HL Deb 12 October 1988 vol 500 cc914-6

5.30 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Several noble Lords have been circulated by the Southern Water Authority, the promoters of the Bill, about its objects and explaining it in every detail. There were 14 petitioners but 13 have now withdrawn and I am pleased to say the promoters have received notices to that effect. However, one petitioner, the British Railways Board, is still outstanding. The 13 petitioners have reached satisfactory agreements. This will lead to the withdrawal of their petitions and in the light of the agreements my noble friend Lord Cornwallis has been able to withdraw the instruction which he had earlier tabled.

If your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading today, as I hope that you will, it will be committed to a Select Committee in the normal way. Should that happen, as would appear to be likely, the Bill will become unopposed. It will then be referred to the Unopposed Bill Committee.

I could speak on the Bill for some time but I do not want to detain your Lordships—

A noble Lord

You already have.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I do not know about that, my Lords. As will be apparent, much of the contention has gone out of the matter.

I know the area extremely well. I have just travelled through it by train during one of the worst rain storms I have ever known, and I have been in many tropical downpours. If your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading I sincerely hope that the Committee will conclude fairly quickly. I employ people who come from Ashford and they have often complained about the flooding in the area over the past four years.

It only remains for me to say that I commend the Bill to your Lordships and I hope that the Committee will solve any problems—I am sure that it will. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—( Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I cannot claim to have read the Bill but I have carefully read the statement made on behalf of the promoters in its support. I was concerned when I read the objections which had been raised. I am happy to hear from the noble Viscount that all the objections, except that of the British Railways Board, have now been resolved. I understand from the statement that the board is now moving towards a settlement with the promoters of the Bill. On that basis we have no objection to an unopposed Second Reading and the Bill being referred to a committee as is appropriate.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, the purposes of the Bill, as outlined by my noble friend and set out in the memorandum which has been circulated, are admirable. However, I should like to address one word of warning to the Select Committee to which, if your Lordships so wish, the Bill will be committed.

I have the misfortune to live in an area served by the Southern Water Authority. I must tell your Lordships that that authority has a very low reputation for efficiency. Its accounts department seems to be run like a madhouse and its general administrative standards are very poor. Therefore, it seems to me that one of the matters which your Lordships' committee will wish to look into is not merely the question of whether the objects, intentions and purposes of the Bill are right—and I think that they probably are—but whether the particular water authority, with its poor reputation for efficiency, is capable of implementing them satisfactorily.

I believe that your Lordships' committee may wish to look at that matter with care. On examination it may well believe that the important task laid down by the Bill cannot be undertaken by this authority and that it may be better to wait—and, as I understand it, not for very long—for privatisation and some other body of perhaps higher administrative competence to take it over.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, in reply to my noble friend I point out that in 1976 the Southern Water Authority was highly efficient as regards the Medway scheme at Leigh in Kent. That concerned flooding and holding back the flood waters in storage areas. I believe that my noble friend has been hard on the Southern Water Authority. It has been very generous with the petitioners but I shall not go into that matter. I think that my noble friend has been hard on the Southern Water Authority because the Medway scheme was very successful.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am glad to hear that a number of years ago the organisation functioned efficiently and in another part of the country from that in which I live. All I am suggesting to your Lordships—and I hope that my noble friend will not dissent—is that in view of the low reputation for efficiency which it has in some parts of its area, your Lordships' committee will look carefully at its competence to carry out the task. I hope that my noble friend will not feel that that conflicts in any way with what he has said. I believe that it would be unfair to those who live in the authority's area not to warn your Lordships' Select Committee that there may well be a question as to the competence of the authority. The question may well arise as to whether it would be better to leave the whole matter until some other body takes over.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, do we understand that he is volunteering his services to the Select Committee? That would seem to be the most appropriate step.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I would not have the impertinence to offer my services to your Lordships' Select Committee. However, if your Lordships' Select Committee were to summon me, I am always the obedient servant of any of your Lordships' committees.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.