HL Deb 21 May 1973 vol 342 cc970-89

2.59 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Sandford, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Before coming to the substance of the matter, I should like to offer your Lordships an apology. Before Second Reading was fixed through the usual channels for this date, I had entered into two not unimportant engagements this evening which are now, I fear, inescapable. This means that I shall not be able to be present for the latter half of the debate and I seek your Lordships' indulgence for that. The loss is mine as there was a time, before the Flood, when I was deeply and keenly involved in these watery matters, and I see that a number of noble Lords with whom I then had watery dealings are to speak in your Lordships' debate. I am sorry if I miss any of their speeches.

My Lords, in this Bill we are dealing with a vital commodity that, as a nation, we have for too long, perhaps, taken too much for granted; namely, water. It is vital not merely to the continuance of human life in these Islands but to our industry, to our agriculture and, indeed, to the progress of our technology, since the most technological of our industries are indeed very often very heavy consumers of this commodity. It also carries away, and provides essential dilution for, domestic and industrial wastes. It supports a rich and varied life for fish, and it provides a very important amenity and numerous opportunities for one of our great growth industries; namely, sport and recreation. A healthy thirst for water is one of the prime and principal characteristics of a modern industrial society. We in this country now consume more than 50 gallons per head per day of water. By the end of this century, I am told, we shall probably be requiring about twice that amount; and the fact that the Americans already use nearly three times as much water as we do is a significant pointer in this respect.

Curiously enough, at least for those who inhabit the Western or Celtic fringes of our Islands, we have less water in proportion to population than almost any other country in Europe, and yet our consumption—for example, for domestic use—is higher than in many European countries. Already one-third of our drinking water is drawn from the lower reaches of rivers into which sewage and industrial effluent has been discharged, and this proportion is bound, in time, to increase. At the same time, river pollutants are becoming increasingly harmful and toxic, and indeed varied, so that the task of making river water fit to drink becomes more difficult and more costly. The present forecast of drought this summer merely serves to emphasise the urgency of the problem with which we are faced. What we require now, my Lords, is a total approach to water which can take full account of all its different aspects and uses, and allow them to be planned and developed in full harmony with one another.

Your Lordships may recall the prolonged attention which your Lordships rightly gave to the Water Resources Act 1963, which I indeed had the honour to pilot through this House. Unlike that Act, this Bill has begun in another place. However, like it, and for good reason, I think, it is confined to England and Wales. At present the management of water services in England and Wales is fragmented between 29 river authorities, some 190 water undertakers and about 1,300 sewerage authorities. In September, 1969, the Central Advisory Water Committee was reconstituted with three noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord de Ramsey, whom I am glad to see here to-day; the noble Lord, Lord Hirshfield; and my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford—as members: a pledge of political impartiality. Since I see that a number of noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite are scanning the Benches on this side for the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, I can inform them that he will arrive at any moment now. The Committee was reconstituted to examine the present system and to recommend the best organisation for the future. In its valuable Report published in April two years ago, the Committee said that it considered that there were too many authorities of too small a size concerned with the provision of water services in this country, and that serious conflicts and weaknesses were an inevitable result of this system. To take but one example, it is all too easy for an authority to baulk at the provision of an expensive sewage treatment plant which will benefit not its own community but some place further downstream of its local river. The Committee therefore recommended that the number of authorities managing the various water services should be drastically reduced.

After studying the Committee's Report, the Government concluded it was essential to set up a small number of regional water authorities, based on river basins, to be responsible for all aspects of water management in those basins. In addition, the administration of land drainage and fisheries was the subject of subsequent consultations between the Minister of Agriculture, local authorities and other interested parties. Following these consultations it was decided that these functions should also be given to regional water authorities, but subject to certain special arrangements which are incorporated in the Bill, primarily in Clauses 18 and 19. I think I can claim that the Government's proposals in these respects have met with general acceptance.

My Lords, we are all only too keenly aware, especially at this time of the year, of the pressures on our legislative programme. Because of this, we decided to confine this Bill to those matters which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State judged essential for the proposed reorganisation of the water and sewerage industries. Various detailed mattes that were proposed in Consultation Papers are not covered. In particular, the proposals for the more effective control of water pollution, which will embrace the recommendations of both the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, of which the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, is a distinguished member (and I am glad to see that he will be speaking later in this debate), and the Jeger Committee on Sewage Disposal will be dealt with separately in wider legislation for environmental protection. We intend to introduce this comprehensive measure as soon as we can find a legislative slot into which to fit it. The decision made by my right honourable friend not to proceed in the Bill with the Government's original and, indeed, rather controversial proposal to integrate the British Waterways Board's waterways with those of the new regional water authorities means that the Board, together with the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, will remain in being for the foreseeable future and will continue with their present responsibilities. The Board, of course, will need to carry out their functions in harmony with the regional water authorities, and the Government are confident that this should work out satisfactorily in practice.

My Lords, the heart of the Bill now before your Lordships is therefore the establishment, under Clause 2, of ten multi-purpose regional water authorities for England and Wales. The areas which they will cover are shown in Schedule 1; and, as your Lordships will observe, they are indeed extensive. This is because of our belief that they must be reasonably self-sufficient in water resources and able to make really effective use, either alone or in collaboration with their neighbours, of the very large projects now under consideration, to include possible schemes for large-scale storage in estuaries, like the Morecambe scheme or the possible Wash scheme. My Lords, these authorities will be responsible, as provided in Part II of the Bill, for water resources and supply; for sewerage and sewage disposal; for the prevention of pollution; for land drainage and flood protection; for fisheries; for the recreational and amenity use of their water space, and in some cases for navigation. This is big and important business, my Lords. Between them, these proposed authorities will employ some 75,000 staff, their annual revenue will be about £350 million and their investment budget about £300 million per annum.

These proposals are complemented by new arrangements at the national level—arrangements spelled out primarily in Clause 4. The Government attach very great importance to the role of the proposed National Water Council, which will be their main source of advice on national water policy. Its members will include the chairmen of the regional water authorities as well as members appointed by Ministers for their expert, specialised knowledge. The Council will provide the regional water authorities with a forum for the discussion of common problems, for forming a united view on matters of common interest, for the development and dissemination of uniform policy and practices, and for the provision of common services. It is also designed to have an important training function, since it will take over the existing organisation established by the Water Supply Industry Training Board for the water supply industry and extend it to all the functions of water authorities. In addition, it will advise Ministers, for example, in connection with the giving of directions to regional water authorities on their general economic and financial policy.

My Lords, the National Water Council will require free access to three central organisations which are to be set up for planning research and statistical information—three organisations which are an essential feature of the new system. It will have to be in a position to influence the work of those central organisations. Three units are to be established administratively which will take over work now being done by a variety of organisations. Initially, they will be formed by grouping these existing bodies and it is intended that they should be staffed by those at present employed in this work.

Perhaps I could briefly summarise and outline the three new organisations which are proposed. First, the Government propose that the Central Water Planning Unit, as a professional body, will take over the national planning function of the Water Resources Board, whose demise is provided for in Clause 30(a) and which has done really work of great value to the country. The planning unit will identify and study the main strategic options so that the national strategy for our water can be developed. The scope of the unit will be broader in a very important respect than the planning division of the Water Resources Board because that was limited to water resources planning. The new unit will cover all aspects, including, quality of national water policy. It is essential that the unit's reports should be objective assessments of the facts, independent of Government and of the water industry. Therefore the unit will be steered by an independent Committee whose chairman will be the Chairman of the National Water Council. Other members of the Committee will include representatives of the Water Research Centre, which I shall refer to in a moment, and of the Government Departments concerned.

The second feature of the new organisation provides for the effective management of research and development by the Water Research Centre. That Centre will be formed from a number of existing elements. First, it is the wish of the Government, and their expectation, that it will be based on, and absorb, the Water Research Association subject to the agreement of the Council of the Association, which agreement has, in fact, been given. Secondly, it will also take over the Government's own research establishment, their Water Pollution Research Laboratory at Stevenage; the major part of the technology division of the Water Resources Board at Reading, and part of the development division of the Department of the Environment's Directorate General of Water Engineering. Thirdly, it will assume responsibility for research and development commissioned by the technology division of the Water Resources Board and for about two-thirds of that com- missioned by the Directorate General of Water Engineering in the past. I apologise for these organisational details, my Lords, but perhaps it is just worth giving them as they do not emerge from a perusal of the Bill.

The Government's proposals will thus produce, in our belief, a powerful organisation for water research which will match the concentration of water services of England and Wales into ten powerful authorities. The Centre will initially become responsible for work costing about £2½ million at present. However, given the expanding programme of capital expenditure, and the growing problems facing the regional water authorities, particularly on the pollution and re-use of water, we expect the expenditure by the Water Research Centre to expand within a short time to something of the order of £4 million a year. Your Lordships will have noted that a Committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Bessborough has recently completed a comprehensive survey of the work of the research associations in this country, and in that Report the Committee endorse the Government's proposals for the re-organisation of research in matters of water. The third unit to be established as part of our new central structure needs less explanation. This is a Data Collection Unit which will be required to provide statistics; and statistics are very much at the heart of this matter, as those who are expert in these questions regarding water will know.

My Lords, I should like particularly, in introducing this Bill, to draw attention to the importance which we attach to the use of our rivers, reservoirs, lakes and canals for the purpose of recreation. I think that many of your Lordships will feel, with me, that we have been rather unimaginative and restrictive in this respect in the past. I know this is a view formed by members of our own Select Committee on Sport and Leisure, under my noble friend Lord Cobham, whose interim report is so relevant to this Bill. I agree with those noble Lords who feel that too often in the past we have allowed the water in our reservoirs to have been, as it were, sterilised when it was crying out for recreation use and when the potential users were crying out for the ability so to use it. We are all glad to note how things are now changing. Already, as a glance on any fine summer evening at some of our great reservoirs in this country will show—for example at Grafham, in Huntingdonshire, or Sibly-back in Cornwall, or Pitsford, in North-amptonshire, the water is not merely stored and sterilised; it is also used, as it should be used, for all sorts of things, including canoeing and sailing, and the areas round the reservoirs are used for all forms of good recreation. Plans now exist for providing further facilities of this sort as part of the proposed development of many of the very important reservoirs now under construction; for example, at Empingham, in Rutland, at the reservoir at Datchet, by the M.4, and at Tatting-stone, near Ipswich in Suffolk, and I am glad that this is so.

Now, however, for the first time, the Government are committed to ensuring that the best use is made of all our waters for the benefit of sport, recreation, conservation and amenity in the widest possible sense. Our proposals to this end were put forward in a consultation paper issued in August of last year, and are now provided for in the Bill. Clause 1 makes clear that the use of inland water for recreation must be one of the constituent parts of the national policy for water in England and Wales which the clause charges the Secretary of State to promote. The implementation of that policy will fall primarily on the water authorities. They are given a clear duty in Clause 20, and Clauses 27 and 21 are both relevant in this respect. The new authorities will thus be required to take full account of recreational and amenity needs in planning the development of the water resources of their regions as a whole and the requirements will be covered by the provisions of Clause 23 which relate to periodical reviews and a formulation of plans and programmes.

My Lords, I have noted that our Select Committee on Sport and Leisure have suggested, in their interim report, that this clause should be amended to refer specifically to positive recreational planning. Naturally we considered this proposal carefully, and have come to the conclusion that it would not be right to single out recreation alone in Clause 23 while not referring to other functions. But I can assure noble Lords that it is the Government's intention to move Amendments to Clause 22 at Committee stage giving the Water Space Amenity Commission a duty to assist the regional water authorities in the preparation of their plans for recreation under Clause 23. This will make it clear on the face of the Bill that plans for recreation are covered in Clause 23.

In order to advise the Secretary of State, the National Water Council and the regional water authorities in carrying out their respective functions in these particular respects, we have provided in Clause 22 for the formation of a Water Space Amenity Commission. It will have an independent chairman appointed by my right honourable friend, and the other members will consist of the chairmen of the water authorities plus up to ten members whom the Secretary of State shall appoint after consultation with the Countryside Commission, the Sports Council, the English Tourist Board, the local authority associations and all the other numerous bodies concerned with the promotion of recreation and amenity in this country.

Much thought has been given to the role of the Commission and we have received a great deal of advice on it from outside interests, not least from the Select Committee. In Committee in another place the Government undertook to consider a clearer definition of the scope of the Commission and particularly its promotional role, and my noble friend Lord Sandford will be introducing Amendments in Committee which will make this clear, including spelling out that it can collate and publish information and reports. The Government also intend to introduce Amendments to put into effect their promise to transfer to the G.L.C. from the Thames Water Authority responsibility for recreation and amenity on that part of the River Thames which is within the G.L.C. area.

Since that promise was made the Department of the Environment has been engaged in extensive consultations with a number of interested bodies, as my noble friend Lord Nugent—who has now joined us as I prophesied—among others, will be very well aware. All those consulted are agreeable to the principle that the G.L.C. should be responsible for recreation and amenity on the Thames where it flows sweetly through Greater London, and the necessary Amendment to this effect will be moved in Committee. The Amendment will thus give effect to the Government's intention to confer on the Thames Water Authority a duty to prepare within a given period a scheme for the transfer of recreation and amenity functions on the River Thames and its tributaries within the G.L.C. area to the G.L.C. itself. The Water Authority will be asked to do so in consultation with those concerned in the Greater London Council, the Port of London authority, the London Boroughs Association, the Common Council of the City of London and other interested bodies, and the scheme will be put into effect by means of an Order made by the Secretary of State.

My Lords, there are two other matters—I hope I have not been dealing with the Bill too cursorily but there are a great many speakers in this afternoon's debate—on which I should like briefly and in conclusion to refer. In the course of the Bill's passage in another place, opposition was expressed to the removal of functions from local authorities. There was also opposition to retention of the statutory water companies as agents for the water authorities for water supply in certain areas. In the Government's view, however, it would weaken local government and distract it from its essential role if it were involved directly in fields like water supply where its activities would have to he so heavily circumscribed by regional or (if the Party represented by noble Lords opposite had its way) by national control. These are difficult matters of judgment and a balance of interest, and the Government have given considerable thought to this particular area of the Bill. Our considered view is that the best combination of accountability to Parliament and acountability to local electors can be secured by regional water authorities in the form proposed in the Bill, namely, with a majority of their members appointed by local authorities and a chairman appointed by the the Secretary of State, who is, of course, responsible with the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of Agriculture for the national policy for water. I would hazard a guess that these are matters which will doubtless be ventilated in the course of our discussion this afternoon and possibly even go into the Committee stage, and I will not therefore elborate further on them.

The second matter on which, in conclusion, I should like to touch is the question of staff—one which naturally concerns me, wearing my Civil Service Department hat. It is my belief, my Lords, and I speak from some personal albeit rather out-of-date knowledge, that by and large this country has been extremely well served by the dedicated staff which have been handling our water services. It is essential to safeguard their interests in the course of this reorganisation, and provision to this end, including the setting up of a staff commission, is included in Clause 31 of the Bill. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Cooper of Stockton Heath, has agreed to serve on this Commission; his experience here will clearly be of very great value.

My Lords, in conclusion I should like to summarise briefly the advantages which the Government see arising from the major and far-reaching reorganisation of water services contained in the Bill now before your Lordships' House. First, the changes proposed will in our view ensure the provision of the great quantities of water necessary for a rising standard of living and increased industrial and agricultural activity in this country. Second, they will ensure that the progress which we have made in recent decades towards making our rivers and our estuaries cleaner is maintained and, indeed, accelerated. Third, they will ensure that our national water resources are managed comprehensively on the basis of cleaner rivers supporting a full range of fish and other wild life.

Fourth, they will enable us to deal effectively with the increasingly more numerous and more complicated pollutants which are a by-product of technical progress, and so protect the safety of public water supplies and, in the final analysis, our environment. Fifth, they will retain democratic control, through the members appointed by local authorities, over these important services. Sixth, they will lead to a more efficient allocation of the very large sums which are being invested in our water services. Seventh, they will lead to the maximum provision for water-based sport and recreation compatible with these other objectives. In sum, the changes proposed will in our submission give England and Wales the most advanced system of water organisation in the world and one which matches up to our particular problems. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a;.—(Earl Jellicoe.)

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, we are indeed obliged to the noble Earl for his very clear exposition of the Bill which he has presented to us. As he said, it is a complex measure, touching as it does on water supply and conservation, sewerage, land drainage, certain aspects of navigation and fisheries, as well as amenity and recreation. As he also pointed out, there are, of course, two major omissions: water pollution and the wider environmental protection, which are to be reserved for further legislation, while the British Waterways Board, with its jurisdiction over the canals, is to be left in peace. We on this side have no quarrel about either of these omissions, although, of course, they make the present measure somewhat less than fully comprehensive.

The Bill before us, as I am sure we all realise, is extremely important because, as we move inexorably towards the maximum of disposable water available to us (and the noble Earl gave us some estimate of our likely consumption by the end of this century), we shall have to rely more on skilled management of the hydrological cycle and on more sophisticated methods, and in so far as this Bill by its reorganisation may enable us to use greater skills and greater ingenuity in our handling of water we naturally welcome it. But, my Lords, we on this side of the House, at least, are by no means happy about the Bill as a whole. In our view it contains major proposals which we do not regard as acceptable, as well as matters of detail which were left unimproved, in spite of a fairly long Committee stage in another place. There is, of course, a longstanding tradition in this House that we do not vote on Second Reading against a Bill which has been passed by the elected Chamber, and we have no intention of dividing the House to-night. But the Government will, I hope, recognise that on some matters there is considerable disquiet; and I believe certain dis- quiet on the Benches behind them, as well as on this side of the House. I would remind your Lordships that the Government have failed to secure the acquiescence of any of the local authority associations as to their proposals in the Bill, and still less of either of the two major Parties of the Greater London Council.

My Lords, it will perhaps not have escaped your Lordships' notice that I sometimes speak from this Box in the interests of Wales, and I can I think fairly say that the Midlands of England and Merseyside would come to a standstill if they could not rely on water from the Principality. Our problems as a supplying country are by no means entirely solved by the offer of a body with the high-sounding title of the Welsh National Water Development Authority. I am shocked that the noble Earl did not even mention it. Even if it sounds rather better in Welsh, Awdurdod Cenedlaethol Datblygi Dwr Cymru


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness for interrupting. I did not mention it because I had a horrible feeling that she would ask me to read it out in Welsh.


My Lords, I shall be perfectly happy if it is mentioned at some later stage by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in the vernacular.


In English.


This Welsh authority will exercise some jurisdiction in parts of Cheshire and Herefordshire. But that will not make up for the fact that the heartland of Mid-Wales, the Upper Severn catchment, is to be torn out and added to the powerful Trent Authority to form a combined Severn-Trent territory stretching across the whole width of both England and Wales, almost literally from coast to coast, from Scunthorpe to Llanidloes, as the catch phrase went in another place. This is a jurisdiction which, I am sure your Lordships will appreciate, no self-respecting Welshman or Welsh woman can accept without at least some modification.

My Lords, there are one or two other regional water authority areas about which concern has also been expressed, particularly the proposed Anglian Water Authority and the Thames Water Authority. We shall no doubt hear more about both of those areas during our deliberations, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy, who will be winding up on this side of the House, will deal faithfully with the serious problems posed for London, which will be only partly mitigated by the Amendment on recreation and amenity which the Government have undertaken to put down as soon as possible, as was confirmed by the noble Earl in his speech.

The division of the country—that is to say, England and Wales, because Scotland has its own ideas—into nine regional water authorities, plus the Welsh authority, is, apart from the areas mentioned above, probably as fair a division as one could hope for, unless of course one adopted a different concept of a national water grid, centrally planned and supervised, with a degree of local devolution in matters of day-to-day administration, including, in particular, such things as recreation and amenity.

I do not propose this afternoon to go into the alternative philosophy, as one might call it, of water reorganisation, because I think our main duty is to deal with the Bill that the Government have presented to us. What troubles me about this Bill is that it seems to me that we are likely to enjoy neither the advantages of a centralised administration nor those of true local control. I am not certain whether all my colleagues on this side agree with me, and they may be reluctant to throw away a stick with which both sides might possibly wish to beat the Government, but my personal view is that it is not a true expression of the democratic process to create the hybrid bodies set out in the Bill. The regional water authorities, these multi-purpose organisations stretching over very wide areas of our countryside and serving the great industrial conurbations as well, will be composed of local authority and of nominated members. The local authority representatives will be marginally in the majority, though in some by a whisker only—a majority of only one on certain authorities. There has been, and will no doubt be further pressure to increase the local authority representation in the name of democratic control, and the Government have claimed virtue for the present proposals on this very ground, as was emphasised by the noble Earl in his speech. But what sort of democratic control are we really talking about? The local authority members will not be homogeneous. They will be representing different interests, different areas and different people. They will not be directly answerable to an electorate for the decisions taken on the work done by the regional water authority, because the responsibility of that authority will be much too much diffused for that.

On the financial side, the services under the new system—although the noble Earl said very little about this—are to be met largely by charges, not as at present through general rates. Therefore, in my understanding, the local authorities will not have the kind of financial responsibility which would make them answerable to the people.

If this line of thought is valid, as I believe it to be, the local authority representatives are there for one main function —although a very important one—that of communication: expressing the needs and wishes of their constituents, and in turn conveying back the reasoning behind the decisions of the regional water authorities. But in such a situation the principle of overall numerical superiority is surely something of a gimmick; it is a bit of bogus democracy, a bit of window dressing to cover up the fact that even the enlarged new local authorities are being further deprived by this Government of genuine functions. As with the new health authorities, there will be local authority members; but the local authorities themselves will be without direct responsibility. If we go on creating these vast ad hoc bodies for one function after another, one must ask oneself who will be left to concern themselves with running what remains of local government. I think many of us have received a cri de Coeur from the Greater London Council in which they say that this Bill, together with the National Health Bill, will result in the loss of some 15 per cent. of the council's staff and reduce by about one half the council's direct services to the people of London: and mutatis mutandis the same is true of the other local authorities in this country.

My Lords, what is even more disturbing about this continuing pattern of loose compromise between central and local control is that we are still bedevilled by the missing link—the Crowther/Kilbrandon Report. This could conceivably resolve the dilemma by creating large regional bodies, answerable to the electorate, but with financial and other resources sufficient to carry out the functions now being allocated piecemeal to new ad hoc authorities. I will not attempt to interpret the sibylline utterances of the Prime Minister addressed to the Scottish Conservatives on devolution beyond saying that they seem to me to add further confusion to the present rather clouded picture: I did not find them at all reassuring. But it appears to me, again, to be extremely unfortunate that we are presented with a Bill on major reorganisation without having had the opportunity of studying a Report which surely must be germane to the problem posed by the kind of reform suggested in the Bill that is before us this afternoon.

Having said that, my Lords, whatever regional pattern is ultimately accepted, we must of course examine its relationship with the centre, because these great services have to be planned, at least at strategic level, in the interests of the country as a whole. Here again, many of us are far from happy at the proposals contained in the Bill. When this Bill was introduced in another place, not a speaker got up, other than from the Government Front Bench, who did not express regret at the proposed demise of the Water Resources Board. Although its terms of reference proved to have been much too narrowly drawn, this organisation has been one of the great success stories of modern British administration. Any of us who have had occasion to deal with it have been impressed by its competence and by the well-founded confidence which enabled it to stretch its terms of reference to cover a good deal of additional work which it felt had to be done.

I have always supposed that to build on success was one of the guidelines of the Party opposite—but not a bit of it. The Water Resources Board is to be swept away, although I gather that the shell of the premises at Reading will be retained. We are to have a lot more entities, with complete disregard of Occam's law and none of them inspires me with great confidence. At the apex will be the National Water Council, composed as to one-half of chairmen of water authorities and one half of nominated members plus, as the Bill stands (though there was dispute about this in another place) a nominated chairman. It will have far wider functions than might be suggested by the wording of the Bill, including advising the Government on such matters as tariffs, costs and profit targets to be applied to the regional water authorities. Its own executive functions seem to be almost derisory, being confined to testing taps, and so on, and some training of personnel. But it is to have what the Government are pleased to call "free access" to the three new central organisations for planning, for research and for the gathering of statistical data, which will be set up by administrative action and which are not therefore directly referred to in the Bill at all.

We are obliged, again, to the noble Earl for the description he gave of the proposed Central Water Planning Unit, which was rather derisorily referred to as "Coypu" in another place, the Water Research Centre and the Data Collection Unit. I believe it is here that the Government have gone off on the wrong road. We take no exception, of course to the absorption into this proposed organisation of existing research bodies, but I cannot believe that free access by the Water National Council to these three bodies is sufficient. I do not think that planning and research should be separate. I do not think the case for hiving off the Data Collection Unit is very strong, but that is of rather less significance. Surely, the success of the Water Resources Board has lain precisely in the fact that it has had under one roof not only a forceful Director but two Deputy Directors, one being the Chief Scientist and the other the Chief Planner. It has been this propinquity, this meeting of minds, which has led to so much concentrated and creative activity. Not that the Water Resources Board did all the work itself—well before Rothschild it had adopted the practice of contracting out much of its research—but there was a central unity of purpose which I believe will be lost in this Whitehall bog.

Of course, the scope of work will be different. The new larger authorities will do much of the regional planning and also perhaps some of the research which has hitherto come under the Water Resources Board. But the fact that the Water Resources Board is to issue within the next few weeks its comprehensive national water planning study—which, if the Government have their way, will be the last gasp of the dying swan—does not mean that things can just rest there. We shall need further synoptic studies covering the wider responsibilities of the multi-purpose bodies set up under this Bill and taking account of changes of circumstances and knowledge. Three separate bodies under a distant and shaky umbrella will not, to my mind, produce the best that we could have.

These are fundamental weaknesses of structure, as we see it. There are, of course, innumerable lesser but important points, which I am sure other speakers will bring to light. These include the disquiet which has been expressed concerning financial provisions and the problems arising from the provisions for recreation and amenity—and particularly the relationship between the proposed Water Space Amenity Commission, the Sports Council, the local authorities, the Countryside Commission, the Tourist Board and the innumerable sports associations concerned. Cross-membership on the Water Space Amenity Commission will not of itself prevent clashes of interest and overlapping. I am not entirely convinced that this additional entity is needed either. In Wales we shall be spared this, as our Welsh Authority will be responsible for planning these matters in the Principality, though there is a sharp bone of contention in relation to the execution of such plans by the Severn-Trent Authority, to which we shall no doubt be returning later.

I have not touched on sewerage or land drainage, but in conclusion I should perhaps refer to one other contentious matter which was entirely omitted by the noble Earl. He did not mention meters: yet this was a point of considerable dispute in the other place. I speak, of course, of the provisions in the Bill which would empower the authorities to install meters in domestic premises. I am not speaking of industrial premises, where quite different conditions prevail. We on this side object, quite frankly, to charging by meter because we believe that it would be to the disadvantage of poorer families with a large number of children, or invalids, while it might well benefit small well-to-do families now living in highly rated dwellings. I do not consider myself particularly well-to-do, but as a single person living in a Westminster flat I should probably benefit. I do not think I ought to. If one were to believe that really substantial savings in water consumption would ensue, there would be a case; but I am advised that in the United States, where metering has been tried in a number of places, experience has shown that after an initial decline in consumption it creeps up again to what it was before.

The cost of installation and accounting would be exhorbitant, and the most conclusive arguments against any such scheme were, I understand, put forward most convincingly a few years ago by the right honourable gentleman the present Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, Sir Keith Joseph. I do not know how many of your Lordships have seen the current issue of Municipal and Public Services Journal. In an editorial they say this: … it is hard to see why Clause 28 has to be included in the Water Bill at all. If an R.W.A. decided at some future date, after full investigation and consideration, that the metering of domestic supplies in its area was desirable, why should it not seek the powers it needs through a Private Bill at that time? Then the Parliamentary debate would at least be in terms of firm proposals, and presumably hard evidence, and not in terms of assumptions, suspicions and fears. I should be very much interested to know why the noble Earl made no reference to this matter.


My Lords, I can tell the noble Baroness now: in the interests of brevity.


My Lords, I am afraid that is well below the noble Earl's standards. However, I was glad that he mentioned staff, where he has a direct interest. We also wish to express our sympathy with the staff of these various organisations, who will have to adjust themselves to new conditions. We have a long list of speakers, and I will leave other matters to the many other noble Lords who have signified their wish to speak; but I trust that I have said enough to convince the Government Front Bench that while we hope, as always, to be constructive, we have no intention of giving this Bill an unduly easy passage through the House.