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Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn) : It is difficult to take seriously the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) when he describes the Bill as one of the most damaging pieces of legislation. It has been widely credited-- even by Opposition Members--with containing significant environmental advances, as the hon. Gentleman knows very well. His hon. Friends who were not members of the Standing Committee and clearly have never read the Bill and do not appreciate the long period of gestation before it was published may talk in gimmicky-slogan terms. The fact is, however, that the Bill represents important environmental advances.
The first main advance, alluded to briefly by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister, is the ending of the position where water authorities are both poacher and gamekeeper. When the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs looked into coastal sewage pollution in 1985, one of the main points on which Opposition Members--not at parliamentary level, but at local government level--petitioned us was the need to end that position. They said that there was no way in which water authorities could monitor sewage discharges effectively when they were discharging sewage themselves.
The setting up of a National Rivers Authority will therefore create a position that Labour Members have long requested. That is the first significant environmental advance in the Bill.
The second is one to which Opposition Members would not be expected to allude. The water authorities, as water companies, will automatically be freed from the restraint of Government external financing limits. In plain language, that means that they will not have to compete with other Government Departments for finance for important capital expenditure on water infrastructure and sewage works. Opposition Members do not refer to that because the last Labour Government cut capital spending on water infrastructure by a third and on sewerage infrastructure by a half. Let me respond directly to the point made by the hon. Member for Copeland.
Column 31Compliance by 1993 might have been possible but for the gross, inexcusable and highly irresponsible neglect of the last Labour Government who slashed capital spending on water infrastructure by a third and on sewerage infrastructure by a half.
I do not want to indulge during my brief speech in
non-parliamentary language, but what the hon. Gentleman said was bordering on hypocrisy. I do not think that that word is outside the parliamentary code.
Mr. Raffan : I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a second, if he will sit down for a moment. I am sure that he does not want to hear this, but he is going to hear it, whether he likes it or not. It is time that the Opposition and the country heard these things. If the quality of our water is not as good as it should be, although it is improving, and if our beaches are not of as good a quality as they should be, although they, too, are improving, the responsibility and the blame lie with the Opposition for their gross neglect during their period in office.
Mr. Allan Roberts : Will the hon. Gentleman tell us, because he has obviously been sleeping for some time, how long the Conservative Government have been in power and why they did not do something about the problem long before this?
Mr. Raffan : That is the kind of weak intervention which one would expect from the hon. Gentleman. I am not quite sure why he is not on the Opposition Front Bench today. Perhaps he has been demoted. Capital expenditure on the water infrastructure has been steadily increased during the last 10 years to make up for the gross neglect of the Opposition when they were in power. They ought to give credit to the Government for the two significant environmental advances that are included in the Bill. They will be of major importance to all water consumers.
In his normal spirit of generosity, which those of us who were members of the Standing Committee came to expect, my hon. and learned Friend alluded in his speech only to the number of hours in both Houses that have been devoted to the Bill. He did not refer to the tidal wave--to continue my watery metaphor--of irrelevant points that were made by Opposition Members in Committee. Today the Opposition have complained about the time for debate being restricted, yet they wasted so much of their time in Committee. The hon. Member for Copeland referred in Committee to netting 24 salmon with his English setter Sam. I am glad that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) is here because he updated us in Committee about the Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea.
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) told us all about his mother being an Owen and his uncles and aunties being Evanses, about Tommy Steele and "Half a Sixpence", about the landscape of William Tell and about
Column 32undrinkable British tea. We had all that from the Opposition, yet they expect us to take them seriously when they ask for more time to debate the Bill. It is a bit rich of them to expect us to provide that when they wasted so much time in the first place.
Dr. Cunningham : The hon. Gentleman has a particularly short, inaccurate and limited memory, as we know from previous exchanges. If he thinks back to our exchanges in Committee about my ability to catch salmon, he will remember that that matter arose only because of the question--I shall not say the allegation--of his hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) that I am not a salmon fisherman.
Mr. Raffan : That is another lame intervention. I also remember the hon. Gentleman saying to the Chair that he realised that he was being diverted into irrelevancies. We do not think that he is such a weak-minded individual that he cannot resist challenges by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), which are never of a highly provocative nature and which most of us are able to resist. If most of my hon. Friends are able to resist them, surely the hon. Gentleman is not so weak-minded that he cannot resist them.
There have been few pieces of legislation in this Parliament or in the previous Parliament that have had such a long period of gestation. The Government's first mention of water privatisation was as long ago as 1985, after which a consultation document was published. There was then a discussion document, and after the announcement in 1986 there was a White Paper, two consultative papers and wide Government consultation. This led to a manifesto commitment which has been widely ignored by the Opposition.
The Opposition are highly selective. They choose their opinion polls to suit them. One opinion poll which used a far wider sample than that published in The Observer yesterday was the one on 10 June 1987 using a sample of some 25 million people as opposed to just over 1,000 people. We believe in an opinion poll sample of half the electorate while the Opposition pick and choose one of between 800 and 1,000 people. We have a strong manifesto commitment which has been backed by the people. The Government have an absolute right to see the legislation passed through both Houses of Parliament so that it receives Royal Assent in time for privatisation to take place. As my hon. and learned Friend the Minister said, by the next general election the new water plcs will be up and running and working extremely effectively. I doubt that it will remain a party political issue for long, and probably will not be raised the next election. There have been few examples of privatisation for which the argument is stronger than it is for water. Of course the Opposition have conveniently ignored the arguments against them, as they always do, especially the fact that one in four consumers already receives water from private statutory water companies, and therefore from a private source. They receive their water efficiently and they do not complain about its quality. That situation will prevail for everyone in this country after privatisation. We have heard nothing but humbug and hypocrisy from the Opposition. Let us get on with debating the amendments.
Column 334.11 pm
The Government are in serious difficulty with the Bill for a number of reasons. It is certainly an unpopular Bill. We have heard at length about the opinion poll evidence that the British people are opposed to it. Hon. Members on both sides of the House must be aware that many members of the public who are against the Bill have been motivated to write to their Members of Parliament. Many of those people do not normally write to their Members of Parliament, but feel sufficiently strongly about this issue to do so.
The most recent opinion poll shows that four out of five people are still steadfastly opposed to what the Government are doing, while millions of pounds of their money is being spent on promoting the issue on their television screens and on poster hoardings. Perhaps more significant, and of greater concern to Ministers, who have never shown great signs of being worried by public opinion and what ordinary people think, is the fact that six out of 10 fund managers are also opposed to the privatisation of water, certainly until EC standards are met. The experts in the City know a dead duck in the water when they see one. That is what the Government are bringing to the people by producing a Bill which is unpopular and is unlikely to be a success, even in the Government's limited terms.
In response to all that, the Government are not reconsidering whether to go ahead ; they are not looking to the British people, or the fund managers if they prefer, and saying, "Maybe we have got something fundamentally wrong." Instead, they squirm around within the Bill looking for ways in which they can reduce the duties that they were originally proposing to place on the water industry in order to buy off their worries and doubts and sell down the river the people who seek improvements in the water industry. At the last minute, an amendment has been sneaked in to wipe the slate clean and to give private water companies immunity from prosecution for at least a year after the sell-off.
Mr. Taylor : The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) has intervened many times, and there is little time for debate. The Minister may wish to take into account the strong feelings that have been expressed in my part of the country. Given South West Water's record locally, I suspect that it will experience difficulty in finding buyers. This week, the police will probably be giving the findings of their investigation into the Camelford incident, so it is a poor gesture for the Government to be offering water companies further immunity in order to make the sell-off work. Few people in my part of the world will be satisfied by that. Anyone considering water privatisation would do well to consider what happened to the people of Camelford and the Government's action in offering water companies immunity from prosecution.
The Government have stated that they wish to reverse a Lords amendment that aims to bring Britain's drinking
Column 34water standards up to EEC standards by 1993, which is already eight years late. The commitments that we thought might be given and the opportunities for change that we expected are receding further into the distance.
The Government propose to legalise thousands of spillages of raw sewage into rivers and streams. One cannot have confidence in a Government who are so sternly led on the water privatisation course by a Prime Minister who is unaware that untreated sewage is being pumped into seas around our coast. More sewage is pumped into the sea in my area than any other throughout the country. I recently spoke at a meeting in my constituency at Gorran Haven, which was organised by local residents who by no means are stern opponents of the Government. The water authority attended to present its case. My constituents still see water being polluted by raw sewage and must still pull their children out of the water when they see turds floating in the sea. The most striking aspect of that meeting was the feeling that such pollution needed to be tackled and that the Government's approach was fundamentally wrong. People of all backgrounds and political persuasions rightly believed that the Government's approach was fundamentally wrong.
Once again, debate is being guillotined, as it has been throughout every stage of the water privatisation proposals, thereby not only putting private profit before public debate but gagging debate on the Bill. That is not acceptable, but it should come as no surprise as the Minister, despite all his soft words, knows that he does not carry the British people with him. However much the Government cut debate and rush the Bill through, they do not and will not carry the British people with them. People in my part of the country are rising up and saying that they want public investment to solve public problems. They are clear that the pollution of our seas and water courses and the trouble that we have had with our water authority are not private but public problems. Nothing that the Minister does in selling off water authorities will change their opinion.
Mr. Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : I thought that a hint of desperation entered the speech of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor). I would be desperate if my party went down to 7 per cent. in the opinion polls.
Mr. Leigh : I will not add to my hon. Friend's comment. Unfortunately, he is disbarred from speaking in this debate. He would bring great knowledge to it, particularly about salmon fishing. The Liberal party is not doing well because it has lost much of its green vote. Once the Bill becomes an Act we shall recoup much of the ground which, according to the Opposition, we may have lost. Fundamentally, this is a green Bill. It is a matter of pride to Conservative Members that we are setting up, for the first time, a national environmental protection agency.
Column 35Government to explain their case. Sometimes people are genuinely worried about a radical measure, but once this Bill becomes an Act and people see how things settle down, they will come to thank the Government because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) has said, for the first time the gamekeeper-poacher problem has been tackled.
I shall not deal with the financial record of the previous Labour Government, but the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) failed to answer some questions. No doubt the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), as an upwardly mobile member of the Labour party, will answer them when she replies on behalf of the Opposition. This is a green, environmental Bill. Perhaps the hon. Member for Dewsbury will tell us why the Labour Government failed to list a single bathing beach for the purposes of the 1975 bathing waters directive. Can she explain why Labour took no action to implement part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974? Perhaps she will explain why the previous Labour Government prevented members of the public from initiating prosecutions of river polluters. I note that the hon. Lady is busy talking to her hon. Friends on the Front Bench. It is clear that she does not want to explain, but the House wants answers. We are the green party because we are setting up an environmental protection agency. It is no good the hon. Lady looking round desperately as I have a couple of other questions for her. How did the previous Labour Government discharge their responsibilities for monitoring involuntary pollution by sewage treatment works when they kept no record of the adequacy of their performance?
Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) rose--
Mr. Leigh : I shall give way with pleasure, but can the hon. Lady explain why the Labour Government kept the details of discharge consent applications secret from the public and refused to allow the public to participate in the process of granting them?
Ms. Walley : As the hon. Gentleman has claimed that the Conservative party represents green votes, will he admit that the only thing that is green about this Bill are the green worms that came through London's tap water and the people whose hair turned green in Camelford as a result of aluminium poisoning? What has he got to say about that?
Mr. Leigh : If the hon. Lady wants to be a member of the next Labour Government she must do much better than that. She must answer the five questions that I put, which were perfectly reasonable. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) is not prepared to answer them, but I hope that the hon. Member for Dewsbury will. Debates such as this always follow the same pattern. I think that I shall scream if someone again, says that, on one day, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) moved five guillotine motions. I accept that it is a good point, but it is always made. Usually the right hon. Gentleman attends such debates, which are, fundamentally, always the same.
If there were a Labour Government in the future and if the hon. Member for Dewsbury decided to renationalise electricity, water and British Telecom and, by that stage,
Column 36perhaps British Rail and British Coal, would she produce five guillotine motions in one day? We shall have to wait and see. I believe that I now know something about how Standing Committees work. I was not only a member of the Committee that considered the Water Bill, which sat for more than 150 hours, but a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Self-Governing Schools Etc (Scotland) Bill, which also sat for 150 hours. It was also guillotined and we heard the same arguments as we have heard today. Television is about to enter the Chamber and no doubt it will cover our Standing Committees. It is about time, therefore--this is a non-party political point--that we considered timetabling Bills from the very start. Once television comes into the Standing Committees, we cannot have the procedures and speeches that we have had not only on this Bill, but on others of whose Committees I have been a member.
I am surprised that no hon. Member has so far mentioned the irrelevant speeches and the speeches on the Tatler of the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng). When I was a member of the Committee on the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill, the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) talked for several hours in his lilting Gaelic on a matter totally irrelevant to the Bill because Labour Members had to prove to the people of this country that they were a powerful, virile Opposition who would continue to speak ad nauseam. As soon as a timetable motion for this Bill was introduced the quality of debate improved markedly, as it did on the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill. I am convinced that we should bring in timetable motions at the beginning of Bills.
My hon. and learned Friend the Minister will remember that I tabled several amendments in Committee. I suspect that once the timetable motion has been accepted, there may have been some collusion between the two Front Benches.
Mr. Leigh : My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) says no. However, once a Bill has been timetabled, it is far easier for the Front-Bench spokesmen to ensure that the main Labour party amendments are discussed. It keeps them happy, and they can then go to their constituents and say that they are doing their job. However, serious amendments tabled by Conservative Back-Bench Members, which do not make a party political point, but merely wish to improve the Bill, are frozen out. If Bills are to be timetabled regularly, it should be done near the beginning of the Bill. In addition, the Chairman should be given more authority in deciding how the Bill should be split up so that Conservative, Labour and minor party Back-Bench Members are given time to debate the Bill.
In principle, after so much time has been devoted to the Bill, there is no reason why we should not have a timetable motion. Most of the amendments that we are to discuss today are technical. On that basis, I support the timetable motion. My plea to my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench is for them to consider for next year, once our proceedings are televised, whether Bills should be timetabled far earlier.
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Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : The hon. Members for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) are kidding themselves if they believe that this is a green Bill as it does nothing to solve the problems facing the water industry. They know that they will pay the price for this legislation at the next general election, not only because of the Bill's unpopularity, as shown in the opinion poll, but because it will not deal with the problems facing the water industry.
The timetable motion is outrageous in that it seeks to limit our ability to debate the many important principles that we still need time to consider adequately. As I have said several times recently, the Government increasingly dislike democracy and the opportunity for debate because they do not want people to have the opportunity to voice opinions in any way different from their own. So long as they remain in power, democracy will become a sham as they remove the opportunity for genuine debate.
The hon. Member for Delyn also referred to the National Rivers Authority. He must remember that Labour Members never opposed the establishment of that authority. From the outset we have accepted that it is right that the roles of poacher and gamekeeper should be separated. We have said, however- -and we shall say it again tomorrow--that if the Government are serious about the NRA, they should give it the powers to carry out the functions for which it is being established. We know that steps are already being taken to remove the ability of the NRA to prosecute water authorities for sewage pollution once privatisation takes place and that there will be derogations and exemptions. Already, the Government are trying to remove the authority's teeth.
The hon. Member for Delyn also referred to investment and said that the last Labour Government reduced investment. I have never denied that. Like the Minister and other Conservative Members, however, he failed to point out that as the Government have been in office for 10 years they must accept responsibility for the fact that investment in the water industry, in real terms, is still only two thirds what it was in the mid-1970s.
The Government must also accept that the Select Committee on the Environment proposed a National Rivers Authority and referred to the investment problems mentioned by the hon. Member for Delyn and the clash with the public sector borrowing requirement. The Select Committee suggested changing the borrowing powers of the water industry and allowing it to remain in the public sector. Both the developments that the hon. Member for Delyn regards as
important--establishing a National Rivers Authority, and changing the way in which we finance it--could thus have been achieved if the industry had been allowed to remain in the public sector. That would have gained our support because we believe it to be the right way forward. After the many hours of debate on the Bill, it is clear that changing the ownership of the industry will not solve its problems, but that investment in it will. If the Government were prepared to put in the investment to deal with the problems of drinking water quality, river pollution, sewage works and beach pollution, those problems could be solved.
Column 38Instead, the Government are considering a long sea outfall at Rossall point at Fleetwood. It is outrageous that the Government believe that long sea outfalls are the right way to deal with sea pollution in 1989 when we should be moving towards constructions that will serve the country well into the 21st century. It is wrong that in 1989 the Government still believe that long sea outfalls are the answer. They simply shift the pollution a little further out to sea, but it will still be washed back on to our shores. That is not an acceptable solution for the next century.
Later this afternoon we shall discuss amendments dealing with land. As my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has said, who would want to buy the North West water authority with the River Mersey and all its problems? The only attraction of buying that water authority lies in selling off its land to make money while removing access to the countryside and the free rights over the land that people enjoy at present.
I have raised the question of appointing a land development officer with the North West water authority, and in questions to the Minister. Brian Alexander the managing director of that authority and its acting chief executive--its former chief executive, who was also its deputy chairman, has been retired, neatly removed, because he opposed privatisation--has replied :
"The appointee's role is to look at surplus land to see what development opportunities there may be and, to ensure that we obtain the maximum returns possible from these possibilities."
The next sentence refers to the need
"to ensure that we get the best returns from surplus land."
Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's speech, which is partly a Second Reading speech and partly more appropriate to Committee stage but the hon. Gentleman is not addressing his mind or his speech to the timetable motion. Is it not time that somebody intervened--
Mr. Pike : I have been following the arguments of other hon. Members who have spoken. This is one of the important issues that we shall not be able to debate sufficiently because we have only an hour and a half on this important principle.
Many organisations, such as the Ramblers Association, anglers' associations, and many others, are still extremely fearful about the consequences of the legislation.
Tomorrow we shall discuss sewage treatment works and the problems of pollution entering the rivers because the use of storm overflows is exceeding consent and they are being used on too many occasions. We need time to debate such problems, but the Government are afraid to debate them because they know that they are responsible for the present position and that they must accept--
It being one hour after commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- put the Question, pursuant to order [6 February.]
The House divided : Ayes 285, Noes 168.
Division No. 271] [4.34 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Column 39Arbuthnot, James
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browne, John (Winchester)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Buck, Sir Antony
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon John
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Emery, Sir Peter
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Fishburn, John Dudley
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Fox, Sir Marcus
Glyn, Dr Alan
Goodhart, Sir Philip
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Hordern, Sir Peter
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Lee, John (Pendle)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Macfarlane, Sir Neil
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick