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Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that this debate is adjourned from yesterday? If you look at Hansard you will see, and since you were in the Chair you will also recall, that at 10 o'clock you had to interrupt the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State towards the end of his speech because of the 10 o'clock rule, which allows him to return to the Dispatch Box now to complete his reply to yesterday's debate. In particular, he did not answer the questions from amenity groups about the recreational use of land or about charges. If he had wanted to answer these questions he would have the right to complete his speech at the Dispatch Box this afternoon.
Mr. Speaker : Technically, that is correct, but I can only call Members who seek to catch the eye of the Chair.
The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. Wyn Roberts) : I want to devote a proportion of this opening speech in this second day of the debate to the changes that the Bill will bring about in Wales. Many English Members will be interested because they obtain their supplies from Wales. As the House will know, water is a sensitive issue in Wales, partly because we can supply it to others cheaper than we can buy it ourselves. Our geography, which provides for an abundance of rain, requires that our water charges, related as they must be to distribution costs, are relatively high. But I shall return to charges later.
In general, the provisons of the Bill apply equally to both Wales and England. The Bill will create in Wales private-sector undertakers to provide clean, wholesome water and take away dirty water through the sewerage system. I am confident that the privatisation of the utility functions of the water authorities in Wales will allow the provision of a more efficient operation to the benefit of Welsh consumers.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : The Minister suggested that he thought that the Bill would be helpful to Welsh consumers. Given that the average equated water
Column 460rate for 1988-89 in Wales is 108p compared with 50.95p in Severn-Trent--over twice the level--will he say whether that gap will close when the Bill comes into effect?
Mr. Roberts : As I hope to show, privatisation of the utility function of the authority will make for greater efficiency and will contribute towards the reduction of prices, but there are other factors to be taken into account.
The Bill will also establish the National Rivers Authority to take over the other functions of the water authorities.
This split of the present water authorities, a split of interests that were often in competition, will not, as has been suggested by some, break up the system of integrated river management. It will sensibly divide the functional provision of water and sewerage services from the present regulatory and promotional roles. It will lead to a better system of benefit to us all.
Our proposals for a National Rivers Authority have been widely welcomed by all the major conservation groups and reflect the Government's commitment to the protection of the water environment. The NRA's functions will include water pollution control, water resource management, flood defence, fisheries and recreation--all matters of considerable importance in Wales.
The NRA will be an England and Wales body, but its real presence and the impact of its policies will be in the regions. The NRA regions will be based on the boundaries of the present water authorities, and there will be one region covering the present area of the Welsh water authority.
The main NRA committee in each region will be the regional rivers advisory committee which will encompass all the main interest groups and be able to make representation to the authority about the way in which it carries out its functions in its region. The authority will appoint the members of that committee.
The NRA will discharge its land drainage functions through regional flood defence committees, successors to the current regional land drainage committees. These will be based on the same areas as the existing RLDCs and will be constituted on similar lines.
I can assure the House that the provisions of the Bill do not fundamentally alter the present position with regard to land drainage and flood protection. The chairman and a number of other members of the regional flood defence committee will be appointed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.
The National Rivers Authority will also be advised in its regions by regional fisheries advisory committees, appointed by the NRA, which will also determine how many local advisory committees it requires. In doing that, it will take into account the views of the interested organisations. Those concerned with fisheries will also have a voice on the regional rivers advisory committee, so those interested in fisheries will be able to pursue local needs and problems as well as considering the broader, more general issues. The responses to the consultation paper on the National Rivers Authority published in July 1987 showed that few were in favour of a separate NRA for Wales. Respondents were more concerned to ensure that they would receive a good quality service.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will have a considerable interest in NRA functions in
Column 461Wales. To help him, the Secretary of State for Wales will appoint a special NRA committee to advise him on Welsh issues, related to NRA policies and activities. The special committee will advise on matters related to the whole of Wales, including that part currently served by the Severn-Trent water authority and will include the chairmen of the various regional committees for the area currently served by the Welsh water authority. This special committee will be chaired by the Secretary of State for Wales' appointee to the NRA. We consider that the chairman of Severn-Trent's regional river advisory committee should also be a member, and there is a case for one or two more independent members.
Mr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : The Minister is aware of my keen interest in reducing the number of quangos in Wales to reduce public expenditure. Will he explain the proposed structure and where it is set out in the Bill because so far I have failed to find it? Perhaps it is in an appendix. Will he confirm that the NRA will be accountable to the Secretary of State for the Environment and that the structure in Wales is that the NRA advisory committee will advise both the Secretary of State for Wales and the NRA? In other words, the NRA is an English body accountable to the Secretary of State for the Environment and another Welsh quango will advise the Secretary of State about his response to the NRA.
Mr. Roberts : I thought that I had made the position absolutely clear. The Secretary of State for Wales will appoint a member of the National Rivers Authority. The Secretary of State will have a special committee that will be chaired by that appointed member of the NRA. On that committee, which will be non-statutory, there will be the people that I have mentioned who are themselves chairmen of statutory bodies. As I said, there will be a case for other independent members. We shall be looking for an efficient and effective NRA that will secure in Wales improvements in environmental water matters. The new water plc that succeeds Welsh Water will be responsible for the supply of water and the removal of effluent. The Bill will also provide new powers allowing the Secretary of State to set out clearly in regulation the quality of the water that the new undertakers will be obliged to provide. There is no doubt that if the trends that faced the Government in 1979 had continued, the proposals in the Bill to establish private sector water and sewerage undertakers would not now be before the House. That the proposals are before us is the result of Government policies and of the work of the various managements of the water authorities who have successfully implemented Government policies. Welsh Water's management has played its part.
As Welsh Members said yesterday, much time has been spent in the House discussing the many aspects of the performance of the Welsh water authority, but the authority's performance has stood up well to scrutiny, and I pay tribute to what it has achieved. When the Bill is enacted, the successor company to the Welsh water authority must, of course, concentrate on the core businesses of water and sewerage, but it will also be able to develop other business activities with less restraint than in the past.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : The Minister has spoken about the existing water authority. Could he tell us a little about the conflicting demands for use of the rivers by canoeists and fly fishermen? To what extent will those conflicts be resolved by charges? He will be aware that on the Conway and on other rivers in north Wales there has been almost open warfare between canoeists and fly fishermen over who should use them. How will these changes improve that argument?
Mr. Roberts : I look forward to debating that matter in Committee because it will make for an excellent Committee debate. I am coming to various aspects of the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised in this debate and that he raised yesterday when my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport replied to him. However, we can go over the ground again if he wishes.
We recognise that the new public limited companies will be natural monopolies. Safeguards for the customer are therefore necessary and the Bill provides for regulatory arrangements. Some conditions, including the general duties to provide water and sewerage services and compliance with the quality standard set for water supplies, will be enforced by the Secretary of State. But additionally, the Bill establishes the Director General of Water Services who will be independent of Ministers and accountable to Parliament. His role will be to protect consumers by monitoring the performance of the water companies against the conditions of their licence, to set charges limits and to ensure that the water companies carry out their functions efficiently and effectively. Customers will be directly represented in the regulatory system by a network of regional customer service committees reporting direct to the director general.
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : What assurances can the Minister give customers that disconnections in Wales will not increase under the privatised authority? He will know that under the present arrangements the Welsh water authority is top of the league for disconnections to customers. What assurance can he give that things will not get worse under a privatised industry?
Mr. Roberts : The hon. Lady will have to wait for the terms and conditions of the licence that will be given to the water plc. At present, Welsh Water appoints seven local consumer advisory committees, one to match each of its original operating divisions. This structure differs from that operating in the areas of the nine English regional water authorities.
Under the Bill the customer service committees will be appointed by the director general and will be totally independent of the undertakers that they will monitor. There will be two such committees operating in Wales, one covering the Severn-Trent area and the other covering the Welsh water authority area.
Schedule 4 of the Bill allows customer service committees, with the approval of the director general, to establish local and other sub- committees. In a statement to the House on 5 February 1986, the then Secretary of State for Wales, my noble Friend Lord Crickhowell, gave a commitment that the customer service committee operation within the area of the Welsh water authority could be assisted by divisional committees. We hold to that view, although I should add that the number of sub-committees required will need to take into account the structure of Welsh Water's successor company and the
Column 463changed responsibilities of the committees in Wales because of the establishment of the National Rivers Authority.
The membership of the committee in Welsh Water's area will be the same as its English counterparts, with members drawn from broadly the same interest groups represented on the present local consumer advisory committees. The customer service committees will represent to the director general the views of the customers on the operations of the water undertakers. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) will be interested to know that they will have a statutory duty under clause 26 to investigate complaints and to consult companies about matters that seem to the committee to affect the interests of consumers. They have a vital role in the regulatory system.
I want to touch upon three issues of particular sensitivity in Wales--land, public access and charges.
The privatised water and sewerage undertakers must have the freedom to dispose of land surplus to their operational requirements. This is the present practice. The Welsh water authority has the right to dispose of surplus land, and the Government have consistently encouraged the water authorities to dispose of land surplus to their requirements.
Dr. Thomas rose --
Mr. Roberts : I can assure the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) that such disposals are currently taking place. No company, whether private or public, will wish to dispose of land that it requires for operational purposes. By getting rid of land that is required- -for instance, as a gathering ground for water--might raise the danger of an adverse effect upon the quality of supply, and water undertakers can be penalised if water is not up to the specified quality.
Much of the land held by Welsh Water is in national parks or in environmentally sensitive areas. The value of any such land to a prospective purchaser depends on the receipt of planning permission for development. I find it difficult to visualise a situation in which planning permission would be more easily obtained than it is now, especially in our national parks or in other areas of outstanding natural beauty. Such sites will continue to be subject to stringent planning controls, and land in other areas will remain subject to local planning controls.
Dr. Thomas : The Minister knows that I represent more national parks than any other hon. Member. I am therefore deeply concerned about the implications of what he has said. Will he give an assurance to me and to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) who represents the Brecon Beacons national park that no land will be disposed of in the national parks by the successor utility to the Welsh water authority or any other authority before consulting the national parks authority? Is it the Government's intention, in privatising water utilities, to privatise land holdings in national parks which are environmentally sensitive?
Mr. Roberts : I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asks because, as I have said the existing authorities have the right to dispose of land and the successor companies will have a similar right.
Column 464Obviously, we are seeking to assess the value of the land, and that will have to be taken into account in fixing the price for shares on flotation.
The majority of us who are interested in the protection of the environment have nothing whatsoever to fear from the proposals in the Bill and should welcome the additional safeguards provided. That has not of course stopped the numerous scare stories that have come to the surface in recent weeks. Water authorities, once privatised, it is said, will not care for the environment. They will be so concerned to make profits that everything else will go by the board. They will charge exorbitant prices for facilities and even, according to the Daily Post of 25 November, charge for admission to national parks. Anyone who has studied the provisions of the Bill will realise that that is certainly not intended and I am surprised--indeed appalled--that such stories should appear.
As my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport pointed out in his closing speech last night, clause 7 of the Bill places duties on both the National Rivers Authority and the privatised undertakers in relation to conservation of the environment, the development of water and land for recreational purposes and the preservation of public rights of way and rights of access.
Moreover, clause 9 provides for a code of practice which the Secretary of State may produce to give practical guidance to undertakers and promote best practice. The code, a draft of which will be available in the new year, will be taken into account by the Secretary of State in exercising his powers under the Bill and in assessing the performance of any particular water or sewerage undertaker.
The Bill allows for charges to be made for recreational facilities, but facilities are not free now. At present, costs not recouped from specific receipts are paid for by all customers through the environmental services charge, which is quite significant in Wales. That will no longer be available, and it is only right and proper that those who use facilities should pay for them. But the charges must reflect the standard of the facilities offered and the availability of alternatives. Another constraint is the simple practicality of collecting and enforcing charges. The water undertakers will have a public image to project and undoubtedly, as other private companies have sought to do, will seek to show the community that they are worthy and effective custodians of the water environment.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : I well understand that if the water authorities do something to improve the opportunity for people to enjoy facilities there is an argument for making charges. Will the Minister guarantee that there will be no charge when canoeists use a river and the water authority does nothing to facilitate that activity? Will he guarantee that there will be no charges on people who walk over land which is not a public right of way, but traditionally the water authorities have allowed people to walk over it, if nothing is done to improve the facilities?
Mr. Roberts : In his earlier intervention, the hon. Gentleman posed the problem with which I am only too familiar of the conflict between canoeists and anglers. As I have said, we would be well advised to discuss that in Committee rather than on the Floor of the House. With regard to his other point, as he knows, I have referred specifically to where there are rights of way, where there are facilities that have cost money and have to be charged
Column 465for. We have covered that point. I am sure that if one pursued it in detail, as I know the hon. Gentleman is so capable of doing, we shall have to examine very carefully specific areas such as those he mentioned.
The level of water charges in Wales has always been a contentious subject. I do not intend to go into the reasons for that today, except to say that charges in Wales are set, as they are throughout England and Wales, at the lowest possible level to maintain and improve services to the customer. We are all concerned with protecting the environment and that cannot be achieved without cost.
Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle) : Does the Minister accept that the water services charge is a precept upon the rates of local authorities by the water authority at the moment, and that the change that takes place under the Bill is that the National Rivers Authority will be responsible and will use taxpayers' money instead of ratepayers' money? The Government believe in cutting public expenditure and not contributing the money that we expect. That is why we think that they will be caught. The White Paper and the Bill state that charges will be increased to maximise income.
Mr. Roberts : I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has got it quite right. He knows how the NRA will be financed. It will receive Exchequer support. However, whatever service is provided must be paid for somehow. Currently, in some places many services are covered by the environmental services charge.
If we are to have bathing waters that comply with European Commission requirements, if we are to meet demand for wholesome water at constant and reasonable pressure, if we are to be free from polluted waterways and foul flooding to a greater degree than in the past, those higher standards need to be paid for, regardless of whether the undertakers are in the private or the public sector. Because of the discipline of the private sector and the market, privatising the industry may well mean that those necessary charges turn out to be less than they would have been otherwise.
There is considerable interest in Wales in this measure and we intend that it should benefit the people of Wales in all the ways possible under its provisions. They can become share owners and have a real stake in the new company. They can own Welsh water in a way that they have never owned it before. There are all sorts of ways in which the Welsh people can participate actively in the new arrangements and ensure that this measure is of benefit to them and to Wales as a whole.
Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside) : The Minister of State is right in saying that water is a sensitive issue in Wales, so why does the Secretary of State not address the House on what is arguably the most important measure to affect Wales this year? Why is the Secretary of State absent? Why has he left the Chamber?
The Welsh water authority has 1 million customers, 3 million consumers and 4,600 employees, and the overwhelming majority of them are against privatisation. The Minister of State proposes a course of action that does not have the backing of the people in Wales. Nor has he been persuasive today.
Column 466The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) yesterday promised vehement opposition. He said that before the industry had been put into the public domain there had been horrendous problems related to health. I agree with him. That memory remains in Wales, and that is why there is no body of support and why the measure is totally friendless in Wales, as there is a generation still active in public life in the Principality which suffered great privation between the wars. That generation tells those who will listen about the chaos and inaction, and about dysentery and other diseases, that were prevalent when standards were low.
Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) denounced Her Majesty's Government for their hypocritical acts in pulling the plug on the water industry. My hon. Friend's chief point was that, by imposing artificially low ceilings on the Welsh water authority's capital investment and borrowings, the Government have created a backlog of remedial works that will cost enormous amounts of money to clear. My hon. Friend should know--he chairs our Select Committee. Opposition Members do not believe that that money will be available in the right amounts on the right terms.
Last night the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars)--a Scot--said that the nation's resources were to be stolen. There is certainly an echo of that assertion throughout Wales. Welsh public opinion is deeply hostile to the Bill.
In a passionate speech in the same debate last night, my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) asked about the consequence of metering on the poorest families and the largest families. They are often the same. They must economise on water. I emphasise my agreement with the remarks of my hon. Friend when he said that there is deprivation in Wales and that the Welsh Office must face the issue when the Bill is considered in Committee. Again, from the Opposition Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) dealt with the crux of the Bill which is that, faced with the priority of making profits, it is extremely unlikely that the vigorous policy of environmental improvement that is urgently needed will appeal to privately owned water companies. I can truthfully report to the House that that is the fear in Wales. When he wound up the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) touched on another crucial feature. He said that there were contradictions in the Government's stance. They must persuade the City that, first, there are no destabilising uncertainties about costs attached to environmental controls, and, secondly, that there are genuine additional environmental safeguards, backed by cash. So far in the debate, we have not been persuaded. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle was shrewd to make that point. We in Wales are sceptical of the Government's supposed good intentions, and we are cynical because of the Government's record so far.
Last night, too, my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) said that the Government had skilfully and ruthlessly removed from the water industry almost everybody who might have opposed its privatisation. Will the National Rivers Authority impose centralisation to such an extent that Wales will lose? Will the Welsh authority plc be able to attract the necessary capital to
Column 467tackle the huge challenge that remains in polluted areas? That was the gravamen of the complaint by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley).
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : On the question of paying to deal with pollution, the Welsh water authority has a programme for cleaning up beaches which is due to be completed in about 15 years. Is it not a good idea to warn potential purchasers of water authority shares that action could be taken against the Government to bring beaches into line in a much shorter period than the 15 years that are currently planned? The Commission is recorded as being prepared to consider that proposal.
Mr. Jones : My hon. Friend has made an apposite point. The warning is serious. Swansea bay may be the exemplar of my hon. Friend's accusation.
Last night my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) made a balanced contribution to the debate. He sensitively referred to the drowned valleys and destroyed communities of yesteryear. Those communities were damaged or obliterated so that the big cities of England could benefit.
The Bill increases resentment. The people of Wales do not want the Bill, but the Prime Minister and her ideologues want to impose it upon us. Yesteryear saw insensitivity for the benefit of English cities. The Government's actions tomorrow will be insensitive, and they will be for profit. That is an insensitive approach, and it is one of the main reasons why there is so much resentment in the Principality.
"The time has come when we must stop taking our water resources for granted. Water is too scarce ; it costs too much to collect, transport and distribute any longer to be wasted, polluted or fenced off from recreational use. The Government's proposals are, therefore, radical and far-reaching. They are designed to create the conditions and to provide the necessary modern machinery for the cleaning up of our rivers, the improvement of our sewerage and sewage disposal arrangements, and the safeguarding of the nation's water supplies for the remainder of this century."--[ Official Report, 2 December 1971 ; Vol. 827, c. 679.]
Those are not my words ; they were the words of the Secretary of State for Wales. They were uttered on 2 December 1971, when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, when he made social and economic history by proudly introducing in a statement the forerunner of the far-reaching 1972 water industry legislation.
The right hon. Gentleman is the Secretary of State for Wales, but he is the man who begat the last great water reorganisation. He was then a young Heathite Cabinet Minister, pledged to interventionism. As a Cabinet Minister, he saw the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) sack the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), the present Secretary of State for the Environment, who was then an Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. [Interruption.] Yes, it happened. The present Secretary of State for the Environment lost office because, even then, he was a market forces man.
The Secretay of State for the Environment (Mr. Nicholas Ridley) : Of all people, as a member of the Labour party, the hon. Gentleman must know the difference between resignation and being sacked.
Mr. Jones : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that gracious intervention. I remember that after he left office he behaved true to form on the Committee
Column 468considering what became the Counter- Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972 and demonstrated that even then he was a market forces man.
The logic of the 1971 statement by the now Secretary of State for Wales was that of social ownership of a vital public utility. By his statement, the right hon. Gentleman established quangos. He ackowledged the importance of local authorities and gave them substantial water authority places. How times change in British politics. The sacked then Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who left office gracefully--he was not sacked, he said--now dictates to the Secretary of State for Wales. The sacked then Under-Secretary of State, who left office gracefully, is today's Cabinet market forces apologist.
Today is a sad day for civil servants in Wales. They do not want the Bill. They know its flaws, they know its risks and, doubtless, they have advised against it. I do not think that they had to argue long with the Secretary of State for Wales.
Mr. Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman has no basis whatsoever for saying that the loyal civil servants in the Welsh Office, which has been loyal to successive Governments, are against the Bill. If he has a shred of evidence, will he please produce it?
Mr. Jones : That intervention would have been so much more effective if the Secretary of State for Wales had been able to make it. Where is the Secretary of State for Wales? Nothing that the Minister of State has said today has any ring of conviction or of truth.
When the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury introduced this matter in the Cabinet, I suspect that the Secretary of State for Wales went pale before he went red with rage. At that Cabinet meeting, and certainly at that Cabinet Committee meeting, I do not think that the Secretary of State for Wales shaded his advice. I believe that he called for a rethink. What he probably said was on these lines : "Leave well alone. Privatising the water industry is a step in the dark. We have better things to do, and with better political returns."
Mr. Ridley : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Jones : I shall not give way at the moment. I am grateful for the presence of the Secretary of State for the Environment, if we cannot have the Secretary of State for Wales. Where is the Secretary of State for Wales? If the right hon. Gentleman will tell me where he is, I might later allow him to answer some of the questions that I intend to put.
Mr. Ridley : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Before I was interrupted, I was saying how I saw that Cabinet meeting.
Mr. Ridley : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
If the right hon. Gentleman can contain himself and listen to me, I was saying that the Secretary of State for Wales was probably saying : "We have better things to do, and with better political returns. Privatising the Welsh water authority will be seen as an affront by most Welsh people. Lately, the Principality has gone through a very rough patch. Nationalism in Wales has little support, but all parts of Wales have a high degree of national
Column 469consciousness. They are already cynical about the advantages of those in the south-east and about what is called the City and speculation."
The right hon. Gentleman probably went on : "This measure will stir up policial trouble for us. The Welsh like their water authority even though they criticise it. I created the Welsh water authority, so I should know, should I not? The party in Wales has some difficult seats to defend. Frankly, the privatisation of water is political suicide in Wales."
I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman went on in this way : "Do you not think it would also be disastrous in the regions, for example, in the north -west and in Yorkshire? Why make such an ideological fetish of privatisation, Nick?" However, the Prime Minister said, summing up : "Peter, we are not going to be moved. Nicholas and I are not for turning." No one else in the Cabinet supported the Secretary of State for Wales.
Before turning to the next business, the Prime Minister probably then said : "Peter, if you and Ted created the water authorities, Nick and I will be bound to sell them off to the highest bidder."
Mr. Ridley : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way at the end of his description of the Cabinet meeting at which the Secretary of State for the Environment is alleged to have presented his proposals for privatising the water industry. At the time, the Secretary of State was my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) and the Secretary of State for Wales was my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. The hon. Gentleman has cast the characters two years out of date, which shows his extraordinary historical ignorance.
Mr. Jones : Lord Crickhowell is under a kind of house arrest in the other place. I had hoped that the Secretary of State would tell the House where the Secretary of State for Wales is. I am sure that this little drama was enacted before the Gracious Speech was finalised.
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) : The Secretary of State referred to the previous Secretary of State for Wales. Does my hon. Friend feel it somewhat amiss that that individual, who was then a member of the Cabinet that gave birth to these proposals, is now receiving £40,000 a year as the chairman-designate of the National Rivers Authority? Does my hon. Friend agree that if that happened in local government the individuals involved would now be in prison?
Mr. Jones : My hon. Friend signed the appropriate early-day motion at the time.
There was unease yesterday among Conservative Members about the effectiveness of the National Rivers Authority, the proposed watchdog for pollution. To put it bluntly, the hon. Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison), always his own man, asked :
"What guarantee is there that the Treasury will be less mean than usual?"
There is no guarantee. The hon. Gentleman went on :
"Without that the NRA may not be able to live up to its responsibilities, especially in monitoring the effect of pollution along the 25,000 miles of rivers, in coastal waters, on ground water and in estuaries".--[ Official Report, 7 December 1988 ; Vol. 143, c. 362-63.]
Column 470I should warn fishermen in the Principality to watch the situation carefully.
The Minister of State referred to the National Rivers Authority, but I must tell him that both the Wales TUC and the Welsh Consumer Council sought a Wales National Rivers Authority which would have been accountable to our own Secretary of State. The regional aspect of the hon. Gentleman's speech was not at all persuasive.
Mr. Wyn Roberts : Of the 51 responses to our consultation document, only nine were in favour of a National Rivers Authority for Wales.
Mr. Jones : I have quoted the two substantial bodies of opinion.
Mr. Wigley : The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) has raised an important matter that has not been clarified by the Government, either today or yesterday. I am referring to the responsibility for river water in Wales. Will it remain a Welsh Office function if the National Rivers Authority is answerable to the Department of the Environment? There will be an almighty tangle in terms of answerability if the Bill remains as it is.