HL Deb 21 May 1973 vol 342 cc1009-78

4.40 p.m.

Debate on Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, I am sure the House will be glad to get back into the smoother waters of the Water Bill, after the interruption of nearly an hour. I welcome this Bill, which I think is an important measure. Certainly it is not perfect, and there are many amendments which could be made to it even at this stage, but I do not propose in this speech to cover any other aspects than the use of water for recreation. I do not do this because the other aspects—pollution con- trol, consumption and conservation—are unimportant, but because I am a member of the Select Committee on Sport and Leisure, to which the noble Earl the Leader of the House referred, and, in any event, my noble friend Lord de Ramsey will be dealing with the rest of the subject matter when he comes to speak.

I was delighted that the noble Earl the Leader of the House recognised what we put in the Interim Report of our Select Committee, and some of the points which I make to-day may not, in the light of what he said in his speech, be as relevant as they might have been. But I could not quite follow the details of what he was proposing in the way of recreation, and the way in which the Government propose to deal with it, although the tone in which he made his remarks was certainly sympathetic to what we put in our Interim Report. In fact, in the Interim Report we dealt with the demand for recreational facilities in this country, and in particular we emphasised the place of the local authorities in meeting this demand. There is no doubt that there is a very substantial demand for recreational facilities in this country and it is a demand which, through medium and long-term planning, should, in my view, be met. I was slightly worried at the statement which the noble Earl made earlier to-day, about the economies which will take place in the non-key sectors of local government, because I suspect that one of those on which economies will be made may be recreation.

The Select Committee welcomed the provisions of Clause 20 of the Bill which place on water authorities and statutory water undertakers a duty, to take such steps as are reasonably practicable for putting their rights to the use of water and of any land associated with water to the best use for recreational purposes. It is a fine thing to have that embodied in the Bill and I congratulate the Government on doing it. I believe it is time for recreation to be upgraded, instead of being left as the Cinderella in matters of planning and finance. The duty to provide for recreation has been placed on the water authorities at a very opportune moment, because demand for water recreation is rising fast and more and more problems are arising over it. There are plenty of problems of joint user and matters of that sort which have still to be settled, and urgent action will have to be taken if this new demand is to be satisfied. On the Select Committee we have had evidence of a huge rise in all forms of water recreation, such as boating, angling, sailing, canoeing, water-skiing and so on. Furthermore, I believe that we must pay attention in this country to the millions of people who just like to sit beside the water and to gaze across it. In the United States, I am told, it is considered very unusual nowadays to provide a public park which does not have water as its focus. And in Japan, as your Lordships will know, the tranquillising effect of water is well recognised everywhere. There is undoubtedly an absorbing attraction in water and the banks along it.

As I said, the Select Committee welcomed the duty placed upon water authorities to provide for recreation and considered this to be an essential part of water policy. I must, however, enter one reservation. We are doubtful whether it will be possible for water authorities to carry out this duty effectively when they are required so to discharge their functions as to secure that, taking one year with another, their revenue is not less than that required to meet their total outgoings properly chargeable to revenue account. I am referring, in particular, to Clause 26(1) of the Bill. We have been told in evidence that very few forms of water recreation can hope to pay their way with realistic charges, and that many forms of water use simply cannot he paid for. One can think, in particular, of picnickers and riverside walkers—people who make up a large part of those who want waterside recreation. I believe that boatmen, anglers and some other water users should be encouraged to pay—of course they should—but, in my view, the amount to be gained is unlikely to be sufficient to cover actual costs in every case. We consider that allowance must be made for these factors in the water authorities' budgets and, since there are national elements of amenity and of public recreation and conservation, we believe that a national contribution of grant aid should he available to help finance the water undertakings in providing recreational facilities.

I am not at all happy about the statement of the Minister in another place in Standing Committee on the Bill [Col. 985 of Hansard], when he said that the purpose of the Bill is to make recreational and navigational facilities on water authority waterways self-financing. I am fairly well convinced that this simply will not be achieved, if the planning of recreation which people require is to be established on proper standards. The Minister went on to say that the water authorities will feel that they can treat the recreational facilities partly as a social service, but that the Government did not intend to write that sentiment into the Bill. That statement was made shortly after the publication of the Select Committee's Report, in which we said, in paragraph 5, that the provision of opportunities for the enjoyment of leisure is part of the general fabric of the social services. I would suggest, again, that not only should the water authorities feel inclined to treat recreation as a social service, but that Her Majesty's Government should demonstrate in a tangible way that they feel the same. In my view, an element of grant aid must be made available to ensure that the recreational use of water is properly developed; and that is the view, at the moment, of the Select Committee.

I should now like to come to my second and last point, which concerns the Water Space Amenity Commission. I did not quite understand what the noble Earl the Leader of the House was getting at in this respect, but I shall read the report of it in Hansard to-morrow. For reasons which will already be apparent, the Select Committee believe that a national policy to develop water recreation is needed, and a coherent effort must be made to ensure that all waters, whether under the control of a water authority or not, will be available for the purposes of this policy. The Bill which we are considering this afternoon does not deal with canals, or with the numerous flooded gravel pits and other lakes outside the water authorities' control. We quite appreciate that, for reasons of Parliamentary time, the Government did not feel able to make this Water Bill as comprehensive as perhaps it might have been. We think it is a pity, but we understand. The canal system, which at one time was, I gather, to be included in the Bill, has now been left out of it. We are therefore considering only some of the country's water resources, and to get the maximum benefit for water recreation we believe that we must look further than the water authorities.

It is true that these authorities are in certain circumstances empowered by the Bill to use for recreation water which they do not own. But there is no provision in the Bill for a unified policy of water recreation as such and it is the creation of such a policy which seems to me to be the most worth while function of the Water Space Amenity Commission. The Select Committee have recommended that the Water Space Amenity Commission should be given a realistic purpose, and should assume a genuinely national role. They believe, first, that it should be concerned with both England and Wales, and not with England alone as it appears in the Bill as at present drafted; and, secondly, that its terms of reference should include all waters, whether under the control of a water authority or not. The many waters outside the water authorities' control, including canals and gravel pits, which I have mentioned, have a place of first importance in any scheme of recreational provision, and I believe it would be wrong to confine the Water Space Amenity Commission to only part of the country's water resources.

There is scope for the Commission to foster a unified and coherent policy among the water authorities, the British Waterways Board, who manage the canals, and the private owners of water, too. If the Government were prepared to accept the desirability of central grant aid to supplement the recreational budgets of water authorities, then the Commission would be a suitable body to recommend the amount of grant aid and how it should be distributed—again, in collaboration, I hope, with such authorities as the Sports Council and the regional sports councils, who know so much about these things. But with this financial strength the Commission would be better able to exhort the private owners of water to open up their own facilities to public use.

My Lords, to sum up, the Sports and Leisure Committee welcome this Bill because it sets out for the first time a duty to provide water recreation. But they are concerned lest the financial weakness of the water authorities should prevent them from carrying out this duty properly; and they believe that recreation would also be better provided for if the Water Space Amenity Commission is given the task of drawing up a national policy for water recreation, not only among the water authorities but among the owners of water elsewhere.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, I should begin by declaring my interest in this water world, first as chairman of the Thames Conservancy and, secondly, as president of the Association of River Authorities. I shall not follow the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in his very interesting speech on water recreation, except to say that I agree with the general trend of his remarks, including his observation that, generally speaking, water recreation is not financially self-supporting.

My Lords, this Bill is the logical conclusion of a very long, piecemeal process of legislation; and it could be said to have started with the Thames Conservancy Act 116 years ago, which brought the greater part of the River Thames under one management. In this country at that time waterborne sewage was really developing, and the waste from that and other solid waste material was being discharged straight into our rivers. Indeed, at that time, in the middle of the last century, the accumulations of solid waste in the River Thames were so large in some places that they actually impeded nagivation through the locks. Of course, London suffered not only by the smell but by the pollution of the water, and waterborne disease, such as cholera and typhoid, was prevalent. Every kind of evil flowed from the river. I am told that the final incentive to Parliament to legislate was the appalling smell in summer from the river. It was that which finally persuaded noble Lords in this House and honourable Members in another place to legislate on the matter. Then followed a succession of measures, some private legislation and later a good deal of public legislation, covering the whole field of public health, rivers, water distribution and so on, with which we are all familiar.

I say this Bill is the logical conclusion because it brings together into ten comprehensive regional water authorities all these powers which have been gradually built up over the years, and it adds a great deal to them in order to make the regional water authorities completely comprehensive, multi-purpose authorities covering, as the noble Baroness said, the whole hydrological cycle of conservation, distribution and reclamation through the sewage works. The technological arguments for legislating in this radical fashion are in my judgment compelling. This will increase water supply; and I dare say, my Lords, that the general public will be painfully aware before the summer is out that there is an urgent need to increase the water supply. I was interested to hear my noble friend on the Front Bench say last week that the ten months preceding April 30 of this year were the driest ten months for over a hundred years. This means, of course, that the ground flow of water is very low, and unless we get a very wet summer, which on the whole we would sooner not have, we are undoubtedly going to be seriously short of water in many parts of the country before the summer is out—and there will be a good deal of rationing, I fear. Secondly, this kind of multi-purpose authority is the quickest means to get cleaner rivers. Thirdly, meeting the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, this is the quickest and most certain way of making better and more comprehensive provision for water sport, recreation and amenity. All these things, of course, will have universal approbation, although there may be differences of opinion, which the noble Baroness, Lady White, so interestingly developed, about the precise structure.

But in my judgment the main area for controversy—and a great deal has gone on outside—is the constitutional argument. Her Majesty's Government have of course drawn substantially on the Report of the Central Advisory Water Committee in constructing this Bill. I had the honour to be a member of that Committee, which in its Report was unanimous in advising on the need for immediate action to strengthen the administrative structure for water. We recognised how urgent this was. While we were unanimous on that score, my Lords, we were diverse in advising what the new structure should be; in fact, we put up almost every possibility. But, broadly, the Report explained that the choice lay between a brand-new structure of multi-purpose regional authorities, similar to that in the Bill (which implies, of course, the abolition of all the existing authorities: river authorities, water undertakings, sewage authorities, some 1,500 of them) or an evolution from the existing structure of single-purpose authorities— river management, water undertakings, sewage authorities—based on local government, river authorities and water undertakings. This could have been achieved—and the Report described two or three ways in which it could have been done—by reducing drastically the number of these authorities and substantially strengthening the powers of a reduced number of river authorities, which would then co-ordinate and plan the whole hydrological cycle in their enlarged areas; but the water undertakings and the sewage authorities would have remained independent under local authorities.

This, my Lords, is an attractive solution which certainly appealed to me, as a member of the oldest river authority, which is based, of course, on local authorities; it is very attractive in every way from the point of view of local government, and I believe that it would have worked in some areas. I am sure that it would have worked in the Thames catchment. The River Thames and the River Lea both have ancient conservancies. The Lee Conservancy came into existence about ten years after the Thames Conservancy; and in both these areas, of course, there have been over a hundred years in which to build up strong organisations that have been able gradually to clean up the polluted condition of their rivers and achieve a high standard of quality—high enough to provide the potentially potable water for London. And despite the ever-increasing amount of effluent which pours into both these rivers, the Conservancy authorities have managed to do their job very satisfactorily. Perhaps I may mention, as a sort of dying honour to the Thames Conservancy, that before the year is out they will have contrived to complete the first phase of this large conservation scheme, the groundwater scheme, which, when it is completed, will increase the potable supply of water for London by some 100 million gallons a year. This scheme takes no agricultural land; it is a scheme of very interesting technological features; and it is a pioneering scheme—the first of its kind in the world.

In a way, my Lords, when I record what I regard as the splendid record of the Thames Conservancy and the Lea Conservancy I make the point of the Bill. These authorities have had over a century in which to do the job, and it took them a pretty long time before they got on top of it. It was about the turn of the century before they got the river into a reasonable condition; in other words, they had taken some 40 years to do it. The other 27 river authorities have had only eight years in which to try to catch up with the massive arrears of work necessary, especially in respect of pollution. This applies particularly to rivers in the industrial areas, in the Midlands, the North-East and the North-West.

Let me say, however, that in my judgment they have done a wonderful job and achieved a very great deal towards increasing the quantity of water available and in cleaning up their rivers. But with their present indirect powers it would need many more years to persuade the hundreds of local authorities to engage in the massive expenditure necessary to improve sewage works and to get the rivers clean. If the kind of evolutionary structure which I indicated were used, the individual authorities would still have a degree of independence; and all experience shows that inevitably there are conflicts of view when large expenditure is involved. These conflicts take months or even years to resolve and finally go to the Minister to be resolved. The inevitable delay causes pollution to increase and it would certainly prevent the cleaning up that we want to see carried out.

The fact is that we do not have many years to spare. We need the extra supplies of water and the cleaner rivers now. I reckon that for at least the next ten years we must literally go at a gallop if we are to overtake the arrears and keep pace with the growing water consumption and at the same time meet the growing demand for more water sport recreation and amenities. The Government estimate of the expenditure needed on conservation and reclamation over the next five years is £1,500 million, which is a massive amount—£300 million a year. That sort of figure will not be achieved unless there is a structure comprising a small number of really powerful authorities with the money at their command.

In the light of this picture of the national need I have no doubt that the Government's case for the Bill is made out, however much at any rate some of us, including myself, might like to see a policy evolve from the present local government structure. We have to recognise that we could not move fast enough with such a policy of evolution, and in those circumstances I hope that your Lordships will accept the logic of the Government's argument (from what has been said it looks as if that will be so) and will agree to pay the price—and it is a price—of moving more power from local government to the new authorities.

In any event, my Lords, these new regional authorities will have a most formidable task. Each Regional Water Authority will have to absorb literally hundreds of existing authorities; river authorities, water undertakings and sewerage authorities. Then they will have the job of welding those authorities into a broad, new, fully integrated organisation, which will take several years; and at the same time they have not only to maintain the general impetus of development but also to accelerate it. So this new organisation will need all the support and good will that it can get. From my knowledge of them, I can say that those concerned with rivers and water supply are accustomed to giving of their best in the public interest and I am sure they will combine in these new organisations to do just that. I hope that noble Lords will give this Bill their support and these people the encouragement that they need.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I shall speak briefly this afternoon because I want to give this Bill a nearly wholehearted welcome. It is based on the recommendations of the Central Advisory Water Committee which accepted very largely the recommendations put to it by the Committee for Environmental Conservation of which I was at that time the Chairman. This Bill will set up large and comprehensive authorities capable of dealing with the problem from one end to the other. The hydrological cycle, as it has been called, provides the only way in which it is possible for the water resources of this country to be used effectively, and for water to be purified and made available. I am sure, also, that the Government are right to have large areas under each regional water authority. I am not sure that the one which is to include the whole of the basin of the Trent and of the Severn is not too large, but generally speaking I believe that the other boundaries that have been laid down in this Bill are right.

Nor do I regret that legislation dealing with pollution is not included in the Bill. It is important that the problems referred to in the Report of the Royal Commission on Pollution should be effectively dealt with and that the recommendations of the Jeger Report, Taken for Granted, also should be applied. I think there is a great deal to be said for dealing with the whole of this problem, and also with solid toxic materials, in another Bill which I hope it will be possible to pass during the present Parliament. Generally speaking, therefore, I welcome this Bill and its general principles and I congratulate the Government on having introduced it. However, there are two matters of criticism which I should like to refer to briefly.

I should like to associate myself with everything said by the noble Baroness, Lady White, about the Water Resources Board. I was only partly reassured by what my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal said about the large and fairly comprehensive organisation which it is proposed to set up: the Water Planning Unit, the Water Research Centre and the Data Collection Unit. I cannot see why all these subjects should not be retained under the general administration of the Water Resources Board. I cannot think it wise or right that planning should be divorced from research. Anyone who has looked at the remarkable Report recently produced by the Water Resources Board will see that a very large proportion of the research deals closely and intimately with planning. It is plans for obtaining additional water which have made it necessary for research to be undertaken to see how that is to be done. It has been a success story, and as a Member of the Conservative Party in another place said, it is usually wise to build on success that has already been achieved. The lack of co-ordination, from which we have suffered in the past, would have been infinitely worse had it not been for the creation of the Water Resources Board in 1963. The work they have done in securing co-ordination between the different river authorities has been an outstanding administrative and, let me say, diplomatic task.

I hope that the Government may even now have second thoughts about this. There was a wide measure of agreement in both political Parties in the other place urging that the Water Resources Board should be maintained in existence. I know that at the end of the time the Government moved some way and gave assurances that the various tasks which are at present being carried out by the Water Resources Board would be carried on, and that something would he done to provide machinery to ensure that that would be the case. I hope that it will be possible for us to put down an Amendment (I think the Association of Water Authorities has one in mind) that will give effect to the assurances given by the Government in another place, and I confidently expect that that will be the least which the Government will accept in this House. I hope, even now, however, that they will be prepared to look at this matter again and will decide not to sweep away an organisation which has such a remarkable record of success.

My Lords, my second criticism is one where I fear I take diametrically the opposite view to that expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady White. I believe that these Regional Water Authorities should be administrative and technical bodies. I do not believe that in the matter of water it is necessary or desirable that there should be what is called democratic representation. It is not the kind of matter where the views of populations are likely greatly to vary. Everybody wants an adequate supply of pure water as cheaply as possible. I suggest that that is a technological problem, and I wish that the Regional Water Authorities consisted of a much smaller number of people with technical and administrative qualifications. I do not like the idea of the local authorities having even a majority of one.


My Lords, I am afraid I did not make myself clear in my criticism of this Part of the Bill, because I was in fact advocating something not so very different from what the noble Lord is now saying. I said that this notion of numerical superiority of elected members was a gimmick.


I have never known quite what the word "gimmick" means. It is a new-fangled phrase with which I am not wholly familiar, and I notice that people use it in very different senses. I would remind the Government of this fact: despite the fact that for a very long time local authorities and sewerage authorities have had to obtain the consent of a river board for the standard of effluent they pour into the river, it was admitted, I think it was by the Institute of Local Authority Treasurers, that more than half the effluent poured into our rivers was below the minimum standard laid down by the river authorities. The reason for that was that the river authorities were unduly influenced by the local authorities. It is natural enough that this should be so, because the local authorities represent the natural unwillingness of people to pay increased rates. It is clearly a matter of the utmost importance that no unwise economy of that kind should be allowed to interfere with what it is generally agreed, and especially emphasised by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, as a very urgent task that has to be undertaken in the next few years in increasing the supply of pure water.

I have only one thing to say about recreation. I welcome the provisions of the Bill dealing with water recreation. I hope to put down on behalf of the Commons and Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society a small Amendment, which I hope may be acceptable to the House, to impose on the Regional Water Authorities the duty to maintain towpaths. As they are no longer required for the purpose for which they were originally made, they have become places of recreation and enjoyment to large numbers of people who walk or fish. In the case of a number of rivers they are gradually being eroded. At the present time no authority is under an obligation to maintain them. I welcome again the general character of the Bill which the Govern- ment have introduced, and I hope that in the matter of the Water Resources Board they will even now be prepared to reconsider their attitude.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, I think that having heard the clear exposition given by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, we should all, if we did not understand before, understand the need for this Bill, even if we could not go all the way with him on the methods to be employed. Clearly it is not possible in this year to have a great multiplicity of water and sewage authorities, but I had always thought at the back of my mind that one of the reasons for the reform of local government was that there should be authorities which would be large enough and skilful enough to undertake the larger responsibilities of local government such as are now proposed in this Bill. But that is not to be the case, because we see yet another service being removed from local to ad hoc national bodies. The Government are in this field building quite a reputation for themselves. In a Bill which we had last year we saw the really effective control of housing policies removed from the local authority. We have seen only in the last few weeks the elimination of the local authorities from any part in the National Health Service. Now we see the removal of the water and drainage part of the authority to national or regional undertakings. Where does this policy go next, and what will be left for local government? It seems to me—and I do not know whether the noble Earl the Leader of the House can answer this question—that it is now only the major service of education in which the local authorities have a very large stake, and it would be interesting to know whether the Government have their eyes on that service as well.

We have heard a good deal in this debate about the ad hoc and the elected body. Nobody will ever persuade me that the ad hoc body is a substitution for the elected body. I know that in the case of my local council there are men and women living in close proximity to where I live to whom I can go and talk on any matter of local government, anything within their knowledge, that I want, but I should not even know the names of the people, who are appointed to the Metropolitan Water Board, the Court of the University, or the hospital boards that serve the London area. Those appointed persons are just not available for public consultation in the same way as are the elected members, for whom you can vote, or can reject if you are not satisfied with their conduct. Nobody will persuade me that an appointed member is virtually the same thing as an elected member; they just are not the same.

My Lords, I started by saying that one thought that this was a service that would be handed over to the new local authorities, now enlarged. Well, I suppose the Government could reasonably have thought: "They are all in a mess creating themselves and are not yet in a fit condition to take over any great new responsibilities that might be thrust upon them". But there is one authority which was made a regional authority ten years ago; namely, the Greater London Council. We therefore have had ten years of seeing how a regional authority with a large population, covering a large area and having a large rateable value, can perform. I am told that the sewage service of Greater London, which is roughly coterminous with the area of the Greater London authority, is the finest in the world. The Greater London Council are about to embark, jointly with the Government, on one of the greatest projects of flood protection by building a barrier across the Thames. This is an exciting project which again is being closely watched by the whole of the interested world; and we shall see what the world thinks of it in due course. This is something that the Government propose to leave with the Greater London Council. They also leave land drainage and recreation, which I am sure the Greater London Council will have been glad to hear from the noble Earl the Leader of the House this afternoon.

I want to say a further word in a moment about recreation, but the point I want to deal with now is that it is really only the sewage services and the services of the Metropolitan Water Board which will, so to speak, go to form the new authority for the area of the Thames which is tidal. And there is a great distinction between the Thames as an inland river and the Thames from Teddington, which is tidal. I am going back ten years to the passage of the Greater London Bill (now an Act) through Parliament. Those of your Lordships who took part in that struggle will remember that a proposal was put forward by the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, to put the Metropolitan Water Board into the Greater London Council. Such was the Government's thinking at that time. I think the scheme was defeated only because there was something of an outcry, and the time for getting the Bill through Parliament in order that it should operate as an Act was getting short; so that proposal was dropped, and it has never been revived. But the point I want to make is that in ten years there has been a reversal of Government thinking—and it is a Government of the same Party. It would be interesting if the noble Lord who is to wind up the debate could tell us what is behind the change in thinking that has occurred in ten years over the provision of water for the area of Greater London.

Lastly, my Lords, I should like to say a word or two about recreation. I was delighted to hear what the noble Earl the Leader of the House said in his opening speech about his passion to see that recreation was looked after: because, let us make no mistake about it, when you are dealing with a body of engineers—and I suppose they will be the people mostly concerned—who are passionate to see that we get pure water and good sewerage (worthy enough objects), the casualty, unless we are extremely careful, will be recreation. Recreation is, anyway, a somewhat delicate plant. When we in the Greater London Council had to face this problem ten years ago we found that to deal adequately with the recreational uses of a river valley, namely, the River Lea, it was necessary to put through Parliament a special Bill which set up an authority in its own right, with its own chairman and officers, under the ægis of the Council. We felt that it was only in that way that it would get the treatment it deserved, and that it would never get it as an ordinary committee of the Greater London Council. Before I sit down, therefore, I want to emphasise that recreation must not be made a casualty of this change in Government policy.

Having said that, I want to ask one or two questions of the Government. Do they really regard these proposals as final, or are they putting this Bill through Parliament because they see the problem as very urgent? Are they doing this in anticipation of whatever reports may come on regional government for England and Wales? Are they contemplating that, if regional government were set up throughout the land this would be the proper function of regional Government, or would they still want to cling to this separate ad hoc statutory body?

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself very much in agreement with the comments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Fiske. I am sure that these regional water authorities are very necessary, but I feel that they will be extremely remote from the individual consumer. In Yorkshire we shall have one local authority representative representing some 400,000 consumers. At the present time on our local water board we have one local authority representative for every 2,500 consumers. So there will be something like 100 times less local representation and less local control than we have now, and that much less opportunity for the voicing of local complaints. I should like to ask what likelihood there is of our 400,000 people knowing who is their one representative on the new regional water authority. At the present time each of our rural district councils and urban district councils has two representatives on our local water board, and there is quite a chance that people may know who their local representative is.

I realise that there may well be a case for amalgamating some of the water boards. Our local rural district and urban district councils have been amalgamated to form a new district council under the county council and there may be a case for amalgamating some of the water boards. If this were so, could they not form a second-tier authority under the regional water authority? I should like to ask whether such a second-tier authority would not be much better able to maintain democratic control and to keep in touch with local needs.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, as I am sure you are aware, your Lordships are always at your best when it comes to discussing subject matters like water and sewage; and the long list of speakers to-day bears me out. It is a somewhat emotive subject to some of your Lordships, but it is a very interesting debate in which to take part. Like other speakers, I would give a warm general welcome to this Bill. If subsequently I find some holes to pick in it I am sure that my noble friends on the Front Bench will regard them as constructive criticism, even if they do not appear to be so at first glance. But I feel that this Bill is necessary, and that this is the right moment for us to have it. Let us face it—it is a "cradle to the grave" form of nationalisation of water. Perhaps I may described it this way: it is from the raindrop at the top of the mountain to the drip on the end of the fisherman's nose at the estuary. It is nationalisation, whatever the Government say; and it is none the worse for that. The Secretary of State called it a "unitary structure" —a word that we hoped we had destroyed in the Local Government Act—and of course that is just what it is, too. My own view is that water should have been nationalised in 1945; and it would have been nationalised had there been any votes to be gained in doing so. The fact that the water companies are to be excluded—presumably for Mr. Wedgwood Benn to take over later—does not alter the point I am trying to make.

I have some doubts regarding the Bill and I should like very briefly to touch on them. First of all, I wonder whether this upheaval, which is a very serious one, can in fact be made to work by so early a date as April 1, 1974. Those of us who have been involved in the reorganisation of local government feel that this is perhaps not long enough to get all these things organised. I wonder whether there is a chance of this date being regarded more flexibly as we go ahead. Secondly, like other noble Lords, I have doubts about the size and number of the new river authorities. As has been said, there is to be a reduction from 29 to the proposed 10, and I believe that this figure of 10 is too small a number. I certainly feel that the Severn-Trent monstrosity, which stretches from the shores of the Humber to the Bristol Channel is something that is made not to work. I realise that the arguments against splitting these areas hinge on the fact that nobody knows which side of the line Birmingham should go, but I should have thought that the current boundaries between the Severn-Trent River Authorities would have given a boundary which has at least proved fairly effective during the last few years, although not knowing the area personally I should not like to say more than that. I just think it is much too big. So also are the Anglia Authority and the Welsh Authority. It is never for an Englishman to interfere in Welsh affairs, but I should have thought that in Wales, from what I know of the geography of that country, two would have been more appropriate.

The reason we want smaller authorities is not so much that they would be more efficient (though I think they would be), but because the members of this authority must have much more local knowledge of the problems they will be dealing with than they are likely to get under the present arrangements. One cannot imagine a person who lives at the mouth of the Humber being able to adjudicate on the siting of reservoirs in Monmouth-shire. This does not seem to make sense. These local members must be subjected at some stage or other to pressures which water users will put upon them for democratic decisions to be made. I believe —and here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady White—that we have wrongly taken the whole thing out of local democratic control.

The noble Lord, Lord Fiske, spoke eloquently on that, and I will not reiterate what he said. There is a danger that by making these authorities so big, and at the same time so remote, we are going to find ourselves setting up for the future something akin to the transport users' consultative committees so that local consumers have a chance to make their views known at local level; and this, I think, would be creating a new form of local government behind the back of existing local government. I believe it would have been better to use the new local government, as has been said—although this weakness has been greatly changed in another place by the majority of the local authority representation on the regional water authorities. This I welcome as a most workable compromise.

My noble friend Lord Molson did not agree that the local authorities should be so well represented, and said that water supply was more of a technical matter than any other. Of course, he is largely right. I would only say that there are very hot political issues which can evolve, such as the siting of reservoirs, which I think should be subjected to democratic processes, and an appointed member is less likely to be subject to those pressures to make the wrong decision.


My Lords, may I just interrupt my noble friend. There is no question at all, during the course of this reorganization, of getting round what he has called the ordinary process of public local inquiry.


My Lords, I accept that at once, and I am grateful to my noble friend. I was only saying that reservoirs can become political; that my noble friend knows only too well. There is also some doubt in my mind as to whether the present arrangements for the appointment of chairmen (mentioned by my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal and discussed at length in another place) are really adequate. Exchanges took place in another place, and I have no doubt that the matter will be raised here in Committee. If the rumours that we hear are true, that the chairmen of these R.W.A.s are going to be paid a fairly large sum for what Mr. Eldon Griffiths referred to as two or three days' work a week, well, that is all right as far as it goes; but I think we must not forget that most local authority members work much more than two or three days a week (and often evenings as well) for practically nothing. If the Government wish to pay such salaries, of course they have every right to do so, and to nominate the people for the posts of chairmen. That rather reinforces my own argument that this is in fact nationalisation of water.

Of course what is even worse is that more political patronage is created, and of that I think there is quite enough already. Perhaps even worse than that, there is the feeling that the chairmen will be the appointees and therefore the creatures of Whitehall: they will therefore appear less acceptable in the areas in which they operate. I should have preferred, and so I think would all the local authority associations, to have seen that the chairmen were elected from among the members of the authority, when it meets in due course. This is in fact another removal of power to the centre, which I think is always wrong: nor do I think that the chairman needs to have a very large salary, though of course he should receive payment of expenses and all the other things which the local authority world has, too. But the chairman should have local authority experience and thus be subjected to local pressures which would arise.

Finally, if I may move quickly to the rather unromantic subject of sewerage, I believe this Bill creates a potential source of friction in the control of sewerage functions under Clause 15. The Government, rightly, wants housing areas to be opened up and progress made in building more houses in the country. Very often the main objection to the granting of planning permission and to the speeding up of the housing programme is the fact that the sewerage systems are not able to cope with the additional housing proposed, even if everybody agrees that houses should be built. I can see great frustration arising when the local authorities wish to carry out the Government's policy and free more land for housing, only to discover that a regional water authority—perhaps housed miles and miles away—is not ready to provide the sewerage facilities in time. Local democratic control here seems to me to be absolutely vital. I do not believe that provision of housing can be divorced from the provision of sewerage.

I should like to know a lot more about the inter-relationships between the statutory water undertakings and the local authority water undertakings. This is an area that in the past has been bedevilled by the rather peculiar sets of boundaries between the various companies, with the mains criss-crossing, and water being borrowed by one from another. I would hope that this Bill will sort all that out.

Then there is recreation, which has been discussed already this afternoon at considerable length. I will not go into the matter in detail, but there is a point which arises; namely, whether grants under the Countryside Act would be obtainable by the new river water authorities for providing facilities for recreation, such as picnic parks, and so on. At the moment it appears that private companies and local authorities would be able to obtain such grants, but I think I am right in saying that the new river water authorities would not be able to obtain such grants. It seems that there is a source of friction and confusion, to which I hope the Government will be able to give thought in due course.

Having said that, I welcome this Bill. It is just right. I hope that with amendments it will be on the Statute Book very soon. It will stand or fall in a very short time on its ability to provide water at the right place, in the right quantity and at the right cost. If the Bill does that it will not have been wasted.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin by declaring an interest. I am Chairman of the Water Committee of the Country Landowners Association. Farmers need both to get water and to get rid of water. Nevertheless, your Lordships may agree that this is a very general and respectable interest. It used to be said up to the last war that legislation on water was necessary only once in a generation. The only important Act in this connection to be passed between the wars was the 1930 Land Drainage Act. Since then there has been the Water Act 1945, the River Boards Act 1948, the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Acts 1951 and 1961, and the Water Resources Act of 1963 which set up the river authorities, and which placed the responsibility for water conservation and supply on them. This is a measure of Parliament's increasing concern about water.

The golden age of surpluses in the Western world, as the 'sixties may be called in retrospection, seems nearly over. But, contrary to a widely held view—and fortunately for us—in this country there is believed to be enough water so long as there is enough money to conserve and supply it. Water is a wide subject—and I fear here I am repeating what has already been said about a long and impressive list—covering flood prevention, coast protection, land drainage, navigation, recreations, sewerage, and water conservation and supply. Since the time of Canute—who had a spot of bother with water—with one vital exception, each one of these has dominated or will dominate the scene in turn. They are best run in a decentralised way, using the local knowledge essential to the good administration of these matters. The vital exception, and now the overriding function, is water conservation in its broadest terms. In the blue book, A Background to Water Reorganisation in England and Wales, 31 out of 35 pages are wholly concerned with water conservation and its allied problems. Hitherto this has had to fit into a decentralised system and river authorities have succeeded far better than some critics acknowledge—witness the Ely-Ouse-Essex Scheme.

It is because of the fact that the huge demands for water in the future will not fit into the present system that the problem has become urgent and the present legislation necessary to meet them—at any rate, this is as I see it. I believe that the arrangements in the Bill resolve the conflict between centralisation and decentralisation and will create harmony between water conservation on the one hand and all the other interests on the other hand. This is precisely what the Central Advisory Water Committee, upon whose report part of this Bill is founded, were unable to do. I should like to pay a personal tribute to Sir Alan Wilson for his efforts to try to get the Committee to do just that. On that Committee the inherent problem exposed the conflict between various functional interests. At times the Committee were like a pack of hounds, each hound chasing his own fox. Thus you have in the Report a single-purpose approach and a multi-purpose one. I was one of the single-purpose men, as was also the noble Lord, Lord Nugent; he could have been called the leader of the single-purpose men. We have both come round, for I believe that where we failed the Government have succeeded in resolving the fundamental conflict of interest.

I am not suggesting that the Bill is perfect in every detail; I shall have points to raise which are more suited to debate in Committee. It may be useful for noble Lords if I state shortly the nature of these suggestions. The first suggestion relates to central planning. However large the new areas may be, there is bound to be transference of water from one area to another. Central planning is vital, but I am surprised that the Department wants to arrogate to itself the planning function I feel that they may regret that. The one certain thing about water plans is that they are bound to be controversial. Can the Department make the plans and, without embarrassment, judge the objections to such plans? Surely it would be in the interests of the public and the Department to devolve the planning function, presumably to the National Water Council. I have read carefully what the Minister said in another place, but would it not be better to write into the Bill exactly how the functions at present performed by the Water Resources Board, are going to be performed in the future?

Next comes the Water Space Amenity Commission. I am not sure what this Commission will do; I hope that there will be no confusion between it, the Countryside Commission and the Sports Council. This point has already been made. At the moment I am concerned with the members to be nominated. I have a suspicion that Ministers are thinking only of fishermen, canoeists, water skiers and the like. They may forget that the first essential of enjoying water recreation is to get to the water, and that means going on to the land which gives access to it. Nobody objects to there being more water recreation—very much to the contrary. But one must not overlook the fact that land has other purposes. It seems to me essential that there should be a commissioner who has experience of reconciling these interests. I have no hesitation in saying that he will be found among land owners. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give me an assurance on this point.

Lastly, there is the representation of agriculture on the new authority. Some authorities have become much larger since they were first mooted, but the representation of agriculture and fisheries has not. At present the maximum number is three. I am not seeking any increase on land drainage grounds, because we have the statutory land drainage committees; but when the maximum of three was fixed we were thinking of R.W.A.s of 15 members. Although most of them may be of that size there will be some that will have many more members. What was a reasonable proportion originally will no longer be so in the agriculturally important areas such as the Anglia Regional Water Authority. The maximum appointed by the Minister of Agriculture should be raised to five. There is a case for this increase. Subject to the few criticisms that I have made, I welcome this Bill.

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, referred to this Bill as a logical conclusion of a process which has been going on for a good time; and so indeed in one respect it is. If your Lordships read the first paragraph of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill you will find these words: This Bill provides for the establishment of new authorities to carry out functions relating to water, namely, water conservation, water supply, sewerage and sewage disposal … In relating those services the Bill represents a logical conclusion. But it also, calling again on the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum, provides for the establishment of new authorities to carry out functions relating to these matters.

In this respect, I fear that this Bill conforms to a pattern of reform to which we are becoming accustomed. If a service is in some respects inadequate, and one wishes to improve it, what does one do? One alters the top administration; one creates new bodies and calls them all by different names, and when one has done that one does the same for the Ministry which is responsible for the social service. We have seen that happening in our National Health Service Reorganisation Bill; that is exactly what has happened. It has happened in our local government reform; it has happened to some extent in our education service. And I shudder to think what is going to happen to our adult education service. I am sure we shall have a number of new authorities with different names.

Although I sit on this side of the House, I am a conservative provided that the word is spelt with a small "c", which means that I would wish to preserve anything that is working well or any function that appears to be fulfilling its purpose. I am a conservative regarding the Water Resources Board. Several speakers have said kind words about the Water Resources Board. It has done magnificent work. It has gained great experience; it has co-ordinated a number of separate lines of experiment. Why not leave it be? Why not let it alone? Why not let it lead, as it will lead, to what is really, and what I hope to show, is the logical conclusion in regard to water and sewage?

My own interest in sewage goes back a long way. In fact, I have lived with the problem of sewage disposal since the year 1899, for in that year as a child of eight I was told not to bathe or paddle at low tide in the immediate vicinity of the sewage pipe which ran into the sea and carrying the sewage of West Bay and Bridport in the County of Dorset. Since that time the population of Bridport and West Bay has greatly increased. The sewage pipe has not lengthened in any way commensurate with that increase. Further and further does one have to go along the beach to find unpolluted water. It is true that about a decade ago something was done about it and we managed to create, after considerable agitation, both local and national, a joint water authority comprising one borough, one urban district council and one rural district council. Our sewage pipe is now carried a long way out to sea. We can bathe and paddle in unpolluted water. Whether our sewage is deposited on the beaches of Beer Regis or Seaton, I would not know. I should hope not. However, we are getting on as regards the treatment of sewage.

What about water? When I lived in Manchester—indeed, when I lived in Dorset or stayed in Dorset during the summer—I became conscious of the problem of water resources because our Bridport reservoir was at times insufficient for our growing needs and from time to time we were told that the water was going to be turned off and that we must not use it at all. Unfortunately, the hour chosen for this was between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., and I am too delicate-minded to explain to your Lordships why we regarded that as a rather unpropitious hour. But there it was, and more and more did one become conscious of water conservation in addition to the problem of sewage disposal. When I lived in Manchester, the City of Manchester had made absolutely adequate provision for its own needs, as had the City of Liverpool and the City of Birmingham. They were busily and efficiently exploiting the Lakes of Cumberland and North Wales. They were all right. But at the same time Stockport, a neighbouring borough, was not all right. I remember in one year we were washing our cars and watering our gardens just as we liked, and in Stockport housewives were queue-ing with buckets at stand pipes. So it soon became obvious to me and to others that water conservation and sewage disposal should be treated altogether on a much larger scale.

That was realised at a very early stage in 1962 by the late Lord Birkett, when in this House he opposed a Manchester Corporation Private Bill to allow Manchester to take in for its own purposes another Cumberland Lake. What he said in the year 1962 was: The defeat of the Bill will urge upon the Government the immediate necessity of producing that national scheme which will give natural justice to every interest ". Observe that he used the words, "national scheme"; not merely "national consideration". That was in 1962, and in 1963 of course the Water Resources Act was passed. In 1964 (I was not at the time a Member of the House) I was given a chance of airing my views on the B.B.C. Third Programme and I took the opportunity to advocate the treatment of water conservation and sewage disposal as closely allied problems, urging that they be nationalised under a single Ministry. I had some trouble with the Third Programme producer, Mr. Crichton-Miller, for using the word, "nationalisation". He said it was an emotive word; a provocative word. I was able to convince him that in this particular case it was used in such a way that so far as sewage was concerned no private interest would be at risk, and in the case of water only very few private interests would be at risk. So he let it pass and I used the word, "nationalisation". But two years later I found myself a Member of this House and I had a better opportunity than was given me by the B.B.C. for advocating the cause of nationalised sewage disposal and water conservation, which I did in the course of a debate which was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, spoke in it and I spoke in it; it was about the third time I lifted up my voice in this House. I put forward the case for nationalisation. What is interesting is that in that debate my noble friend Lord Kennet, who was speaking for the Government, said that he opposed my suggestion. He said: The point is that sewage is, and I think must remain, essentially a local business."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19/10/66; col. 106.] My Lords, he actually said that. It is perhaps ill-natured of me to remind him of it. Fortunately, he is not here, but I am sure he knows better now and will not, I assume, oppose this Bill on the ground that sewage is not treated as a purely local matter.

Well, so it goes on. Meanwhile, the Water Resources Board has got well under way and has reached in its own mind what I regard as the logical conclusion; namely, the nationalisation of water and sewage. If we look at the Seventh Report, published in 1970, we see that the case for nationalisation is made out. In its latest Report, in 1972, the case for nationalisation is again made out, with some force. Here is the extract from the Ninth Report which puts that case. They welcome the suggestion of the Central Advisory Water Committee that new regional water authorities should be established, but they have serious reservations about the Government's proposals. They regarded them as not enough and they stood strongly for nationalisation. To my mind that was the logical conclusion of this Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, referred, and until we reach that logical conclusion we shall not solve this problem. I do not think that to abolish the Water Resources Board will bring us any nearer to it.

Sometimes in this world one gets one's deserts. The reward of my long and active interest in sewage disposal has been my appointment as an honorary Vice-President of the National Association of Joint Sewerage Boards, and if ever I am asked to re-write the paragraph in Who's Who which records my various honours I shall omit those which I do not deserve and I shall record that I am a Vice-President of the National Association of Joint Sewerage Boards.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, may I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, that I am sure we can agree on a compromise about the size of the "C" in Conservative if she will come across and join us on these Benches. I think my most soul-searing experience in regard to sewage was once when I attended the opening of a sewage works and the mayor and I were handed two wine glasses full of colourless liquid and were asked to drink a toast to the sewage works, and then were told by the sanitary inspector that what we were about to drink, six hours before had been sewage entering the new works. I had the presence of mind to pour my glassful on a plant nearby but his worship went through the full treatment.

The Bill which we are discussing to-day is clearly a very important one indeed, as my noble friend Lord Jellicoe has said. I think we all are inclined to take water supply for granted and we do well to remind ourselves that our huge cities, and indeed our modern civilisation itself, could not exist without efficient water supply, drainage and sewage disposal. I suppose the Romans were the first to realise this lesson and they applied it well. The Greeks did not bother because their towns were smaller, but when Athens was under siege with a greatly expanded population, the plague set in and the Greeks then learnt their lesson. One of the very few phrases that I can recall as a result of an intensive study of the Classics for ten years at school was [...] which I believe means "Water is best"—whether for consumption or application was not explained. To-day the use a water per capita, as my noble friend told us in his opening speech, is increasing prodigiously and will continue to do so.

I am going to speak only briefly because I cannot claim first-hand experience in water administration, although when I was at the Ministry of Agriculture I had responsibility for land drainage, and if the noble Lord, Lord de Ramsey, had still been in his seat I should have liked to remind him that at that time he was one of my valued advisers. I should like now to say something which I am sure your Lordships will agree with, and that is to pay a tribute to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford for his great services in this field in several capacities. When the time comes for him to give up those posts I hope he will have his portrait painted—in water colours—and at any moment I should be prepared to drink his health in a copious draught of H2O.

I want to express only one or two dissatisfactions with the Bill as it stands which are felt by the elected local authorities. Some of the points were touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady White. I understand that most of these dissatisfactions are shared by all four local government bodies, so I hope the Government will attach some weight to them. I found myself strongly in agreement with the points made by my noble friend Lord Ridley. In this Bill, as in the National Health Service Bill and indeed in the Local Government Act itself, I believe the Government have shown some implied lack of confidence in locally elected authorities. That seems to me to be very strange, because the Government have often emphasised their basic belief in local government (which I know they have) and their philosophy that the new authorities should be given larger responsibilities and more power decentralised from central Government. Government spokesmen have repeatedly said that Ministers in central Government should retain in their own hands only those powers which cannot be effectively exercised locally and which must therefore, for those reasons, be exercised centrally. But in practice in this series of Bills we have found Ministers strangely reluctant to release powers to decision from their own hands.

It was a disappointing feature of the Local Government Act that in the result local authorities did not seem to be entrusted with expanding powers and responsibilities, and indeed lost both their water and health responsibilities. In this Bill in two respects Ministers have displayed the same attitude: first, in the rather grudging majority that has been provided for elected members in the regional water authorities—in most cases a bare minimum rather than a working majority—and secondly in the proposal to keep in their own hands the appointment of chairmen of these new authorities as well as the chairmanship of the National Water Council. I feel that when we come to the Committee stage Ministers really must produce some very strong reasons indeed to justify those proposals.

As my noble friend Lord Ridley has said, will not some of the regional water authorities prove to be too large and too remote for day-to-day administration? I think my noble friend mentioned two or three. These are multi-purpose authorities, deliberately; they will carry out wide and varied responsibilities and I confess to some doubt as to whether in all cases they will do so (because of their size) with the efficiency we all want. As has been mentioned already, many will regret the departure of the river authorities and the Water Resources Board. The National Water Council, with its purely advisory functions, may or may not prove an effective body, but I share the doubts expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady White. Something really effective is clearly needed at the national level and I think there is some ground to fear that as at present constituted it will be either not a very strong or powerful body or perhaps too much under the direct influence of Ministers. Must all members, here again, be ministerially appointed? That is a matter we shall want to discuss in Committee. With regard to sewerage and sewage disposal, is the degree of direct involvement by the new district councils as much as ought to be the case? As regards land drainage (and here I am glad to say there seems to be decentralisation) surely committees might be allowed to appoint their own chairmen. It is rather discouraging to a committee to have its chairman appointed from outside and I feel that the case must be very strong indeed for that to be done. As regards the Water Space Amenity Council, the number of representatives from local authorities and the agricultural representation clearly must be strong. We must remember the general responsibility for amenity that has been placed on the local authorities and I think that that principle should be reflected in the Bill. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in welcoming the recreational aspect. I have some personal experience of what can be done in this field and what an immense advantage it is to young people who may be a very long way from the sea coast but who have water close to them, if that water can be made available for canoeing, sailing, and other activities. Then again there is the great fishing interest. I believe that is the biggest single hobby and recreation in the country.

In conclusion, may I say that there is no dispute whatever that new comprehensive legislation is required. The Government have decided in favour of the ad hoc (what I think was called the "hybrid") multi-purpose authority. They may be right, although, like my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, I should have liked to see a more evolutionary development of the bodies which have rendered good service in these fields. However, that decision has been taken and it is probably too late to reopen that matter now. But, my Lords, I think I have said enough to indicate that in my personal view this Bill will call for a good deal of careful consideration in Committee, and I hope that the Government will be prepared to listen carefully to criticisms—in particular (remembering what I might call their besetting sin), to believe, to coin a phrase, that the gentleman in Whitehall does not always know best—and may be prepared to relax somewhat the firm grip of Ministers in favour of local powers of decision based on local knowledge and experience.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I must first apologise to your Lordships for not having been able to be present from the start of this debate and it may therefore be that I shall be making some points which have already been ventilated by others. Like my noble friend Lord Amory, who has just spoken, I have never had anything to do with the management of water supplies. On the other hand, I have had a considerable interest in the subject from the technical point of view. From the early 'fifties, when I was chairman of a now defunct Government committee, called the Natural Resources Committee, I became conscious of the fact that water was being used as a commodity which had no particular value. Charges were totally inadequate; and, furthermore, I also knew that discharging waste water into rivers was not only bringing about widespread pollution but in some cases wasting precious materials. In those days I was concerned particularly with non-ferrous metals.

The basic idea behind this Bill, that of bringing together the whole water cycle under unitary control has, therefore, my wholehearted support. I cannot think of any measure which could be introduced by the Government which would have a better effect over the years. I hope that whatever is done in the Committee stage does not erode further that basic principle —which I understand was much more clear-cut in the earlier stages of the preparation of the Bill than it may be to-day.

I propose to confine my remarks now to a few specific points only. The first is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, has said, that the Water Resources Board has done a splendid job. The particular part of that job which is our concern is the fact that it has provided us with the best estimates we now have of the water demand in the country for the years ahead. We have figures which take us almost to the year 2000. Admittedly, the estimates are based on a number of assumptions, but none the less the errors to which they are subject have to be taken into account now, and we have to recognise that we cannot do better than the Water Resources Board has done in defining the problem which is before us, and why it is essential that the water cycle be treated as a single process and not in separate compartments. We know that population estimates can be proved very wrong. They of course have to be, and are, a special part of the calculations that have been made. We know, too, that the future distribution of population cannot be assessed accurately. We also know that there will be a greater demand for domestic use, but as to exactly how much greater—that again cannot be stated accurately at this stage. So, too, for industrial use.

Furthermore, what we know is that if one takes figures for a decade there may be a 5 to 10 per cent. error in one's estimate of rainfall. So our estimates for supply can be very much at sea. We also know about the many constraints that there are on the Government and on local authorities, and about the constraints which will be on the new water boards. We know already that one ought to do with as little surface storage as possible and that it is preferable to recharge underground aquifers. Reference has already been made to the very important issues of amenity and to the conflicts that have to be dealt with in that field. Reference was made by a previous speaker to the conflict between canoeists and anglers and to the other interests which have to be taken into account. But above all we know that there will be constraints on finance, and for that reason it is absolutely essential in my view that the new authorities proposed in this Bill should make the greatest possible use of science and technology in seeing that what is done is done in the most economic way possible for the ends that have to be subserved.

The difficulties are mainly administrative and political. That is apparent from what I have heard in the part of the debate to which I have listened. In general, I am assured that the scientific and technical problems are known and that they can be solved. That is, in general. But each case may well be special. What we therefore have to assure is that our scientific and technical resources devoted to the water cycle are used to the best possible extent. The regional water authorities must operate backed by proper inter-disciplinary teams consisting of engineers specially trained for the purpose: civil engineers, chemists, biologists, medical people, ecologists, conservation experts. I believe that the Bill does not spell all this out—and I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, replies we shall hear something about how the research functions of the regional boards will be implemented.

Clause 23(10) of the Bill says that: The appropriate Minister or Ministers may give directions to a water authority with respect to the making of arrangements under subsection (9) above. Subsection (9) says: Each water authority shall make arrangements for the carrying out of research and related activities … and so on. But exactly how is this going to be done by the Minister or Ministers? To whom will they address themselves and from whom will Ministers obtain their advice?

I am quite certain, too. that the central water planning unit which is referred to in the Bill, in achieving the best that will come out of this Bill, should work with whatever central research facilities are provided under the Act when it becomes law, and that the National Water Council will be properly served in this respect. One cannot dissociate planning and research. Here it is very important —and I raise this general issue now—to be quite clear what we mean by standards, because water standards in this country, as we all know, are extremely good. The record is excellent in comparison with that of almost any other country. The World Health Organisation set out certain parameters, certain criteria for pure water. We have our own; they are not the same. We abide by more criteria, I believe, than have been specified by the World Health Organisation. But we have not got anything near as many as the U.S.S.R.

The important thing is to be quite sure we know what wholesome water is. We have declared the Trent to be a river from which we will not draw water for domestic consumption. On the other hand, Rotterdam, I am told, is quite happy to draw its water from the even more polluted Rhine. We must not be led astray, therefore, and make standards which are too exacting. There have recently been references in the Press and elsewhere that there is a relationship between cardiovascular disease, coronory thrombosis, for example, and the hardness of water. There may be a statistical correlation there, but nobody has yet proved that the one is the cause of the other. Many things other than hardness have not been measured in water. For all people know, it may be copper or some other element, something else in the water, which has a closer correlation with those particular diseases. Here I do echo the sentiment about the excellent work done by the Water Resources Board in the field of research management; I hope that the functions of the Water Resources Board, as they have been discharged up to now, in managing research over the whole field will be transferred intact to the Central Water Council, and that the Central Water Council will be strong enough and sufficiently well advised to do the job as well as the Water Resources Board.


My Lords, I hate to interrupt the noble Lord. He was not here at the beginning of the debate. Would he agree that for the National Water Council to have no more than free access to the central planning authority and to the Water Research Centre is not enough?


My Lords, I will come to that point a little later. I do not know what is enough in the way of technical representation on the Central Water Council. But I do agree that there are two kinds of job that the Central Water Council has got to do. One is very largely a technical job, a job with a very big scientific and technical content. The other is a major job of human administration, settling the various points that have been raised about the attitudes of existing authorities to the new legislation.

If I may continue, I should like to say that I do not find sufficient in Clause 4(5)(b) of the Bill at the present moment. It says: It shall be the duty of the Council to promote and assist the efficient performance by water authorities of their functions, and in particular, their functions relating to research. At this stage I do not know what those functions are.

Another point that I think must be taken care of, so that we do not again waste resources, is water quality, which is one of the things which will be added under this new legislation, as implemented, to the question of providing wholesome water and removing the waste water. We do not need the same quality for domestic supply, industrial use, for rivers and for aquifers, and, furthermore, different kinds of technology are required to deal with different kinds of effluent. This is why I regret very much—reference has been made in the debate to this point already, but I will make one further observation—that the question of sewage and sewerage is to be dealt with in a divided fashion, with the new district councils and the R.W.A.s having separate responsibilities for different parts of the process of getting rid of waste. I hope this is something which lasts for only a relatively short time. Not only is the expertise interconnected and should not be torn asunder, but rationally one cannot possibly separate the two. You cannot control a sewage disposal works without controlling what comes into it, and you cannot control a sewerage network without controlling the reception end. I therefore hope that the divorce between the two will be only a temporary matter.

Furthermore, of course, there is that issue with which the Government dealt in legislation last year, the disposal of solid toxic waste. There is a connection here because at the present moment—and I hope this matter may be referred to later, either in this debate or on the Committee stage—there is always a possibility that toxic materials tipped into dumps, and licensed dumps, may pollute aquifers. There is a connection here, therefore, between the disposal of solid waste and the liquid waste. The solid waste again, I understand, will be under the new district councils.

If I may return once more to the scientific side, and knowing what is toxic is a scientific matter, while I think it is a safe generalisation that we can formulate the scientific and technical problems, and that we know some of the answers, it is not the case that we know all that we should know about re-using and recycling water. There, too, I believe that something will need to be done by the new Central Water Council.

One last remark about technology here, because I noticed that a Question had recently been put down about desalination, de-salting. That is still, I am afraid, a dream for the future. We are not, to the best of my knowledge, going to be able to satisfy any of the water demand up to the end of, at any rate, the next decade by that method.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord on that very interesting point? Is that for lack of technical knowledge about how to do it, or on the balance of economics?


My Lords, essentially I would say the latter. It is the economic argument that would rule it out at the present moment. There are better ways of seeing that we in this country have the supplies of water which will be required than going in for desalination. But I would, at the same time, say that it is essential to encourage work in this field to the best extent possible, and by "to the best extent possible" I mean finding the right men with the right ideas, and not just spending money on desalination.

There is a reference in Clause 21(3) which rather puzzles me, in the light of the debate on the new Nature Conservancy Council. That subsection states: Where the Natural Environment Research Council are of opinion that any area of land, not being land for the time being managed as a nature reserve, is of special interest … it shall be the duty of the Council"— that is, the Natural Environment Research Council"— to notify that fact to the water authority in whose area the land is situated. I am just wondering why it should be only the NERC. Why not the Nature Conservancy?

In conclusion, may I make two further points and, again, may I refer to the question of planning which was put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady White? I am absolutely certain, from discussions which I have had, that it is essential that the new regional water authorities, whose work will be vital in planning extensions to new towns et cetera, have the closest possible relations with the general planning authorities—which will of course be the new local authorities—and vice versa. I do not believe that the words in the Bill which refer to this matter are strong enough, because co-operation in planning must be done at all levels, at all stages, and day to day. Otherwise, I am tolerably certain that one will find that plans may be laid in relation to the general structure plans of local authorities, but when one comes to specific cases there will be trouble.

These are just some of my thoughts about the Bill at this stage. The Bill refers at the outset to a national policy for water, but it does not specify what that policy is. The new administrative structure which will result from the implementation of the Bill will presumably, over the years, be responsible for formulating that policy, and it is absolutely essential that the policy should be the most economic and the most satisfactory one. If it turns out that we need to have a water grid, then we must find the best and cheapest ways of providing it. If I may repeat what I have already said, the whole job is a very difficult one. The Government are well embarked, the Bill is more than timely, but the job is a difficult one with a very large technological content. There is a difference between managing things—the technical problems —and managing relations with people, but I trust that both will be achieved.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, I must at the outset declare an interest, in that for a number of years I was a director of a statutory water company and for 12 of those years its chairman. I have, in fact, just resigned from both of those appointments, but I still retain an interest and endeavour to keep in touch with what has been to me a most fascinating industry. In general, I warmly welcome the aims and purposes of the Bill and I recognise that, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said, it was largely circumstances which necessitated at this stage a radical reorganisation, rather than the acceptance of the process of evolution which my noble friend Lord Amory—and I think I would join him in this—would instinctively have liked to see. One by-product of that radical reorganisation, I believe, is that never in history has a Bill been preceded by a larger number of consultative documents than has this Bill. Admittedly, the problems it concerns are very complicated but it has been a very desirable exercise. I am sure that the observations made on those documents have been carefully considered. I am not altogether sure that, in the result, the Government's detailed proposals have undergone a very substantial alteration, but I am sure that it was a very worth while exercise.

There are three points to which I should like to refer: first, the composition and responsibilities of the regional water authorities, in Clause 3 and Clause 6; secondly, the National Water Council, which is in Clause 4; and, thirdly, the metering of domestic supplies, which is in Clause 28. The regional water authorities have great and diverse responsibilities. Since it has been decided that they must be predominantly representational, and since, with the impending reorganisation of local government, the number of bodies entitled to separate representation is large, the number of members of each of these authorities will also be large—and, in some cases, very large indeed. The two smallest authorities, Wessex and the South West, will each have 15 members; Severn-Trent will have 38 members, and Thames, including Greater London, will have 52 Members. The average number of members will be 27 on the nine English authorities.

These authorities will, of course, have many sub-committees as provided for in Clause 6, and perhaps the large total of membership from which membership of the sub-committees can be recruited is a good thing. But these will be subcommittees dealing with particular subjects and, as I read the Bill, they will in all cases have to report directly to the full board of the authority. I use the word "board" here for convenience. Particularly, however, in the early days of the reorganisation process, there will be a great many important problems involving points of principle to be dealt with. There is surely a case for the establishment in each authority of an executive committee, consisting of the chairman or his deputy, the chief executive or his deputy, and a small number of members, to consider in some detail the proposals from the sub-committees and to produce recommendations for the full board. Otherwise, there will be a great waste of time. This, I know, is elementary, but I submit that it is a procedure which should be clear at the outset and that authority for something of this nature should be written into the Bill. Incidentally, I would judge that, even although this may be contrary to the practice in most local authorities, it would be a good thing if in this case the chief executives of these boards were also members of the boards.

I now turn to the National Water Council. I believe that the industry as a whole, municipal undertakings and water companies alike, greatly regret that under the Bill as it stands the National Water Council has virtually no coordinating or executive authority and, except for the testing and approval of water fittings, as provided for in subsection (5)(d) of Clause 4—a subject which is already very adequately handled by a committee of the British Water Association—and training and education, as provided for in subsection (5)(e), which is largely dealt with by the industry's training board, the National Water Council's functions are almost purely advisory. As has been referred to by a number of speakers this afternoon, one of review of long-term plans for the best the most important jobs for the industry and for the wellbeing of the country is surely the preparation and the constant and most effective development and utilisation of our water resources.

Previously the Water Resources Board was charged with this responsibility. In time it acquired a competent staff of experts in this highly technical field and an expertise widely recognised by the industry, to which tribute has been paid by so many of your Lordships. Being independent, that Board has acquired the confidence and trust of the industry as a whole. I strongly agree with all that was said by the noble Baroness, Lady White, about the Board and the importance of preserving it in some way. Although we recognise that under the Bill the Water Resources Board as such will cease to exist, its staff and records and so on are being maintained at Reading. The organisation will no longer be independent. It will be absorbed into the Central Water Planning Unit which will be a part, as we understand is proposed, of the Department of the Environment, who will take over the functions and responsibilities of the old Water Resources Board.

The chairman of the Water Planning Unit will be the chairman of the National Water Council, but the National Water Council, as a Council, will have no responsibility for planning, including the co-ordination of the planning which will have to be done initially by regional water authorities so far as their own regions are concerned. That does not seem to me to be good administration. Surely it would be simpler and better (and I think it would seem so to the industry) if the responsibility for long-term planning were given to the National Water Council, and the Water Planning Unit made part of the Council. I think it is still possible that the Research Centre might, on the same line of reasoning, fittingly be made part of the National Water Council whose functions then would be co-ordinating and planning and also research which, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, must go very closely together. I suggest that this might be given consideration. In saying that I do not imply the slightest criticism of the Civil Service or of the Department. I have very good reason to admire the Civil Service, but in the nature of things changes in Government involve to some degree changes in Departmental outlook and policy. This function of long-term planning and research should so far as possible be free from political influence and constant in policy.

I recognise that the chairman of the National Water Council will be directly responsible to the Secretary of State. But there is a significant difference between what I have been proposing and the integration of the planning function and the research function within the Department. I believe, my Lords, that the industry as a whole would feel that the advantages obtained from the Water Resources Board and from the Medmenham Research Unit and so forth would be better maintained under the change that I have suggested.

My Lords, my third point concerns the metering of domestic supplies. I regret that the Bill is so framed as to give the Government permissive powers to instal meters for domestic supplies, so varying the basis of the charge. My regret is based on two arguments. The first is what I might call the sociological argument which seems in another place almost to have become a Party political issue. I certainly do not regard it as necessarily being such an issue. I have sympathy with the argument in general. In this day and age I think it rather a good thing that a supply of pure water, vital to health, should be available to every household at a reasonable charge irrespective of quantity, apart from exceptional items such as requirements for watering gardens and for swimming pools, et cetera, which might be the subject of special charges.

My second reason for regretting this is what I would call the cost argument. If it were proven satisfactorily that, of itself, metering would reduce usage greatly and so materially delay the costly development of new sources of supply, we should have to think seriously about it, heavy though the initial capital cost would be. But, human nature being what it is, and the cost of water still, thank goodness! an extremely low item in the ordinary family budget, I do not consider that the reduction in usage would be very great. Nevertheless, in theory it is difficult to argue against an experiment being made in a selected representative area; recognising of course that the data of the cost of installation and maintenance and meter-reading by the latest scientific methods could be acquired a good deal sooner than by relying on reliable evidence of essential usage. I do not expect this to affect the judgment of anyone else, but my own hunch is that metering of domestic supplies at present is not worth while. I hope that the experiment which, once instituted, could easily promote pressure for its extension before sound conclusions about its results could be drawn, will not be initiated for a long time, and then not without very careful consideration. The problem, incidentally, has not been authoritatively examined in depth since 1963 when a sub-committee of the Central Water Advisory Committee went into it in a good deal of detail and came to the conclusion that in the circumstances the metering of supplies was not justified. My Lords, these are the three things to which I wished specially to refer. As I said at the beginning, I warmly welcome the general purpose and aims of the Bill and wish it every success.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, for having gone out of the Chamber when he was speaking and I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, for the same reason. If I am proposing to speak in a debate it is not my custom to leave the Chamber, but, being the President of the Esperanto Association which was calling a meeting this afternoon, I was confronted by the horns of a dilemma. Should I go for an international language system or a national system of pure water? I do not know which has won because I have not done either properly. My Lords, it was a pleasure to listen to a scientist who wanted to introduce the humanisation factor into planning. It is good to hear a scientist say that we want the human touch in all our planning. This is one of the aspects that worries me. Having burned the midnight oil studying this problem, and read the reports of the Commissee discussions, and having been concerned with the Water Resources Bill and a number of Bills in the 1960's, including legislation concerning radioactive waste substances, I hope that I have taken a constructive interest in this matter. I know of the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, in connection with the provision of clean water, and the broad spectrum of his academic activities, and I was glad to hear him supporting my noble friend, Lady White. I sincerely believe that a meter system in the mass of homes would hardly pay for the increased bureaucracy which would result and the trouble of collecting from those ordinary homes.

Now let me come down to this, I hope, brief speech. In the reorganisation of the water services we have already been told, but I want to set them down again, that the broad aims are a water supply that is adequate, a water supply that is conserved and an improvement in our sewerage system and the disposal of sewage. We want to attack river pollution—and we have not yet done this properly. For years some of us have sat on committees and have been protesting about it. I was once honoured by the anglers of Britain, who have hardly been mentioned to-day. There are more anglers in Britain than there are people who attend football matches at a weekend. At the height of the football season there are fewer people on the football terraces in Britain than there are fishing; and, consequently, the 3½ million fishermen of England who sit on the banks of glorious rivers should be considered. It is not good for a man to live perpetually in a crowd. He occasionally needs solitude, and one of the marvellous places to get it is on the banks of a river, even if he never catches a fish.

As for a maverick like myself, as a child I was brought up in an atmosphere where all the rivers were open to us. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will know that we never knew what trespassing was in Wales. I never bought a sprig of holly in my life; I just cut it out of the hedges or on the mountainside. But we were brought up in the kind of country Where the pools are bright and deep, Where the grey trout lies, asleep, Up the river and o'er the lea. That's the way for Billy and me. Where the blackbird sings the latest, Where the hawthorn blooms the sweetest, Where the nestlings chirp and flee. That's the way for Billy and me. Of course, all that crowd has been frightened now by the exhaust of cars and the terrible miasma that is blown out of aeroplanes that are travelling faster than sound. In other words, the world of shock and the world of technology in which we live is making man forget some of his basic needs in life. One of his first and foremost basic needs is water. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord who opened the debate, and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, saying that we take all these things too much for granted.

I think this is an appropriate moment to say that I hope, when the time comes, that we shall have appropriate Amendments to pay a tribute to the Working Party on Sewage Disposal, of whom my friend Lena Jeger was the chairman. This is one of the most fascinating Reports (or Blue Books, if I may use that phrase) produced by a Committee, and I think everybody should be congratulated on the fascinating way in which they have dealt with this subject of the disposal of sewage. I think the Government are being too hasty. This Bill does not deal in toto with either the problem of sewerage and sewage disposal or, in fact, with pollution. In fact, so far as the 3½ million fishermen are concerned, then position vis-à-vis pollution will be worse when this Bill becomes law than it is now; and I hope to put down on the Order Paper an Amendment about this. Because in certain cases of pollution they have not the opportunity to protest. I must discuss this point with my noble friends on the Front Bench to see whether I am accurate in my surmise, but I think I am; and, if that be true, then I think it is necessary that, before the Bill becomes an Act, we should try to see that the fishermen have the same opportunities that they had before.

This new Bill contains far-reaching proposals, because we expect the demand for water to double before the end of the century and it is now considered that the 1963 Water Act does not meet the needs of to-day. That is the Act in which I was specifically interested. As was pointed out, in our efforts to meet the needs of to-day please do not let us fall for the sense of bigness. In Committee in another place the Minister talked about "Mr. Big"; and "Mr. Big", so far as water is concerned, is the chairman of the National Water Council. Next to the Minister he is king. I do not want to make denigratory remarks about a fellow Member of this noble House, but I laughed gently when we appointed a tycoon as the king of the railways to solve the problem of the railways. What did he do? Outside the part of Wales where I lived, all the railways were ripped up. Railways were ripped up all over Britain, and now the railways still do not pay. In parts of my old constituency, Leek, and in Dovedale, and in the famous fishing area there, and in Wales, people are farther away from a market now than they were a hundred years ago, because the railways are closed and there is no village bus as there are no pay-loads. In other words, we I are entering into a system of society where, in the Peak District and elsewhere, the Western Bus Company cannot afford to carry, where the water supply is also short and where planning has not thought of the human being at all, the planners have merely thought of the price. They think of the price of everything and forget the value of everything.

Granted, there is a need for the reorganisation of our water services that will enable Britain's water resources to be collected, stored and transported. There were three different suggestions—I have them all here—in Government Reports. This House is well informed, so I will not bore your Lordships by quoting; but we have accepted from these Government Reports only one of these suggestions. We should have had more time. There is this issue of water space; there is the issue of the full use of rivers and reservoirs; and we are not quite sure of the relationship of canals in this matter. I do not want to see the canals in a worse position. I am grateful to the Government for producing this valuable—I will not call it a Blue Book, but this beautifully-gathered background to water reorganisation in England and Wales, produced by the Department of the Environment. It enables a moderately intelligent Member of the House of Lords, or of the other House, to follow the Bill fairly well.

I find it rather sad, in regard to the diagrams—I used to know how to make diagrams at one time—to see that in 1958 the canals were less polluted than they were in 1972. Turning to page 20, one finds from the diagrams that pollution is increasing. Civilian bodies and Government Departments are a bit frightened about certain types of pollution. Let me be 100 per cent. frank. If people will read the book called Future Shock to which many reviews gave top attention about a month ago, they will see that no (I use this horrible word) technological Government in the world is prepared to look in depth into pollution by radioactive waste. There is nothing in this Bill about pollution by radioactive waste. There is nothing in this Bill about pouring into the rivers from the laboratories of hospitals and the laboratories of chemical research firms, and from other places, radioactive substances. We are finding certain things in parts of Britain—around Windscale, for instance. In Holland they have found tadpoles malformed, the genetic upset of frogs and the genetic upset of aqua-beings because there is a conspiracy of silence about the radioactive waste running into rivers. The full story of Windscale has never been told, like the full story of the atomic power station that exploded in Yugoslavia. When we look at this Bill, let us make it a real Bill. Let us turn it into a real Act, and try to eliminate this pollution.

My noble friend has been kind enough to cut down what would have been a three-hour speech, so I will come to my last point. As the Government point out, whatever we do to the Bill, Clause 2(5) gives absolute, paramount power to the Minister. We shall have a word to say about that at the Committee stage, but this is warning the Front Bench opposite that some of us have noticed that point. There was a real dingdong battle upstairs in the Committee on Clause 2(5) about the power of "Mr. Water" and the power of the council, and I think it is too much power for one human being to possess. While the Labour Party agrees that there must be a river basin approach to the services, it is aware that if regions are too big, remoteness will cause lack of control, and this is a danger.

Noble Lords will be glad to know that I have nearly come to the end of my speech and I must finish with a quote. Clause 4 deals with the National Water Council, and a lovely description of the chairman of the National Water Council was given in the Standing Committee on March 22, 1973, co. 512, by the Minister. Listen to what we have got to put up with. He said that the Chairman of the National Water Council is in every respect an important national figure—and we are swamped with them. He continued I might loosely say that second only to the Secretary of State he will in fact be 'Mr. Water' within this country. He will have clear functions, be the chief spokesman for the water services as a whole and will speak on behalf of the National Council of Water on which are the chairmen of the regional authorities. He will speak for the industrial unions, he will speak for finance, he will speak for applied science and the rest. I hope to God we are not going to destroy all that research.

I could give a list of the marvellous research in water and pollution matters which has been set up over a hundred years. Now, if "Mr. Water" comes mucking about with that lot, there is going to be trouble. We cannot tolerate power to that extent. This Government must modify the Bill and have some local representation.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, now from the sublime to the ridiculous! I have some interest to declare so far as water is concerned, but only on what one might call the receiving end. I have never managed a large water concern but I have my own water supply. It is nearly 500 years old. It comes through stone pipes from a spring. within it and is the best water in the between it and is the best water in the world. I notice that particularly whenever I return home from London, where I have been forced occasionally to take some water, water which I have read somewhere has been through 20 bladders before we get it—what I suppose my noble friend Lord Amory was referring to. Of course, since the 1963 Act I have had to pay for this very old supply of water.

Not only do I have that water supply, I have yet another from a good spring. Ninety years ago my predecessors built a reservoir below it and piped it down to a village or township called Kings-teignton. For 90 years we supplied Kings-organisation progress, eventually a large public concern took it all over but because they did not like a private small supply about four years ago they returned it to me and now that water is running down the brook—and very nice too. There is another nteresting point about that. At the same time as they returned this water supply to me, there were all the headlines in the papers about water shortage where we were going to put new reservoirs and so on.

The next interest I have is that I am a riparian owner. I have a mile along the river Teign, pronounced locally, as my noble friend will bear me out as "tin"—hence our crack "You should try our Teign salmon". There again we come to the question of how to control and manage your water supply for other purposes? If I had had any sense I should have sold the fishing rights some ten years ago for about £20,000, but being a "proper Charley" I give it away free to the Lower Teign Fishing Association who manage it. That stretch also provides water for the cattle of my tenant to drink. Now they have built a big by-pass at Chudleigh which runs right alongside it, and it is particularly well known for peel or sea trout fishing. Now, with the flashing lights of the by-pass—all true fishermen of course will know that you fish for peel at night—that will probably be ruined. That is another thing which shows where one's interests lie with regard pollution and fishing rights. As a farmer—and of course all your Lordships who are farmers have received probably an N.F.U. brief on this Bill—I will return later to what I think is the most important aspect from the farming community's point of view.

As chairman of the Devon branch of the C.L.A. and in various capacities over the last ten years, I have had more controversies on the subject of water supply —where to put reservoirs; whose land is going to be affected—than on any other one subject during my tenure, and I think I can safety say that so far as controversies in this world go Devon takes the cake. As an amateur sailor I keep my boat about three miles up the river Dart. I at times tend to come back at night—it needs careful navigation of course—and going ashore in my dinghy by the light of a torch your Lordships have no idea of the amount of concentrated sewage I see that is released into that river at night. However anybody is allowed to swim in it, which I see them doing from time to time, I do not know.

My next interest, as a Devon nationalist, is that I am very conscious of the problems or the equity of the proposed county and district representatives on the local South-West board. I have received from the various councils associations their brief. I do not agree with all of them, as I shall indicate in a minute, but I do share their anxieties. Basically I think I can see what the Government have in mind in this Bill, and basically I cannot object, but I have one or two points of criticism. First of all on planning, I do not think the Government are right in having a central planning unit. There are bound to be troubles, especially when water is transferred from one area to another, as is bound to happen. This is a point on which I should like the Government to think again, because the objectors will not believe that they are getting a fair deal. I should like the Minister to bear in mind—and I know he is very conscious of it—the frightful mistakes that we have made in our part of the country and which are still being perpetuated—for example, the Swincombe reservoir. When one considers that by 1975 in our part of the world we shall have an extra population of about two million in the tourist season, this will present problems which are, on the face of them, almost insurmountable from the point of view of water supply, because the tourist season all comes in the summer.

To return to my main criticism, which is the question of agricultural representation, at the present time I think the arrangements are inadequate. My noble friend Lord de Ramsey brought up this point, too. Devon, apart from its tourist season, is over 90 per cent. an agricultural county, and when the water leaves the sky it falls on that land. When the total number of representatives on the area board is 15, perhaps three is an adequate number of agricultural representatives; but where you are going to have boards of a larger number, then I think you must have more agricultural representatives, especially if under agricultural representatives you lump in fishing representatives.

I am not particularly entranced with the Water Space Amenity Commission. Again, unless the fanning and landowning interests are paramount, there will be nothing but friction. If birdwatchers are included, all right. But if rights of way are established along every river bank, and the leavers-open of gates are allowed to wander all over the place, you will find the fishing and agricultural community will be antagonised. I should like to know whether the Government intend to allow water ski-ing and motor boat racing in the erstwhile haunts of coot and tern. If the Government are to go ahead with this Commission, then they must get somebody with real experience in coping with and reconciling the various aspects of land use. There are parts of the country where one can get a favourable modus vivendi. There are other parts where you have certain parties who are fanatics of one sort or another, and there I can see only trouble.

One cannot help but wonder whether the proposed National Water Council will be independent enough to gain even half the influence that the now to be abolished Water Resources Board had. I personally regret its demise, and I hope that the Government may be able to reverse their decision in this respect.

I think it right for the Government to appoint independent chairmen. Here I know I disagree with my noble friend Lord Amory. My reason is that I am afraid that in most parts of the country from now on the local elections will be fought more and more on a Party political basis. If that is so, I think there will be trouble. I do not see it coming in the South-West, but in the more politically-minded parts of the country, where I should hate to see any long-term water plans become political shuttlecock between the main political Parties, as happens over such questions as whether London is going to have ring roads, or not.

I do not agree with the councils on the question of an elected chairman. I strongly agree with the Devon County Council in wanting a fair and equitable representation. For example, Cornwall, has one-third of the population, is a third of the size, and has not even half the lengths of river; yet they are to have on the South-West Water Board the same number of council representatives as Devon. I have nothing against Cornwall, though I read in the Sunday Telegraph that their "home rulers" are arming to cope with us people over the border. It would seem to me to be more equitable if they were given representatives commensurate with their size, lengths of river and so on.

Could the Government explain what is the advantage of removing the sewage disposal functions from the local authorities? We are perhaps influenced by the many examples of what ought not to be done to welcome change, but can we be sure that the new authority will do better? I get rather worried about the remoteness of these future undertakings.

My Lords, the problems associated with water supplies have been the cause, as I said earlier, of our fiercest disagreements within the county from which I come. I trust that under this Bill the Minister will appoint to positions of responsibility only those who are expert and experienced in enabling us to come to speedy conclusions on the problems which have bedevilled us in our part of the world for so long. I hope the Government will not he too dogmatic in their replies to our inquiries this afternoon, otherwise I can foresee some interesting arguments on the Committee stage.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, water is a gift of God, and of that gift we use in this country one-sixth of what falls from above. But we do not want to increase our reservoirs. We are short of agricultural land, and it seems a great pity to take land away from agriculture to form reservoirs. Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink. That might be written about pollution. The pollution of our rivers seems to be the main problem of this Bill. I feel that if we can only clean up our sewage and our industrial waste we might solve the problem.

The next thing I want to talk about is something which my noble friend Lady White referred to in her speech, but did not elaborate on, and that is a national water grid. I have been advocating this in your Lordships' House for over 40 years. Wales is included in this Bill, and Scotland is not, but I think we should have a national water grid for Scotland, Wales and England. There are considerable areas of Scotland where water can be conserved cheaply without interference with agriculture; this is also true of Wales. If these areas are interconnected with the reservoirs throughout this country I feel we shall not have any difficulty about shortage of water. Where there is a glut somewhere and a drought somewhere else, you bring them together. So far as I can see, that matter has not been mentioned in the Bill, but it seems to me to be well worth consideration by the Government before the Committee stage.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I should declare an interest as one of the Vice-Presidents of the Local District Councils Association. I should like to give qualified support to this Bill, because we must find more water for the nation in the years ahead. We must also conserve water, as has recently been done in a most satisfactory scheme in East Anglia (that is, the Ouse-Stour scheme) where they have built a long tunnel pipeline and taken water from the Ouse to the headwaters of the Stour, thus giving a lot more water to the areas of South-East Essex which were very short of water. So on this point I entirely agree with the Bill. If you reduce the numbers of river water boards from 28 or 29 to 9 in England and one in Wales, you will probably have many more such schemes, which are vital because there is a tremendous amount of water still running to waste. The building of new reservoirs, as the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, said, causes a great deal of feeling in the agricultural industry before you have to take up more land. The huge job of cleaning up the rivers is vital, and one properly done by these new river boards. As the noble Lord, Lord Nugent said, much has been done in the last 10 years since these numerous river boards were set up. However, a lot more needs to be done and, as my noble Leader pointed out earlier, a third of the water, that we now consume has to be taken from the lower reaches of rivers, which are the most contaminated.

I have three main worries about the Bill. First, I think that these new rive, boards should be allowed to elect their own chairmen. Local authorities have been given a majority, in some cases only a bare majority. I do not think it is democratic in these days that, having formed a board and the Government having got their representatives on it from agriculture, industry and so on, these important local river boards should not be allowed to elect their own chairmen. The new river boards are not going to be very responsible to local authorities. Local authorities will nominate the majority of the members, but will have little financial control. I may say in passing that I served for seven years on a joint board representing West Suffolk—it was a joint fire authority for East Suffolk, West Suffolk and Ipswich Corporation. That will now come to an end because there will be one large new county. Although I was a representative of the fire authority on that board, we were responsible to our respective councils for the amount of money that we had to provide for the board, and if our estimates were too high we got into trouble. As I understand it, these new river boards will levy their own rates for sewerage and water, and other than being ultimately responsible to the Ministry they are not going to be responsible at all to the local authorities.

My second point is that I think it is right that river boards should take over sewerage; but, having taken it over, I think the function should be given back to the local authorities to run on an agency basis. If I am correct in my reading of the Bill, we are asking local authorities to look after and to maintain local sewers on an agency basis but they will not be trusted with the sewage disposal work. What will be the result of that? It will mean the breaking up of staff of the local authority engineers and surveyors, and the local authority will retain some of its staff to look after sewers on an agency basis while the rest of the staff will have to go to the river boards to look after the purification plants. I know there has been a good deal of criticism— my noble friend Lord Nugent referred to this to-day in his interesting speech—of the fact that local authorities have not always come up to scratch in modernising their sewerage plant, and have sometimes nut impure effluent in the rivers; but surely Parliament could tighten up on that situation, especially if the work was done on an agency basis. What worries me is the tact that if we set up dual organisations the price to the consumer is bound to go up, because there will be two lots of staff.

The third point which worries me very much is the metering of supplies for domestic consumers. We have long had metering for industrial supplies and for garages, gardens and so on. I know the Government are only asking Parliament for enabling powers, but once those enabling powers are given no doubt the new river boards will use them. I do not myself think it is right to meter domestic supplies. I say that largely on health grounds, because there will be a tendency for families with many children to say, "Little Johnnie can only have a bath once a fortnight because it is going to cost a lot if the water is metered on the domestic rate." Therefore I should like to see metering cut out of the Bill. If it is not, I think we should at any rate go very slowly on it and treat it as an experimental matter, to see whether or not it will save any money. I believe that my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, who has had vast experience in these matters, has mentioned the great expense which will be involved in installing these meters. The modern idea regarding electric meters is that they should be put outside dwellings in modern blocks so that they can be read even though the tenant may be out. But in the older blocks of flats where you have a common rising main, surely there must be a meter for each flat. This will be extremely costly. With those few words, I support the Bill. I think it is necessary, but I do have some qualifications.

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, the very useful debate we have had this afternoon on this Bill has produced some extremely interesting speeches, and I think that the main lines of criticism have become apparent. I believe it is also clear that they are not confined to this side of the House. We have had one or two quite outstanding speeches. I should like at the outset to join in the tribute which has been paid to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for his quite outstanding work in connection with the Thames Conservancy. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Molson, made a speech which was not only very interesting but also extremely constructive. The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, speaking with all the authority he enjoys as a scientist, made a contribution of the greatest value which Members in all parts of the House will read with the greatest interest, because he has raised a number of matters that we ought to examine thoroughly in Committee. We have had some extremely interesting contributions from my noble friends Lord Davies of Leek and Lord Nunburnholme.

We in the Labour Party are committed to the public ownership of all water resources and supplies. We believe this to be necessary so that these resources can be collected, stored, transported, used and reused, in a way that will have full regard to good environmental management but at the same time permit recreational enjoyment of our rivers, canals, reservoirs and lakes to the fullest extent possible consistent with high standards of conservation. Having said that, I suppose many people may feel that there is probably not much between the two sides of the House when it comes to principles. But however much we may say that we hold those ends in view, that desire to achieve a common purpose, let there be no doubt, as my noble friend Lady White said at the outset in an eloquent speech, that we on this side will not divide the House, because of the tradition that has developed that we do not carry our opposition to the Division Lobbies when a Bill has been through the other place. But let there be no misunderstanding: we are opposed to this Bill and its main proposals; and we are fortified in our opposition by the reaffirmation of the opposition declared by the four local authority associations to the Government's proposals for the reorganisation of water and sewerage services.

The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, my noble friend Lady Stocks and the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, all touched on the subject of nationalisation. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, had quite a bit to say about it. It is a queer type of nationalisation that takes under the umbrella all those services that are already publicly owned and publicly controlled, but leaves alone that section of the service that is privately owned and controlled. To review any proposals to remove water undertakings from local governments, while leaving private water companies to continue in business is anachronistic, to put it mildly. That is a matter to which we shall have to give some attention, since private profit has no proper role in this basic public service. Water should be available at the lowest cost possible. As has been emphasised again and again this afternoon, it is a basic necessity and its domestic use is essential in the interests of personal and public health. So, as my noble friend Lady White said, we view with the greatest misgiving the proposal to meter the volume of water supplied to any premises—a matter also referred to at some length by the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve.

Our anxieties on this point could easily be met by amendment, and if the Government do not themselves carry that out we shall seek to provide opportunity for it to be done. The rating system leaves much to be desired, but it is greatly to be preferred to metering as a method of payment, since it does not penalise the domestic user according to the volume of water used. Because of this proposal in the Bill quite a number of people are asking how long it will be, if this Government stay in power for very long, before they will want to meter the intake of air and charge for that as well.

This Bill does nothing to add to the power or to the stature of local authorities; rather, it detracts from the responsibilities in regard to water and sewerage. Concern has been expressed in many quarters in regard to the composition of regional water authorities. The views of the local authority associations on this matter deserve much more consideration than they appear to have had up to the present. I have no doubt that here again we shall have opportunities for dealing with the matter in more detail in Committee. I hope also that we shall be able to get written into the Bill, or placed clearly on the record, that trade union representation at the level of the regional water authority and at other levels will be provided for.

When we come to a matter that has been touched on by many speakers with very few exceptions this afternoon—I think only one exception—the appointment of chairmen of the regional water authorities, the Government are in a very unenviable position. The local authority associations—all four of them—the Trades Union Congress and many of the Government's own supporters, inside and oustide this House, object to the proposal that the Secretary of State should appoint the chairmen. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, I thought put the point of view of the C.C.A. and the other associations very clearly. The chairman ought to be elected by the members of the regional water authority; to refuse them this right is to make a nonsense of the provision whereby the regional water authorities are to have a majority of members representing local authorities—a provision intended in the circumstances, one imagines, to give a democratic gloss to the constitution of these bodies. As we all know, in practice effective day-to-day control is largely in the hands of chairmen of bodies such as this, and in the hands of chief executives. We shall have to return to this matter again in Committee; that would be the wish of the House, having regard to what has been said this afternoon. Meantime, may I point out that it is these chairmen of water authorities who will serve on the National Water Council. If that is so, all the more reason why they should be elected by the regional water authorities that they are supposed to represent.

When it comes to treatment and land somewhat astonished ernment have failed government in a much more positive way. In particular their failure to recognise and use the experience of the Greater London Council in the Greater London area is almost breathtaking, for the Council's main drainage service has been administered with efficiency and is probably, as my noble friend Lord Fiske said, the best sewage disposal service in the world. The immediate, direct effect of the Bill's proposals on that Council's services will be to transfer to the Thames Water Authority the main drainage service, all main sewers, sewage treament works, pumping stations and the sludge disposal fleet, together with the functions of regulating trade effluent discharges and pollution control powers. As my noble friend Lady White said, together with the intended removal of the Council's health function under the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill, this will result in the loss of nearly 15 per cent. of the Council's staff and almost half of the Council's direct services to the people of London. I believe that we in this House have a duty to take note of these figures and ask the Government whether real consideration has been given to the implications for regional government in Greater London and elsewhere.

There is deep concern—and this is not a Party matter. I think it is appreciated generally that, whatever the outcome of the Greater London Council elections had been, the concern of the Greater London Council—their request for a new look, for greater trust, for acceptance of the fact that they have been doing a good job and are the best people to carry on doing it —would have been made as forcefully as it will be made now as matters stand. There is deep concern at the paradoxical situation in which, at a time when the whole structure of local government outside Greater London is being reorganised to be more efficient and better able to accept responsibility, major local services —health, ambulances, water, sewerage, motor vehicles and driving licensing—are being taken away from local authorities and handed to central Government or to unelected, and therefore possibly unresponsive, bodies who are not required to submit themselves to the periodic vote of confidence, or no confidence, of the public.

My noble friend Lord Fiske spoke powerfully and persuasively from his great experience during the years when he was Leader of the London County Council and the Greater London Council. I hope that considerable attention will be paid to what he has had to say. The Greater London Council and the London Boroughs Association are at one in wishing to secure democratic control by London of London's water services, and I hope that we in this House shall be able to do something about it—and I stress that this is not a Party issue. I welcome what the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said at the beginning about the appointment of a Staff Commission. I was tempted to say a great deal more about this matter, but I will leave it at the moment, expressing a welcome to what he has had to say.

If I may sum up, we on this side are extremely critical of the Bill. It fails to use democratic processes and indeed deprives democratic local government of control of vital services. We shall seek to improve it and we hope that the Government will be more flexible, more responsive, than they have been on other measures emanating from the same Department as this Bill came from. I hope that that flexibility will be demonstrated in Committee by a willingness to make concessions greater than we have had of late. My noble friend Lady White said that we should not be giving this Bill an easy passage. I hope the Government will show that they can prove that they are sensitive to views that are strongly held in this House, and particularly when those views are expressed on all sides. I say that now because I believe that if the Government will be responsive in that kind of way the Committee proceedings may be a great deal easier and, much more important, they will achieve a very great deal more and be much more constructive than they otherwise would be. My Lords, in Committee we shall do our best to table Amendments to improve the Bill.

7.44 p.m.


My Lords, this has been an extremely useful and thorough debate into what is a complex technical problem. I think the words of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford—and, incidentally, my noble friend asked me to apologise on his behalf to the House for his absence at this stage of the debate; he has a rather nasty sore throat and felt he would be wise to go home and nurse it—summed up what most noble Lords have been saying in this debate: that what we face now is the logical conclusion of a long-drawn-out, piecemeal process resulting from the need progressively to strengthen and unify the administration of the water services. Most of us. on whichever side of the House we sit, are like the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, the Vice-President of the Association of Joint Sewerage Boards—not like her in that. but life her in being conservative with a small "c" when faced with problems such as this, and beginning with an inclination to move slowly and in an evolutionary way. My noble friend Lord Nugent, who knows as much about this subject as any of us, expressed himself as approaching the matter from that standpoint. But, as he said, the fact is now that the needs are too urgent to be tackled by 1,300 sewage authorities, nearly 200 water authorities, and 29 or so river authorities; and we have to find another, stronger structure to tackle the problems that are ahead of us.

I think it was only the noble Baroness, Lady White, and her colleague the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, who pressed their criticisms in any general way to the Bill as a whole. They criticise us for having drawn it up in a way of which they cannot approve. They have not disclosed what particular pattern they would approve of, and have left us guessing, for the time being at any rate—though perhaps they will reveal it at the Committee stage—as to what particular pattern they would prefer. In the absence of any explanation, I am left with the, views of their Front Bench spokesman in another place, which I cannot quote in full, but they are set out in column 59 of the Hansard of that place of February 5, where there is talk of a strong national water board, with responsibilities more or less across the board, executive control, overall responsibility for recreation. I do not see much scope in that formula for local authority control or power or anything. But we shall no doubt hear at a later stage what the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, have in mind and we need not pursue it any further now.

While I am speaking of the noble Baroness, Lady White, I would hasten to assure her that I am fully aware of my own limitations not only in respect of Scottish crofters but also in respect of Welsh rivers and reservoirs, and I assure her that my noble friend Lord Aberdare will be here to deal with each and every Welsh issue that arises on the Bill, which is a great relief to me. Lady White (I think I am right in my recollection) expressed herself as broadly in agreement with the pattern of regional water authorities that we have established; and we are reinforced in that by the opinion of the Council of Europe, which also expresses the view (and I am quoting from a fairly full report) that the river authorities in Great Britain would seem to conform most clearly to the ideal situation—that is the position on which we are building—and the report continues: Local authorities are too intimately involved in the interests of the users. On election day it is the latter who vote. This means that regional organisations would he the best equipped to satisfy the main requirements of water pollution control"— and other water functions, too, if I may say so. But this is a theme to which we shall undoubtedly return at a later stage.


My Lords, may we get this correct? Did the Minister say that Europe said this? If so, that is a bit of cheek.


Well, my Lords, I will not discuss that with the noble Lord; I daresay he is entitled to that view. One of the recurrent themes in the debate has been an anxiety about the central organisations that will be taking the place of the Water Resources Board, and that is certainly a topic to which we shall need to return. The only point I want to make at this stage, in answer to my noble friend Lord Molson, the noble Baroness, Lady White, and to several other speakers in this debate, is that the work now to be done under the organisation which is being established under this Bill is quite different from the very valuable work that has been done in the past by the Water Resources Board. They have done a lot of regional planning on water resources which will now fall, naturally and properly, to the regional water authorities themselves. They have concentrated on research and planning of water measured in quantity—it is the resources of water that they have been dealing with—and what now needs to be dealt with on a national level is the problem of the quantity and the quality of water, which ois a wider function altogether than anything the Water Resources Board have tackled so far.

There is the need to bring together a number of research elements which have not been tackled hitherto by the Water Resources Board at all—none of the work done by the Water Pollution Research Laboratory nor by the Water Research Association was anywhere near the functions discharged by the Water Resources Board. However, rather than going into all this detail now I suggest to the House that I should make available and distribute to noble Lords who have taken part in this Second Reading debate the Consultative Paper on this particular topic by the Central Organisation for Planning Research and Data Collection. It was issued in March of this year. Several noble Lords who have spoken have no doubt seen it, but not every noble Lord may have seen it and it will be helpful for us all to have studied it before we return to such a complex topic.

The only other point I should like to make is to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. I would point out to him that the regional planning of water resources, which the Water Resources Board have undertaken on behalf of the river authorities up to now, will be carried out by the regional water authorities themselves. I hope other noble Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord de Ramsey, who spoke on these kindred topics, will be satisfied if we leave it there for the time being.

The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, who has also asked me to apologise to the House for his absence at this stage, raised a number of other questions which I can, and perhaps should, deal with at this moment. I have already made the point that the research that now needs to be done centrally is much wider in scope than any of the research done into water resources alone by the Water Resources Board. The noble Lord asked me how the individual research work of the regional water authorities will be organised. I think it is to be expected that the R.W.A.s will undertake or commission research of local application—-either undertake it themselves or else commission it—but research of value to the R.W.A.s generally will he carried out by the Water Research Centre and made available to them, and the powers of the Secretary of State under Clause 23 will be available to ensure that the R.W.A.s support the Water Research Centre to an extent which will enable them to do that. The Government will of course expect to contract for research of national importance to be carried out, where appropriate, by the W.R.C. and the contractor. As the noble Lord was suggesting, there must of course be very close links between the Central Water Planning Unit and the W.R.C., but that again is a matter we can go into more readily at the next stage of the Bill.

The noble Lord mentioned that the Trent River Authority, as opposed to Rotterdam, could not take water out of the Trent for any of the cities in its lower courses. He really is not correct about that, because in fact Nottingham takes water out into its treatment works at a point only seven miles below the Derwent where the city of Derby puts its sewage effluent in. This is a problem which, to an increasing extent, we have to deal with in that sort of way. Rotterdam, which the noble Lord mentioned, is not happy to take Rhine water, but they have no alternative in the matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, also asked me about the Nature Conservancy. The reason why the Nature Conservancy Council does not yet appear in the Bill is that its existence has yet to be enacted. Both Bills are running through Parliament at the moment and the way in which the Nature Conservancy will be brought into the Bill (and it certainly should be) will depend upon how each Bill makes progress.

There was a good deal of discussion —and I think this was the second main theme running through the debate—about the appointment of the chairmen. I have been interested to hear all the views that have been expressed but, generally speaking, I would prefer to keep my powder dry for the Committee stage on this particular topic. All I would say at this stage to noble Lords who have spoken about it, and to my noble friend Lord Amory in particular, is that the appointment of a chairman by the Secretary of State does not imply any lack of confidence in local government. Mine would be the last Department, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the last person, to lack confidence in local government. In fact the whole tenor of the Local Government Act is to put more trust in their capacity and their judgment. But the chairmen of these bodies—the regional water authorities—need to take a view of the areas for which they are responsible which goes geographically far wider than any of the local authority areas which the R.W.A.s serve, and to consider a whole number of topics over and above the function which local authorities have hitherto discharged. That would be the broad tenor of my justification for this particular decision, but once again I think it is probably best left there.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the subject of the tenor of the Local Government Act, and since he or somebody in his Department may have an open mind on this, may I say that local government is beginning to feel that deeds speak louder than words, and I wish he would bear that in mind when dealing with this matter.


My Lords, I will bear it in mind, and I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, when he says that in the Housing Bill we have removed discretionary powers from housing local authorities, what we have done is to provide them with a system of subsidy which concentrates the assistance that central Government subsidy can give on the areas and on the people who need it most. To that extent we have strengthened the arm of local government and not diminished its effectiveness.

But we must not get too far away from the Water Bill. A number of noble Lords who spoke had anxieties—and it is understandable that they should arise—about the remoteness of these large bodies. Were it not essential, for the reasons which my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford deployed, to devise bodies which are equipped by their span and their size and the resources they can command, to correspond with the river basins—and I do not think anybody has denied that this has to be done—then of course they could be much smaller and the problem of remoteness would not be feared. But provision exists in the Bill in Clause 6(8) which empowers the regional water authorities to set up advisory committees in connection with any one of their functions. We intend to draw their attention to this power and to support them in establishing committees of this sort so that all the local interests can be properly consulted and represented and involved, and this sense of remoteness overcome in that way. I hope that that will go some way towards meeting the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, on that same subject. The criticism of the huge size of these authorities was, not surprisingly, levelled particularly at the Severn-Trent Authority. In looking at its size on the map, that is no wonder. The fact of the matter, again as my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford says, is that we have acute and urgent technical problems to be solved and it is these problems to a very large extent that dictate the pattern. What dictates the pattern in this particular case is that waters for the Trent have to be supplied from the Severn, coupled with the fact that the great West Midlands conurbation lies right across the watershed between the two basins.

The noble Lord, Lord Fiske, raised a number of questions concerning Greater London with which I should like to deal. Broadly speaking, the position that the Government maintain is that the Greater London Council and London as a whole will be better off, and their citizens will be better off, in an arrangement in which the Greater London Council and the London boroughs can bring their influence to bear upon the larger body, the Thames Water Authority, rather than to seek to control certain fragments and functions which fall to that body. We believe that we have now reached the right division in which the G.L.C. and the London boroughs together will have the majority of the local authority seats on the Thames Water Authority and that will influence the entire policy of the whole authority. In addition to that, and exceptionally, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said in his opening speech, we shall insert provisions in the Bill to give the G.L.C. powers with regard to recreation and amenity on the Thames in the Greater London area. That is clearly right, and we are also arranging for special powers for them with regard to land drainage and the Thames Barrier. But again, that is a subject to which we can also return.

The next topic on which most was said was that of water recreation, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, who concentrated his whole speech on that point, and was followed by a number of other noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady White, is undoubtedly quite right in saying that it is very important, in establishing this body, to make clear the boundaries between it and the other water bodies, the role it plays in relation to them, the boundaries between the Water Space Amenity Council, the Countryside Commission, the Sports Council, and so on. Broadly speaking, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I would say that the Countryside Commission and the Sports Council are grant-aiding bodies, among their other functions, and compared with them the Water Space Advisory Council is an advisory body. My noble friend Lord Ridley raised the question about the Countryside Commission.


My Lords, was the noble Lord referring to the Water Space Amenity Commission or the Advisory Council, which is rather different?


The Water Space Amenity Commission. I apologise to the noble Lord if I used another phrase. That was the one to which I was referring. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that the terms of reference of the Water Space Amenity Commission are wide enough for it to be able to give advice on all inland water; that is to say, including gravel pits and to the B.W.B. although the B.W.B. now does not feature generally in this particular Bill. We intend to move an Amendment to Clause 22, as my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal said, to give the W.S.A.C. a duty to assist the regional water authorities in the preparation of their recreational plans. That is the point about which the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, asked. I confirm the point that my noble friend Lord Amory was making, that it is indeed the local authorities which have the main statutory powers for the provision, or the assistance of others to provide, recreational and amenity facilities. That is another point we have to bear in mind in finding the right niche for this body in relation to local authorities generally.

There are one or two other points to which I would refer. I should be interested to see what my noble friend Lord Molson puts down as an Amendment about towpaths. The noble Lord, Lord de Ramsey, raised a point about access agreements. It is certainly necessary when one is making a recreational provision on a river, lake or reservoir to make proper access arrangements across the land leading to them. That is a field in which the Countryside Commission and the local authorities between them have the necessary experience to do what is necessary.


My Lords, the point I was making was that since this access would be necessary, there should be some representative on the advisory body who was used to resolving conflicts that are likely to arise and that at present members are all appointed by the Government. I hope the point was taken.


My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point, but the counterpoint, as it were, which I was making was that the provision of access agreements over land is not properly the job of a Water Space Amenity Commission. Nevertheless, I agree with him that it is a point that has to be taken care of. We shall bear it in mind and if, on reflection, we feel that it is not adequate to his point of view that the interests of which he is thinking are properly represented on the Countryside Commission and on the local authorities and that they are not properly geared to deal with this, we shall see that provision is made in the Water Space Amenity Commission.

The final matter of controversy which was raised several times was that of metering. I note what the noble Baroness, Lady White, says about the regional water authorities all seeking powers by Private Bill if and when they find it necessary to use this technique. And I note what my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve says about Government having the powers. But the main point is that we are not, as the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, seemed to indicate, proposing to introduce metering: we are putting into the Bill a power which would enable regional water authorities, after due study and perhaps experiments, and so on, to introduce it if and when they think it would be useful and fair. I agree that it will not be done as a matter of course by any means. It would be expensive to do and therefore it will be done only if there will be considerable benefits. The point that bothered a number of people, and notably my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, that this would have adverse effects on hygiene, can fairly readily be met by using a standing charge for a certain amount of consumption and not charging by meter until that amount had been exceeded. But there are a number of other variations that can be used. All I would stress is that this is not something on which the R.W.A.s as a whole are going to embark in a universal way; it is a power, there for them to use if and when in particular circumstances it seems to be necessary.

I will certainly look into the question of the numbers on the R.W.A.s representing the land drainage interest, which the noble Lord, Lord de Ramsey, raised. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, will not forget what he has just said to us relating to pollution, because he will be able to use all the arguments again when we introduce a Bill dealing with pollution of rivers. I hope I have dealt with the main points raised in the debate and I look forward to the Committee stage.


My Lords, will the noble Lord say something about the divided responsibilities of the local authorities in regard to sewage? I did raise that point.


My Lords, that was one of the topics I thought we could return to at a later stage. It is one of the matters which we have carefully looked into, as to where the powers should actually lie in the future. I do not know that there is much more I would want to say to the noble Lord at this stage of the Bill. If he feels that some adjustment and change in the functions as between the existing local authorities and the new regional water authorities is called for, and puts down an Amendment on that topic, I think we might well have a debate at the next stage. I am not sure that I can say anything that would be very helpful at this stage, after a speech which has gone on for nearly half an hour already. I would prefer to leave it there.

Ministerial Responsibilities Central Administration Public Services Executive Functions Trading and Repayment Services General Support Services
Secretariat and central support staff 430
Central Statistical Office 183
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food policy 1,668
Agricultural Development and Advisory Service 5,009
Other technical staff 119
Regional and divisional offices 4,892

On Question, Bill read 2a;, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.