HL Deb 02 May 1989 vol 507 cc90-137

House again in Committee.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 11: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

. —(1) The National Rivers Authority shall prepare, publish and update from time to time, a plan in respect of the matters identified in subsection (2) below, for the purposes of the effective carrying out of its functions and, in particular, of promoting the cleanliness of water, and the conservation and enhancement of the natural environment in relation to rivers. (2) The functions of the Authority under this Act shall include—
  1. (a) the improvement of the state of cleanliness of waters in England and Wales, including their chemical quality and levels of compliance with notified water quality objectives;
  2. (b) the progressive reduction of discharges of sewage effluents and trade effluents in breach of consent levels and the monitoring of compliance in respect of all such consents;
  3. (c) the prescription of precautions to be taken by specified persons for the prevention of pollution;
  4. (d) the preparation and carrying out of a programme of works and operations to prevent, remedy, or mitigate pollution;
  5. (e) the levying of appropriate charges on persons in respect of discharges and the creation of the pollution for the purposes of penalising such discharges;
  6. (f) the conservation and enhancement of sites of natural beauty or amenity, and the conservation of flora and fauna;
  7. (g) the preservation and promotion of public access to waters in areas of natural beauty or amenity, and their use for recreational purposes;
  8. (h) the conservation, redistribution and augmentation of water resources, and the determination of minimum acceptable river flows;
  9. (i) the general supervision of land drainage and flood protection including the preparation, in consultation with relevant local authorities, of a programme of works on designated main rivers and sea defences, and the publication on an annual basis of any such programme;
  10. (j) the conservation, maintenance, improvement and development of salmon, trout, freshwater and eel fisheries in inland waters and, the provision of resources for advisory committees;
  11. (k) the carrying out of navigation, conservancy and harbour authority functions as determined by this Act.").

The noble Lord said: I like this amendment. It is poetic. The text contains everything that I want to say. I have never seen such a well written amendment in my life, and I have put my name to many.

It is a major defect of the Bill—not so much of drafting but of organisation—that the functions, first, of the National Rivers Authority and, secondly, of the Director General of Water Services are spread thinly and erratically around the text of the Bill rather than being in a sensible place where they can be read and understood by everybody and where there is some sort of coherent kernel to the Government's intention in setting up these two august organisations. Therefore, in this new clause we have set out what we believe to be the functions of the National Rivers Authority.

I do not think there is anything in the amendment with which the Government will necessarily disagree. Many of the points we are making in it can be found in other parts of the Bill, but they are fairly well concealed and I hope that putting them together in one place, as we have in the amendment, will meet with the approval of the Committee and of the Government.

The themes in this amendment to which I want to draw attention are, first, the reference in the second line to a plan and, secondly, the reference throughout the amendment to improvement in the reduction of discharges, enhancement of sites of natural beauty and so on. By saying that there should be a plan we mean that there should be effective management. If a new organisation is to be set up—it is an important new organisation which has the good will of Members of both Houses, from all parties, and it has an enormously important job to do—it ought to have a coherent target, a coherent plan of action. That is what the amendment proposes, but it is sadly lacking in the Government's proposals for the NRA as so far made clear. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is not in his place at the moment because I should have thought he would be particularly sympathetic to the idea of a plan of action for, as the amendment says, the effective carrying out of its function and… promoting the cleanliness of water, and the conservation and enhancement of the natural environment in relation to rivers".

In business we are always told, and I believe rightly, that unless you set yourself a business plan and set targets to work against, it is impossible to know whether you are succeeding. The same applies strongly to the National Rivers Authority. Even if not established in legislation as proposed in the amendment, the NRA should be setting itself a plan for the benefit not only of the authority itself but for its accountability to Ministers and, in turn, the accountability of Ministers to Parliament. It seems to us entirely appropriate that such a plan should be in the Bill. It can be added to and it may be that there is disagreement about particular aspects of it. However, it is something that represents no threat whatever to the Government's basic proposals for the Bill. I believe that it clarifies the function of the National Rivers Authority and its responsibilities. It will make it easier for the public at large to see that here we have a body not only with the intention of conservation and the protection of the environment but with a coherent plan of action for doing so.

The second significant element in this amendment is the continued reference in almost all of the subsections to the improvement of the environment and the standards of conservation rather than simply to the maintenance of them. I do not believe that there can be much doubt that the improvement of conservation is now a real necessity. It appears to have taken the EC directives to have brought it home to many people how far we have fallen behind. I am not saying that in comparison with other European countries, because that is not an interesting comparison for us to make, but in comparison with what we should have been doing over the years. The EC drawing attention to our failure, first, to legislate and then to act on the quality of drinking water is only one example, but a very good one, of how far we have fallen behind what we should have been doing. The quality of our water, rivers and the environment as affected by water is sadly lacking by any standards and by any comparison that we wish to make.

Our intention in this amendment is constantly to refer not to the maintenance of the state of cleanliness of waters but to their improvement; it is not as regards controlling the discharge of sewage and trade effluents but the progressive reduction in the discharge of sewage and trade effluents in breach of consent levels. Our intention is not just the conservation of sites of natural beauty but their enhancement; not simply the preservation of public access to waters and areas of natural beauty but the promotion of public access to such waters. The amendment is not solely aimed at the conservation of water resources but at their augmentation and the determination of minimum acceptable river flows. It is not directed solely to the conservation of salmon, trout, freshwater and eel fisheries but to the improvement and development of those fisheries.

It seems to us that all these factors are the proper concern of the National Rivers Authority. That is the right body to be concerned with them all. This amendment in all its elegance and glory is one that the National Rivers Authority should welcome proudly. It is also one that deserves the support of the Government and this Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Ezra

In supporting the amendment perhaps I may say that an amendment of this kind would be of extreme convenience. The difficulty with this type of legislation is that one has to search right through the Bill to find out what are the functions of the various bodies created by the legislation. Unless one peruses the Bill and all its numerous schedules, it is very difficult to form a clear impression of the functions of the NRA. They are simply described at the beginning as setting up regional bodies and that is about all. One has to search much further on to find out what else it does.

Therefore I believe that this amendment will not only be of considerable convenience to all those concerned with the Bill but it will also identify more precisely than is done in the rest of the Bill what are the functions of this very important body. We have all agreed that we are glad to see this body created. It follows from that that we should like to see its functions and responsibilities clearly spelt out.

As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made clear, this may not be precisely the wording that one would wish to adopt. In that case I hope the Government will say that they are interested in an amendment of this kind and that they will come back with some other wording which will fit in more with their ideas if this wording does not. I hope that they will accept that this amendment will not only be a convenience but that it could add considerable value to this early stage of the Bill.

The Earl of Radnor

I am not in favour of the amendment but I rise to ask a question concerning subsection (2)(c), which states: the prescription of precautions to be taken by specified persons for the prevention of pollution". That seems to indicate that the NRA is to tell people what to do to prevent pollution. That is fine as far as it goes, but what happens if the person who is told does exactly what he is told and the pollution is not cured? Whose fault is it then? It would be quite wrong to prosecute the person who does the work stipulated for him by the NRA. That organisation is presumably the prosecuting agency. Does it prosecute itself or have we returned to the situation where the Bill first started with everything being in one hand, so to speak, which I know the noble Lord dislikes so much?

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

The duties of the NRA and the remit for it are well set out in the Bill and in great detail. The idea of having to produce a plan publicly, presumably for the Secretary of State or someone to peruse, is the kind of interference in operational management that I believe we are trying to get away from. To accept the amendment as set out is a recipe for more of what we have at the moment; namely, some kind of external interference in operational management. I am surprised at the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, advocating this way forward. We should be setting the framework within which the NRA will operate, and leave it to manage operationally itself. It will be accountable. The remit for it is set out in great detail in the Bill.

Lord Addington

I am in favour of the list or plan which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to, for the simple reason that it reduces the amount of confusion over what the National Rivers Authority is supposed to do. I do not believe that we have yet defined the purpose of this body other than with a general heading. I believe that something that gives more direction and purpose would be extremely useful. As regards the items themselves, there is no reason why these should be the finite version. There is certainly room for altering them over a period of time. I believe that some kind of plan along these lines would be beneficial.

The Earl of Caithness

Amendment No. 11 would require the NRA to prepare and publish at some unspecified time in the future a plan for the carrying out of its functions. Some 11 are mentioned, of which particular importance is attached to the promotion of the cleanliness of waters and the conservation and enhancement of the water environment. This is an amendment that I believe we should not support, not because of the underlying objective but because of the means proposed. If some Members of the Committee cast their minds back 10 years or more, they will doubtless recognise the format of the amendment, for there is a dated quality about its terms. I believe it is pure 1970s, from which I fear some of us have not moved.

There is no sense of time of when it should be done or how long it should take. There is the simple fallacy that to produce a plan is to solve a problem; and above all there is that detachment from the real world of events and of actions. But it would be wrong to focus too closely on the terms of an amendment. They are largely irrelevant. What I readily accept, and what I am sure all of us will accept, is the importance of the issue underlying them—that is the crucial issue of the NRA's effectiveness, of how it will do its job. That is of overriding importance. On that at least I hope that we can agree.

But the answer in this amendment—a plan for everything—is too simple. Surely we recognise that the days of the master plan are past. Planning has become a continuous process. The days of the master blue print, which takes years to produce and is out of date by the time it is finally agreed and published, are gone. Nor would it in any case be appropriate for a body like the NRA. Many of its key functions are those of a regulatory authority responding to applications from others and policing their activities. It must be reactive, able to respond to events, whether they are pollution incidents or flooding emergencies.

What then is needed? And what are we providing in its place? I suggest that there are three requirements. First, the NRA must have clear, coherent and mutually compatible responsibilities; secondly, it must have clear objectives for the protection and enhancement of the water environment, with a definite timescale. Thirdly, it must have all the powers it needs to achieve these objectives. If its role is clear, its objectives properly defined and its powers adequate, then it can be left to get on with the job.

On the first point, we have given the NRA properly related functions—all of those needed for the coherent management of river basins and the water environment generally: water quality and pollution conrol; water resources; drainage and flood defence; and conservation and recreation. We shall discuss all these functions before long. At the same time it will have clear and specific objectives, in terms of water quality set by government to guide its operations. They will be firm and explicit, with timetables and legal obligations attaching to them. They will reflect—and guide—all decisions on both abstractions and discharges, as well as reflecting policies on conservation and recreation. They will be complemented where necessary by minimum acceptable flow requirements, a point which is of importance to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. They will be subject to public consultation and periodic review. They will provide a clear planning framework for the authority.

Finally, the authority will have the powers it needs to discharge its functions and achieve its objectives. As examples, perhaps I may refer to two areas on which this proposal particularly focuses. In pollution control the NRA will have wide powers in respect of control of dangerous substances; protection zone powers to protect ground waters; and wider precautionary powers for avoidance of pollution incidents. On conservation, it will have a new power to promote protection and enhancement of landscapes and flora and fauna in the water environment, independently of the exercise of its other functions.

In this way the NRA will be geared to action, not hung up on plans which all too often in the past have been a substitute for action. And to back this up we shall ensure that the authority also has effective corporate planning machinery to monitor performance against objectives and guide the allocation of resources.

It will also be an accountable body. In its annual report, it will report regularly on the performance of its functions and the way in which it achieves objectives and the policies set by government. Clause 146 requires that such reports be laid before Parliament, and they can of course be debated there.

In sum, the Government recognise that the NRA has a major task to perform in helping to achieve our objectives for the water environment. It would not be helped by a traditional blueprint plan, which would soon be irrelevant and outdated. Instead the Bill gives it the essential ingredients for success: compatible functions; clear objectives; and relevant powers. These are what are needed. These are what we must give it. Then we must let it get on with the job as quickly as possible.

Lord Ezra

Leaving aside the first subsection of the amendment to which the noble Earl has a fundamental objection, does he not agree that it would be useful at this early stage to define the functions of the authority even though they are dealt with in greater depth later in the Bill? It is difficult without a detailed perusal of the Bill to find out what the functions of the authority are. They are spread throughout this gargantuan Bill. Would it not be a matter of convenience, whatever wording might be thought of as appropriate, to set out at this early stage the broad functions of the authority?

The Earl of Caithness

I disagree with the noble Lord on this point. The clauses with which we are now dealing say how the NRA is to be set up. Its functions are dealt with comprehensively in Clauses 100 to 146 in Part III of the Bill. To try to condense those into six, eight, 10, 20, 25 or 50 points, as the noble Lord requires at this stage, would be misleading and would not help the position. When we come to discuss Clauses 100 to 146 I hope then to be able to convince the noble Lord that we should leave matters as they are.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am sorry to say that the Minister has allowed ideological objections to catch up with him on this occasion. He does not always do that and it is sad to see when it happens. His advisers have formed a view that the word "plan" is ideologically unsound, although he used the words "clear planning framework" with every appearance of approval. The distinction between a "plan" and a "clear planning framework" is not entirely clear. If the world "plan" is ideologically unsound for him he is in a great deal of difficulty.

I am not talking about grand blueprints for the future. I am talking about business plans. Those who have experience of business, or, even worse, have experience of business schools will know that business plans are an essential feature of the way in which we are supposed to run private businesses. And quite right too. It is right that, in addition to the year by year measure of profit which is to be imposed on the new water companies and on any report which the National Rivers Authority may make to the Secretary of State, there should be some framework of objectives. The Minister says that they are included in Clauses 100 to 146. I do not doubt that. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, seems to think that they are set out clearly in the Bill, although, having said that, she did not make any attempt to find where they are set out or to set them out clearly herself.

Bills are not solely for internal consumption. Legislation is not solely for internal consumption. Not only should there be conservation and protection of the environment but those who are concerned about conservation and the environment should understand what is being done and why it is being done. It is entirely helpful and not damaging to the Bill to propose that these objectives should be brought together in one place. The National Rivers Authority should see them as a whole, should see the coherence of them, should relate them to each other and should present to the public—its audience and its customers—a coherent view of what it is trying to do.

If the National Rivers Authority and the Government do not set out objectives in the form of a coherent plan, other people will certainly do it for them. The Government have already had this unpleasant experience with European Community directives on the quality of drinking water. Those directives are only the start of the kinds of obligation that will be placed on us by the European Community, by our own law and by the self-defence which our people will put up against incompetence, inefficiency and neglect of our environment and of conservation.

I do not for a moment feel that the Government have made a coherent response to the amendment. It was intended not as a challenge to the Government but as a helpful amendment. I am sorry that they should take it in this way, but, having offered our help, the only thing we can gracefully do is to take it away again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury moved Amendment No. 12: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

.—(1) There shall be established by the Secretary of State a Scientific Advisory Council with a duty to advise the National Rivers Authority on scientific matters related to the functions of the Authority. (2) The membership of the Scientific Advisory Council shall be determined by the Secretary of State and shall include persons of scientific and professional expertise relevant to the water industry.").

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment I hope that I shall not sin against modesty if I recall that on Second Reading I said: I should also like to commend to the Government for consideration that we ought to have a scientific advisory council for the national authority. I imagine one of the members of that board, which should be a commercial board concerned with commercial considerations, should be the head of their technical advisory department; but such departments can easily suffer from in-breeding, and to have an advisory council chaired, if you like, by the technical director of the authority, to sit in judgment on the advice he was being given by his own subordinates would be a very good insurance policy against the organisation as a whole suffering from hardening of the arteries as time wore on and initial enthusiasms were eroded".—[Official Report, 17/4/89; col. 667.]

In moving the amendment which stands in my name, I should like to couple with it Amendments Nos. 33 and 35 due to be called in the course of this evening and speak also to Amendment No. 59 which will not be called until the next stage of the Bill's proceedings. I wish to do so because they all breathe the same spirit and what I advocate in the case of one is to be advocated in the case of the others.

I visualise the NRA as probably not being a very large body. It would probably neither wish, nor be able, to be the principal forum in which matters of a detailed scientific nature are discussed. We want that body to be one of tough driving executives which will thrust forward and provide water information in the terms of reference we are suggesting. The relevance of scientific and professional expertise is, I think, obvious. There are at least six major areas of scientific and professional expertise currently involved in the water industry.

Professional chemists like myself, although the single most important and probably the most numerous group, form but one of a group of scientific disciplines. Perhaps I may run through the others. First, there is the practice of biochemistry. Biochemists are not involved in great numbers in the water industry and not many are employed as full-time employees by water authorities; rather they are to be found in bodies such as the Water Research Centre, originally a quango, but soon to be privatised. They are employed there to give specialist advice. Biochemists are mainly to be found in the field of toxicology and aquatic toxicology concerned with mammalian lifeforms in waters and streams. Many chemists and biologists are also capable of fulfilling such functions.

Biologists are mainly used in monitoring with a specific remit in the conservation field where fisheries and conservation of plant life form a co-ordinated whole and are very relevant to the NRA's functions. Biologists take samples from stream beds and count the number of organisms disturbed—that is, larvae, and so on—and hence classify the water course for its biological nature. That is a vital part of classifying the water and is a factor in determining the extent of any pollution present.

I turn now to engineering and engineers of one kind or another. There are mechanical engineers, there are civil engineers, there are even engineering geologists. They probably comprise the next single greatest number of professionals in water authorities—that is, after chemists. Engineers are involved in all aspects of river engineering, flood prevention and water resource management; for example, hydrometry—that is water flow—and hydrology, which is the occurrence of water in rocks, strata and so on.

Prominent among engineers are the civil engineers. They are responsible for water collection, water containment and water disposal in the widest sense. Chemical engineers play an important part in sewage treatment plants, together with mechanical engineers and electrical engineers who are also involved, not least because some sewage treatment works have self-generating electricity supplies.

Geologists, like biochemists, are not found in great numbers and are mainly used on a consultancy basis in today's water industry. I should tell Members of the Committee that for the past four weeks I have been listening to engineering geologists giving their opinions as regards the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill on the liability of ground water invading the basements of houses in the rest of Cardiff. They are an extremely important and highly skilled source of information. Geologoists are also involved in land reclamation and the effect it may have on the contamination of water.

The Royal Society of Chemistry is what I shall describe as an amalgam of what was once upon a time the Royal Institute of Chemistry—of which I was a Fellow and which very graciously admitted me to honorary fellowship on the 50th anniversary of my registration as a student—and the Chemical Society, which is a learned body. They amalgamated and formed the Royal Society of Chemistry. I served my stint on the council of the Royal Institute of Chemistry and I continue to serve on the parliamentary and legal committee of the Royal Society of Chemistry. The society has given me a great deal of help in preparing the brief about which I have been talking to the Committee.

Next, we have the sources of information represented by the professional institutions. They are the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institute of Biology, the Institute of Fisheries Management, the Institute of Water and Environmental Management, the Geological Society and the Biochemical Society. It ought to be possible for the chairman of the NRA and the Minister to approach those societies in order to find a collection of experts who could act as professional advisers of the highest level to the water authority with regard to the ongoing activities of the authority's subordinates.

Perhaps Members of the Committee could imagine themselves as chairman of the new body. One would have a colleague on a level who would be responsible for all its technological affairs. Would one not ask oneself from time to time, "I wonder whether my colleague's subordinates are up to their job? Are we giving the very best service we can?" What a wonderful thing it would be for him to be able to have a statutory advisory council. There are precedents for such a council; for example, in the Medicines Act there are advisory councils which advise the Minister on the application of the Act. There are also the precedents of the Ogden Report of 1973 which concerned the water industry itself and which set up an advisory body.

Further,there is the need for public relations; that is, the knowledge of the public of something as absolutely vital to everyone as water supply. Surely it is important for the Minister and the chairman of the NRA to ensure that they are getting the very best scientific advice possible. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

If the noble Earl will be kind enough to accept it, I should like to offer my support for the amendment and the subsequent amendments that he proposes to move. His last point was especially telling. It relates to the case that I was trying to make for a coherent statement of the function of the NRA, because there is a necessity for public confidence in the NRA. If the NRA is to perform effectively as the guardian of conservation and environmental standards not only must it have, as I failed to convince the Committee, a business plan, but the public must be convinced that it is obtaining the best possible advice.

The best possible advice, as the noble Earl described far more clearly than I ever could— although I have had the same help from the Royal Society for Chemistry, to which I pay tribute—is that the NRA should take scientific advice. Again, I wish that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, were still with us, because I am sure that on this occasion he would agree with us about the necessity for consultation with the appropriate scientific authorities. I do not know whether he would agree with the particular means by which that is to be achieved, but he will undoubtedly be consulting scientific authorities in that way. It seems appropriate to bring the point into the Bill at this stage in the way proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury.

Lord Moran

I support the amendment moved by my noble friend. A scientific advisory council might, for example, play a valuable part in overseeing the work of fishery scientists employed by the NRA. Fishery scientists at present employed by Welsh Water have done excellent work in Wales. It is important that after the NRA is set up that work should be co-ordinated with the work of the scientists working for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods and with those in Scotland employed by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland.

There is no doubt that problems in the fisheries field can arise quickly and can be serious. For example, the louse (gyrodactylus salaris), that has caused fearful damage in Norwegian salmon rivers which came originally from fish farms, has given rise to enormous and intractable problems on which scientific expertise has to be brought to bear.

There are now also problems with the genetic effect of escapes of farmed salmon on wild salmon stocks. That is a problem which will be considered by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation in Edinburgh at its annual meeting next month. For all those reasons I believe that the suggestions are valuable and I hope that the Government will consider them seriously.

The Earl of Arran

On the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, it is not so much the principle that separates us but the method of application of that principle; that is, scientific advice to the NRA. The new clause would require the Secretary of State to establish a scientific advisory council, including members with relevant scientific and professional expertise, with a duty to advise the NRA on scientific matters related to its functions.

I am sure that the Committee is agreed on the importance to the NRA of having sound scientific advice regarding the exercise of its functions. There can be no difference between us on that matter. What we cannot accept, though, is that the right way to provide such advice is for the Secretary of State to appoint an advisory council. The NRA will employ many scientists on its staff and we know that my noble friend Lord Crickhowell hopes shortly to be able to appoint a chief scientist to the NRA. The chief scientist will be responsible for advising the NRA board on the long-term scientific aspects of all the board's activities, for developing policy proposals for all pollution control activities and managing laboratory services involved in the development and monitoring of those services and for initiating and co-ordinating all scientific research and development.

In due course, and taking into account his advice, the NRA may wish to seek further scientific advice or to establish a scientific advisory committee; but it would be more appropriate for the NRA itself to decide on its requirements in that respect and certainly we consider that it would be quite wrong for the Secretary of State to impose upon the NRA, at its inception, an outside panel of scientific advisers.

In conclusion, I shall of course bring the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, to the attention of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. But in the meantime I hope that I have persuaded the noble Earl to withdraw this amendment.

The Earl of Halsbury

I do not know that I am persuaded to withdraw the amendment. I am trying to preserve the future chairman of the NRA from the in-breeding that will result from his making his own appointments as chief scientist. He is bound to ask himself at some point in time, "I wonder whether this chap's subordinates are as good as they tell me they are".

For 20 years I was a member of the Science and Engineering Research Council: I was appointed by the Secretary of State. For four years I was a member of the Medical Research Council: I was appointed by the Secretary of State. I was a member of the Science Museum Advisory Council for many years—16, I think—and I was appointed by the Secretary of State. What is wrong with the appointment of an advisory council by the Secretary of State?

The point that I wish to bring home to the Committee is simply the need for some kind of mechanism to reverse the tendency towards in-breeding in an organisation which may become progressively more bureaucratic with the years. That is the fate of all us us who are bureaucrats mangués at some time or another in our lives. So unless the noble Earl who is replying for the Government can give me some assurance that the matter will be reconsidered on Report or at some suitable stage of the Bill, I fear that I must test the opinion of the Committee on a matter on which I feel so deeply. I may be defeated in the Lobby or I may not; I do not know. I may have no Tellers. However, I feel that I cannot withdraw the amendment at this stage. I wish to get the feeling of the Committee on the subject.

9.16 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 12) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 34; Not-Contents, 72.

Addington, L. McNair, L.
Airedale, L. Moran, L.
Barnett, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Brain, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Carter, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Ross of Newport, L.
David, B. Russell, E.
Ezra, L. Seear, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Greenway, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Grey, E. Truro, Bp.
Halsbury, E. [Teller.] Underhill, L.
Hylton, L. [Teller.] Vernon, L,.
Kinloss, Ly. Walston, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Whaddon, L.
White, B.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Winstanley, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L.
Arran, E. Dundee, E.
Bauer, L. EUes, B.
Beloff, L. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Belstead, L. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Blatch, B. Faithfull, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Ferrers, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Fortescue, E.
Butterworth, L. Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Caithness, E. Glenarthur, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Goold, L.
Carnock, L. Gridley, L.
Coleraine, L. Grimston of Westbury, L.
Craigmyle, L. Harvington, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Henley, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Hesketh, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Hives, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Joseph, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Kimball, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Long, V. Strange, B.
Lyell, L. Strathclyde, L.
Macleod of Borve, B. Swinton, E.
Mancroft, L. Terrington, L.
Middleton, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Monteagle of Brandon, L. Torrington, V.
Mountevans, L. Trafford, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Trefgarne, L.
Norrie, L. Trumpington, B.
Oxfuird, V. Ullswater, V.
Peyton of Yeovil, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Radnor, E. Westbury, L.
Renton, L. Whitelaw, V.
Rochdale, V. Wigram, L.
Romney, E. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Sanderson of Bowden, L. Wynford, L.
Selborne, E. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

9.24 p.m.

Schedule 1 [The National Rivers Authority]:

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 13: Page 184, line 19, leave out ("incapacitated by physical or mental illness or is otherwise").

The noble Lord said: I need not detain the Committee very long in moving this amendment. Perhaps I may say in moving it that the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), has asked me to say that, although she cannot be present today, she very much supports this amendment.

The phrase: incapacitated by physical or mental illness

as a reason for removal of a member of the NRA by the Minister is not just careless drafting: it is needlessly offensive to people with disabilities. There are many reasons in the Bill why a person may be unable or unfit to carry out the functions of a member but in my view there is no need to single out physical or mental illness.

The phrase has appeared before in a number of Bills, including the Housing Bill and the Education Reform Bill. Each time the phrase has appeared some of us have had to put down amendments to remove the phrase and each time the Government have accepted the amendments. It is clear that the phrase is part of standard drafting phraseology. Perhaps I may suggest to the Government that it would save the time of Parliament if the Government were to give a general instruction to the parliamentary draftsmen to remove this offensive phrase from their standard phraseology.

I hope that the Government will accept the amendment as they have accepted similar amendments to a number of other Bills. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, has made his case with the usual overwhelming conviction and clarity. I fully accept the rap on the knuckles. I shall try not to let it happen in the Local Government and Housing Bill, which will be the next Bill which the noble Lard, Lord McIntosh, and I shall debate. I am very happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Ezra moved Amendment No. 14: Page 184, line 39, leave out sub-paragraph (4).

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 14 I should like Amendment No. 15 also to be taken into account because it is of a similar nature. The two amendments are very simple. They refer to the approval of the Treasury being required for the details of remuneration and pensions attributed to the NRA and for detailed staffing arrangements.

I have put forward the amendments because I was very struck with what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said in the Second Reading debate. He pointed out: We have been repeatedly told by Ministers that the NRA is to be a strong and independent body. Yet the Bill provides that its management arrangements should all be subject in some detail to the approval of the Secretary of State and the Treasury, which in practice means their officials. I am talking about what may be described as pay and rations matters… We face a situation that those responsible for running the NRA are to be second guessed by the officials on a whole range of day to day matters… I have asked that the whole issue should be looked at again".—[Official Report, 17/4/89; col. 582.]

I hope that the whole issue has been looked at again. I believe that the Treasury should not have a role in these matters, which could very easily be settled between the Secretary of State and the chairman of the NRA. The requirement that everything, even the matter of travel allowances, should be referred back to the Treasury seems to me to be excessive. I beg to move.

Lord Hesketh

This amendment would remove the requirement for the Treasury to approve the remuneration and pensions of NRA members. It is standard practice for all non-departmental public bodies that if the chairman and members who are appointed by Ministers are to be paid then their level of remuneration must be determined by the Ministers concerned, with Treasury approval.

The NRA will be a major non-departmental public body receiving grant-in-aid to carry out its important functions and it will have a board of up to 15 members including the chairman. I see no reason to depart from the normal practice for non-departmental public bodies, water authorities and, indeed, British Coal that the Ministers who will appoint members to the board should be required to seek the approval of the Treasury.

Amendment No. 15 would remove the requirement for the Treasury to approve the numbers and terms and conditions of service of the NRA staff. It is normal for staff of a non-departmental public body, as the NRA would be, to have terms and conditions which are subject to the Secretary of State's approval, with the agreement of the Treasury. The main responsibility for control and accountability for questions concerning a non-departmental public body's staff, pay and conditions rests with the sponsor department.

That does not mean that it is necessary for Ministers, or their civil servants, to second guess the decisions of the NRA and other decisions of the NRA and other comparable bodies. We entirely accept the comments made by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell at Second Reading, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, drew the Committee's attention earlier this evening, that the NRA must be a strong and independent body, with proper management responsibility. It will be our intention in the financial memorandum between the department and the NRA and with other controls to provide a framework that encourages the management of the NRA to have as full and effective responsibility as possible.

But it is also important to recognise that there are, quite rightly, stringent requirements for parliamentary accountability for the use of public funds. Ministers in the sponsoring department and the Treasury are ultimately answerable for the policies of the NRA and its use of public funds. That is why those controls—which also apply to other non-departmental public bodies—are in the schedule.

However, as I have indicated, we recognise that we need to strike the right balance between public accountability and the need to encourage management responsibility in bodies like the NRA. That is something that we shall have very much in mind in working up the detailed arrangements between the NRA, the department and the Treasury. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will feel able to withdraw his amendments.

9.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Am I alone in detecting a certain degree of political schizophrenia in the Government's response to this amendment, as there was in the response to the earlier amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton about the membership of the NRA? In one breath the Minister refers to a strong and independent body; in the next breath, he repeats the tired old stuff about the Secretary of State's accountability to Parliament, which appears to mean that the members of the NRA cannot possibly represent anyone else or be in any way independent of the Secretary of State. They must all be appointed at his whim and must apparently be paid according to what he says. I support the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in this matter. Of the two positions held by the Government, I prefer the strong and independent NRA to the subservient NRA which is enshrined in the Bill.

Lord Ezra

Are we to take it that the request made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that the issue should be looked at again has been heeded and that the answer is negative?

Lord Hesketh

I tried to make it clear earlier that our intention in the financial memorandum between the department and the NRA was to make the situation as flexible as possible, in the light of the remarks made by my noble friend.

Lord Ezra

I have listened to what the Government have said on this relatively small issue. It is certainly not a matter on which the Committee should be asked to indicate its views in a Division. We may come back to it later, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Lord Ezra moved Amendment No. 16: Page 187, line 28, at end insert—

13A. In the Local Government Act 1972, in section 100J (definition of principal council for the purposes of Part VA of that Act (Access to meetings and documents of certain authorities)) in subsection (3) there shall be the inserted the following paragraph: (g) The National Rivers Authority.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment deals with access to information. We believe that the NRA, as an important public body, should be treated like other local government bodies and a number of other authorities in having to make its information and documentation available to the public as set out in the Local Government Act 1972. The amendment simply states that the National Rivers Authority should be added to the bodies enumerated in that Act with a view to access to information. I beg to move

The Earl of Arran

This amendment was given a good hearing and sounding in another place, as I am sure the noble Lord is fully aware.

The purpose of the amendment is to bring the NRA and its committees within the scope of the Local Government Act 1972, as inserted by the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985. As the noble Lord said, the effect would be to require meetings of the NRA and its committees to be open to the public, for the public to have access to agenda and connected papers and for the minutes and other documents to be open for inspection.

I must emphasise that the Acts referred to above relate to local authority councils and related bodies carrying out local authority functions such as fire and police authorities. The NRA is not of course a public representative body in the same way as a local authority, as this amendment implies. It does not therefore follow that its procedures should mirror those of local authorities. We do not propose that NRA board meetings should be open to the public nor that papers will generally be made available to the public. As a non-departmental public body, the NRA is under a duty imposed by Clause 146 of the Bill to prepare an annual report on its activities and to submit this to the Secretary of State and to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Secretary of State is required to lay a copy of each such report before Parliament. It is through the annual report that the public is properly kept informed of the work of the NRA and its committees. This is the normal arrangement for non-departmental public bodies.

The NRA Advisory Committee headed by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell has considered the question of public access to the three regional committees (the flood defence, fisheries advisory and rivers advisory committees) and is of the opinion that these committees should be open to the public subject to their exclusion from items involving confidential information. We would expect the NRA to adopt that policy and open its regional committees to the public. This is, however, a matter for the NRA.

In view of the NRA's accountability through Ministers and Parliament, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hylton

If these regional committees are to be open to public listening and public scrutiny of documents, can the noble Earl say why the same cannot apply to more important functions which are to be carried out on a national basis? I should have thought that in these days of glasnost the Government should perhaps have second thoughts about the matter.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am sure that the Minister and his colleagues start from the premise that they do not want the public to be involved or even have access, so can an argument for that be produced? Thus they fall back on the argument that the NRA is not on all fours with other bodies that are open to the public. It is a quite astounding argument.

It is no good saying that the reason the meetings of the rivers authority cannot be treated in the same way as those of local authorities is that it is not a local authority. Of course it is not. This is a unique situation. This is the third or fourth time that the Government have acted detrimentally to the interests of the consuming public by not treating this new body as unique of its kind. I certainly will support any move by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, to test the feelings of the Committee on this amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Some Members of the Committee may remember that I had the privilege of taking the Local Government (Access to Information) Act through this Chamber. My recollection of that Act is that it consists of an extremely complicated set of requirements on local government which are designed specifically for the very complex political structure of local government. It requires an additional number of officials to provide papers and so on in advance of meetings and it caters for an organisation which has many sub-committees. The whole purpose of the measure was intended to make it impossible for local government, which after all consists of local councils which are elected bodies, to push measures through sub-committees without the public being aware that they were going through, so that by the time they reached the council, which is the main committee that must be open to the public, the decisions had already been taken.

This kind of body that we were discussing earlier when talking about the make-up of the NRA is very different. It is performing certain functions pragmatically. It is not a political body in the sense that a local government body is. I should not have thought that this was the right way to open its activities to public knowledge. It would be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut and would make life very difficult for this body. That is not to say that it should operate in a secret way and should not let the public know all that it is doing. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, I do not think that this is the right way to achieve what he wishes. It does not fit the situation.

Baroness Seear

The only way for it not to be secret is for it to be open. It must be one or the other. The National Rivers Authority is a watchdog body. It is not primarily an executive body. It will have executive duties but its prime function is to ensure that the way in which the water supplies are run, and the implications of so doing, are watched in the interests of the public. Surely the public ought to have access to what its watchdog is doing. We are not talking about a straightforward executive organisation.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Will the noble Baroness agree with me that the local government access to information legislation would be a sledgehammer to crack that nut?

The Earl of Arran

Perhaps I may reply briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, on the point that he raised. I repeat that the NRA is under a duty imposed by Clause 146 of the Bill to prepare an annual report on its activities, which is submitted to the Secretary of State. This is not a question of being closed or secret. There are three other clauses. First, Clause 113 requires the NRA to maintain on public registers particulars of certain matters such as water quality objectives, consents to discharges, and water samples. Clause 126 requires the NRA and water undertakings to make available information about water flows, levels or volume. Clause 145 requires the NRA to provide Ministers with all such information regarding its property, functions and responsibilities as they may reasonably require. Indeed, there will be a press officer appointed. This public body will have a very high profile indeed.

Lord Ezra

I am pleased to learn that the NRA Advisory Committee has agreed that some of the regional bodies should be open to the public. It would be better if it had also agreed that in some form all their activities should be open to the public, apart from those that were necessarily of a confidential nature affecting commercial considerations that might come their way.

I listened very carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, said. With her experience of the Local Government Act 1972, she did not consider that this was necessarily the right way to handle the matter. I thought that she was saying that there might be some other way to enable people to be kept more up to date on what the NRA is doing than simply having to wait each year for the annual report, which might or might not be widely read.

I should like to ponder on what has been said on this subject at this time and to come back to it at a later stage with some other proposal that would open up the deliberations of the NRA more effectively to the public, perhaps without bringing in the Local Government Act 1972. I accept what the noble Baroness said about that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Moran moved Amendment No. 17: Page 188, line 1, leave out sub-paragraphs (3) to (5) and insert— ("(3) The Authority shall charge to the appropriate revenue account in every year all charges which are proper to be made to that revenue account including such allocations to reserve as they consider adequate. (4) Where the Authority has an excess or deficiency on any account, it shall be carried forward to the financial year following and shall be deducted (if an excess) or added (if a deficiency) in ascertaining the charges relevant to that account for the year following. (5) The provisions of sub-paragraph (4) above shall not apply to such revenue as falls within paragraph 16 below.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 18. I said at Second Reading that in my view NRA funding would be crucial and it was important that it should stand on its own feet financially and be independent of the government of the day. I thought that it ought not to be subject to close and detailed Treasury control on day-to-day matters. The noble Lords, Lord Middleton and Lord Stanley of Alderley, and I have sought to translate that general thought into the terms of these two amendments. Their effect would be to remove the provision in paragraph 15 of Schedule 1 giving power to the Treasury to take over any surplus in the NRA accounts, to replace that with provisions requiring the NRA to keep accounts and to carry over surpluses or deficiencies to the following year. It would also remove the provision in paragraph 7 relating to the Treasury's power to grant-aid the NRA and replace it with a provision to give the NRA power to raise charges on consumers within each region.

The functions that will be transferred from the water authorities to the NRA are various. The largest perhaps is land drainage and flood protection, which at the moment is funded to a small extent by grant aid but primarily by precepts levied on county councils. As I understand it, that will continue under the NRA so that need not concern us. The other functions—water resources, pollution control, fisheries, recreation and navigation—are financed partly by charges on those concerned (such as water abstraction charges and rod licences paid by fishermen) and partly by means of the environmental service charge which was introduced by Parliament in 1976 and is levied direct on all ratepayers by the water authorities. That charge, which as far as I know has worked extremely well and has caused no complaints at all, collects about £60 million in a year.

The expenditure estimates that I have seen for the NRA in 1990 is that overall it will spend about £290 million. Of that £ 150 million is accounted for by flood defence, so that leaves £140 million, of which £60 million will be spent on water resources, £55 million on river quality control, £15 million on fisheries, £7.3 million on navigation, £3.3 million on recreation and amenity and £4 million on headquarters and research. The largest of those is water resources, and that I understand will be fully recovered by means of abstraction charges payable by all abstractors.

Of the expenditure on river and coastal water quality, which obviously is very important, it is estimated that about £25 million will be recovered by charges under the Control of Pollution Act, leaving a deficit of about £30 million a year. There will be receipts for fisheries, both from the rod licences and from the Section 28 levy on riparian owners; but there will be expenditure on fisheries, navigation, recreation and amenity which will probably result in a deficit of about £17 million a year The total deficit will be between £45 million and £50 million a year. At the moment the Government's suggestion is that that deficit should be covered by Exchequer grant.

There are two big disadvantages in what the Government are proposing. The first is that removing the surplus each year, if there is a surplus, would remove the valuable inducement on the staff of the NRA to manage their finances competently and sensibly. If someone has, say, a surplus of £30,000 and he knows that it will be taken away by the Treasury, the odds are that he will try to find a way to spend it. But if he knows that he can carry it over, as he could under our amendment, if he is a sensible man he will probably arrange matters prudently so that that money can be spent in the following year, with a saving on the money that might otherwise be spent then. So it would help to secure prudent and cost-conscious management, which I am sure the Government will want.

Although I entirely accept the fact that the Government have given an assurance that the NRA will be given all the resources it needs—and I am certain that they are sincere in that assurance—some future government may take a different view and we may run into financial difficulties. If that occurred, clearly Exchequer grant will be vulnerable when set against costs for hospitals, defence and so forth. Obviously it is an item that the Treasury will look at with a beady eye and will wish to cut. It would be better if we could have a successor to the environmental service charge. It could be raised easily by the NRA in the regions where the money was required. That would bring the NRA into close contact regionally with the consumers and with all the interests concerned, which would be valuable and important.

I believe that that could be done simply by having small percentage additions of, say, .004 per cent. to water bills and by the NRA contracting out the collection of the charge to the plcs. There should be no administrative difficulty about that. I concede that the Treasury must keep control of the overall amount raised in that way by the NRA but it would be perfectly practicable to do that. I believe that in consequence the NRA would be more independent, more secure and more cost conscious. I beg to move.

Lord Middleton

As the noble Lord has explained, the basic issue which is raised by the two amendments is the element of Treasury control, if any, which should remain over the regulation of the water industry. As he has also explained, the question is whether those functions which are to be transferred to the National Rivers Authority which are not self-financing should be paid for by Treasury grant or by placing a local levy on the users of water similar to the present environmental service charge.

The case for privatisation hinges on the belief that one should remove water undertakings from under the hand of a Treasury operating under whatever pressures may come from the economy at any particular time. During the Second Reading debate many noble Lords referred to the under-financing of the present water authorities. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell referred to the needs of the water industry having been subordinated to the overall requirements of Exchequer policy. My noble friend Lord Caithness referred to the interruption of coherent long-term investment strategies by changing political priorities. He referred to the savage cuts in 1976 and to the temptation to fudge quality objectives because of financial constraints.

In applying those arguments to the financing of the NRA by the method proposed under the Bill, the worry is that the NRA will be under constant pressure from the Treasury to reduce its costs by cutting back on its activities. If part of the NRA's functions is to be funded directly by the Treasury, I join the noble Lord, Lord Moran, in fearing that the result will inevitably be the continuing insufficient finance for the NRA to do its job effectively. One can also envisage pressure on the NRA to raise its direct charges for abstraction, fishing, discharge controls and so on.

Against that, it may be that the Government will argue that to operate what my noble friend Lord Crickhowell called a slim, efficient, cost-conscious organisation and the only safeguard against a high-spending and extravagant NRA in the future is to retain a measure of Treasury control. On Second Reading the Minister said: but that the responsibility of the state should be clearly confined to regulation, while the business of production passes to the private sector".—[Official Report, 17/4/89; col. 547.] Again on Second Reading my noble friend Lord Crickhowell asked for the widest possible charging powers to reduce to a minimum the dependence of the NRA on the Treasury. These amendments go further than that and aim to abolish any dependence on the Treasury. They give my noble friend the widest possible charging powers. There is a nice choice here. Which is the more likely: a spendthrift NRA or a penny-pinching Treasury? On balance, I put my money on a responsible NRA, although that horse has yet to come under starter's orders against a Treasury whose form is very well known. Therefore, I support the noble Lord, Lord Moran.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I understand that this is a radical approach to try to find money for the National Rivers Authority. My noble friend on the Front Bench may not feel able to accept it in total today. We do not feel that that is necessary but I hope that he will be able to take away this amendment and think very seriously about it between now and Report stage.

Lord Greenway

I should like to add a word of support on behalf of boating interests. Under the Bill the NRA will inherit the responsibility of maintaining navigations for three water authorities; namely, Anglian, which covers the rivers Ouse and Nene, Southern, which looks after the upper Medway, and the Thames. There are almost 40,000 boats, including hired craft, registered on those rivers, which are important sources of amenity and recreation for boating enthusiasts and the general public alike. In the case of the Thames, it is known that over 6 million people visited the river last year.

As we know, the Government intend to abolish the environmental service charge and to make up the deficit in part through increased charges and in part through grant in aid. However, they have made clear their view that charges will have to increase and no commitment has been forthcoming regarding the level of grant.

At present, the navigation accounts for those three water authorities operate in some deficit, totalling about £2,900,000. If perhaps 75 per cent. of the deficit of the navigation account were to be financed by increased boat charges, that would bring about increased fees for river users roughly in the order of 73 per cent. for Southern, 92 per cent. for Anglian and 108 per cent. for Thames. Those figures assume complete inelasticity of demand, and in fact the result would be that many of the less well-off boating enthusiasts would be forced off the rivers altogether.

Boating interests believe that the NRA should be encouraged to see that the maintenance of those navigations is a local amenity and believe that it would be unfair and unreasonable to expect even a substantial proportion of the current deficit on the navigation accounts to be recovered from users. That is unrealistic, because many people will be unable to pay the higher charges, as I have pointed out, and will be unfair because the maintenance of the navigation benefits the whole community both financially and in terms of the general amenities provided; for example, many people like to walk along the river bank.

Moreover, proper maintenance of the locks and weirs is essential if the river is to flow smoothly and permit abstraction along its course. It is fair to say that a percentage of the deficit on navigation accounts could properly be charged to those private interests which benefit accordingly. It is for that reason that boating interests believe the NRA should be allowed to levy some sort of service charge.

10 p.m.

Lord Monk Bretton

I should like to say a few words in support of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. There are few points on which I disagree with the Government but I am anxious that my noble friend the Minister should think hard about retaining the present environmental service charge system. I believe that the regional river advisory committees, in determining what those charges should be and how they are to be spent, would be responsive to local pressures as they have been in the past. They would perhaps therefore be more capable than any other body of advising the NRA well. That would particularly be the case if the regional river advisory committees are as well balanced as they should be, and I dare say will be, in the way they are appointed.

The Minister will find that if that is done he will escape the pressures that there will otherwise be from local committees with a chance to spend central government funds which will have a tendency to put in higher and higher bids for the more and more ambitious ideas that they will have. Therefore, it is much better that there should be some local responsibility for those charges. The regional committees, if well appointed, will provide the necessary balance and will be sensitive to local opinion and therefore behave more responsibly than might otherwise be the case. I know that the Government see these other functions as being catered for nationally rather than regionally; nevertheless, I believe that they are better settled regionally if possible.

There is little more for me to add, but I trust that my noble friend the Minister will bear in mind the very wide support that exists for the view I have endeavoured to express. The Minister may be saved a great deal of trouble in the future if he adopts the course suggested.

Lord Hesketh

These two amendments are designed to bring about changes to the proposed financial arrangements for the National Rivers Authority. Amendment No. 17 would remove the discretionary power of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to require the NRA to pay to him any surplus the NRA makes on either its revenue or capital accounts. It would also have the effect of providing for the creation of financial reserves in respect of the NRA's various functions and for the carry-over from one financial year to another of any surplus or deficit of the NRA's accounts.

Amendment No. 18 aims to give the National Rivers Authority a wide power to recover the costs of the functions it performs, other than those carried out under the Land Drainage Act 1976—as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, pointed out—through charging the users of water services. In determining such charges in any region, the NRA would need to take into account the specific costs of the functions performed in that region.

I should like to deal first with Amendment No. 17. As a public sector body, and one exercising monopoly powers in respect of some of its functions, it is essential that the NRA should be subject to the financial controls appropriate to a body responsible for voted expenditure. It is important to bear in mind the importance of control on public expenditure, and that depends in part on the control of public expenditure totals.

This approach is not readily compatible with the carrying over of large surpluses or deficits from one year to another. Although we expect the NRA to be able to raise most of its income through local charges, we also expect that such charges will be insufficient to meet all the NRA's costs in the foreseeable future. A deficit of around £70 million, or about 25 per cent. of its total expenditure, is anticipated in 1990–91, which is the NRA's first full year of operations. That deficit will be met through grant-in-aid.

In reaching decisions about the levels of grant-in-aid required, we shall of course expect the NRA to provide accurate and reliable forecasts of its income and expenditure. We accept that it may sometimes be necessary for the NRA to carry over relatively small amounts of cash at the end of a financial year to allow for the normal flow of business. We do not anticipate that the NRA will carry forward deficits on the majority of its functions. With proper planning the NRA should be able to work within its budgets. If cash flow requirements so dictate, there is provision under paragraph 18 of Schedule 1 for the NRA to undertake temporary borrowing, within the year. In an extreme case there could be an application for additional grant-in-aid.

If for some reason a large surplus were to arise, this would indicate that grant-in-aid had been given to the NRA in advance of need and therefore that taxpayers had contributed more than was necessary towards its funding. The only other way in which the NRA could generate such a surplus would be if at some time in the future it was in a position to raise more in charges than it needed to finance its activities and did so; in other words, it began to make a profit. Neither of these situations would be acceptable and the appropriate course would be for the Exchequer to recover the surplus. The creation of reserves, which is also provided for by Amendment No. 17, would of course be dependent upon the creation of surpluses and would in the same way not be acceptable.

I should make clear to the Committee at this stage that the position regarding surpluses and deficits that I have just outlined applies to all of the NRA's activities apart from flood defence. The position with regard to flood defence is rather different. First, it will not require the support of grant-in-aid as the costs of the NRA's flood defence work will be met entirely through local authority precepts and MAFF and Welsh Office capital grants. Secondly, we recognise that this is a major area of NRA activity. Factors such as the weather may sometimes lead to significant disruptions to planned work programmes or the need for extra work. Provision already exists within Section 47 of the Land Drainage Act 1976 for the carrying forward of any excesses or deficiencies that may arise on water authorities' land drainage accounts as a result of changes to the planned annual programme of works. This power will transfer to the NRA when it takes up the water authorities' responsibilities for flood defence.

I hope that what I have said has shown to the Committee that Amendment No. 17 is undesirable. There are certainly precedents, with urban development corporations and housing corporations, to name but two, as examples for the power to recover surpluses which is set out in sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 15 of Schedule 1 and which this amendment seeks to remove. It is a discretionary power and one that the Secretary of State can use only after consultation with the NRA. However, a power of this type provides a necessary safeguard over public sector bodies which have the potential to make surpluses.

Moreover, we have given a full and unequivocal undertaking that the NRA will be provided with the resources it needs to carry out its functions. It will not need to rely on the creation of surpluses to fulfil its duties. Indeed, as I have indicated, the NRA will operate at an overall deficit for the foreseeable future, and it is unlikely that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would need to exercise his discretionary power.

As regards Amendment No. 18, this would allow the NRA to impose a charge similar to the environmental service charge which is currently levied by water authorities to meet the deficit that they incur on their environmental functions. Income derived from this charge rather than Exchequer grant-in-aid would be used by the NRA to fund the net deficit that we anticipate will continue to arise on these functions. The amendment does not specify exactly how the charge would be collected, but the only two realistic options would be through the new water plcs or by a special levy on local authorities within each region, which one assumes could be collected through the community charge.

I should like to explain why this method of funding the NRA's deficit would not be appropriate, but it is first necessary to put the size of the deficit into perspective. In 1990–91, the first full financial year of the NRA's existence, its total expenditure is expected to be in the region of £290 million. Of this, some £220 million will be met from direct charges, leaving around £70 million to be met by Exchequer grant-in-aid. Therefore, as I have already said, only about one-quarter of the NRA's expenditure will be met centrally, and we expect this proportion to reduce over time as the NRA's direct charging systems, particularly those for discharge consents, get properly into gear. We have made it absolutely clear on many occasions that the Government will ensure that the NRA will have all the resources it needs to carry out its functions.

In our policy statement on the NRA issued in December 1987, we stated that because the NRA would be a national body providing services such as water quality control, pollution alleviation and fisheries protection for the community as a whole, it was right that the deficit should be met centrally. This consideration is as valid now as it was then. In any event the alternatives to funding the NRA's deficit are unacceptable. Reliance on the new water plcs for the collection of a charge to meet the NRA's deficit would suggest that the NRA's activities were in some sense subservient to those of the companies, and could undermine the NRA's independence, especially in the highly sensitive area of pollution control. The NRA must be, and must be seen to be, totally independent. Furthermore, as the NRA will be doing business with a wide range of bodies, and not just the new plcs, it would not be appropriate for the NRA to meet its overall deficit through charges levied simply on the customers of the plcs.

The other option I have mentioned is the possibility of funding the NRA's deficit through a levy on local authorities. But there is a serious objection to this approach also. Local authority representatives will have a major role in the planning of flood defence works through the NRA's flood defence committees, but we do not think it would be desirable to extend such an arrangement further. It is important for the NRA to develop as a national body, and local decisions on charging levels and spending priorities across the whole range of the NRA's activities would have the effect of undermining the NRA as a national body and weakening its chances of developing meaningful national strategies on its various environmental functions.

The arrangements we propose for the NRA's funding will be responsive to local needs. Decisions on the distribution of resources will take account of local conditions as they will be based on information supplied by each NRA region, and the NRA will have a very strong regional structure to facilitate this approach. Furthermore, as I have said, most of the NRA's environmental functions will be funded to a considerable extent through income derived from locally raised charges.

In his earlier remarks my noble friend Lord Stanley said that this might be considered a rather radical approach. In the light of what I have said, I hope that he and the noble Lords, Lord Moran and Lord Middleton, will be able to withdraw their amendment.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

Before my noble friend sits down, he stated that he thought that this sum of money should come from the Treasury. Did he listen to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, who said very strongly at Second Reading that he wished to be independent of the Treasury?

Lord Hesketh

Yes, I did.

Lord Moran

I am naturally disappointed by what the Minister has said I was reminded of a cartoon by the immortal Pont which had the caption: 'This looks like Dead-Face Anderson's work', said the detective inspector, eyeing the corpse in the bath". The Minister's answer seemed to be redolent of the work of a Treasury hand. It seemed to be Treasury prose all over. As the whole point of the amendment was to propose that the NRA should be free from Treasury control, what the Minister said was very unwelcome. I hope that he will look carefully at what he said, because he has not addressed any of the dangers and difficulties that we have pointed out. I hope he will pay attention to what was said by a number of noble Lords in support of the two amendments. I am grateful to them for what they said.

There is real substance in the amendments. I do not think that the Government are right. I very much hope that they will ponder what has been said and perhaps at a later stage, when we may want to come back to it, they will be more flexible. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

10.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 19. Page 189, line 33, after ("its") insert ("environmental and").

The noble Lord said: This is another amendment on the same issue because, as we have made clear from the outset of the debate on the Bill, we are not satisfied—despite the assurances which have been given by the Government—that the resources of the NRA are adequately secured. We observed that the provision for borrowing, other than temporary borrowing, within a year, and only then for flood defence purposes, was only added by the Government on Report in another place. Until that time there had been no provision whatever for borrowing other than that for borrowing of a temporary nature. In the light of the wide range of environmental responsibilities, many of which involve substantial capital expenditure, the concern which was very widely felt was properly reflected by the Secretary of State in the amendment which he moved at that time. However, I do not believe that that amendment goes far enough to deal with the concern which has so properly been expressed.

In any event, the amounts of money which are provided for in the schedule are quite inadequate to reflect even the needs of flood defence. I understand that the Department of the Environment's own estimates of the needs for capital expenditure on flood defence in 1990–91 are that it should be £160 million. If we take into account the fact that some years ago the cost of flood defences associated with the construction of the Thames barrier—that is, not the cost of the Thames barrier itself but the associated flood defences in the Thames estuary to ensure that when the barrier was lowered it did not simply mean floods further down the estuary—was £105 million, at prices at that time, the amount of money provided, which is £100 million with the Secretary of State able by order to increase the sum to £160 million, is clearly not adequate even for flood defence purposes.

The implication of that must be that virtually all of the capital expenditure for which borrowing will be required by the NRA will be used for flood defence purposes. In that case there will be no surplus whatever for any other capital programmes. That situation does not make good business sense. Of course much of the work of the NRA can be done on a year-by-year charging basis. We do not deny that fact; indeed, that is the nature of much of the work of conservation and environmental protection which is being carried out. However, there is a significant part of it, of which flood defence is only one part, which requires capital expenditure.

It would be a gross imposition on the local authorities which happened to be affected by the need for capital expenditure that they should be precepted for the amounts required and that they should be required to find that money out of a single year's revenue income. Borrowing for those capital purposes—and this includes environment as well as flood defence—is sound economic sense. It should apply to the NRA as well as to other organisations.

What concerns us in the matter is the feeling that behind this provision lies an unwillingness to fund the NRA adequately. However, if that is not the case, it is difficult to understand why the Government, having conceded the principle of longer-term borrowing in the case of flood defence programmes, should resist the idea of extending it to other necessary environmental work. It will of course still be part of the public sector borrowing requirement and it will still be subject to Treasury controls—pace the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and his colleagues. If it were added to the Bill, it is something which would make for a more rational use of financial resources which are not merely year to year but sometimes have to be carried on for a longer period of years. I beg to move.

Lord Moran

I support the amendment. A number of functions which the NRA will have to take on may require substantial capital expenditure other than for flood defences. For example, an opportunity may arise to construct a regulating reservoir, or the flow in a river may alter for some reason and require the construction of such a reservoir. There may be a plan by the plcs to build a reservoir for water supply purposes which the NRA may want to add to or amend in some degree so that the reservoir could also serve as part of its water resources policy.

The NRA should be able to finance those major physical items either through borrowing, as the amendment suggests, or, as a previous amendment suggested, through the accumulation of reserves. If it can do neither, the NRA may be in serious trouble.

The Earl of Caithness

Amendment No. 19 is designed to widen the powers provided in the Bill for the NRA to undertake long-term borrowing. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has reminded the Committee, the Bill already provides for the NRA to borrow to meet capital expenditure on its flood defence function. The amendment would have the effect of allowing the NRA to borrow to meet expenditure in relation to its environmental functions as well.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that careful consideration of this matter has convinced us that it is neither necessary nor desirable to provide the NRA with borrowing powers in respect of its non-land drainage functions. As a matter of principle, it is not appropriate for a non-trading public body like the NRA, which will rely on Exchequer grant-in-aid to fund its deficit, to have general borrowing powers; but in any event, the need for unexpected heavy expenditure is only likely to arise on the flood defence function. It should be possible for the NRA to finance expenditure on its environmental functions either through charges or out of its grant-in-aid. We can foresee no need for borrowing in respect of those functions.

Although the noble Lord, Lord Moran, listed some areas where he thought that expenditure might be needed, I cannot see any of those being of such a nature that borrowing would be required. Sensible planning and budgeting by the NRA would take into account the type of occasions that the noble Lord had in mind. I therefore hope that the Committee will accept that the Bill already provides adequately for those limited situations where borrowing might conceivably be needed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The Minister seems to believe that it is good enough to suggest that the NRA could fund its capital expenditure requirement—I notice that he did not deny that there would be a capital expenditure requirements, or requirements larger than revenue expenditure requirements—by a combination of charges and grant-in-aid. The problem with that is, first, that the charges, which are charges fundamentally on local authorities, will have to be met out of local authority revenue income. That will make the budgeting of the local authority community charge difficult and erratic because it cannot be predicted as to when those expenditures will occur. They may be high at certain times and may then fall off.

Unless the Minister is giving us an assurance that grant-in-aid will always be found for capital projects which the NRA considers to be necessary—I do not believe that the Minister was giving us that sort of assurance—I do not believe that grant-in-aid is an adequate alternative. No answer has been given to the case which I was seeking to make that there are elements of the NRA's expenditure on environmental matters—it is not an issue here of whether they can be predicted—which will be sufficiently large and over a sufficient period of time to justify being treated as capital expenditure and to justify borrowing. For these elements of expenditure neither charges nor grant-in-aid are adequate alternatives.

I am afraid that the Minister's pat rejection of the amendment confirms our fears that the resources that will be available to the NRA to carry out its environmental functions as well as its flood defence functions are simply inadequate. This is a matter to which we shall certainly have to return in one form or another at a later stage. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 20: Page 189, line 33, at end insert ("including any planned programme of works or emergency measures in pursuance of those functions").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is quite closely related to the previous one. Some of the arguments have already been rehearsed, not only in relation to Amendment No. 19 but in the Government's reply to Amendments Nos. 17 and 18. I shall not take up a great deal of the Committee's time with it. However in addition to the point which has already been made about capital expenditure and borrowing powers being necessary as an alternative to precepts, it is necessary to recognise that there will be these major projects which go beyond the exceptional cases which the Secretary of State and the Government recognised at Report stage in another place. The Secretary of State said that the use would be restricted to situations where the NRA was faced with expenditure for which it has been impossible to plan.

In his speech at Second Reading, the noble Earl commented that with proper planning it should be possible for regional flood defence committees to plan expenditure so that borrowing was not required. However, that might be the government view but it was not the view of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, at Second Reading. He questioned the wisdom: when there is already a requirement that the NRA should have the approval of the Secretary of State and the Treasury, to specify that the clause will be used only to meet expenditure in emergencies".

That is what our amendment does and if the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, were here I hope that the amendment would meet with his approval, because it follows very closely what he was saying at Second Reading.

There are occasions when the borrowing powers go beyond emergencies and there must be a presumption that the environmental work of the National Rivers Authority should so far as possible be on a planned basis and not be a response to emergencies. It is the response to emergencies that is the least efficient way of dealing with environmental protection. A planned programme of this work, one supported by borrowing powers, would be the rational way to proceed with this.

I can see that we could get into a great deal of trouble if we started on metaphors of fingers in dykes and I shall try to avoid that. But the metaphor is sufficiently close on this occasion to convince me, and it ought to convince the Committee, that the NRA should so far as possible be working towards planned expenditure in these matters and not relying on reaction to emergencies. That is the only occasion at the moment on which the Government allow it borrowing powers. Again, I believe that this amendment not only meets the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, but follows the path towards which the Government are moving in the amendments which they put forward at Report stage in another place. It only requires a little further push to the Government in the direction which they recognise is the right one to make them accept the amendments. I hope that they will be able to do so. I beg to move.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Hylton

I should like to support this amendment, particularly since it talks about emergency measures. I can cast my mind back to the time in the late 1940s and early 1950s when my father and the then Lord Fortescue were administering a large voluntary fund for the relief of people adversely affected by the Lynton and Lynmouth flood disaster. That is just one example of the sort of environmental problem that can, and is likely to, arise in the future at some unknown time out of rivers and flash floods and things of that kind.

These kinds of risks are generally uninsurable and the person affected may have his whole house, his business and his livelihood destroyed overnight. It is important that there should be a national long stop body that can make provision ahead of time, or can have borrowing powers to deal with such situations.

The Earl of Caithness

Amendment No. 20 is also designed to widen the powers provided in the Bill for the National Rivers Authority to undertake long-term borrowing. The Bill already provides for the NRA to borrow to meet its flood defence function. This is a point that I think covers exactly that raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. This amendment would have the effect of making clear that the NRA could borrow for a planned programme of flood defence works.

As the Committee may be aware, the Bill as originally introduced provided only for the NRA to have powers to undertake temporary borrowing in order to overcome any short-term cash flow problems that may occasionally arise. However, during Committee in another place concern was expressed that a power for the NRA to borrow temporarily was not sufficient on its own, and that the NRA should also have the ability to undertake long-term borrowing to fund its flood defence work. We listened carefully to the views put forward both in another place and elsewhere and were persuaded that it would be right to provide for some extension of the NRA's borrowing powers in this respect.

Accordingly the Bill was amended at Report stage in another place, and the relevant powers now appear in paragraphs 18 and 19 of Schedule 1. We have made clear that the use of these powers will in practice be limited to situations where the NRA is faced with unexpected heavy expenditure in order to avoid the risk of serious flooding. We do not envisage, therefore, that these powers would be used very often. We are confident, however, that they will ensure that the NRA is able to borrow where this is seen to be necessary, and will provide for the flood defence committees to carry out their important work as effectively as they have done in the past.

We do not consider that there is a case for allowing the NRA to borrow other than in respect of flood defence emergencies. I have already referred to the fact that it is not appropriate for a non-trading public body like the NRA, which will rely on Exchequer grant-in-aid to fund its deficit, to have general borrowing powers. But in any event it should be perfectly possible for the NRA to plan a balanced budget for the normal run of its flood defence works through the usual mechanisms without recourse to borrowing. Indeed, water authorities have generally managed without significant new borrowings in respect of flood defences in recent years.

I think I said it is worth reminding the Committee that, as was said earlier, we anticipate that grant-in-aid funding will diminish as the NRA moves into its second and third and subsequent years of existence. I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, made when he said he was worried that grant-in-aid might not be available in full in future years. Of course I sympathise with him, for there is no greater expert than the Labour Party on underfinancing the environment, and in particular the water and sewerage facilities.

Earlier this afternoon I gave the noble Lord an asurance of a government amendment. That was spurned. I do not offer that assurance now. What I offer instead is that I shall read with care what has been said on all these amendments because there is no doubt that we all want the same thing. We all want an efficient and properly financed NRA. I am sure that that is what we shall achieve at the end of our consideration of this Bill. I hope that in the meanwhile the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am glad that the noble Earl has given me an opportunity to say once again that I did not spurn his earlier offer of discussion or consideration of amendments. I said that since the amendments related to Clause 8 they could not meet the fundamental difficulty and could not be other than secondary and inadequate to meet the more basic point which we were making. That was the basis on which we were forced to proceed to a vote. I shall of course be very pleased to have an opportunity to discuss the amendments with him and agree with them as far as I possibly can.

On this occasion the noble Earl is not making a promise of reconsideration or of any particular result arising from such reconsideration. However, it is clear not only from what I have said but from the progress of the Bill that the concern expressed about the lack of borrowing powers is gradually coming home to the Government. The concessions that they made in another place at Report stage were welcome. It is only logical for the Government now to look at flood defence expenditure not solely for emergencies but as a matter of prudent management which may well require planned expenditure.

The example which I gave of the Thames; barrier is very valid in relation to that point. A total of £105 million was expended on the associated flood defence of the estuary below the Thames barrier. The expenditure was financed by borrowing but under the Bill as now drafted it would no longer be possible to finance such expenditure by borrowing. Yet that expenditure was at least as valid as—and I would argue significantly more justified than—emergency expenditure on flood relief had proper planned provision not been made.

This is a matter of great concern, particularly to the low-lying counties in eastern England. They ought not to be forced to be the recipients solely of emergency relief. They ought to have an opportunity to benefit from planned expenditure by the National Rivers Authority. That is one of the authority's principal functions and it is one which it can best carry out by the planned expenditure which is the subject of this amendment and for which borrowing ought to be available.

I welcome the very guarded remarks of the Minister. I should be glad to discuss with him any progress that might be made towards a more rational approach to the borrowing powers of the NRA. before we come back to this matter at another stage. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Regional rivers advisory committees]:

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

If Amendment No. 21 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 22 to 29 inclusive.

Lord Greenway moved Amendment No. 21: Page 2, leave out from beginning of line 33 to end of line 8 on page 3 and insert— ("(1) The Authority shall establish and maintain for each area which the Authority considers it appropriate for the time being to regard as a region of England and Wales for the purposes of this section—

  1. (a) an advisory committee to be known as the Regional Environmental and Recreational Advisory Committee to advise the Authority upon the exercise by the Authority of its duties under section 7 of this Act; and
  2. (b) such other advisory committees, if any, as the Authority may determine to appoint.
(2) It shall be the duty of the Authority—
  1. (a) to consult the advisory committees for any region upon proposals of the Authority relating to the manner in which the Authority carries out its functions in that region; and
  2. (b) to consider any representations made to it by an advisory committee for any region (whether in response to consultation under paragraph (a) above or otherwise) as to the manner in which the Authority carries out its functions in that region.
(2A) The Authority shall appoint as members of the Regional Environmental and Recreational Advisory Committee for any region persons who have substantial knowledge or experience of matters relevant to the exercise by the Authority of its duties under section 7 of this Act within that region. (2B) Subject to subsection (2A) above, the Authority shall ensure that persons appointed by it to an advisory committee established and maintained under this section—").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 21, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 42.

We now come to Clause 2 of the Bill, which requires the NRA to establish and maintain new regional rivers advisory committees. At Second Reading I voiced the fears of the boating interests, including the Inland Waterways Association, the Royal Yachting Association and the British Marine Industries Federation, that the influence of both the recreation and conservation interests might be reduced under the new proposals compared with the present arrangements whereby the water authorities of England and Wales are advised by separate regional recreational and conservation consultative committees made up of individuals nominated by interested organisations. As I said, this is an arrangement that has, by common consent, worked very well.

Under the proposals in the Bill, those new committees must be comprised of: persons who appear to the Authority to have an interest in matters likely to be affected by the manner in which the Authority carries out any of its functions in the region in question".

But the NRA will be under no obligation to ensure a balance among agricultural, conservation, local and recreational interests.

That contrasts with the proposals surrounding the formation of the quite separate regional flood defence committees to which an as yet unspecified number of members will be appointed by or on behalf of the constituent councils, or the regional fishery committees which will comprise persons who appear to the authority to be interested in fisheries. It also contrasts with the provisions governing the composition of the advisory committee which were contained in the Broads Bill under which Norfolk and Suffolk county councils and various district councils and public bodies, as well as boating and farming interests, were allowed specific levels of representation.

It may well be that a good balance already exists in some regions, but that may not always be the case. The boating interests feel that the only way to ensure that the concerns of conservationists and recreational users are not ignored or given insufficient consideration is to maintain a separate committee.

It is important to remember in that context that the Government rejected amendments to Clause 1 of the Bill in another place which would have obliged the Secretary of State to consult interested bodies before appointing members of the NRA on the grounds that it is undesirable to create a situation in which members of the authority feel that they have been appointed to represent a particular interest. That makes it all the more important that the regional advisory committees are properly representative.

Finally, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment in another place justified his opposition to a separate advisory committee on the grounds that it would be inappropriate to have separate committees with a remit limited to environmental and conservation issues because that might suggest that those issues were secondary considerations or in some sense irrelevant to the NRA's main statutory duties. However, the boating interests believe that that fear is unjustified and that the existence of a separate committee as envisaged in my amendment is the best way to ensure that their interests are not overlooked.

I turn now to the new clause proposed in Amendment No. 42 which would require the sewerage and water undertakers to consult the advisory committees established by the NRA. If, as seems to be the case, boating or recreational interests are not to be represented on customer service committees, it follows that they will have no representation or advisory capacity at all in relation to the plcs' functions and resources. Yet, as the proposed code of practice says, consultation is an essential element of the full discharge of the relevant bodies' environmental duties. As I see it, the preferred solution would be to require each plc to consult the relevant NRA Advisory Committee. I have tabled the amendment with that aim.

I believe that the point that I am trying to make is a valid one so far as the boating interests are concerned. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

I hope that I shall be able to persuade the noble Lord that his concerns and worries about this amendment are unfounded. The Bill before the House provides in Clause 2 for the establishment for each of the authority's regions of a regional rivers advisory committee whose role would be to advise the NRA on the performance of all its functions in that region.

The effect of Amendment No. 21 would be to delete that clause and substitute for it a provision requiring the establishment in its place of a regional environmental and recreational advisory committee to advise the authority on the discharge of its general environmental duties in Clause 8—that is those concerning conservation, access and recreation and such other advisory committees as the authority may determine.

The effect of Amendment No. 42 would be to associate with this a further clause requiring the undertakers to consult the committee on the discharge of their duties under Clause 8.

There appear to be three principal considerations underlying this amendment which I should like to examine briefly in turn. The first is that there should be an advisory committee addressed specifically to conservation and recreational matters, as at present. We do not wish in any way to underestimate the importance of conservation and recreational matters, but I suggest to the Committee that it is a great merit of our present proposals that the advisory committee would in fact integrate all the concerns of the authority and look at these in the round. The fact is that pollution control matters, water resource matters and land drainage matters are all intimately bound up with conservation and recreation. The authority will need advice upon them and it will need advice on the interaction between those various functions. It will benefit from advice which can balance and reconcile the various considerations. That is what would be lost by this amendment and we believe that it would be a significant loss.

We recognise that the amendment makes provision for the authority to establish such other committees as it wishes, and that these could advise on water pollution and water resource matters. But the element of integration would be lost and we should besides be faced by a potential proliferation of committees which would not be very helpful.

The second consideration is the way in which the professed new clause would establish a direct link between the undertakers and the RRAC. I have to say that we do not believe that that would be desirable. We recognise of course that Clause 8 provides for the undertakers to have important recreational duties. They will be obliged to put their land and water to the best use for recreation. They will be accountable for the discharge of the duties. The Secretary of State can take enforcement action in respect of failure to observe the duties. He will publish a code of practice on performance of the duties. We have already published a draft of the code and are consulting relevant bodies upon its terms.

All those are substantial protections to ensure that undertakers properly maintain and extend recreation provisions as opportunity offers. They will be publicly accountable for that. We do not believe that to interpose an advisory committee appointed by and necessarily first responsible to the NRA would be helpful.

Moreover, given the duty on the NRA in Clause 8 generally to promote conservation and recreation, it is of course open to the undertakers to approach the NRA, which can in turn seek the views of its advisory committee. That is, I suggest, a more fitting arrangement for the new companies than to charge a committee appointed by the NRA with, in effect, oversight of the environmental and recreational activities of the companies.

My third and final point is a more general one. Underlying these amendments is, I suspect, some fear that the new advisory committee structure that we propose will diminish the role and influence of recreational interests. Such fears are misplaced. Recreational interests will of course be properly represented on the RRACs. We are confident that the NRA advisory committee proposals, to which I have already referred, will make that clear beyond doubt. Nor have we any doubt that the NRA will build fully upon the good work of the present regional recreation and conservation committees. There is no reason to fear that the influence of recreational interests will be in any way diminished by what we propose.

In conclusion I repeat the three points. First, the amendments are unnecessary to secure continuation of the proper and reasonable interests of conservation and recreation bodies. Secondly, they are inappropriate in seeking to forge a direct link between the undertakers' conservation and recreation duties and committees appointed by the NRA. Finally, they are particularly unhelpful in breaking down the integration of all advice in one committee in the way that we propose.

For those reasons I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hylton

I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he would agree that the language used in this amendment is a good deal more precise and taut than that set forth in the Bill. I should like particularly to underline the fact that on page 3 at line 10 the Bill states that the persons to be appointed to the proposed committees are solely those who have an interest in the matters under discussion.

There seems to be no requirement for a balance of interests which our amendment at least attempts to provide. Also, neither the Bill nor the amendment provides for any independent members who are free from prior interests. I should have thought that that would be helpful.

It might also be useful to provide—whether in the Bill or by regulations—that regional advisory committees operate by sub-committees. These are all points that I hope the Government will consider with a view to producing a better text at the next stage.

Lord Greenway

I am most grateful to the noble Earl for his extensive reply and to my noble friend Lord Hylton for his support. At this late hour I should like to consider carefully what the noble Earl has said. I have noted his remarks that the fears of the boating interests are misplaced and that the Government do not wish to see a proliferation of committees. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment on the understanding that I may possibly return to it at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ezra moved Amendment No. 22: Page 2, line 34, leave out ("advisory").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 24, 26 to 29, 34 and 38. The purpose of this series of amendments is to strengthen the role of the regional committees. I should like to remind the Committee that the functions which the NRA will be taking over from the existing water authorities are all exercised on a regional basis. There is therefore a strong reason for continuing that regional connection.

As the drafting stands, these are purely advisory committees and the authority simply has to consult them and to consider any representation made to it. These amendments suggest that the word "advisory" be removed in order to strengthen the position of the committees and that additional functions be given them so that they can exercise greater authority regionally. These functions are set out in my Amendment No. 27. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has told the Committee, the purpose of these amendments is to change the nature of the regional rivers advisory committees so that they have a number of specific functions. These additional functions relate to giving its approval for any by-laws to be made by the NRA for pollution prevention under Clause 110, or for navigation under Clause 153; to designating waters for which the NRA would be under a duty to establish minimum acceptable flows; and to agreeing the NRA's programme of anti-pollution works under Clause 111.

I should first like to make clear that the matters identified in Amendment No. 27 are among the matters that we would expect the regional rivers advisory committee to be involved in. But the aspect of this amendment that we do not find acceptable is that it changes the status of the advisory committees and makes it a requirement that the committee should have consented to or agreed some by-law or programme of works before the NRA can carry it out.

I must emphasise that it seems to us essential that the NRA at regional level is answerable to the NRA board through the chief executive. I am sure that on reconsideration the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will agree that it would confuse lines of accountability if there were a set of activities—as proposed in these amendments—for which the NRA at regional level was not answerable to the NRA board but to a separate regional committee. Such an arrangement would, at least in theory, put the regional general manager in the impossible position that he might be required to do something by his regional committee which was inconsistent with the national policy which his chief executive and his board were pursuing.

Of course, this situation is not likely to arise often. We are confident that on most issues, in particular issues like by-laws which are essentially local in nature, the NRA will find invaluable the advice of the regional rivers advisory committee, and would not wish to put forward proposals that were not endorsed by the committee.

However, it would in our view in no way affect the value of the advice of the regional rivers advisory committee that it was an advisory committee. To make the committee an executive committee is quite unnecessary and inappropriate. As it stands, the clause recognises the importance of these regional committees while at the same time ensuring proper lines of responsibility of the regional units of the NRA through the chief executive and the board.

Lord Ezra

I certainly hope that situations would not frequently arise where the NRA was at variance with the advice received from a regional committee. That would mean that it was imposing on the region things which those who were selected to represent it in these matters did not agree with. It was to strengthen the regional position that these amendments were introduced. However, having heard what the noble Earl has said, I should like to reflect on the issue and consider whether to come back to it in some other way at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 23: Page 2, line 35, at end insert ("in accordance with guidelines for the establishment of such committees as shall be issued from time to time by the Secretary of State;").

The noble Baroness said: The aim of the amendment is to provide for statutory guidance to be made available to the National Rivers Authority on the appointment of members to the regional rivers advisory committees. These advisory committees replace the existing water authority regional recreation and conservation committees but have a broader remit relating to all the NRA's functions. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and other conservation bodies, have developed a strong working relationship with the water authorities in respect of water resource management. The society has found its representation on the existing regional recreation and conservation committees to be invaluable in its work on wetland conservation.

As the Bill does not specify the structure of the new regional advisory committees, there is a real danger of gross imbalances occurring in the membership of the advisory committees which may have a limiting effect on the expertise available. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has referred to that. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, in Amendment No. 30, asks that members should include, persons nominated by or representing voluntary conservation and recreation bodies".

That, of course, I support. It shows that other bodies besides the RSPB are anxious about how these committees will be made up.

By providing statutory guidance to the NRA on the composition of the RRACs, the balance of interest will not be left to chance and will help to reduce regional variations. The Nature Conservancy Council has recommended that the membership of RRACs should be standardised. The adoption of common guidelines would help to meet this recommendation.

The concept of statutory guidelines is not new to the water industry. A precedent already exists in respect of appointments to the water authority consumer committees, which include amenity interests. Section 24A(2) of the Water Act 1983 clearly states: In preparing a report under this section"—

on the arrangements for representing consumer and recreational interests— a water authority shall have regard to any guidelines issued by the Secretary of State".

Acceptance of the amendment would not create a precedent; rather it would transpose an existing arrangement into the Bill. This is a simple and a very modest amendment. I can see absolutely no reason why the Minister should not accept it. I hope he will. I beg to move.

11 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

We are all grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining her amendment so succinctly. I remind her that in December 1987 the policy statement on the NRA was issued. In that we proposed that the existing regional recreational and conservation committees be expanded into wider committees, the regional rivers advisory committees. We intend that these will be important committees bringing together all the main river interests— conservation, recreation, industry (including the water supply industry) local government and agriculture. We resist the suggestion, therefore, that the Secretary of State should issue guidelines or regulations on their establishment. These are to be committees of the NRA and surely it is right that it should be for the NRA to select the members to represent effectively the many interests and differing regional concerns.

However, the NRA Advisory Committee has been giving careful consideration to the terms of reference and composition of all its regional committees and will shortly be issuing a document setting out its proposals. I shall make sure that copies are made available to all noble Lords who wish to see it and to all who have taken part in our debates on Clause 2. I am sorry that the document was not available earlier but we issued it as soon as possible. I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that it was better to issue it today than later this week or next when our discussions on this subject had passed. I am confident that my noble friend Lord Crickhowell will pay careful regard to all the points made in Committee about the regional committees and that the National Rivers Authority Advisory Committee will also welcome comments on the proposals from interested parties.

However, as I have made clear earlier, the fundamental point is that it must be for the NRA to decide on the appropriate constitution and composition of these committees and not the Secretary of State.

Baroness David

Of course, I thank the Minister for his reply and we shall be interested to see the document. Will it be available in the Library tomorrow?

The Earl of Caithness

It should be available now.

Baroness David

I am sorry that I did not know about it before we reached the amendments on Clause 2 because it would have been more helpful. Obviously I shall not go further with the amendment until I have read the document, so at this point I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 25: Page 2, line 39, leave out ("consider") and insert ("have regard to").

The noble Lord said: The Minister announced the issuing of a document by the NRA and I imagine that it will make a difference to a number of amendments which have been tabled on today's Marshalled List. However, I do not believe that it will make a difference to Amendment No. 25. We are not concerned with the membership of the regional rivers advisory committees but with the way in which their deliberations are treated. We find to be quite unsatisfactory the fact that the only obligation on the authority is that it should "consider" any representations made to it by the advisory committee.

In the whole gamut of words and phrases used in legislation to deal with the process of consultation and deliberation by public bodies, the word "consider" comes close to the bottom. In other words, it is close to being the weakest possible response that an authority can have to its own regional river advisory committees. In tabling the amendment we believe that we should move at least one step up the ladder towards the phrase "have regard to". It is still possible for the authority to act against the advice of the regional rivers advisory committees even if we use that phrase. However, they must pay at least a little more attention than is implied by the word "consider".

Regardless of the issues of who appoints the members, whether there are statutory guidelines, whether it is a matter for the NRA or whether the NRA properly considers the range of interests which should be represented on the regional advisory committees, if we are to get people of ability to serve on the regional committees, and if they are to be expected to devote a significant amount of time to their duties as members, they must have the feeling that someone is paying significant attention to the work which they do. They must have the feeling that the National Rivers Authority cannot merely consider what they say but must take it into account. We could have used that phrase "take it into account" as opposed to "have regard to" and gone two steps up the ladder. However, they have to be taken seriously. I do not believe that the word "consider" takes them seriously. I hope that the Government will feel that, if they are to have adequate representation and really good members on the regional committees, this amendment is not unacceptable to them. I beg to move.

Lord Ezra

I should like to support this amendment, having moved amendments to strengthen the role of the advisory committees. I certainly believe that this amendment is a minimum way of achieving that objective. I suppose that "to take note of could be even worse than "consider". "Consider" is one notch up the ladder but "have regard to" or "take into account" is the minimum which we should have in this case so that the advisory committees' views are seriously considered, or I should say "taken into account"? Therefore, I hope that the Government will take this proposal into account and agree to the minor amendment involved.

Lord Hesketh

Amendment No. 25 would require the NRA to "have regard to" rather than to "consider" any representations made to it by an advisory committee.

The amendment would not affect the duties of the NRA with regard to representations of advisory committees. The words "to consider" are the appropriate words to use in this context and are used in relation to representations in many other clauses of this Bill and in other legislation. Indeed I note that in his Amendment No. 41 the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, would have the NRA "consider" the representations of his proposed regional divisions.

Clause 2 makes it a duty of the authority to consult its advisory committees and to consider any representations made by these committees. As a major national body, the NRA will of course give reasonable consideration to any representations made to it by its own advisory committees. It would be in the authority's own interest to do so. Moreover in the annual report required by Clause 146, the NRA will be expected to comment on the functioning of the regional rivers advisory committees and in particular to indicate the major issues on which the committees have been consulted or have offered advice and the action taken on them by the NRA. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, may consider that his amendment is not an addition at this time.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I have had an opportunity to have a quick skim through the document issued by the National Rivers Authority. I notice that there is no reference whatever to the degree of consideration which the NRA will give the recommendations of its regional advisory committees. Therefore, it is not inappropriate for me to move this amendment. I believe that the Minister's response is interesting but I do not believe that it resolves the issue.

However, it is quite clear that, with the issue of this document of which we were unaware when we tabled the amendments or even when we started to speak to them—and I too should like a copy—the whole question of the regional rivers advisory committees is in the melting pot and will have to be raised again on Report. I believe that it is appropriate to say that I shall not move the other amendments in my name on this matter and to beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 26 to 29 not moved.]

Lord Norrie moved Amendment No. 30: Page 3, line 12, after ("question;") insert ("including persons nominated by or representing voluntary conservation and recreation bodies;")

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to require the NRA to appoint to the regional rivers advisory committees members drawn from voluntary conservation and recreation bodies. The noble Baroness, Lady David, has just touched on that subject. She reminded us that these regional rivers advisory committees established under Clause 2 of this Bill replace the existing regional recreation and conservation committees set up under the provisions of Section 7 of the Water Act 1983.

Both conservation and recreation bodies are currently represented. The Royal Society for the Nature Conservation (RSNC) and its 48 associated wild life trusts sit on the majority of existing committees and offer practical advice on nature conservation. Similarly, the professional regional staff of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) supports seven of the existing nine committees. Such representation is extremely valuable to the work of conservation bodies.

By way of further example, the existing Thames Water authority's regional recreation and conservation committee includes in its membership the RSPB's regional conservation officer. The conservation officer attends divisional and local sub-groups of the committee where conservation matters are discussed. This enables Thames Water to utilise the expertise of the RSPB in the planning and execution of the full range of its activities.

Indeed, major flood defence works, such as the Maidenhead flood relief scheme, were discussed at the committee. Through site visits and field surveys it was possible for the RSPB to advise Thames Water on how to plan the scheme to be of benefit to river wildlife. The staff of the RSPB can also advise the water authorities on which lengths of river are the best for wildlife and how river engineering works can be carried out in the most sympathetic and beneficial way.

Equally, angling, which is the major sport enjoyed on waters owned or managed by water authorities, is represented through national angling bodies on six of the existing committees, and sailing on at least four. I believe it is fair to say that the water authorities have benefited from the experience and expertise which the voluntary bodies can bring. Therefore, I hope that the new committees will continue to provide a valuable link between the NRA and voluntary bodies. However, I fear that voluntary conservation groups such as the RSPB may be excluded from membership. There is evidence of this in a draft scheme published by Yorkshire Water for its NRA region which excluded all voluntary conservation and recreation groups from its RRAC. This leads me to believe that voluntary bodies may go unrepresented on all 10 of the advisory committees. Such exclusion from the new committees would be unfortunate and likely to leave a wide gap in the expertise available.

Angling is established on well over 300 of the 500 reservoirs to be transferred to private ownership and sailing is allowed on well over 80. Where to a considerable extent these waters are used for the purposes of sport surely it is right that such sports should be represented. We must ensure that the Bill maintains the co-existence of recreation and conservation interests on advisory committees.

I fear that unless a statutory provision is made for conservation and recreation experts to be represented on the new committees there will be no guarantee that the NRA will recruit at the right level and at the right range of expertise required. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Amendment No. 37 is being taken with this amendment, and since I now have my own copy of the National Rivers Authority document I have the advantage of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, in this matter.

It is the case that the NRA is proposing that members should be selected from among areas of interest. These can include conservation and landscape interests, including statutory and voluntary bodies, and recreational interests, including sports councils and special interest groups. Therefore, I think that the noble Lord's amendment, if he trusts the phrase, selected from among the following areas of interest", may be catered for. My amendment goes further to say, not less than one-third of such appointments are of persons representative of environmental and recreational interests". However, as with the previous amendment, I think it is better if we take this document away and consider what amendments are necessary to beef it up a bit, because I feel that is necessary, and that we do so on Report rather than pursue the matter now.

11.15 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful to my noble friend for expressing his concern about conservation, in which both statutory and voluntary bodies are involved. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has just read out, they are catered for in the document produced today by the NRAAC.

Perhaps I may expand that in a little more detail for the Committee. The membership total for the regional rivers advisory committee will be something in the order of 15 to 20. Members will be selected from among the following areas of interest, and some of these we have already discussed today; namely, agriculture, forestry and landowners' interests; conservation and landscape interests, including statutory and voluntary bodies—the very areas that my noble friend Lord Norrie is concerned with—industry and commerce, including abstractors and dischargers and river-dependent industries generally. The membership will also include local government, and it will please the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, to see that in print. There will also be national parks authorities and other public bodies, recreational interests including sports councils and special interest groups, water service industries and other interest groups.

I fear that the concerns of my noble friend are not well founded because they are met by the document. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, spoke to Amendment No. 37. That amendment produces a much stricter strait-jacket on the NRA than that suggested in the document. I fully appreciate the method by which he has dealt with it in saying that he needs time for further consideration. I shall be happy to consider it with him.

The Viscount of Oxfuird

Can my noble friend say whether riparian owners are included in that list?

The Earl of Caithness

My noble friend's concern is fully met. When he sees the document he should turn to Annex B, which covers the regional fisheries advisory committee. Among those will be riparian owners' associations.

Lord Norrie

I am grateful for my noble friend's explanation. I look forward to reading the document. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman of Committees

If Amendment No. 31 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 32.

The Earl of Radnor moved Amendment No. 31: Page 3, line 13, leave out ("wholly or mainly")

The noble Earl said: This is an amendment still dealing with the advisory committee. I believe that these committees are of considerable importance. They might have to exert as much influence as they are able over the authority. I was surprised to see that members of the authority would be able to sit on committees such as these which they themselves had created. It seems to be an extraordinary position whereby, admittedly not "wholly or mainly", they can sit on those advisory committees. My amendment is to stop that happening in any way at all. It would be far better if these advisory committees sat, so to speak, by themselves and passed their advice by whatever means they thought best back to the National Rivers Authority.

On occasion they may have to put forward advice that is harsh and unacceptable to the authority. I would hate to feel that they had sitting among them someone who might take the edge off their deliberations and recommendations. I believe it is a fairly straightforward amendment and I hope that my noble friend will feel that it is a reasonable one. It is important in that if it does not go through the world will not be lost, but issues may well be fudged and spoilt before they can be properly brought out into the open and the authority faced with proper and uninfluenced advice. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Again, my Amendment No. 32 is linked with this amendment and it will fall if this amendment is agreed to. In any event, the noble Earl's amendment is better than mine. The word "wholly" becomes redundant. I agree with the noble Earl because I believe that there should be an arm's length relationship between the regional advisory committee and the authority. I know that it is not the Government's intention that there should be a major overlap of membership. There should be no overlap at all; otherwise people are wearing two hats and facing both ways. We will not get a coherent view from the whole of the regional advisory committee untainted by membership of the authority. I hope that the Government will recognise that this matter is not affected by the consultative document put forward by the NRA and deserves support on its own merits.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

The arm's length argument is a real one. I should have thought that under the circumstances these words could be omitted.

The Earl of Caithness

I have listened with care to what noble Lords have said on the amendments. We certainly accept that members of these committees should not normally be on the boards of the NRA itself. Indeed, the whole point of the regional rivers advisory committee is to provide the NRA with outside advice. Nevertheless I would put a contrary view to the Committee. Surely it would seem unwise to exclude the possibility of a member of the NRA board being on a RRAC. There may well be board members with strong regional ties who would be well suited to serving on an RRAC as well. Similarly, if a member of an RRAC was appointed to the board of the NRA, these amendments, if passed, would mean that he or she could no longer serve on the rivers authority committee. Surely that is not right. If noble Lords who have spoken for the amendment will consider what I have said, I shall consider what they have said.

The Earl of Radnor

My noble friend seemed to support us strongly to start with and then backed off. The arm's length business is of prime importance. There may be people on the authority who have regional ties or special knowledge, but we are talking about the whole of England and Wales. There will be plenty of expert people with regional ties to go on the advisory committees without going to the authority to, so to speak, borrow a person and spoil the whole concept of advice and advice being accepted or not at arm's length.

My noble friend said that he will go away and think about it, which I hope he will do most seriously. I shall do the same. Meanwhile, it is late at night and I shall not press the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 32 to 35 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 36: Page 3, line 17, at end insert— ("(2A) It shall be the duty of the Authority, in making any appointments under this section, to ensure that not less than one quarter of such appointments are of persons representative of local authorities in the region concerned.")

The noble Lord said: For the reasons which have already been expressed I do not propose to move the amendment. However, I hope that the Committee will allow me to say something which I should have said earlier. The Minister introduced this new wild card into the debate very late at night. He said that it was better that it should be introduced now than tomorrow or next week. That is undoubtedly true, but the more I think about the amount of effort that has been put in, not only by noble Lords who have tabled amendments but by organisations advising them, the more I feel how totally unsatisfactory it is that the NRA should produce this consultative document late in the evening of the day on which this part of the Bill was being debated. It is so unsatisfactory that it verges on being a mark of disrespect to this Committee. We are being asked to consider amendments and amendments have been put down. The NRA knew that amendments would be put down and knew that they had been put down. We now have to postpone the substantive consideration of these issues until Report stage.

I hope that the Minister will convey to the chairman of the NRA that at least on this side of the Committee we are seriously dissatisfied with the timing of the document. We feel that, since the document has been under discussion for many months and since the Government's White Paper was produced in December 1987, tnere is no reason at all for it not having been made available to the public and to Members of this place in good time so as to allow all of us to consider its implications when debating the Bill in Committee.

The situation is simply not good enough and I hope the Minister will accept that fact. As I said, in the circumstances, I do not propose to move Amendment No. 36.

[Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 37 to 40 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey had give notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 41. After Clause 2, insert the following new clause ("Regional divisions. .—(1) It shall be the duty of the Authority—

  1. (a) to establish and maintain regional divisions of the Authority for the different regions of England and Wales;
  2. (b) to consult the regional division for any region as to any proposals of the Authority relating generally to the manner in which the Authority's functions in that division are to be carried out.
  3. (c) to consider any representations made to it by the division for any region (whether in response to consultation under paragraph (b) above or otherwise) as to the manner in which the Authority's functions are carried out in that region; and
  4. (d) subject to the overall policy and financial control of the Authority to delegate to the division its functions as they relate to that region.
(2) The duty to establish and maintain regional divisions imposed by subsection (1) above is a duty—
  1. (a) to establish and maintain a regional division consisting of not less than six nor more than ten members for each area which the Authority considers it appropriate for the time being to regard as a region of England and Wales for the purposes of this section; and
  2. (b) to ensure that the persons appointed to each such division—
    1. (i) as to half thereof are persons appointed by local authorities situated in whole or part within each said region; and
    2. (ii) as to the remainder are persons appointed by the Authority who appear to the Authority to have an interest in matters likely to be affected by the manner in which the Authority's functions are carried out in the 137 region in question and are persons who have experience of and have shown capacity in some matter relevant to the functions of the Authority.
    3. (c) consist wholly or mainly of persons who are not members of the Authority.").

The noble Lord said: I have not had an opportunity to consider whether the regional structure of the National Rivers Authority, as outlined in its consultative document, is adequate to deal with the point made in this new clause. Therefore, in the circumstances, I think it would be better if I were not to move this amendment. However, I should add the firm proviso that I may well have to return to the matter on Report.

[Amendment No. 41 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 42 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

The Earl of Arran

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.