Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Ridley : To a large extent I agree with the hon. Lady, but if she wants those things put right, why does she oppose the Bill when that is what it will do?

Mrs. Taylor : The Secretary of State is well aware of the offer that the Opposition have made, and have repeated on several occasions. We will support the establishment and, indeed, the strengthening of the National Rivers Authority because that, rather than privatisation, is the way to deal with pollution.

In recent years many polluters have made the simple decision that it is cheaper to flout the law--even if they are caught--than to invest in avoiding pollution. We all pick up the bill in our water rates while the polluter gets off lightly. The Government's attitude, agreed with the water authorities, has been to try to persuade the polluters to be good boys, but that strategy simply has not worked. Now


Column 1018

the Government are pushing it further by not allowing the National Rivers Authority to take decisions. The Government are pre-empting the role of the NRA by inviting water authorities to reduce standards of sewage treatment plants in advance of privatisation and the establishment of the NRA.

In a letter dated 21 November 1988, the Department invited water authorities to apply for relaxations for many treatment plants which were breaching consents. Last month, a near-frantic letter pleaded with local authorities to submit plans not for the improvement of those treatment plants but for relaxations to let treatment plants in breach of consents off the hook. Although we questioned the Minister frequently in Committee, he has given no date by which he guarantees that improvements in those treatment plants will be achieved. In all our discussions in Committee and in the answers that the Minister has been forced to supply, little attention has been paid to the reasons why sewage treatment plants are unable to meet their targets and are breaching their consents. It is often trade effluent which overloads the system. New clause 1, which establishes the principle that the polluter pays, will help to prevent that. On selected occasions Ministers have used and promoted that principle, but they are not consistent and cite it only when it suits them.

Some Conservative Members have reservations about the principle that the polluters should pay. This evening we learned that the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) has reservations even about the existence of the National Rivers Authority. That is not surprising as he is chairman, or at least a member of the privatisation steering committee which has been advising and assisting the

Conservative-appointed chairmen of the water authorities on how to deal with privatisation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland pointed out earlier, the water chairmen are gearing up for privatisation. It is therefore not surprising that the hon. Gentleman resists new clause 1. A letter from the secretary of the Water Authorities Association states :

"Any further strengthening of the regulatory framework now put forward would have significantly adverse consequences for the successful management of the privatised company."

The CBI has been briefing Conservative Members and its latest brief makes clear what it wants :

"We are seeking to ensure that the Government does not create a situation which would be completely unacceptable to all those discharging trade effluents".

That gets to the nub of the Government's resistance. A strong NRA and a strong regulatory framework will affect profits. The hon. Member for Pudsey was more honest than the Minister about that. Perhaps the Secretary of State was more honest than he has been throughout the proceedings of the Bill when he intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland. When my hon. Friend referred to new clause 20, which suggests that the water authorities' land should, if privatisation goes ahead, pass to the National Rivers Authority, rather than to the water companies so as to ensure that the land stays in the public sector, the Secretary of State asked what was to stop the NRA developing the land. His first thought was not whether the Bill would provide better protection for the land, but whether the NRA would be able to develop the land. The Bill is about making money out of developing that land. The Secretary of State let the cat out of the bag this evening. He should


Column 1019

retitle the Bill because it is not about water privatisation, but about the privatisation of the assets of the water authorities. It being Eleven o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- proceeded, pursuant to the order [6 February] and the Resolution this day, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, That the clause be read a Second time :--

The House divided : Ayes 222, Noes 316.

Division No.126] [11 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Adley, Robert

Allason, Rupert

Allen, Graham

Anderson, Donald

Archer, Rt Hon Peter

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashley, Rt Hon Jack

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)

Battle, John

Beaumont-Dark, Anthony

Beckett, Margaret

Beith, A. J.

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)

Bermingham, Gerald

Bidwell, Sydney

Blair, Tony

Blunkett, David

Boyes, Roland

Bradley, Keith

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)

Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Buckley, George J.

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Cartwright, John

Clark, Dr David (S Shields)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clay, Bob

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coleman, Donald

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin

Corbyn, Jeremy

Cousins, Jim

Crowther, Stan

Cryer, Bob

Cummings, John

Cunliffe, Lawrence

Cunningham, Dr John

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Doran, Frank

Douglas, Dick

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth

Eadie, Alexander

Eastham, Ken

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)

Fatchett, Derek

Faulds, Andrew

Fearn, Ronald

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)

Fisher, Mark

Flannery, Martin

Flynn, Paul

Foster, Derek

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galbraith, Sam

Galloway, George

Garrett, John (Norwich South)

George, Bruce

Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Golding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, Mildred

Graham, Thomas

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Harman, Ms Harriet

Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy

Healey, Rt Hon Denis

Heffer, Eric S.

Henderson, Doug

Hinchliffe, David

Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)

Home Robertson, John

Hood, Jimmy

Howarth, George (Knowsley N)

Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)

Howells, Geraint

Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)

Hoyle, Doug

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Hughes, Roy (Newport E)

Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)

Illsley, Eric

Ingram, Adam

Janner, Greville

Johnston, Sir Russell

Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)

Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Mo n)

Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)

Kennedy, Charles

Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil

Kirkwood, Archy

Leadbitter, Ted

Leighton, Ron

Lestor, Joan (Eccles)

Lewis, Terry

Litherland, Robert

Livsey, Richard

Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)

Lofthouse, Geoffrey

Loyden, Eddie

McAllion, John

McAvoy, Thomas

McCartney, Ian

Macdonald, Calum A.

McFall, John


Next Section

  Home Page