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Column 121Farmers and conservationists are fearful about clauses 7 and 9. Recreational bodies have fears about access to land- -97,000 acres of it in Wales, forming a considerable part of the most beautiful areas there.
There are still no adequate safeguards, despite recent Government statements, against the dangers of selling off. There are fears among environmentalists about the Bill's effect on pollution, and among the poverty lobby about its effects on disconnection and compulsory metering. There are fears in Wales that we shall once again be at the end of the queue and that the Bill will do nothing to help solve our problems or to redress the problems that Welsh water consumers have faced over the years.
Although we have put an awful lot of time into it, the Bill leaves the House as unacceptable as it was back before Christmas. That is why my hon. Friends and I will most certainly vote against Third Reading.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : I have listened with great interest to a number of speeches in this debate. The speech by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) led me to assume that the once great internationalists and Europeans among the Democrats have now become the arch-chauvinists. The hon. Gentleman attacked the French with a venom that seemed like the reincarnation of the first Lord Beaverbrook.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell). He complained about the quality of our water, the speed with which the Government reacted to the bathing-water directive, the quality of our rivers and the inadequate level of investment in the water industry. He seemed not to realise that every argument he put forward underlined, rather than undermined, the case for water privatisation. He is typical of many who oppose the Bill, those who continue to attack the consequences of the very status quo that they seek to defend. The hon. Gentleman seemed to forget that the problems of the water industry are the direct consequence of public ownership. His argument about the quality of our rivers was an argument for the National Rivers Authority.
The problems of the water industry are aggravated by inadequate capital investment. That is an argument that Opposition Members should well understand ; it was the Labour Government who cut investment in the water industry. As long as the water industry remains in public ownership, it will receive inadequate capital investment. So long as it has to compete with schools, hospitals, roads and railways, it will be starved of the investment that it needs. Once the industry is in the private sector, it will be able to tap the market in the same way as Cable and Wireless has done so successfully--it has increased its capital expenditure dramatically. I hope that, when my hon. and learned Friend finalises the details of the privatisation issue, he will give the privatised plcs a decent dowry, and that a substantial proportion of the money raised by privatisation will be used to improve the balance sheets of the plcs so that they can invest substantially in the capital expenditure that is so necessary.
We have heard from hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) about the problems of monopoly. He forgets that the water companies will be controlled much
Column 122more effectively in the private sector than in the public sector. The experience of British Telcom and British Gas shows that. No Secretary of State for Energy ever managed to control Sir Denis Rooke--
Mr. Marshall : I shall ignore that irrelevant and inaccurate interruption. My point about British Gas is that, when Sir Denis Rooke presided over a company in the public sector, Secretary of State after Secretary of State tried and failed to control him. Ofgas was the first body to control Sir Denis Rooke, and Oftel has worked, too
Mr. Marshall : I write my own speeches. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman does, but I know from having listened to him in Harare yesterday that he spoke for more than an hour when he was billed to speak for less than half an hour.
I welcome the possibility of water metering. The present system of charging for water is unfair. Why should the pensioner, consuming one third of the water consumed by her next-door neighbour, pay the same for that water? No one suggests that there should be a standard charge for electricity--
Mr. Boateng : Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about the impact on the pensioner of the standing charge and will he urge the Secretary of State to amend this Bill in another place so that the pensioner is protected from the standing charge?
Mr. Marshall : I happen to believe that the pensioner, who will already benefit substantially under the community charge, should be a substantial beneficiary of water metering. A pensioner household consumes very much less water than households with three or four children and sometimes with three or four wage-earners. Why should pensioners, as they do under the present system, pay substantially the same amount for water when they are consuming much less of it? I also believe that water metering would lead to much more economical use of water. When the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) was "Minister for Drought" in those long-lost days of the Labour Government, he was able to persuade people suddenly to reduce their consumption of water dramatically. I believe that, if we had water meters, there would be no need for a minister for drought to persuade people to use less water ; the price mechanism would do it for him. Why should people pay for large amounts of water when
Column 123they are small consumers? It is surely much fairer that the pensioner and the single person should pay less than large households.
The Water Bill is a Bill for greater efficiency. No one can regard the water industry under public ownership as a paragon of efficiency. Under private ownership, the water industry's prices will be controlled. The only way in which water companies will be able to increase profits is by becoming more efficient. Surely that is an objective we should all applaud and approve.
I should like to ask the opponents of privatisation why it is that the Socialist President and Prime Minister of France have shown no enthusiasm for nationalising their water industry. The answer is simple : they understand that a water industry under private ownership is more likely to be efficient in providing the water the people need.
Recently I read a speech by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) addressing the Scottish council of the SDP--I believe it is known as a cottage meeting. He said that the Water Bill was encouraging French companies to buy British water companies. He seemed to ignore the fact that there is a golden share to prevent the plcs from being acquired as soon as privatisation takes place. I was somewhat surprised to see the great former Foreign Secretary, the man who was the great European--[ An hon. Member :--"Who said he was great?"] He did ; he was always telling us he was great. I was surpised to see him becoming the great chauvinist and the great opponent of the France.
I believe that this Bill will provide the capital to modernise the water industry, clean up our rivers and improve our beaches. It is in the interests of the consumer, the efficiency of the industry and the environment and it should be warmly welcomed.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : I hope that the speech of the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) will be widely distributed, not only in Hendon but throughout the country, because it well illustrates many of the errors into which he and his hon. Friends have fallen, not least the Secretary of State, who I am very glad to see here. If I had the time, I would enlarge upon the point about the single user of water. We all use water for all sorts of purposes, and the single elderly pensioner requires cleanliness from everybody she meets and everyone who deals with food and the cleanliness of the community. Without pure, clean, cheap water public health would be at risk.
When the House was built it relied on privatised water. I think that the Chelsea water company supplied it. Unfortunately, at that stage, when that water was used it disappeared with all its contents into the river and it was not until the 1860s that the Metropolitan Board of Works built the Victoria embankment, largely for intercepting sewers, and we had drainage in London.
The Bill has three major aspects which so far have not featured largely in debates either in Committee or on Report. The first is that for the first time in history our foul water drainage and purification will be privatised. I believe that this is the first time that this has been tried anywhere in the world, but the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. Secondly, the private firms controlling foul water
Column 124disposal will for the first time--after the golden share disappears--be controlled from outside the United Kingdom. Thirdly, these private firms will not be confined, as private water companies are at the moment, to the supply and disposal of water. They will be permitted to diversify. That is a point which the Secretary of State confirmed at the start of the debate when he kindly gave way to me. I have in my hand a press release from Mr. Roy Watts, of the Thames water authority, dated 24 November. He talks about the future and says :
We shall also be able to move into new, non-regulated areas of activity at home and abroad, water related or not, for the benefit of future shareholders, and customers."
[Interruption.] I hear the Secretary of State--I think it was he-- saying "Hear hear."
Those three features are, I believe, even more fundamental than the idea of private water supply, which has been largely the theme of Conservative Members. I believe that it is wholly contrary even to that Victorian virtue of collective activity in pursuit of public health, because no Victorian believed in private disposal and purification of water. That is what the Government are doing--largely, I believe, because of their ignorance of what all this means. They are also hiding from the public their real motives and the likely effects of the legislation.
Of course, the National Rivers Authority will be an improvement over what we have at the moment, but it could have been achieved without privatisation. I hope that the NRA will carry out the same model activity as the late lamented Thames Conservancy. We on the River Thames remember that body, which was set up in the middle of the Victorian era, and hope that the NRA will, through proper local consultation and balanced use of many types of water space, bring back the sort of administration that we enjoyed on the Thames many years ago, and which I hope will be recreated. But that has not been the theme of Conservative Members. We have had carbon copy speeches, of which the contribution of the hon. Member for Hendon, South was typical. They have said that there was no, or very little, public investment prior to 1979 and it had been inadequate and impossible post- 1979, conveniently forgetting the past 10 years.
Both arguments are specious. The Government do not want to invest in public water supply and disposal. They do not believe in it because they do not believe in public service as a concept. There may be a few Conservative Members who believe in public service as a concept, but I do not believe that the Secretary of State does. Where public service has remained, instead of being given, even on a limited scale, quality, sustenance and high standards, it has been undermined in Bill after Bill, and regulation after regulation. As an example of this--I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) is not here--the Government have removed local authority members from water authorities. How much more undemocratic can they get? I believe that that was done because originally they wanted to privatise water anyway and that was a step many years ago in that direction. It carries dogma beyond the limits of logic, common sense and political sagacity. Political sagacity is in short supply among Conservative Members and particularly at No. 10 Downing street.
I wonder what Alderman Roberts of Grantham would have said if it had been suggested that the purity and public health of Grantham would in future depend on a private
Column 125company whose area covered the whole of the east midlands and East Anglia, which had shares traded in Tokyo, New York and Frankfurt, which could perhaps be controlled from anywhere in the world, and which could be subject to a takeover bid by any multinational. I wonder what today's inhabitants of Grantham would think about that. I do not think that they know the full implications of the Bill, and that is one of the problems.
When the Secretary of State opened the debate he fairly and quite properly lauded private water suppliers. We in London know that our first private water supplies came from the great New River company. It collected water from springs in Amwell in Hertfordshire and brought it to London and sold it. It was very good water. It came from the chalk of Hertfordshire and was God-given. There was nothing wrong at that time--and, indeed, there is not now, in Tory terms--in the collection, impounding, piping purification, distribution and sale of pure water by private companies. That is carried on at the moment under due regulation, but the Bill does not continue that pattern. It destroys a pattern of statutory water companies which I do not support, but at least they worked in harmony with the municipal services for over a century. That will now go.
Not only has the London county council disappeared but the Greater London Council has disappeared with it. In my constituency that is of considerable significance in terms of health. Every drop of water which falls on the roofs, roads and pavements or comes from the baths, closets, factories, works or workplaces in north London is piped into my constituency to the Beckton purification works. From there it is pumped over 30 ft from the low -level to the high-level sewers before it is purified and goes into the Thames.
When I first became interested in politics my party chairman was a member of the London county council and was chairman of its rivers and drainage committee. At that time he was heavily involved in a huge capital programme of £20 million. That does not sound much now, but I assure Conservative Members that in the 1950s it was a great deal of money and it was spent on improving the northern and southern outfall works of the London county council. Nobody heard much about that. We did that in London for the disposal of water just as it was done in Birmingham for the supply of water, and we are to lose control even of our pumps and the equipment that deals with these matters in London.
The same loss will be suffered in the constituencies of every Conservative Member and that means that we shall be in the hands of managers such as Mr. Roy Watts. They will be cruising the world looking for worthwhile investments, perhaps in water or perhaps in other things. They will be sharks in an international sea. The plcs will be predatory in order to sustain their activities. In the end the Director General of Water Services will have to agree the necessary funds to keep water supplies going in London and every other part of the country. What collateral for any international speculator!
If the Bill goes through the other place substantially as it is now, we will have a sort of internationalisation or multinationalisation of our public health services. The House and the public may not yet have appreciated that. Ministers are in the Chamber. If I have said anything that is incorrect I shall gladly give way and allow them to correct me. The Bill reaches the low water mark of the limited and unacceptable philosophies of the Government. It pushes private ownership into areas where it is not only
Column 126unwelcome but unworkable and in the end the public will not stand for that. It besmirches the sense of responsible citizenship which lurks within most Conservative voters. That is the reason for their present unease. If the Bill becomes an Act it will pollute the standards of public life throughout the nation in the way that polluted water poisons the body. In due course, but not first without weakening the body politic, the Bill and its works will be rejected because a reluctant and disbelieving public will not stomach it or the Government from whom it sprang.
Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes) : Most of the speeches so far have been aimed at the contents of the Bill. On the whole, I should like to look at it rather more politically. On reflection I have decided to vote in favour of Third Reading, but without enthusiasm, because I do not think that there is much, if anything, to be gained from an upheaval which will do no more, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) said, than turn public monopolies into private monopolies.
I know that the water plcs will enjoy the freedom to borrow in the market the capital that they need to invest and certainly a great deal of investment is needed. But existing water authorities could enjoy that freedom as the result of an administrative decision freeing them from the constraints of the public service borrowing requirement and the overall effect on the economy would be precisely the same.
I shall accede to the Chief Whip's request to support the Bill even though that means that I shall be acting contrary to the desires of Conservatives in my constituency. I emphasise the word
"Conservatives". I could say all Conservatives or more certainly all Conservatives who have spoken to me about the Bill. I suspect that lurking somewhere in my constituency there is one or perhaps about 100 Conservatives who support the Bill. However, I must admit that I have not yet met them. That is of some concern to me but it may be a worry about 100 times greater for the Government because I doubt whether my constituents are unique.
My worries fall roughly into two sections. First, there are those who are worried about the National Rivers Authority. The objectives of those people and the objectives of the Government are not very different, but those people do not share the Government's optimism about the Bill's ability to achieve the Government's objectives. Obviously the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said, there is much concern among anglers and others. Their concerns have not been adequately expressed because time for debate has been limited or non-existent. Therefore, I hope that the Government will listen with sympathy and with concessions in mind to the debate in another place in the knowledge that those who are worried about the NRA simply want to be more certain that it will live up to expectation.
The second section of people who are much more opposed to the Bill are the massive numbers who are concerned that they will have to face a major rise in prices. It is difficult to believe that they are totally wrong. The rise in prices may be the fault of the Labour Government, who cut investment in water, but the electorate now care little or nothing about that Labour Government. For some of
Column 127us 10 years ago may seem like yesterday, but for the man in the street 10 years ago has disappeared into the mists of time, like the South Sea Bubble, the loss of the American colonies and other disasters. Therefore, I urge the Government to remember that, while the Whips may hold sway in the House, they have no influence in the country.
Mr. Pike : The hon. Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) would be better advised at least to abstain tonight, if he does not follow his conscience and vote against Third Reading. I do not believe that there is any reason why he should feel confident that the other House will take the necessary action to put right a Bill about which he has expressed strong reservations.
The Secretary of State opened the debate. He gave his reasons for believing that Government action was necessary to deal with the problems in the water industry. If he really believes that the position is as he stated, he should recognise that the present set-up for the industry results from the Water Act 1973, which was implemented by a Conservative Government. Changes were made by the Water Act 1983 which removed local authority representation from water authorities.
If I had been able to make an intervention in the Secretary of State's speech, I would have asked him if, in all honesty, he believed that the Minister who steered the 1973 Act through the House should still hold office in the Government as a member of the Cabinet if the legislation was as disastrous for the industry as the Secretary of State believes. If it has failed, surely the Minister who made that terrible blunder, in the Secretary of State's view, is not fit to hold office.
The hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) thought that in the main we can be proud of the water industry, although there are problems. The Select Committee on the Environment drew attention to some of the problems when it inquired into rivers and estuaries in 1987. One result of that is the establishment of the National Rivers Authority. It has to be accepted that it was not the structure of the industry put through in the 1973 Act, which set up the river basin concept and the 10 authorities, that led to any failure. If there have been failings, they have resulted from lack of investment in the industry, which is directly the responsibility of Government.
On numerous occasions Ministers have quoted what happened during the Labour Government's period of office between 1974 and 1979 but they did not mention that the Conservative Government, who have been in office for almost 10 years--next month will see the tenth anniversary of them taking power--have had sufficient time to ensure that water quality is right, that the standard of rivers is improving and that sewage treatment is being carried out more effectively. All the necessary work might not have been completed, but if the Conservative Government had made proper investment over the past 10 years there would not be as many problems.
Only a few weeks ago in his Budget speech the Chancellor announced a surplus of £14 billion to £15 billion but still the Government have failed to invest the money necessary to deal with the problems. Investment is
Column 128the key. If the Government had a mind to do so, they could retain the industry in the public sector. It does not have to be privatised.
The Secretary of State failed to recognise that the Labour party has not argued for the status quo or that no changes are necessary. We accept that some things need to be changed. We accept that the separation of the water functions from the regulatory body is a step in the right direction. However, at every stage of this Bill we have expressed our fears that in the end the NRA will not necessarily receive sufficient powers, staffing or resources to carry out its function. The Minister referred to the powers of the director general. We fear that the director general will not have the powers to deal with the regulatory functions provided for that position in the Bill.
Not only is there strong opposition to the Bill in this House, but water privatisation did not receive the support of the majority of voters at the last general election. Only one party during the last general election campaign was committed to privatising the water industry and that party did not receive the majority of votes from the people voting in that election. I accept that it received more votes than the Labour party, but if we include the votes for the other Opposition parties, there were far more votes against the water industry being privatised than there were in favour of it. Opinion polls show that the public are still opposed to the privatisation of the water industry. This Bill will not deal with all the problems. At the end of the day, the legislation will fail because profit will become more important than dealing with the problems in the industry.
If the private sector had been able to yield a profit from water supply, instead of having 20 per cent. of the water supply in the private sector now, there would have been 100 per cent., because people would have invested in it and developed the system. The simple fact is that sewerage has always been a public service function because there is no profit in sewerage and there never will be. If the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) believes that metering is a fair solution, he fails to recognise the penalties that will be imposed on people with large families, families with disabled people in them, and other families who face extra demands for water because of problems within the family.
I recognise that other hon. Members wish to speak so I will be brief. I believe very strongly that this Bill fails to tackle the problems. If the Government were willing to deal with the problems in the industry, there could be an effective regulatory body and an NRA. With proper investment for the industry and a willingness on the part of the Government, the problems could be dealt with. The public would have confidence that the public sector could solve the problems. The Government should change their minds and drop the Bill now. 9.7 pm
Mr. Alastair Goodlad (Eddisbury) : I support the Third Reading. Over the years I have had the pleasure to be a member of many Standing Committees, but being a member of the Water Bill Committee gave me the most unalloyed pleasure. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Water and Planning and his team of Ministers comprehensively outplayed the Opposition in every
Column 129department of the game. They won all the arguments, not only because of the skill of their advocacy, but because of the inherent superiority of their case.
I was very interested to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who came down as unambiguously as I have ever heard any Opposition Front Bench spokesman come down in favour of renationalisation of the water industry. The Labour party has lost much of its empire, but it is re-finding a role, nationalisation. Clause 4 is what the Labour party is all about--the means of production, distribution and exchange.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) says that this is the biggest act of nationalisation ever done by the Conservative Government ; if that be the case, perhaps the Opposition will follow us into the Lobby tonight.
This measure differs from any other denationalisation measure in so far as a quarter of the industry is already in private hands. I would like to talk briefly about the statutory water companies, which have supported the Government's proposals to transfer the water supply and sewerage operations of the water authorities into the private sector and have been involved in discussions with the Department for many months about the details. They have certan legitimate concerns about how their interests and those of their consumers and employees will be affected.
The areas of concern are, first, debt write-offs. The statutory water companies cannot be relieved of their present debt liability in the way water authorities can. Many of the water companies had very high gearing ratios and the adjustment of water authority debt to provide favourable gearing will inevitably cause statutory water companies to be less favourably regarded by financial institutions. Secondly, there are the flotation terms. These might make investment in water service plcs a more attractive proposition than a statutory water company and could reduce the relative
creditworthiness of the statutory water companies.
Thirdly, there are the differing financial regimes. The authorities and the companies have operated under different regimes approved by Parliament. In the case of the authorities, this has tended to produce low levels of borrowing and high charges, whereas with the statutory companies there have been high levels of borrowing and low charges. The rate of return is therefore very different, as is the level of charges under which the undertakings will enter price increase limitation regimes. Unless these differences are recognised, the ability of the statutory water companies to fund their businesses will be prejudiced, as they will be seen as less creditworthy than the privatised water authorities.
Their capital structure is unique. In addition to conventional debenture and loan stock borrowing, they are based on ordinary share capital, whose dividends historically have been subject to statutory limitation. The yields on these different categories of shares have offered virtually complete security as a result of the ability of the companies to levy rates on consumers reflecting the costs incurred. These shares were attractive to investors seeking fixed income securities offering franked income. The situation will now be totally changed, and it follows that
Column 130the K-setting regime should recognise the need for the statutory water companies to establish a substantial equity base.
Fourthly, on takeovers, my right hon. Friend has announced that the privatised water authorities will be given a golden share to protect them during their fledgling years after the flotation. Although the statutory water companies are already in the private sector, the fledgling argument could also apply to them. They will have to adjust to a different financial and commercial regime ; they will have to adjust to the requirements of the Director General of Water Services and the NRA and will have to carry out substantial capital works in order to comply with the requirements of the EC directive on water quality. The reasons for giving the privatised water authorities protection against takeover could equally be argued to apply to the statutory companies.
My right hon. Friend has also announced special MMC procedures in respect of mergers of water undertakings which have a gross asset value of more than £30 million to ensure the effective operation of comparative competition. However, I do not believe that the size of the operation is any guarantee of efficiency. Small undertakings can be just as efficient as large ones, and in some cases more so, and I do not think it is logical that the director general should be deprived of efficient comparators simply because they are small. This is certainly an argument for applying the MMC procedures to all undertakings.
I am aware that my right hon. Friend will have a discretion to refer small mergers, and I hope that he will occasionally be disposed to exercise it. As my hon. and learned Friend said in the debate on Report stage :
"to preserve all 39 water undertakers in independent ownership would be to tend to freeze the existing pattern of ownership in the industry, and there is no reason to suppose that is necessarily the best or most efficient."-- [ Official Report , 22 March 1989 ; Vol. 149, c. 1176.]
It is likely that in certain areas that course may be the most appropriate in circumstances of comparative competition. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the fact that where there is no mandatory requirement to refer there may be a public interest in so doing.
These are matters to which there is no easy answer. I know that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister has listened carefully to the Water Authorities Association and the companies and that his officials have been extremely patient and helpful. I hope that during the remaining course of the Bill answers will be found to those problems and I wish the Bill a successful passage.
Mr. Boateng : We have concentrated on Third Reading on two aspects of privatisation--the privatisation of environmental protection and amenities on the one hand and the privatisation of the collection of water and its distribution on the other. At the outset the Secretary of State reassured us that he did not intend to privatise the raindrops, only the places where those raindrops are collected or where water welled. We are supposed to give thanks for that much comfort.
I want to concentrate on one other aspect of privatisation--the privatisation of the public health facility that the public supply and distribution of water has traditionally sought to protect. When we look at the formation of the water industry as we know it today, we see that our Victorian forefathers
Column 131sought above all else to protect the nation's health. It is that self-same public health which the Opposition submit is at risk as a result of this act of privatisation.
The Secretary of State told us, in an insight that he had into Labour history--I would say a blighted insight--that the Bill was the single most important measure of environmental protection since the Labour party was a gleam in Keir Hardie's eye. That was the Secretary of State's analysis, which I want to take him up on. I want to look at a period in which the Labour party was a gleam in the young Keir Hardie's eye.
We heard from the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) of the situation in the French Cameroons. I know nothing of the French Cameroons, but I do know something of the Kingdom of Ashanti, where I was baptised, and I do know something of London, the city in which I was born.
I want to take the Secretary of State back to the 19th century, as he would have us do, and refer him to a letter in The Times of 11 February 1875 from a Mr. Humphry Sandwith of Wimbledon. What was it that created such a feeling of anxiety in Mr. Sandwith at that time? He begins his letter to the editor by reminding him of the great steps forward that were taken in water sanitation. He says : "On the outbreak of the Ashantee War you did good service in the cause of sanitary reform on behalf of our negro fellow- subjects and a few unfortunate Englishmen who were condemned to linger in bad health or to die on that pestilential coast. You pointed out clearly that a bad climate was robbed of half its terrors if the inhabitants could command pure air and pure water".
I am bound to say that I take issue with Mr. Sandwith on his description of the Gold Coast as being a pestilential coast. I also take issue with him on the benefits to the people of the Gold Coast of the Ashanti war. My great grandfather fought on the losing side in that conflict. However, I am bound to say that as a result of his efforts and those of many of my ancestors, we were able to ensure that Ashanti became only a protectorate, not a colony. I know that many Conservative Members from the district commissioner brigade know full well the distinction between a colony and a protectorate. The battle was not completely without its victory.
The editor of The Times is taken to task on the impact of the state on that day in 1875 of drinking water and its supply to certain sections of our city. Mr. Sandwith says :
"I now venture to ask for your powerful aid, not on behalf of Africans, but of the unfortunate dwellers in the West-end of London, the peers, spiritual and temporal, the baronets, knights and esquires who inhabit the fashionable quarters of this singularly filthy and wealthy city."
His reference to a
"singularly filthy and wealthy city"
is redolent of certain aspects of the city in which we live today. He goes on :
"The immediate cause of my appeal is the following fact. At a large West- end club the drinking water supplied by a certain water company left such abundant deposits of mud in the cisterns that it was necessary frequently to clean them. I saw large cakes of this dried mud, which had a peculiarly offensive appearance ; a portion of it was sent to an eminent analyst."
Under the Bill, which the Government seek to push through on Third Reading, the public will be obliged to rely on water companies themselves for analysis, but in those days at least that work was done by an independent analyst. The writer continues :
Column 132"He found it to consist of various unwholesome debris and of a considerable quantity of human excrement. Now, Sir, I ask, are the people of this city, are the wealthy and refined, as well as the poor and the helpless, content to go on drinking this repulsive mixture? A grand scheme is afloat to tunnel the Channel, millions are found to lend to Czars and Sultans ; cannot London find money to bring us pure water from Wales?"
That was in the 19th century, when that correspondent to The Times felt it necessary to draw to the attention of the editor and the general public the consequences of privately owned and distributed water. His response was to suggest--as came to be the case--that the municipalities and the public interest be protected by bringing the supply and distribution of water under public control. That made sense then to our forefathers in Ashanti and in London.
The Secretary of State for the Environment--and we have done our research-- does not appear to be a member of any London club, although no doubt he would count himself among the wealthy, if not the refined. It must be said that his hon. and learned Friend does belong to the Carlton. However, one would have thought that even out of concern for the wealthy and refined, for the members of London clubs--never mind the poor and oppressed for whom the Conservatives have never shown concern--and for public health, even at this late stage the Government would abandon this disastrous measure. In so doing, they would save themselves from the fate that Lord Rosebery pointed out lay in wait for any Government. He said :
"Water is one of those points which has wrecked a powerful government before now, and may wreck governments again."
We believe that the Bill will wreck the present Government, and that they will rue the day that they brought it to this House. 9.22 pm