Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) named me without observing the usual convention and courtesy of the House by notifying me of his intention to do so, although we had been going through the Division Lobbies only four or five minutes before. In column 45 of Hansard the hon. Gentleman is reported as saying that I had intervened in a vitriolic and trivial way but was not present to explain that to my constituents. Hansard does not make it clear that I did not intervene in yesterday's debate. As my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Water and Planning pointed out later, the debate was entirely about the privatisation of water and not about the metering of water under the Public Utility Transfers and Water Charges Act 1988, which we debated last year.
I refer this matter to you, Mr. Speaker, because, while I realise that among your many duties you cannot be responsible for the actions of the BBC, that body unfortunately broadcast the incident to my constituents on Radio Solent. Every indication was given that I was not present in the House yesterday, which I was. Furthermore, as you know, Mr. Speaker, you kindly granted me an Adjournment debate in which I discussed the whole question of water metering and in which my hon. and learned Friend the Minister gave a number of undertakings for me to take back to my constituents. In the water metering trial on the Isle of Wight, no one has yet received a bill. There has been no dispute about the concept of metering, my constituents' concern is about the tariff.
Column 154Mullin). The hon. Gentleman said nothing that was out of order, but I remind hon. Members that if they propose to refer to each other in a critical fashion, they should give notice of that intention to allow a rebuttal to be made at the time.
Mr. Mullin : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a perfectly simple explanation. I was referring to the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter), who had intervened earlier in the debate. I apologise to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field). It was a simple slip of the tongue. However, the constituents of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight would be glad to hear from him in the course of our discussions on the Water Bill, because they are suffering bills of two, three or four times the normal amount.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that tomorrow the railway service of this country will be disrupted by a strike, which will also include Underground services. It will cause great difficulty for our staff in the House of Commons and especially catering and other associated staff. Have you received any representations from the local branch of the Transport and General Workers Union, which represents most of the staff here, and in particular have you received any representation from its most prominent member, the Leader of the Opposition?
representations to me.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to confer the right of greater local representation on national park planning committees. The role of national parks has been debated in the House many times. The Bill that created the role of the national parks was introduced in the House 40 years ago and was given its Second Reading on 31 March 1949. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Bill defined a national park as :
"an extensive area of outstanding beauty, suitable for open air recreation by the general public, but where the normal life of the existing community goes on."
Such an area may run to hundreds of square miles. The largest of the proposed national parks, the Lake District national park, is more than 800 square miles.
There are 10 national parks in England and Wales and none in Scotland. The 10 are the Peak district, the Lake district, Snowdonia, Dartmoor, the Pembrokeshire coast, the North Yorkshire, the Yorkshire dales, Exmoor, Northumberland and the Brecon Beacons, which represent an overall area of 5,251 sq. miles and a population, in 1981, of approximately 238,000.
When the Minister of Town and Country Planning, Mr. Silkin introduced the Bill he said, when dealing with representation on the national parks :
"The Bill provides that at least a quarter of the board or of the committee shall be appointed by the local planning authority on the nomination of the Minister, after consultation with the National Parks Commission. This will enable the Minister to ensure that persons are appointed to the parks committee without local interest or prejudices, who are able to put before the committee the so-called national' point of view".
Mr. Silkin went on to say :
"There are considerable safeguards in the Bill as well. There is the presence of not less than 25 per cent. of members on the park committees who will put forward national considerations."--[ Official Report, 31 March 1949 ; Vol. 463, c. 1471--83.]
My argument is that there is insufficient local representation on those national parks. The Opposition spokesman at that time was Mr. W. S. Morrison, who was the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury. I am glad to see his successor, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, on the Front Bench today. He has a similar role to that of his predecessor.
Not all of the Dower report, which was the forerunner to the national parks, was accepted by the Government, although the setting up of the national parks had a broad welcome from Members of all parties. There was no Division on Second Reading. When the Dower report and the later Hobhouse report were commissioned, they came out not with the idea of a national parks committee, but with the idea of appointing a small, select group of people to administer the whole role of the national parks. However, neither the Government nor the Opposition of the time thought that acceptable. It was felt that a wider range of people should serve on the national parks. It is difficult to bring forward specific guidelines for the national parks as a whole in this country because, although there are 10, they are not administered in the same manner. The Peak park board, which covers part of my constituency, is a joint board to which seven county or
Column 156metropolitan councils appoint. The Lake district has a separate board and is distinct from Cumbria county council. Dartmoor, Northumberland, the Pembrokeshire coast and Snowdonia have single county committees, which is a slightly different way of administering those national parks. The Brecon Beacons, Exmoor, North Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales national parks have multi-county committees. Therefore, it is difficult to bring forward a set of proposals that could be applied to all our national parks.
However, I hope that what I am proposing will go some way to achieving balance in the administration of our national parks. I know that that view is shared by the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), who agrees that we should have more local representation from the local county councils and district councils. I argue strongly that it is the job and within the power of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to appoint people with national expertise in this area and that the local element should come from the councils.
It is the purpose of my Bill to ensure that two thirds of the appointments made by local authorities should have a residential qualification--gained by living in the area of the national park--or should be an elected member of a local authority serving the area of the national park. If a county council seat or division is part of a national park, those serving in that capacity should serve on the national park authority. That would mean that, of the total of 168 local authority appointees, 112 would fall in those categories. That is by no means a majority, because I recognise that the idea behind the "national park" is to give national significance to those parks. There are 258 appointees in all--168 coming from the local authorities, as I have said, and 84 who are appointed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Therefore, while the Bill would not mean a predominance of local people, it would enable a national point of view to be expressed.
The local element in this is important because there is no other planning authority in the country where one can serve on a planning committee without meeting the requirements of the Local Government Act 1972, which states that a member of a planning board should be a local government elector for the area of the authority ; or have occupied as owner or tenant, land or premises in the area for the whole of the preceding 12 months ; or have worked in the area during the preceding 12 months, or have lived in the area during the whole of the preceding 12 months.
The Bill is meant as a way forward and as a way of bringing about some elected responsibility in the national parks administration without having to have full elections. I have doubts about full elections to the national parks committees, because it is not right to have an elected body to consider just one issue. I hope that, by striking the two thirds balance and by not saying that all county council nominees should come from the national parks, I have gone some way towards meeting some of the concerns about the establishment of the board.
I hope that I shall have the honour of bringing in my Bill, and I am glad that it will have cross-party support. The Bill aims to ensure locally elected representation on the national parks committees. It does not necessarily mean that locally elected representatives would be given a majority ; it simply seeks to ensure that the 238,000 people who live in the national parks have access to elected
Column 157representatives, because planning law for most of the rest of the country is dealt with through local representation. They, too, will have the accountability to the people who elect them to those bodies, thus bringing a more representative form of accountability to the national parks.
I know that the chances of the Bill reaching the statute book are somewhat remote at this stage in the parliamentary year. However, I hope that this important issue will eventually be considered by the Select Committee on the Environment. It is an important issue. Everyone wants to see the national parks continue and thrive in their present form. I am concerned to see some form of local accountability, as I believe that is vital.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) rose --
I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin). He obviously made some serious points about extending the provision to local representation, but he said that the Bill was intended to arrange for two thirds of the appointees to a planning board to be resident in the area or to be elected representatives serving in that particular area.
I believe that the hon. Member presented the Bill because of his experiences with the Peak park joint planning board, in which he has a considerable interest because of his constituency connections. The problem is that it is over the top to suggest two thirds of the appointees for the Peak park joint planning board. That provision is merely part of the hon. Gentleman's general vendetta against Derbyshire county council.
The situation in Derbyshire is that the Peak park joint planning board has 34 members. Eleven are appointed by the Secretary of State, and I accept that those can be people who have national considerations to bring to bear, as well as important local ones, and 23 members are appointed from various councils, including eight from Derbyshire county council. The problem is that many of those, although not from within the specific area, have a considerable interest in the provisions of the Peak park joint planning board and are willing to devote resources and to assist in the building up of the provisions, which are important not just for the area itself but for the whole of
Column 158Derbyshire and many wider areas, because those areas are represented by members of the board. There may be a need for some rationalisation of membership and there is obviously a case for greater democratisation so that the area is reasonably represented. However, the proposals of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West would lead to a situation where those members with outside but legitimate interests in the Peak park joint planning board would be eliminated. On those grounds, I oppose the Bill.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Patrick McLoughlin, Mr. Michael Jopling, Sir Michael Shaw, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours, Mr. Cecil Franks, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. Richard Livsey, Mr. David Davis, Mr. William Hague and Mr. David Curry.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin accordingly presented a Bill to confer the right of greater local representation on national park planning committees : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 176.]
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a convention of this place that if one speaks against a Ten-minute Bill, one is normally expected to vote against it? Do I take it that we are now allowed to speak against it, but are not required to vote against it?
Mr. Speaker : The rule is plain. If an hon. Member objects to a Ten- minute Bill he must carry his objection to the extent of shouting, "No." it is not necessary to divide if the Ayes have it, and that is what happened today.
Lords amendments further considered.
Lords amendment : No. 155, in page 146, line 10, at end insert-- "( ) Every such report shall set out any directions under section 142 above which have been given to the Authority during the year to which the report relates."
with particular reference to any directions concerning the condition of each classification of controlled waters, including the quality of water.'
Mr. Roberts : This is the last parliamentary debate on the Government's water suicide Bill. Even before its implementation and the creation of 10 private monopolies, the Bill is unpopular. The Government's proposals for water privatisation are unpopular before compulsory metering or a flat rate water poll tax have been introduced. They are unpopular even before the spectacle of a flotation fiasco doomed to partial or total failure despite the hidden write-off of £5.5 billion debt. They are unpopular even before the massive water price increases and the health- threatening increase in disconnections, which will be an inevitable consequence of a doctrinaire obsession with privatisation for its own sake. The final arrogance of the Government and the Secretary of State for the Environment was revealed in the Lobby last night when they voted to destroy any pretence they had to being concerned about cleaning up our water environment. Never mind the polls that have revealed the general public's and the informed public's opinion of water privatisation and their opposition to it. Never mind the by-election and Euro-election results. The Government have dealt with the green vote--an expression of concern about the environment--by ridiculing the Green party and its policies. The Government are making a great mistake by pushing the Bill through and by disregarding public opinion and our water environment.
The creation of 10 private water monopolies will never be acceptable to the British people. Last night, the Government rejected implementing European Community standards of drinking water by 1993. Proper public consultation on land disposal was also rejected by the Government. In Committee and elsewhere they have rejected proposals for land to pass to the National Rivers Authority. They have also rejected our proposals for guarantees of access to the land owned by the water authorities.
Column 160The Government have agreed to the disposal of land, especially that of natural beauty and in sensitive areas. They have put a moratorium on sewage discharge prosecutions and they have rejected proposals for the adequate sampling and controlling of river quality. They have rejected our opposition to sub-contracting and the contracting out of NRA functions. The gamekeeper-poacher relationship will therefore remain. They have also rejected our proposals for information on pollution and the integrated water cycle to be made available. They have also rejected amendments that we have tabled for access to other information.
It is outrageous for the Government to pretend that the Bill is an environmental step forward. They do so in total disregard of the facts. To justify that claim, they hold up the creation of the NRA. Today let us test how sincere the Government are in wanting the NRA to be able to do an effective and worthwhile job and in wanting to give it the staff, resources and powers necessary to do so. Once again, the Bill, the Government--and, I am afraid, the National Rivers Authority--will be found wanting. If the Government are serious about the NRA, they will accept amendment (a), which would strengthen its reporting duties.
Lords amendment No. 155 requires the NRA's annual report, which is an obligation under clause 146, to contain details of directions given to the NRA by the Secretary of State under clause 142. The position needs clarifying because of the somewhat clouded statement in the Bill that the Secretary of State will make directions. The amendments highlight the need for an open and accountable NRA with sufficient resources to carry out its work and a clear statutory framework in which to ensure the reduction of pollution and the improvement of the environment. The Government gave only limited ground on the accountability of the NRA during discussions on the Bill in another place. They gave more ground, we admit, on the NRA's advisory committees, but they do not have any power. What will the environmental programme consist of during the next five to 10 years? How will it prevent a go-slow in the improvement of sewage treatment works and other pollutants?
The Government have given no ground on securing a broad representation of interests to serve on the NRA, or on making its proceedings publicly accountable. It is clear that the NRA advisory committee, headed by Lord Crickhowell, is not entirely happy with the Government's proposals for the NRA, especially on staffing and on the amendment, slipped into the Bill during its last stage in another place, relating to a moratorium on prosecutions for pollution from sewage. Indeed, Lord Crickhowell has made it clear that the proposed staffing and resources will be inadequate for the NRA's functions. It was interesting to note two advertisements in the same edition of the New Scientist on 24 June 1989. The first said :
"Influence the Environment ; Enjoy the Rewards. Tales of the River Bank. National Rivers Authority. Pollution Officers £9,500 rising to £13,000."
On the next page another advertisement stated :
"Scientists/Engineers. Senior Investigations Scientist/Engineer. Thames Water. £16,000 to £18,000, plus car allowance."
Someone can earn £9,500 rising to £13,000 as a controller of pollution, but £16,000 to £18,000 as an avoider of the controllers of pollution. The NRA is allowed only to offer
Column 161that salary scale, so it will not recruit staff of the quality and scientific experience needed. The water companies are offering a great deal more money and many more perks.
Why was the NRA established? The Government wanted a successful flotation and they needed to take away as many of the
non-profit-making functions of the water authorities as possible, despite destroying the concept of river management. They are giving those functions, through an act of nationalisation--which it is--to the National Rivers Authority. Water resource planning and licensing of abstraction, monitoring of licences, environmental quality and pollution control, land drainage and flood protection, the maintenance, improvement and development of fisheries in inland waters, conservation and recreation and the navigation
responsibilities of three water authorities are all to be given to the NRA so that, on privatisation, people will not be deterred from buying into the water companies.
Having given all those environmental functions to the NRA, with its inadequate resources and staffing, there remains a list of environmental problems for which anyone buying into the privatised water companies will be responsible, and that will be the Government's downfall. Such people will be buying responsibility for the breakdown of the sewage storm overflows, recently reported in the press, which is polluting our rivers and water courses, and for the 20 per cent. of sewage works which have failed consent levels. Those people will be buying responsibility for the 300 beaches that the Government have designated as bathing beaches. The royal commission on environmental pollution identified 600 beaches in Britain as bathing beaches, but 33 per cent. of the 300 beaches, let alone the 600, breached EEC standards. They are buying responsibility for declining river quality. In the 1980s, river quality has declined alarmingly, and after 10 years of a Tory Government, it has worsened. The 1985 river quality survey showed a net deterioration of 803 km, or 2.5 per cent. of total river length in England and Wales. That decline has continued with the net deterioriation of 514 km in 1985. The people buying the private water companies will be buying responsibility for cleaning up our rivers.
The Government herald the Mersey clean-up as the great feather in their environmentalist cap. During questions on the environment, Conservative Back Benchers plant questions about how much the Rhine pollutes the North sea, because it pollutes it more than the Thames does. But such questions ignore the fact that the River Mersey pollutes the Irish sea, one of the most polluted seas in the world, with sewage sludge dumping and the rest, for which the Government are directly responsible.
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that this is not a planted intervention, and that I am simply trying to follow what he says. If, over the past 10 years under the existing structure, the Government have failed in their responsibility to ensure the environmental purity and supply of water in the way that he has described, may there not be a case for changing the system?
Mr. Roberts : I suggest a change in the Government. We have had 10 years of Tory Government and 10 years of neglect and pollution, and now their answer to the problem is doctrinaire privatisation, to which the majority of the British public are opposed. It would be good to have a change in Government, in attitude and in the financial regime under which public sector water authorities function, leading to their democratisation.
Mr. Adley : The hon. Gentleman is not helping his own case. During the early stages of the Bill, I voted against the Government on the powers of the NRA. Cannot the hon. Gentleman comprehend that his doctrinaire comments do not add to an intelligent discussion of some of the important points at issue?
Mr. Roberts : The hon. Gentleman started this by his provocative intervention, which needed a provocative answer. We require a Government who are not committed to privatising our water industry for doctrinaire reasons, but who are committed to the public expenditure and borrowing necessary to put our water environment in order. That is a reasonable point to make in a political chamber of this nature.
I was describing the responsibilities that the people to whom the Government are trying to sell the water industry will be buying, and I was talking about the so-called Mersey clean-up.
A new definition of river quality is needed, for we must be able not only to measure dissolved oxygen as an indicator of sewage pollution, but to use other techniques agreed throughout Europe and in this country to measure chemical pollution. That would alter the whole picture in terms of what is considered to be a clean or dirty river.
The proposal to take raw sewage from the Mersey and pipe it to Sanden dock in my constituency, and there turn it into sewage sludge after only primary treatment, before dumping it back whence it came, in the Irish sea, in the form of polluted, poisonous sludge, leaves much to be desired--especially in the light of claims that the Mersey will be cleaned up, when in fact it is full of heavy metals, printed circuit boards and many other pollutants.
Sewage sludge dumping is a major environmental problem and one that the North sea convention, to which the Secretary of State for the Environment is a signatory, intends to end, yet the people buying into privatised water will be buying the dumping of sewage sludge in the North sea. If the Government force the implementation of the North sea convention, as they should, shareholders will also be buying the responsibility for finding alternative ways of disposing of sewage sludge, other than by dumping it in the Irish sea and the North sea.
Responsibility for doing something about the water industry's aging infrastructure will also be purchased by those buying into water authorities. There is massive underground dereliction. Of the 150,000 miles of sewers, 10 per cent. are more than 100 years old. In 1986, there were 3,500 collapses and 15,000 blockages requiring excavation. In addition, 20 to 30 per cent. of the water leaving reservoirs is, to use the industry's euphemism, unaccounted for. In other words, it leaks out of an aging system. All those problems will be the responsibility of the private sector.
The Government try to convince the House and the public that the private sector--and the free market, with its profit motive--will deal with all the problems that exist,
Column 163and that the National Rivers Authority will ensure that they will be dealt with. If the Government are serious about caring for our water environment they will leave the NRA to determine its own pay and staffing levels, which it is not free to do under the current proposals. We should explore the NRA's scope to undertake capital works and the right to borrow both in providing flood defences and making environmental improvements--a power which the Government constantly rejected in Committee.
The Government argue fallaciously that the Bill is an environmental measure because it will release the water industry from the controls of the public sector borrowing requirement, and that the private sector will be able to borrow all the money that it needs to deal with the problems I have outlined. That is nonsense. How can there be any return on money borrowed in the private sector to undertake environmental improvements on which there will be no profit? The truth is that, as the Government admitted, privatisation will cost the consumer. Nothing will come from the Exchequer, and there will be no cushion for the poor, who will face massive increases in water charges. The Government could at a stroke release water authorities from PSBR restrictions that have been imposed for many years, to allow them to borrow the same money from the same source as under privatisation, to be spent on the same environmental projects. It is economic nonsense to say that it is wrong for the public sector to do that, but right for the private sector.
It may be argued that no public sector operation would be allowed by any Treasury to breach the public sector borrowing requirement. Why, then, does BNFL suffer from no such restrictions? It is set up in such a way that it does not have to suffer from them, despite being in the public sector ; so the Government must not tell us that the same cannot apply to the water industry.
On Second Reading in the other place Lord Crickhowell, whom the Government have just appointed so-called independent chairman of the National Rivers Authority and who used to be a Tory Cabinet Minister, said that he hoped that the Government would, in the financial arrangements made with the National Rivers Authority outside the terms of the Bill, allow the maximum freedom in management terms. There is no likelihood of that happening.
Various Government statements about the likely contents of the financial memorandum between the Government and the NRA fell somewhat short of the advisory committee's demands, although one concession was made : the control by the Secretary of State and the Treasury over staffing numbers was removed, although detailed control remains over the terms and conditions of staff, once appointed. That is ludicrous. Overall control of the budget has clearly been ceded to the NRA, leaving central Government with a right of veto over comparatively detailed matters only. Amendment (a) to Lords amendment 190 would have given the NRA some opportunity to take the initiative in setting out a likely management structure for its staff, once appointed, with the overall package rather than the individual elements then being effectively subject to the decision of the Secretary of State and the Treasury.
In regard to borrowing, it quickly became clear in the other place that the Government's real view of the NRA was very different from that which it is trying to portray in public debates. The NRA will have, in the Government's
Column 164view, only a very limited need for capital resources : that is what they said. Such capital spending as it undertakes will generally be financed from its income through fees and charges. The water undertakers, private landowners and industrial concerns, rather than the NRA, will carry the main responsibility for reducing pollution and cleaning up the country's waterways. Some hope. The myth of the release from the public sector borrowing requirement is clearly illustrated here : all the essential environmental functions of the NRA remain in the public sector, and have not been released from PSBR control.
The NRA will be placed essentially in a monitoring and sampling role, providing evidence of breaches of discharge consents for the purposes of prosecutions. It will not have much joy under the present Government, because they will not allow the prosecutions. It will also issue licences relating to levels of consents. Breaches of those will be allowed in any event. Apart from flood defence, in which respect the NRA will inherit a substantial responsibility to be exercised with the input of the regional flood defence
committees--with the majority of local authority members--the direct impact of the NRA's capital works for environmental improvement will be very small.
Several questions remain to be answered by the Government. To what degree can the NRA be considered an environmental agency, when it can do so little itself? The Government say that the existing position, whereby the water authorities police themselves for pollution, is wrong, and then go on to say that the Bill will separate the poacher from the gamekeeper. They neglect to emphasise that the NRA can--the Government admit that it will, and that they will encourage it to do so--contract back many of its functions, including regulatory functions, to the private water companies. Thus gamekeeper and poacher will again be one and the same--this time in the private sector, where profit is the motive rather than the environment and the provision of service to the consumer.
How will the Government guarantee, contrary to all the evidence of recent years, that the private sector will clean up its act? The private sector, the profit motive, has created pollution. It has never willingly cleaned it up, not without Government intervention and strong regulation. The National Rivers Authority will not have the staff, resources or powers to perform that task.
Writing in The Guardian last week, Michael Carney of the Water Authorities Association said, in effect, that money spent on improving the quality of drinking water diverted money away from the improvement of the environment. What does the Secretary of State consider the environmental programme to consist of over the next five to 10 years? How can it help the environment to go slow on improving sewage treatment works and other pollutants which affect the quality of drinking water as well as river water?
It is interesting to note the way in which the Water Authorities Association comes to the aid of the Government. That organisation is quoted in support of privatisation and in support of the Government's decision not to accept the Lords amendments. We have statements signed by the chair of the association. Such statements are issued as though they were independent and non-political.
We are talking of 10 water authorities, the 10 chairs of which are appointed by a Tory Secretary of State for the Environment. Indeed, some of them are card-carrying