these types of agreement they will do so as they have done in the past. I am only sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, should have done what he did on this occasion. The noble Viscount moved the Amendment in the absence of his noble friend and he thought that he was justified in withdrawing it. I wish to ask whether any representations have been made by the sanitary inspectors' association or the sanitary surveyors.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, I think that we are in complete agreement on this matter of sewage disposal. I have said several times that difficulties and problems raised by this matter are one of the principal reasons for the form of reorganisation which appears in the Bill. From reading the Jeger Report I know of the kind of problems to which the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, drew our attention. We hope that is the kind of thing that the larger authorities, with more money, will be able to tackle. The noble Lord, Lord Slater, asked whether there had been discussions with sanitary inspectors, and I am wondering whether these are the same people that I think of as public health inspectors. I suspect that they are. Having made that remark, I must say I am afraid that I have not that information before me, but I will take steps to find out and let the noble Lord know.
§ Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 16 [Requisitioning of sewers for domestic purposes]:
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 46A:
Page 20, line 31, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—
("(1) It shall be the duty of a water authority to provide any public sewer to be used for domestic purposes for the drainage of premises in their area—
§ (2) In a case to which paragraph (a) of subsection (1) above applies, the conditions which must be satisfied are—
- (a) that the reckonable charges payable in respect of the premises will not be less than the qualifying amount; and
- (b) that the persons making the requisition agree severally with the water authority to pay the reckonable charges in respect of
882 the premises for three years at least from the date on which the laying of the sewer is completed.
§ (3) In a case to which paragraph (b) of subsection (1) applies, the conditions which must be satisfied are—
- (a) that the sewer which the owners of the premises require the water authority to provide is a sewer communicating (in such manner and in such place as the authority consider appropriate) with a private sewer provided by the owners; and
- (b) that the owners undertake to meet any relevant deficit.
§ (4) The conditions mentioned in paragraph (c) of subsection (1) above are—
- (a) that the rcckonable charges payable in respect of the premises will be less than the qualifying amount; and
- (b) that the local authority in whose area the premises are situated undertake to meet any relevant deficit.").
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving this Amendment I should like to discuss with it Nos. 46B. 46C, 46D, 46E, 46F, 46H, 46J, and 46K. This whole series of Amendments result from an Amendment which was agreed in another place and they arise from the redrafting of this clause. The clause was introduced by the Government in another place in response to an undertaking to provide power for local authorities and private persons to requisition sewerage facilities in the same way as they have power to requisition water supplies, subject, as always, to their willingness to make guaranteed payments where necessary. It was stated at the time that the text of the Amendment needed further consideration. These Amendments are designed to meet that. They are primarily drafting Amendments and should give to local authorities the same arrangements with regard to sewerage as they have with regard to water.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I have no fault to find with the purpose behind the Amendment but I wish to make a mild protest about the way in which all these Amendments have been presented to the Committee. In this clause there are 14 subsections; two are to go and of the remaining 12, 10 are being amended by this mass of Amendments. I found a great deal of difficulty in reading the clause, I tried to put into it the whole of what is contained in the Amendments, and it is extremely difficult to read the clause as it will appear. As subsections (1) and (2) are to go and we are to get these massive Amendments, 883 by far the easier course would have been to have withdrawn the whole clause, reprinted it and presented it again in a manner which would have been easy for noble Lords, and indeed local authorities, to read. To present a series of Amendments in this form seems to me to be a nonsense and to pay no regard to the Committee. I mention this only in the hope that Parliamentary draftsmen, who may consider my words, will in future, when they propose to make such a series of Amendments, consider withdrawing the whole clause and presenting it in a readable form.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I have considerable sympathy with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I had difficulty in mastering these Amendments, but I am sure that the point has been taken and that it is being done to meet the wishes of various people in both Houses. This is, I think, an Amendment with which we shall all agree. I understand that it is a very complex matter, but if I have understood the situation right it is ultimately something which will make the provision of houses a more straightforward matter, in the sense that it links the drainage with the houses. It is important that the whole clause should be included and that the Amendments should correctly state what is implied. For this reason I am moving the Amendment. I am sorry that it should have caused so much difficulty.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I have no fault to find with the clause and I thought it worth while when I say that it had been introduced in another place. It was obvious that some amendment would have to be made. I agree to the Amendments that are proposed, but I protest at the form in which they have been presented to us.
Page 21, line 29, leave out ("(2) above shall in any event") and insert ("(3) or (4) above shall").—(Baroness Young.)
§ THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (LORD JESSEL)
With the permission of the Committee I will call Amendments Nos. 46C to 46K.
§ Amendments moved—
§ Page 21, line 32, leave out subsection (4).
§ Page 21, line 38, leave out ("local or").
§ Page 21, line 39, leave out ("(2)") and insert ("(3)").
§ Page 22, line 14, leave out from ("not") to ("they") in line 15 and insert ("lay the necessary sewer within six months or such longer period as may be agreed between the parties or be determined under subsection (10) below".
§ Page 22, line 18, leave out subsection (9).
Page 22, line 25, leave out from beginning to end of line 35 and insert—
("(b) as to the period within which a sewer is to be laid, shall be determined by a referee appointed by the parties or in default of agreement by the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers.
§ ( ) In this section—
- "local authority" does not include a county council or the Greater London Council;
- "necessary for domestic purposes" means necessary for removing the contents of a lavatory or removing water used for cooking or washing other than water used for the business of a laundry or a business of preparing food or beverages for consumption otherwise than on the premises;
- "qualifying amount", in relation to a sewer, means one-eighth of the expense of providing it and of providing any other sewer whose provision the water authority consider necessary or expedient in consequence;
- "reckonable charges", in relation to a sewer, means charges in respect of the drainage of premises attributable to its use and includes such proportion of any charge payable under Part III of this Act for services which include sewerage as is stated by the water authority to be so attributable;
- "relevant deficit" means the difference between the qualifying amount and the reckonable charges received by a water authority in respect of each year.
§ ( ) It shall be the duty of a water authority, at the request of any person, to state the proportion of any charge under Part III of this Act which is a reckonable charge for the purposes of this section.").
§ Page 22, line 38, after ("a") insert ("public").—(Baroness Young.)
§ On Question, Whether Clause 16, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?885
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
I will not delay the Committee but I wish to ask a couple of questions because Clause 16 deals mainly with the issue of pollution; or, rather, there is opportunity, through the provisions in the clause, to deal with pollution. Paragraph 414 of the Jeger Report states:Priorities for research should include treatment and disposal of sewage sludge, treatment and disposal of farm waste, the removal of nutrient salt and organic residues from polluted waters and the development of improved criteria for assessing pollution.I believe those objectives to be absolutely essential, particularly so far as the rural areas are concerned. In the Trent-Severn authority an area has been made from Bristol to the Humber and it is too large to deal with this problem.During the Committee stage in another place a first-class case was made for estuarial groups to deal particularly with pollution and sewage in estuary areas and shedding from the regional areas the responsibility for the two estuarial areas. The two most polluted areas in Britain are bunched together; namely, the Trent Estuary and the Severn Estuary. What I want to ask is whether we have really looked into this in depth. Does the Minister not think that we should take more care before we agree Clauses 16 and 17, with some of the Government Amendments? I think that we should have this brought back to us after the number of approaches that have been made by local authorities throughout Britain for the last two years.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
If I have understood the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, correctly, he is again concerned about the sewage disposal arrangements, particularly in the new river authority of Severn and Trent. I can only give him the answer that I gave him before: that we recognise that there is a strong link between the provision of sewage disposal arrangements and the pollution of rivers, and it is because we feel that these two matters are linked that we are making the regional water authorities allpurpose authorities. We believe that they will have the power to carry out the functions mentioned by the noble Lord.
§ Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.886
§ Clause 17 [River pollution]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 17 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION I do not want to say much about this clause, although by consent—and certainly my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek has demonstrated the fact—the problem of river pollution is a highly important one. My restraint in the matter is due to the fact that the Government will, I understand, be introducing a comprehensive measure providing for stringent control over the discharge of effluents into our rivers and the disposal of toxic substances. However, I want to ask a question about the timing of the proposed measure which the Government have told us they arc to introduce.
The Secretary of State for the Environment, when he introduced this Water Bill in the other place, after mentioning the proposed provisions arising from the Jeger Report and the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, said:
Those provisions will be covered, together with other aspects of environmental pollution, such as waste disposal... in legislation which we would wish to introduce during the lifetime of this Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 5/2/73; col. 40.]
I cannot pretend to know how much longer this Parliament will continue: I think it ought to end at an early stroke; but it might go on until June, 1975. Subject to the Secretary of State's statement on Second Reading, Mr. Griffiths, the Under-Secretary for the Environment, said to an international congress in London on June 5:
A Bill to be presented to Parliament possibly next Session would give regional water authorities full control of all tidal rivers, estuaries and of trade effluents to sewers.
This is—and I think we all admit it—a highly important and urgent matter. I should welcome a statement to-day by the noble Baroness on the timing of the proposed legislation.
The urgency of this matter is being highlighted at the moment by some searching articles by "Insight" in the Sunday Times. Perhaps I might briefly refer to these, because they are germane
to what I am saying. In one the writer says:
A new peril has been discovered at Maendy quarry, the South Wales industrial tip which, as Insight reveared last week, contains at least 31 chemicals, half of them toxic to some degree. Last week as the Welsh Office sought to play down the dangers—Government scientists had already found another deadly chemical leaking from the tip…known as TOCP….TOCP was found in water from Maendy just over a week ago by analysts at the Water Pollution Research Laboratory at Stevenage. The laboratory, an agency of the Department for the Environment, has been testing Maendy discharges for some time. The TOCP the laboratory found was at concentrations of 'well over' 50 parts per million.
I know this quarry well; it is not far from my home. I know that it is 700 to 800 feet up, and inevitably water from it could flow down into the springs which feed the local rivers.
§ I do not expect the noble Baroness to comment on these articles, because I have not given her any real indication that I should be raising this in any depth, although I did advise her that I should be asking her something about the timing of the proposed legislation. I sincerely hope that she will be in a position to give us some information, which I certainly should like to have, and which I am fairly sure the Committee would like, too.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for giving me notice of his intention to raise these points on the Question, That the clause stand part. I can confirm that it is still the hope to introduce during the lifetime of this present Parliament new legislation on environmental pollution, but I cannot say anything further than that. The noble Lord mentioned in the course of his remarks the article in the Sunday Times and the case of Maendy Quarry in Glamorgan. I can confirm that powers to control new tipping of this kind—and this tipping occurred between 1965 and 1970—do exist in the Deposit of Poisonous Wastes Act 1972 which makes it an offence to deposit poisonous wastes where they will endanger public health, and which provides for a system of notification to the county council of intention to tip substances under this Act.
Reverting to the proposed new legislation, I may say that it is intended that this will provide much more wide-rang 888 ing powers on environmental pollution. New tipping sites will have to be licensed by the wastes disposal authority, the county council, who would in this case consult the regional water authority. The wastes disposal authority will be able to attach conditions to the licence governing types of waste and the precautions to be taken to avoid pollution. It will have power to inspect sites and power to vary the conditions of the licence. There will also he provision for the determination of disputes between applicants for licences and the wastes disposal authority. My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government and Development recently announced in another place that the Department would be commissioning a new programme of research into substances percolating from tips. I hope that this goes some way to answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Champion.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SECURITY (LORD ABERDARE)
I just wish to add, on the subject of Maendy Quarry, that I have no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Champion, is aware that the Secretary of State for Wales made a statement in the other place last Monday in which he said:On the basis of an extensive series of tests, the best advice available to me is that there is no evidence to sugeest any immediate public health hazard from the situation at these quarries. There is no danger of contamination of public water supplies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons,11/6/73; col. 968.He went on to say that he was keeping the matter under constant watch and he would immediately take action should he find any dangers. He also mentioned T.O.C.P., referred to by the noble Lord, and said that he had been told about this by a consultant only on the Friday; that investigations took place immediately, and that these would continue with the full services of the Government analysts and all Departments.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for making that statement. I must have been so busy preparing for this Committee that I missed the statement by the Secretary of State. I have only now been able to read last Monday's Lords Hansard because of the difficulty we have had in getting it.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
Very briefly, it was because I knew of the statement which had been made in another place and that I did not mention this. I do not wish to delay our proceedings and to make a meal of this local problem. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for his statement. I am sure that both sides of the Committee and the officials of the House will take careful note of this. However, I must say that driving up here in my car I listened to an account from some official of how this matter was being looked into. I believe that he was "stonewalling"—I will put it kindly—a little too much. I know this is emotive, but it is something that I feel the Welsh ought to be emotional about.
I believe we shall have to look at this problem of chemicals. I must declare an interest in the chemical industry and I know the problem involved in the disposal of these waste products and the effluent from plastics. We must get a national policy on this disposal problem. It is all very well for somebody to say, "Throw this down some of your old Welsh coalpits in the Rhondda". It may be that the pit goes down 2,000 feet into the ground, yet it may still be 4,000 feet above sea level somewhere else, and fluids can drop into other parts of the country. I have now said enough. I do not know the answer to this problem and I do not want to sound pompous, but I believe we must try to find an answer to this modern problem of chemical effluents all over Britain.
§ Clause 17 agreed to.
§ 6.42 p.m.
LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 47:
After Clause 17 insert the following new clause:
§ Arrangements for discharge of certain functions by Greater London Council.
§ ".—(l) It shall be the duty of the Thames Water Authority and the Greater London Council to endeavour to make arrangements for the Greater London Council to discharge as respects the London excluded area the functions of that water authority under or in pursuance of the Water Resources Act 1963 and this Act for and in connection with—
- (a) the determination and review of minimum acceptable flows for inland waters in that area;
- (b) the control of the abstraction of water from or from the vicinity of, and the impounding of water in, such inland waters:
- (c) the protection of such inland waters against pollution, and the control of discharges into underground strata in that area;
§ (2) If within a period of two months beginning with the date on which consultations between the water authority and the said council were commenced for the purpose of making such arrangements as aforesaid the two authorities have not entered into the arrangements, the water authority or the council may within one month of the end of that period refer the matter to the Ministers and the Ministers shall in that event settle the terms of the arrangements which shall be binding on both parties.
§ (3) The parties to any arrangements in force by virtue of subsection (1) or subsection (2) above, as varied (if it is the case) under this subsection, may by agreement vary the arrangements or, in default of agreement, either party (after giving notice in writing to the other party) may apply to the Ministers to vary the arrangements and the Ministers may in that event by direction to the parties vary the arrangements in a manner specified in the direction and such variation shall (subject to a further application of this subsection) be binding on the parties."
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 47. I moved a number of Amendments earlier, all of which were linked together and were intended to secure the retention by the Greater London Council of powers which they already possess, and to ensure for the Council powers which, as a water authority, they could well discharge with efficiency and economy. I had been hopeful that the Committee would have seen the good sense behind allowing the Greater London Council to do that and also that perhaps the Amendments would have been carried; but one had to anticipate that they would not be accepted. I want to make it quite clear that Amendment No. 47 is one that accepts the position that the Government are not prepared to do what I sought to achieve in the early stages of our proceedings in Committee.
§ This Amendment, which would introduce a new clause in the terms set out in the Marshalled List, would secure arrangements for the discharge of certain functions by the Greater London 891 Council which are nothing like as ambitious as those envisaged in the earlier Amendments. I hope that the same reason which prevailed when we were considering water authorities just now and the same kind of thinking that went on in the minds of a number of those who spoke might be brought to bear in connection with this Amendment. I should also like to think that the Government themselves would be big enough to see that, as I shall hope to show, there is a good reason behind this. May I say that there can be no question here of old-fashioned or reactionary thinking. I do not think the accusation was particularly fair before: it certainly was not accurate then, and I do not think it can have any application with regard to this Amendment.
§ The purpose of the Amendment is to provide arrangements whereby certain functions of the Thames Water Authority may be discharged by the Greater London Council. Having regard to the unique situation existing in the London excluded area and the experience and capabilities of the Greater London Council, there is a very strong case indeed for doing this. It is of real importance to London that it should be done. This Bill provides for the Greater London Council to retain its functions as a land drainage authority for what is known as the London excluded area. This involves over 400 square miles, taking in a good proportion of Greater London and other areas outside it. It is not covered by any other river authority and it includes the catchments of the Rivers Brent, Crane, Ravensbourne and Wandle and the Beverley Brook. These are not large tributaries of the Thames but I think that many, if not all, of your Lordships will remember that there has been serious flooding in built-up areas through which these tributaries flow. The Greater London Council is generally responsible for tidal and other flood prevention and for the improvement of main metropolitan water courses. Those functions, as I understand it, will remain under this Bill. Unless the Bill is amended, certain important functions of river management will be discharged by the Thames Water Authority, but since the Council will have the land drainage function they feel themselves clearly in a position to undertake those river management functions 892 and thus avoid wasteful and unnecessary duplication of administration over the same streams.
§ The functions to which I have referred fall under two main heads: control over river flows, and prevention of river pollution. Under the Water Resources Act 1963, all river authorities have powers in connection with the establishment of minimum acceptable flows for inland water in their areas and the control of construction or alteration of impounding works on such waters. These bowers have never applied in the London excluded area, although tile Greater London Council have represented to Government Departments many times that they were necessary for dealing with land drainage and amenity responsibilities in relation to London streams. The Wandle Valley is a case in point. Anxiety has arisen from the progressive reduction of the River Wandle, which has resulted in the virtual drying up of Waddon Pond and the Croydon branch of the river since December 1972. If the river in this area does dry up, the lake in Beddington Park will be endangered and the whole environment will suffer, causing trees, shrubs and other plants to be very seriously affected. I have touched on these matters very briefly, but I trust I have said enough to show it is necessary for the G.L.C. to have powers to ensure certain minimum flows in London streams.
§ If I may now turn to the subject of pollution, the Port of London Authority are responsible for the prevention of river pollution as regards the tidal reaches of the Thames within their area. In this the Council's Scientific Branch assists by monitoring the condition of the rivers. As I indicated a few moments ago in connection with the previous Amendment, they will continue to monitor the condition of the river. The Council itself discharges the function of pollution prevention with regard to canals and non-tidal rivers in the 400-odd square miles of the London excluded area. I gather there is conjecture as to the Government's intentions in regard to the pollution powers of both the Port of London Authority and the Greater London Council. May I inquire from the Minister who is to reply whether the Government intend these powers to be transferred to the Thames Water Authority on April 1, 1974? If that is the case, it 893 would seem to make little sense. As I have indicated, the Council's staff will in any case have to patrol, inspect and maintain these rivers in the exercise of land drainage functions. It would clearly be nonsense if they lost the function of pollution control.
§ In so far as the new clause proposes that the Council should take over for the first time pollution control of the tidal Thames the arguments are somewhat different but equally strong. The tidal river is clearly not a possible source of water supply for drinking purposes, so the purposes of pollution control relate to the planned protection of the environment and to amenity and recreation, including the improvement of the river for the purposes of angling. These are clearly functions of the Council and not of the Thames Water Authority as the Government are already (following the proceedings in Standing Committee D in the House of Commons) publicly committed to conferring on the Council the amenity and recreation functions of the Thames Water Authority in Greater London.
§ It should also be pointed out that the new clause would permit arrangements to be made whereby, if it was thought right, the Council, instead of the Thames Water Authority, could exercise the pollution prevention functions now carried out by the Port of London Authority, not merely in London but right down the estuary well outside Greater London. As the Council's scientific branch at present monitors the condition of the river far out into the estuary, there would be no practical problems to the Council taking on this task.
§ I hope that I have demonstrated something of the strength of the case in support of this Amendment. The Greater London Council has lost a good deal of its original functions. May I remind the Committee—we ought not to forget it—that they are losing some 15 per cent. of their staff and half of their direct services to the people of Greater London.
§ If this Amendment is accepted, something will be done to secure services to the advantages of the people of London, and to the interests of London generally; they will be secured with economy, and, at the same time, I think it would go some way toward showing respect for and confidence in the largest unit of local government 894 in the country. There have been many tributes paid to local government from all sides of the House at many stages of these proceedings. There was acknowledgment from the noble Lord. Lord Sandford, that local government was feeling bruised. I sincerely hope that the merits of this Amendment will commend themselves to the Government and that they will be able to indicate their acceptance of it.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ LORD STOW HILL
I venture to intervene to support my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy in proposing the new clause at present before the Committee in order to supplement slightly what he has already said very amply and very cogently; and also for one subordinate reason. When my noble friend moved at the outset of your Lordships' debate that virtually the Thames River Authority might be subdivided, and the Greater London Council invested with the functions relating to London which tile Bill would transfer to the Thames River Authority, he was somewhat severely taken to task and told that his proposal was reactionary and unhelpful. The noble Lord who used that language to him did not include me in the condemnation, and I would feel rather conscience-stricken if I did not seek to come to my noble friend's support in this much more moderate proposal which he is now putting before the Committee, and which I hope is not reactionary or unhelpful.
In the case of the previous Amendment, my difficulty in addressing the Committee was that my noble friend had expounded the case admirably and fully; and he has again in that fashion expounded the case in respect to this Amendment. But perhaps it would not be wholly inapposite if I pointed to some features in his present proposal. The background of his proposal is his reluctance to see the direct functions performed by the Greater London Council diminish, as they would diminish if this Bill became law without qualification. He has indicated that it is that general feeling which has motivated him, in part at any rate, in making the proposals now being considered by the Committee. What I seek to add is a word on the moderate character of that which he is at present suggesting. I would point to the fact that all he is proposing is that the Thames Water 895 Authority should get together with the Greater London Council, and they should consider together a scheme for investing the Greater London Council with the duties which are set out in sub-paragraphs (a),(b) and (c) to his new clause which he has already explained in some detail.
The proposal goes on to require that if agreement cannot be reached the matter should go to the Minister. There should not be delay because a twomonths' time limit is set. The net result of that proposal, if it is accepted, surely is not unreasonable. I would go further: surely it is helpful. In spite of what has been said so cogently by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in an earlier discussion, there has been apprehension expressed about the rather mammoth size of the Thames Water Authority. This would slightly—perhaps more than slightly—go some distance to meet that criticism. It would provide a means whereby a sensible arrangement could be agreed between the two authorities in such a way as to be acceptable to both. Part of the function could remain with the Greater London Council.
It is a sensible division of labour, a division of labour which would retain the feature which at present is applicable; namely, that the expert staff available to the Greater London Council could again be made available for the purpose of the discharge of these three separate categories of function. That is surely to the good. Before we started discussing this Amendment, the noble Lord said that change for the sake of change is not necessarily desirable, and that is distinct in the suggestion which my noble friend made. Therefore all that is proposed is this: let these two authorities get together, let them come to some sensible agreement for a division of labour in a very limited field, as set out in sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), for which the Greater London Council is at present very well provided. It is well provided by its expert staff to discharge those functions. Limited in scope though they are, they are of great importance. They would to some extent counter the criticism which motivated my noble friend in moving the earlier set of Amendments. He now therefore returns to the same proposal—I emphasise, and cannot 896 emphasise too much—in a modified, highly practical and restrained form.
I ask Ministers to consider carefully whether there is not something really valuable in this new approach. It does not dismantle in any way the Thames Water Authority. On the contrary: it recognises that Authority as the overall authority which will still he a partner in this joint enterprise. It will work together with the Greater London Council in pursuance of arrangements which they have both worked out to their mutual satisfaction. That is what my noble friend has proposed. I hope if he is again said to be reactionary in this matter that I will be identified in spirit with his reactionary nature. I never thought he was a reactionary, and I still find it rather difficult to believe. I do not think I am. and I hope we may both survive this debate with our reputations in that regard not too damaged. I beg to support my noble friend.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I fear I must add just a word after listening to the persuasive advocacy cf the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, who makes even the lightest substance carry great weight. I really do not think there is quite the substance in this argument that he was able to clothe it with by the skill of his words and dialectic. If we look at the three functions which he and his noble friend Lord Garnsworthy are advocating should be put in the hands of the G.L.C., we see that the first one, in paragraph (a), has not been carried out at all by anybody. Nobody had been able to do it yet, for a variety of good reasons, so that is not going to affect the G.L.C. staff. The second one, concerning the control of the abstraction of water, of course has not been carried out by the G.L.C. either; and "the protection of such inland waters against pollution" also has not been carried out by the G.L.C. but by the P.L.A. While I follow the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, that this function might be given to the G.L.C. as a consolation prize because they have lost other functions which they valued—I take that point; I am sad to see any functions transferred from local government—I really do not think that these three particular functions—
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
May I remind the noble Lord that I covered this point and acknowledged that nobody had had the powers, and I endeavoured to make a case, with brevity, as to why it was desirable that the G.L.C. should have them.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, did, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, spun a very skilful web which made the picture seem slightly different. I was dismantling the web he had so skilfully erected. Lord Garnsworthy related this, very cleverly I thought, to the G.L.C.'s recreational powers, saying it was most desirable that the prevention of pollution should be related to those powers. There is a connection, I would agree, but of course far the strongest connection is between the prevention of pollution powers and the sewage disposal function. This Committee decided on Monday, after the very interesting debate which the noble Lord promoted, that that should remain with the R.W.A.; that the whole logic of this Bill demanded that it should. That being so, there is no doubt at all that the body responsible for monitoring the control of pollution should be the same body, so that the general management of the sewage works—the whole function of reclamation—is in the same hands. So the whole logic of this issue is that these powers should remain with the regional water authority in so far as they are substantial—and they are certainly substantial in regard to paragraph (c)—but with regard to paragraphs (a) and (b) I do not think they are very substantial. They certainly will not make any difference to the G.L.C. staff. So I hope my noble friend will find himself unable to accept this Amendment.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I certainly acquit both noble Lords opposite of being anything other than good sound radicals, but I cannot say that their proposal is anything less than reactionary, though perhaps not quite so reactionary as their earlier proposal on Amendment No. 1. They are still clinging to the past instead of reaching forward into the future. I cannot say the proposal is anything like so reasonable or so practical as the skilled advocacy of the noble and learned 898 Lord, Lord Stow Hill, might have deceived some of us into thinking that it was. So I am afraid I cannot advise the Committee to adopt this proposal, any more than the one incorporated in Amendment No. 1. I will endeavour to say why, without repeating more than is absolutely necessary what I said at the beginning of the Committee stage.
The main fact is that, like it or not, Greater London, or any area based closely on the Greater London area, is not a viable unit for the purposes of the future comprehensive management of water services. Those river management functions which have significantly been omitted from the present new clause are a good illustration of this. For instance. the augmentation of water in the underground strata under London would depend upon operations which have to be carried out someway outside in the Chilterns where the chalk aquifer is naturally replenished. Equally, the administration of fisheries and angling has to take place over a much wider area than the stretch of the tidal Thames which happens to lie within Greater London.
The Government, however, are content to see the responsibility for land drainage, for flood protection and for the great Thames flood barrier to remain with, and for the river recreation including angling and amenity be conferred upon, the Greater London Council. I shall be seeking to explain how the latter is to be done when I move Amendment No. 63C, later on this evening. They do this not because Greater London or the London excluded area, as the case may be, is the natural area for the exercise of these functions, but because these particular functions in the unique circumstances of Greater London—and I would entirely agree with Lord Garnsworthy that our capital city is unique in many ways—have sufficiently close ties with other local authority functions and can in the special circumstances reasonably easily be detached from the other water services, though on technical grounds it is not desirable to do so. That particular consideration does not apply to the further functions covered by the present new clause.
I must advise the Committee that to split off any further particular functions would go directly against the whole 899 principles of this reorganisation and seriously harm and jeopardise them. It is the Government's view that it is essential for the future for sewage disposal and pollution control to go together and go into the Thames Water Authority, which is where we have indicated right from the beginning in the original proposals for this reorganisation they should go; and exactly the same applies for water conservation and water supply. I would end by reiterating my own conviction that the future role of the G.L.C. and such of their staff as have been engaged in this field lies fairly and squarely in the Thames Water Authority, where they undoubtedly have a substantial contribution to make.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
I much appreciate the rely of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, while not being too pleased at what it conveyed to us. I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Stow Hill for his much appreciated support. I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, comes in so often against the Greater London Council. I have endeavoured to represent to this Committee the anxiety of the Greater London Council in regard too what is being done in depriving it of powers it has discharged with efficiency and with economy. It really is a nonsense for the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, to suggest that the Greater London Council in its approach to this matter is being either old-fashioned or reactionary. He knows as well as I do that the attitude of the Greater London Council on this issue is not a question of Party politics. He knows as well as I do that if the outcome of the Greater London election had been different the request to this Committee of the kind of consideration that I have sought would have been the same, with this possible addition, that probably there would have been somebody on the other side, as there was in the case of the London Ambulance Service.
With regard to the suggestion that the proposal is reactionary, I venture to think—and I certainly hope—that the noble Lord will live long enough, and indeed I hope I shall live long enough (I do not think it will be a long period of time) to hear local government officers saying 900 that they are not prepared to be left out when it comes to being entrusted to the same extent that privately-owned water undertakings are being entrusted. The time will come when local government will say, "You have created these vast bodies; you have given us some representation on them; you may have given us a majority but you have taken jolly good care to see that control lies with the Department of the Environment, or the political head of that Department."
What is important is that the people of London should appreciate that, so far as the Greater London Council is concerned, it has endeavoured to preserve under public control as much as it can of the services in regard to water and sewerage functions. But I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, that this is not only a matter of recreation; there is also the question of general amenity, and the instances I gave with regard to what is happening in the area of the Wandle I should have thought would be taken very seriously indeed. He has drawn attention to the fact that there has been no river authority in that area. I hope the debate will serve some purpose in that somebody will continue to think of the problems that concern London. In the circumstances of the debate I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 18 agreed to.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I think now might be a convenient moment for me to move that the House be now resumed, on the understanding that we meet again to resolve ourselves into a Committee on this Bill at a quarter past eight. I beg to move that the House be now resumed.
§ Moved, That the House he now resumed.—(Lord Sandford.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.