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Mr. Leigh : The National Rivers Authority has to be set up because it is not right that private companies should regulate the affairs of other private companies.

Mr. Allan Roberts rose--

Mr. Leigh : I am sorry, but I cannot give way again. Other hon. Members want to make their contributions, and I am making a short speech.

When I go out into the country I always ask people whether they are entirely satisfied with the service they are getting from the nationalised water industry. The answer is, of course, that they are not. This week, I visited a small sewerage works in Welton, in my constituency, where there has been under-investment. The village is suffering from under-investment, and there have been delays in implementing what is quite obviously an essential scheme. I do not want to make a party political point, but it has to be said--and it should be said again and again--that investment in sewerage was cut by 50 per cent. under the Labour Government. They did not do it deliberately. They were speaking the language of priorities. They did not want to cut investment in sewerage but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) said in his cogent speech, there are no votes in sewerage but there are plenty in hospitals and schools. The measure is necessary from an environmental point of view and also to attract private capital into an industry which has been underfunded historically and in which there has been under-investment.

9 pm

We have an excellent case to take to the country in arguing for a National Rivers Authority, in saying that poachers do not make the best gamekeepers, in saying that it is not right that the Government should set the standards and then provide the cash, and in saying that historically the Treasury has had more power in these matters than the Department of the Environment. We can say that again and again. As I said at the beginning of my speech, we can be proud of the fact that we are the

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Government who are setting up an independent, nationally funded and adequately funded national environmental protection council. I can deal briefly with the Opposition's proposals. In regard to new clause 1, no one has mentioned clause 110, which deals with anti-pollution works and operations. I am sure that in replying to the debate my hon. Friend the Minister will make it clear that in clause 110 we have in legislation, for the first time so far as I am aware, a provision to enable the National Rivers Authority to carry out works and operations where it is likely that there has been pollution. In that clause we have the powers that are needed by the National Rivers Authority. New clause 1 is not needed. It is a debating device. All it has done is to enable my hon. Friends to debate what we want to debate--the NRA and what it will do to improve standards.

As regards new clause 2, it is suggested by the Opposition that the NRA will be in the pockets of the plcs. In the early days following vesting, there may be only one computer or other resource available for the NRA function and the plc function. Are the Opposition suggesting that the NRA should not be allowed to use that essential resource?

Neither new clause 1 nor new clause 2 makes sense. New clause 1 might not be enforceable. I can illustrate the point by referring to nitrates. What will happen if it is decided that nitrates are polluting land? Who should pay? Should it be the present generation of farmers, the farmers of a previous generation, or the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which encouraged farmers of previous generations to put nitrates on the land? New clause 1 is not practical. None of the amendments that the Opposition has placed before us makes sense.

I am not dogmatic about whether the ownership of land should rest in the hands of the NRA or the plcs. I simply pose one question : is it seriously contended that nationalised industries or nationalised bodies are necessarily better housekeepers or environmentalists than plcs? I am not convinced of that or that the planning process in areas of outstanding natural beauty is not fully equipped to deal with the problem.

In short, here we have an opportunity to go to the country with a good case. We should not be apologetic about the Bill. Tomorrow, if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I shall develop the argument to show that we have got an even better case to put on why, as well as setting up the National Rivers Authority, we should create strong, powerful, well-regulated plcs.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) : It has been interesting to listen to Conservative Members airing their differences on the latest Government attempt to rob the people of public assets. It is particularly interesting to note that the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) has been the only hon. Member to give enthusiastic, unthinking support for what the Government are putting forward. With the exception of the hon. Gentleman, Conservative Members have all had reservations or qualms about various aspects of the Bill. That indicates to some extent the way in which the new clauses are being discussed against clear changes in public opinion. Our constituents are concerned about what the Government propose.

I made the point in Committee that one good thing that had come out of the progress of the Bill was that public opinion had changed and that there was increased public

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awareness of the problems of pollution and other aspects of the water industry. The fact that the media have highlighted the issues is interesting. Newspaper after newspaper--all of them newspapers that support the Conservative party--has expressed the view in editorials that the Government should drop the legislation. They have exposed the fact that not only are there major problems because of pollution in our rivers and estuaries, but that the Government's legislation will worsen the position.

We have heard during the debate of divers at Torbay coming out of the water with condoms on their heads. We have heard about problems in other parts of the country. There has been frequent evidence from hon. Members of the NIMBY syndrome. We should also remember that this week we have had a major pollution problem in the English channel because a cargo of lindane has gone astray.

It is not just in the channel that we have these problems. Within the Yorkshire Water area there is evidence of lindane having been dumped in rivers and estuaries and of other dangerous toxic chemicals having been dumped in rivers and estuaries and of other dangerous toxic chemicals having been dumped in rivers beside populated areas. The way in which the Yorkshire Post has exposed in detail what has been going on in the area is commendable. That is how public opinion has been changed during the progress of the Bill. The people have learned exactly what is happening. One major concern has been that the polluters are getting away scotfree under the present system, but that will still be the case with the proposals put forward by the Government.

Pollution is likely to get worse as a result of the Bill. Indeed, it has been seen to deteriorate in the run-up to the privatisation of water. Over the past four years river pollution in Yorkshire has been getting progressively worse. During the 1980s there has been a frightening decline in the quality of our rivers. Figures have already been given in the debate. Ten per cent. of all rivers in Britain are biologically dead. That is a disgrace. The Government have been in power for nearly 10 years but they have been complacent. It is no excuse for them to blame previous Governments.

Mr. Boswell : The hon. Gentleman has said that 10 per cent. of the rivers of Britain are biologically dead. I take it that he is referring to rivers in classes C and D. Will he give the figure for Europe at large? Would it be 25 per cent. of the rivers in the same categories?

Mr. Hinchliffe : I am concerned with the Bill which relates to this country. We could spend all night talking about Europe. I am talking about the fact that 10 per cent. of our rivers are biologically dead. If the hon. Gentleman defends that, or if he is proud of it, I find that incredible. It is a disgrace that so many of our rivers are in that state.

In 1980, 12,500 pollution incidents were registered ; in 1987-88, there were nearly 24,000. That is a huge increase in known incidents of pollution. Of course, as we all know, many pollution incidents are not reported. I made the point in Committee that I and many other hon. Members are receiving representations from constituents who are deeply concerned about the local aspects of the legislation. I was contacted by the West Yorkshire canoe club which is based in Wakefield in my constituency. It asked me what I could do about the fact that many young people

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want to learn to use canoes but must travel 15 miles from the club to find a river that they can safely use. If a youngster tips out of a canoe into the river Calder in Wakefield, his or her health can be seriously affected. I live right next to the river Calder and young people ask me, "Why can we not fish in our local river? Why are there no fish? As a Member of Parliament, what will you do about it?" Not long ago it was brought to my attention that the family of someone who had drowned in the river Calder was dissuaded from seeing the body because of the state of the body after being in the river for only a few hours. Those are the issues with which the Bill should be dealing, but it does not do so.

There is clear evidence in the preparation for privatisation that the Government have added to the problems that I concede have existed for a considerable time. Water authorities under the present Government are concerned with financial targets and not with targets to tackle pollution. The water authorities are concerned specifically with budgeting and not with the general issues about which my constituents are concerned in relation to the standard and quality of the rivers in their area. Artificially high profit targets have been set for the water authorities in a deliberate attempt to push up the profits prior to the industry being sold off, thereby making it attractive to potential investors.

Under the Government we have seen the lowering of capital spending and restrictions on borrowing powers, which have meant that it has not been possible to invest in tackling such problems as sewage effluent and other matters about which we are all concerned. Even more alarming is the evidence during the past few months about the way in which applications for the relaxation of sewage discharge consents are encouraged by the Government to avoid legal wrangles that might complicate the selling off of this precious industry. I heard some time ago that the maximum number of relaxations that the Government would allow would be 1,000. I understand that that figure has now been exceeded. I should be interested to hear from the Minister the number of relaxation of sewage discharge consents. How many are there in each of our areas? Are they temporary or are they permanent? What investment is going into improving that sewerage-- Mr. Devlin rose --

Mr. Hinchliffe : I saw the hon. Gentleman wander in. Other hon. Members have sat in the Chamber throughout the debate.

Mr. Devlin : I was here before the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hinchliffe : Other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. How temporary is a temporary discharge consent? How many are there throughout the country? What difference is that making to the quality of our rivers and the amount of pollution arising from sewage works in our rivers?

New clause 1 establishes the important principle of the polluter paying for the damage that he or she causes--and why not? It appears to be plain common sense that they should be made responsible. It is a straightforward reasonable way of making a polluter responsible for the damage that he causes.

Mr. Devlin : That is nonsense.

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Mr. Hinchliffe : The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to speak later. I object to such comments.

Mr. Devlin : Give way then.

Mr. Hinchliffe : I have said why I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman has just wandered in. He was not in the Chamber earlier. He has not heard what I have said.

Mr. Devlin : I was here before the hon. Gentleman was. I have been here all the time.

Mr. Hinchliffe : It is known that pollution is often a byproduct of highly profitable processes, so that the individuals concerned with serious pollution and such chemicals as I have mentioned in areas such as Yorkshire Water are frequently involved in profitable businesses and should be made responsible for the damage that they do to our environment. I believe that the charges faced by the polluters should reflect the extent of the damage that they have done. I do not see how anyone could object to that as a basic principle.

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This measure could reduce the effects of pollution more than any others in the Bill. It is pleasing to note that some Conservative Members support new clause 1. However, it will be resisted by the Government because it would mean in certain circumstances that the water plcs would be charged with meeting the costs of the environmental damage that they cause. As we know, at present it is the water authorities and the water companies that are among the worst polluters.

New clause 2 deals with another issue of serious concern to the Opposition and it was certainly discussed in great detail during the Committee stage. It provides for the subcontracting of certain aspects of the work of the NRA, possibly to the same people working alongside the water plcs. The fact that monitoring and control could be subcontracted to polluting plcs, or the same people concerned with the plcs' functions, indicates that the Government are not in any way serious about the role of the NRA, despite the comments made by such hon. Members as the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, who says that the new clause is a great innovation by the Government. They have brought in a new body that will have a major impact on the environment. We know that the NRA was not proposed initially by the Government, because the Government favoured the water plcs being involved with self-regulation. The NRA was foisted on to the British Government by outside bodies. That is a fact that no one can contradict.

The Minister for Water and Planning (Mr. Michael Howard) indicated dissent.

Mr. Hinchliffe : The Minister can shake his head, but everyone knows that that is the case. If it was not the case, why was it not included in the initial proposal that the Government brought forward? They have had plenty of time to consider the proposals in detail. The question of getting away from the poacher and gamekeeper issue is frankly nonsense, because the same situation could arise as that proposed in the Bill for subcontracting. I believe that it is the same as giving control of rat infestation to the rats. When we consider the proposals for subcontracting, we can see that it is essential to include new clause 2 in the Bill.

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Despite what the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle said, the concept of the National Rivers Authority is completely alien to the philosophy of the Government, who believe in free play of the market and self-regulation. I support the NRA and I believe that it will be useful in the context of a publicly owned water industry. However, the NRA has been forced on the Government in order to get the measure through the House. The proposals on contracting out give the game away completely.

The Bill has been portrayed as a green Bill. If we consider the representations that we have received from various organisations with green concerns, outlooks and interests, it will be seen that it is not a green Bill, but a greed Bill. It is about the greed for profits and dividends. It is about a greed for personal gain. It is not about our environment and pollution, but about people making a fast buck. We should forget the green nonsense, because the Bill is all about greed.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : I spoke in favour of the Bill at Second Reading and I have read and heard nothing since to make me change my mind. However, I was committed to other things and was not privileged to join the Committee. I was sad about that, because I was very interested in the Bill, having been privileged as a junior to be involved in much of the early work in the 18 months prior to the last general election. That is why I feel that I can say that when the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) moved what I suppose could be called environmental clauses, he was perhaps unjustly bidding for canonisation. He certainly cannot have been bidding for ministerial promotion--that is very unlikely. The hon. Member for Copeland gave the impression of wearing a halo as he moved this series of Opposition new clauses. If he thought he was wearing one, it was undeserved and, despite the remarks of the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can claim the credit for the National Rivers Authority.

When this measure was being researched and discussed in the last Parliament, the National Rivers Authority was not even under consideration. There was just a river basin entity, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) pointed out. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend because, in my view, the present Secretary of State felt that the environmental issues had to be separated out--that the commercial function had to be separated from the controllers and the legislators--and he made the right decision.

The new clauses are simply window-dressing to try to obtain for the Opposition, as the hon. Member for Wakefield tried to do, public acclaim for being interested in environmental issues and wanting the separation of the commercial from the environmental function. That separation is entirely the brainchild of the Secretary of State. There seems to be no need for the opening subsection of new clause 1. Clauses 99, 100, 101 and 102 appear to fit the bill well. Clause 99 describes the waters that we are discussing ; clause 100 sets out the form of classification ; clause 101 gives the quality objectives ; and clause 102 imposes the duties to maintain those objectives. Clearly, therefore, new clause 1(1) is unnecessary.

Subsection (2) of new clause 1 is equally unnecessary because clause 103 sets out the offences and procedures of

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enforcement. Commentators outside have suggested that the punishments for breaches should be tougher. Perhaps the Minister will underline, when he replies, the power that the courts will have and the sort of punishments that are envisaged. That would help to put our minds at rest on that issue.

I see no reason for new clause 2, other than as a piece of window-dressing by which the Opposition seek to achieve some kudos from what the Bill already achieves. Subsection (1) of that new clause is already covered amply by the Bill. Subsection (2) is covered by clause 99 onwards in part III of the Bill. Subsection (3) of the new clause is covered by clauses 3 and 6 of the Bill. Clearly, therefore, we do not need new clause 2.

New clause 15 is really only clause 101 of the Bill but listed in enormous detail. The danger of listing on the face of the Bill the sort of detail that new clause 15 would achieve is that in due course, when the Bill is law, someone will say that something has been left out or forgotten. Clause 101(4) of the Bill deals with the whole subject in a more practical way because the House, through the Secretary of State, can vary the objectives at regular intervals, when hon. Members will have the opportunity to debate such changes to ensure that the public interest is protected.

When dealing with new clause 20, the hon. Member for Copeland seemed determined that the new plcs should not own any freehold land. I find that puzzling. Be they waterworks, buildings or just open land, those items will have to be valued and people will have to make a judgment about what might or might not happen in the longer-term-- [Interruption.] --and that is the sort of judgment we must all make when we buy something.

I regret that the hon. Member for Copeland is not in his place. He seemed to suggest that the vast majority of the land that the water authorities will obtain is national park land. One might have believed, listening to him, that the water authorities will turn our national parks into housing estates. I understand--perhaps the Minister will make this clear--that only a small part of our national parks is owned by water authorities. Most of the land is privately owned, and I think that the Ministry of Defence owns a large slice of it. But whoever owns it, I can see no way by which planning consents will substantially change our national parks.

I hope that the Minister will reassure us on the question of access. In playing to the gallery, the hon. Member for Copeland, when referring to clause 7(5), referred to free access and free recreation. Britain's 4 million anglers already pay substantially for what they get. It is unfair to suggest that they are getting it free.

Mr. Allen McKay : British anglers pay a rod licence, not an access licence.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : Let us not play with words. The hon. Member for Copeland, when referring to clause 7(5), sought to create the impression that after privatisation people would have to pay for things that they now get free. That is patently untrue and I believe the right hon. Gentleman knows it.

In short, it is perfectly clear that everything that is referred to in these new clauses is already adequately covered in the Bill. I therefore have no worries whatever about joining my hon. Friends in voting them down.

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9.30 pm

Mr. Martlew : This is a terrible Bill and I am surprised that there are not more hon. Members in the Chamber tonight. I suspect that the reason is that they know that we do not have to worry too much about the Bill because, even if it becomes law, nobody will buy the shares. And they know, of course, as we come nearer a general election, that it is not worth buying them anyhow because we have to take water back into public ownership -- [Interruption.] We have obviously upset hon. Gentlemen. We must have touched a raw nerve--which is more than the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) did.

Mr. Burt : The hon. Gentleman is telling us new things here because the last we heard from those on his Front Bench was talk about beefing up the regulation side but leaving the privatised supply absolutely alone. If he is telling us one thing and his hon. Friends on the Front Bench are telling us another, we need to be told which is the truth.

Mr. Martlew : I am delighted to reply to the hon. Gentleman. I think that the last time he intervened was in Committee and at that time, too, he was crawling. There is no doubt that the Labour party will take water back into public ownership.

In connection with the new clauses, I want to deal with two matters. One is the question of the contracting out of the National Rivers Authority functions and the other is the principle of the polluter paying.

We have already had a great deal of debate on the NRA. We do not believe that it will protect the rivers and water courses of this country, but we accept that it is better than nothing, and it is better than what the Government were proposing before. But we do not believe that the Government should be able to hand over the function of testing the rivers to the plcs. That worries us greatly because it is not a credible alternative for the plcs to do the work for the NRAs. There is an old saying that he who pays the piper calls the tune, but in this case that will not hold water--I am sorry about that. Especially in the North-West water area, there will not be the option for the NRAs to do their own testing because the decision has already been taken that the main laboratories at Dawson house in Warrington will be transferred to the plc. I deliberately asked the chairman of the North-West water authority about this when I visited Warrington last year.

Furthermore, no real attempt has been made to provide alternative laboratories for the new rivers authority ; so there is no possibility of the NRA carrying out its own tests in the north-west. The only option it will have for the foreseeable future is to contract it out to the water plc, and that just is not credible. Even if the tests are carried out correctly and there is no hint of doubt, people will not believe this is so if the plcs are doing it. At the sewage works in my own constituency there is a very good small, well-equipped laboratory for testing the effluent as it goes out into the river Eden. But that is to be transferred to the plc and that laboratory will do the testing for the NRA. That, again, has no credibility. The separation of the two about which we have heard so much from the Government and their supporters is a sham. It will not work. Nobody will believe that one body can be judge and jury. I only wish that the Secretary of State had taken the example of the Home Office and the way it dealt

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with the situation with regard to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. They were divided and now have the Crown service dealing with the prosecution and the police dealing with the job of catching the criminals and arranging--

Mr. Mullin : Arranging the confessions.

Mr. Martlew : --arranging the convictions. I would not like to cast any aspersions on the working of our police force.

What we have here, instead of that, is the NRA giving the job of providing the evidence to the criminal. The water plcs will be taken to court but the job of providing evidence will also be given to them. Therefore, my guess is that not many of them will be taken to court and even fewer will be convicted.

I turn now to new clause 1 and the question of making the polluter pay. I agree with that. Too often large companies pollute our rivers and get away with small fines. None of their directors takes personal responsibility and yet they are often guilty of wilful neglect, the consequence of which can mean the killing of hundreds of thousands of fish in many miles of river.

Let us consider the way that companies are treated compared to poachers. Often, high fines or imprisonment are imposed on poachers who have taken 10 or 20 fish. I am not soft on poachers who get everything they deserve, but they do less damage to the rivers than do some of our major industries.

Mr. Pike : In the scenario that my hon. Friend has painted, is it not possible that some industrial polluters could invest in the water plcs? It would be cheaper for them to purchase a large stake in those industries rather than deal with the pollution. They could then carry out the tests for the NRA. Is not that how this Government intend privatisation to work?

Mr. Martlew : Obviously, my hon. Friend has been reading my notes. The polluters are not only likely to invest in the plcs but have already made an investment in the Conservative party. That is why there is some opposition to this clause, because it is well known that big business does not want it.

Pollution in my own area is usually caused by caustic soda, which is used by many industries. They fail to place fail-safe systems round the caustic soda tanks, somebody leaves the valve on and as a result thousands of fish die. In one case, a thousand gallons of fresh cream went down the river, which did not harm the fish but was not good for the print works further down.

Directors must be accountable for their companies' actions. Directors who are wilfully negligent should be brought before the courts and treated in the same way as poachers. We must ensure that when pollution occurs those responsible are not only fined heavily but made to pay the full cost of restocking the river and bringing it back to life. Some compensation should also be given to the angling clubs whose sport on the river is spoilt. That is the way forward. However, I recognise that if we impose tight standards on factories that have been polluting rivers for many years--many such have been mentioned in the industrial north--it could well mean their closure. Unfortunately--I

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understand this view--people often prefer a polluted river to life on the dole. Therefore, in genuine cases grants should be made available to such companies to help them to stop polluting the rivers. If those factories are eventually forced to close, the Government will provide derelict land grants to clear the site and plant trees on it and, therefore, it surely makes sense to support those companies with a tradition of polluting the area and which cannot afford the necessary equipment. If the Government gave them financial assistance it would create better factories and clean rivers. I hope that the Minister will take up that point. The agro-chemical industry also concerns me. More and more farms are causing problems which are not all the farmers' fault. Much of the slurry contamination must be the farmers' responsibility but many of the agro-chemicals--some of which are recommended by the Government --create problems. Only last week the Hexham Courant --not coroner--carried an article about an area not far from where I live in Alston. The headline reads :

"Cot deaths linked to sheep dip in river".

A scientist, Dr. Lewis Routledge, who has been monitoring the river Tyne, says that a problem could well result from Government-approved sheep dips running into the river and causing serious health problems to the local community. Within four hours of infected sheep dip going into the river it is running through taps in various parts of Newcastle. The Government should not alway blame the farmer when things go wrong.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield talked about biologically dead rivers--rivers that cannot sustain life. That is not strictly accurate : people may die, but rivers can be brought back to life. All that we need to do is spend money, give it time and have the necessary will. I do not think, however, that the clauses that we have talked about today will enable us to bring those rivers back to life. It is no good saying that the position is worse in other parts of Europe ; I am interested only in rivers in the county that contains my constituency.

I have heard Ministers going on about being green. They are indeed green-- like the scum on the top of a stagnant pond. The Bill should be taken seriously, and I believe that people will refuse to buy shares in the privatised industry with which it deals. I also believe that they will refuse to vote for this Government in the next election. Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : It may be helpful if I say to hon. Members who are now rising that I understand that the Front-Bench Members will seek to rise at 10.20 pm. Will hon. Members bear that in mind so that all who wish to speak may do so?

Mr. Ashby : At the beginning of the last century, people got together to provide much-needed sewers in the cities to take away the effluent. Gradually, in the latter part of the century, the water authorities were built up, and provided the clean water that was so necessary to the urban environment. The sewerage undertakers were at first largely owned by the municipal authorities, while the water authorities were privately owned, later to be nationalised. The two came together in the 1970s. The history of the sewerage and water authorities contains a common theme. In the last century no one provided any real control or set sufficiently high standards for the water that was to be consumed.

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It is a sad fact that over the same period of 80 or 90 years we have seen a decline in our waterways, which we all regret. We have seen many waterways die, and we have seen heavier pollution over the past 40 years in areas such as the Fens, much of it due to the deposit of nitrates some years ago. I remember going on the Broads some 30 years ago when they were alive. I remember the joy that I experienced fishing from a boat. I went there several times. I have not been recently, but I understand that it is no longer possible to fish from a boat because there are no fish. That is very sad. The one theme that runs through the history of public water supply is that there has been nobody to set the standards and to enforce them. At long last, the Bill creates the National Rivers Authority to set standards and enforce them. The Opposition have said time and again that they would like to wave a magic wand so that those standards would be enforced immediately, but such things are not achieved by waving a magic wand or by willing the changes to occur, as has been suggested. Those standards will be achieved only by perseverence and education, by explaining to people, encouraging them and ultimately enforcing standards upon them.

9.45 pm

The National Rivers Authority will provide all that. It is necessary to set out a timetable and a scheme. We must know that after a given time all waterways will have to reach acceptable standards. The National Rivers Authority will have to set a five, 10 or 15-year scheme. All the changes are costly and will take time, but the National Rivers Authority will create a policy to clean up the country.

We all talk about green policies. The Opposition and the Government believe that it is necessary to control pollution and to improve the environment in our country.

Mr. Devlin : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ashby : No, time is short.

We are being dogged by the Labour party's opposition to privatisation or profit and to the idea that any private company should own the land and provide the water. The Opposition have forgotten that over the past 80 years public companies have been the worst providers. For the past 80 years there has been a decline in standards and the public companies have been absolutely hopeless at preventing pollution. Only now are we experiencing the consequences of the nationalised industries and publicly-controlled authorities. They are absolutely hopeless for a number of reasons. They do not provide sufficient capital investment. I blamed the Labour Government in the 1970s because there was a decline of something like 50 per cent. because of the country's economy at the time, but all Governments have tried to restrict capital investment by public authorities. All Governments look at any profit made by a public authority and decide to take it back into the Treasury because it is needed for hospitals, tax cuts or some other reason. So the public companies and authorities have been starved of investment and have gradually declined.

The Bill provides us with the only opportunity to break out of the straitjacket. The National Rivers Authority will set the standards, but the Bill will also free those authorities from financial restrictions and allow them to invest. Nobody will want to invest in the public companies or buy shares in them unless they provide an ongoing

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investment to show that they are strong, powerful companies providing good water supplies, and so on. That would be a spur to higher standards and to the benefit of the community as a whole. Without such a provision, we shall have a stop-go process for years to come and there will be no improvement.

I was astounded when I heard that 65 per cent. of the sewage discharged into the sea in Wales was raw sewage. That is wholly unacceptable. I am looking forward to the NRA setting up a scheme and telling companies, "You cannot go on like this--you have 10 years to clean up your act and see that you discharge only clean effluent into the North sea, or you will be prosecuted thereafter." It is essential that we consider the matter in that way. Clause 110 is important and has my wholehearted support. I reject new clause 1.

Amendment after amendment was proposed in Committee, but when we examined them we found that they were meaningless because the same provisions were already in the Bill. We have heard only scaremongering from the Labour party and there has been little constructive opposition. The important point was made by an Opposition Member who said that the Bill had been well drafted and constructed, but that the one point to which he was opposed was privatisation. We are arguing about the NRA when, in effect, there is opposition only to privatisation.

The weakness of the drafting of new clause 1 can be seen when one looks at clause 110, which deals with the control of the National Rivers Authority over effluent and its powers to prosecute. It says :

"Where the Authority carries out any such works or operations as are mentioned in subsection (1) above, it shall, subject to subsection (4) below, be entitled to recover the expenses reasonably incurred in doing so from any person who, as the case may be-- (

(a) caused or knowingly permitted the matter in question to be present."

The person referred to is the one who allows the pollution to take place. Is that not exactly what is proposed in the new clause 1?

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton) : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ashby : No--other hon. Members wish to speak and I am about to finish.

Every amendment proposed today has been a graphic example of surplus, and a waste of time because the real opposition is to privatisation. The Bill is excellent and does not require amendment. It provides a strong National Rivers Authority which will do all that we require. For that reason, I shall vote against any amendments and will continue to support this excellent Bill.

Mr. Morley : We have had an admission of failure from the Conservatives today. We have heard a succession of speeches trying lamely to defend a Bill which seeks to put a natural monopoly into the hands of private companies and is a confession that the Government have failed to release the water companies from the wholly artificial straitjacket of financial restraint. There is nothing to stop the Government removing that straitjacket because the Chancellor of the Exchequer is knee deep in money with a £14 billion surplus, with which he intends to pay off the national debt. Some of that could easily have been directed towards the water companies for infrastructure investment. By admitting their failure, the Government are

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throwing the water companies out into the private sector, where higher charges and higher revenues will be required to meet that investment. It is far more unfair to charge consumers, with no differentiation between those who can and cannot pay, than to raise money by way of taxation and surpluses.

The most recent opinion poll on people's attitudes towards water privatisation showed that 96 per cent. of the public were against it. The 4 per cent. in favour must all have been on the Conservative Benches today, lamely trying to defend the indefensible.

New clause 1 embodies the principle that the polluter pays. Mr. Devlin rose --

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