HC Deb 14 December 1981 vol 15 cc103-28 9.43 pm
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)

I beg to move, That the draft Welsh Water Authority (Constitution) (Variation) Order 1981, which was laid before this House on 1st December, be approved. The order gives effect to the proposals for varying the constitution of the Welsh water authority, which I announced to the House on 30 November. The draft is laid for Parliament in exercise of the powers conferred by sections 2(4), 3(10) and 36(2) of the Water Act 1973.

The House already has a good deal of information about my reasons for laying the order. I set them out in the consultative document published in July. I explained them in my statement to the House on 30 November, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts), discussed them with the Welsh Select Committee on Wednesday 2 December. Paragraph 8 of the consultative document explained the drawbacks of the present large and cumbersome structure.

The Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on the Severn-Trent authority explained the unsuitability of the local government committee system for the administration of the water industry. It said: The size of the authority has resulted in a complex committee structure requiring extensive administrative and other support services … despite its historical origins the authority is not an instrument of local government and does not therefore have to be controlled by a body which is largely composed of people who derive their membership from the electoral process of local government. Its policies and activities are in no way dependent on political issues within its particular boundaries. It is one of ten similar bodies which are virtually nationalised industries organised on a regional basis, responsible to Ministers and co-ordinated by the NWC. We recommend that the size of the authority should be substantially reduced and that its membership should not be based predominantly on local government representation". Those comments apply as much to the Welsh water authority as they do to Severn-Trent.

I have to tell the House that in addition I had become increasingly concerned by the views expressed to me by those serving on the authority and by those whom I had invited to serve in the past. It was becoming very clear that we should find it increasingly difficult to recruit people of the calibre that we needed if they felt that their time was being wasted and their performance limited by a structure unsuitable for managing any kind of industrial enterprise.

Nor were consumer interests being properly represented under this system. Few people were aware that this was supposed to be the role of the local authority representatives, fewer still knew which local authority members from their own areas served on the authority, and the members themselves, not directly answerable to the electorate, even in their own parts of the country, were often placed in an unenviable position as they sought to act as consumer watchdogs, while at the same time they participated collectively in the decisions of the authority as a whole, and often in connection with local issues which were far outside their own immediate area of knowledge.

Dr. Roger Thomas (Carmarthen)

Does the Minister agree that it is a case not of a lack of expertise among local authority representatives but of a rapid turnover among those representatives? If the rapid turnover could be coped with, we could still have a fair local authority representation even on the new body.

Mr. Edwards

I did not suggest that there was any lack of expertise among the local authority representatives. I am sure that they were all expert in their respective areas. They had great knowledge of the areas which they directly represented in their own local authorities. But that is not the position in which they found themselves in the Welsh water authority, where there were a handful from each part of the country, where their responsibilities were not related directly to those who immediately elected them, and where they were having to act as consumer representatives in connection with proposals, plans and suggestions from different parts of the country. It was not about their lack of expertise in their own areas that I was speaking, but they were placed and still are placed in an extremely difficult position if they are to carry out an effective watchdog role on behalf of the consumer.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas) will agree that very few of his constituents know that local authority representatives are members of the authority, and even fewer can identify the local authority representatives serving on the Welsh water authority.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

Is the right hon. Gentleman making a valid point? On the old boards there were 10 representatives from the counties and 10 from the districts. Those figures will now be reduced to two from the districts and two from the counties. The 20 representatives, who constituted the majority on the old boards, had contact with all the local authorities of which they were members, and all the councillors on those authorities knew who were their representatives on the Welsh water authority. Therefore, there was a contact with the whole of the local authority organisation in Wales.

Mr. Edwards

They may have had contact with the whole of the local authority organisation in Wales, but that is not contact with the consumers. If anyone believes that it is, he must have an odd view of events both in local government and in the water authority. However, I shall deal later with my proposals for increasing the local authority involvement in the decisions that most affect their own constituents and those taken in their immediate localities.

My original proposals contained in the consultation document were that county and district councils should no longer appoint members to the Welsh water authority and that the size of the authority should be reduced to about 10 members, including the chairman and land drainage and fisheries members, all to be appointed by the Secretary of State. I set out three options for alternative and more effective representation of consumer interests.

Taking account of the responses to that document and especially the points put to me at a meeting I had with the local authority organisations involved in October, I concluded that the new authority should be increased in size to 13 members including the chairman and land drainage and fisheries members with four members being appointed by me to represent the interests of county and district councils. The remaining six members would provide the widest possible management and business expertise. I decided also that the consumer interest should be catered for by five local consumer advisory committees approximating to the various Welsh water authority divisions or combinations of them, but with their boundaries coinciding with the district council boundaries.

As I told the House on 30 November, the six general members will provide the widest possible expertise, including expertise in management, finance, business—including agriculture—industrial relations and personnel matters. After listening to the local authorities, I was convinced that their interest should be directly represented, and that by having four members there was scope for adequately covering both county and district interests and the geographical interests of the whole area covered by the Welsh water authority, including the English districts. I emphasise that I will be consulting the appropriate local government associations before making these appointments and that I fully recognise that the interest of the English authorities has to be taken into account.

In my statement, I said that the chief executive would normally attend meetings of the board. Under existing legislation, he cannot serve as a board member and no payment can be made to the board other than to the chairman and to the member who is the chairman of the land drainage committee.

Some have seen that as a halfway house and have argued that if we want to move we should go the whole way to a fully paid board meeting in private. That may well be sensible in the longer term, but it would require primary legislation and, in the meantime, I think it right to move as swiftly as possible to a streamlined and more effective organisation that does not require a large number of headquarters committees—many of them consisting of about 25 people and costing in total, quite unnecessarily, about £130,000 a year to run.

I believe that the need for an improved organisation is urgent and that is why I felt right to lay the order on 1 December despite the fact that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs had decided to include consideration of my proposals within the terms of reference of its current investigation of water in Wales. I have already explained that I want the new constitution to take effect in readiness for the appointment of a new chairman when the present chairman of the authority retires at the end of May. The two months between 1 April, when the new constitution is to become operative, and 1 June will provide an opportunity for the existing chairman, who knows the authority well and who has done very valuable public service since he succeeded Lord Brecon, to hand over to the new chairman and assist in smoothing the passage of the new arrangements.

Having come to those conclusions, and having completed the consultative process, it would have been extraordinary and wrong to have kept my decision from the Select Committee. Having a clear view of what I was to do, it would have been a gross discourtesy not to have told the Committee what that view was at the earliest possible opportunity. That was another factor that I took into account.

Mr. Ioan Evans

I ask the Secretary of State to recall the occasion when the Select Committee decided to investigate the fourth channel for Wales. He will remember that within a week the Government changed their policy. They said that there was not to be a fourth channel. As the right hon. Gentleman had issued a consultative document, the Select Committee decided to consider the reorganisation of the Welsh water authority. It has asked various organisations to submit evidence to it. At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman has acted in haste and brought forward the proposals that are now before us. If this reorganisation is being introduced because the chairmanship is ending in May, why cannot the right hon. Gentleman extend the chairmanship for 12 months and enable proper consultation to take place?

Mr. Edwards

We are not discussing the Welsh fourth channel today. I published the consultative document in July and I made clear my intentions and the timetable for the consultation. It was not until 28 October that the Select Committee decided that it would include this issue as a subject for investigation. Once the Government have announced a proposal, have entered a consultative process for which they have set a time limit, and when they believe that the proposals are urgent and important, affecting as in this instance many people in Wales, surely they should not be obliged to delay the proposals for an indefinite and indeterminate period because subsequently the Select Committee says that it would like to examine the proposals and take evidence.

If the Select Committee has some suggestions to make on behalf of consumers, I shall welcome them because we are in the middle of a consultative process, but it has always been the system and the convention—this must be right—that the Government, having decided on their programme and priorities, must be free to seek the approval of the House and not necessarily delay until a Select Committee has investigated, especially if they believe that the priorities are urgent.

Mr. Tom Hooson (Brecon and Radnor)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a Select Committee has no executive responsibilities and that the process of government cannot always wait for opinions to be expressed by a Select Committee?

Mr. Edwards

I agree. I have executive responsibilities, and if I believe that urgent action is needed to improve arrangements it is my responsibility to present proposals to the House at the earliest possible moment., and that is what I have done.

I come to the arrangements for ensuring that consumers in the area of the authority are given full opportunity to express their views about the services and charges of the authority in an effective manner. These arrangements do not form part of the constitution order, because I am advised that the powers of section 3(10) of the Water Act 1973 do not extend to enable me to provide constitutionally for consumer advisory committees.

The position is that the water authority has power under section 68 of the 1973 Act to appoint committees to advise on any matter relating to the discharge of its functions, and after taking account of the views that have been expressed to me I have decided that the most effective way in which consumers' rights may be heard effectively is to establish five local consumer advisory committees based on local authority districts approximating to the areas covered by the Welsh water authority divisions.

I have decided that it should not be necessary to establish as many as seven divisions, having regard to the fact that the three Glamorgaris make up a concise area and that the boundary between the Wye and Usk divisions cannot be reconciled with local authority boundaries. I have decided to establish a single committee for Glamorgan and another single committee for Wye and Usk. The other three committees would cover the Dee and Clwyd, Gwynedd and the West Wales divisions.

I am preparing draft guidelines to the Welsh water authority relating to the constitution, functions and operation of the five committees and I am consulting about these guidelines. I have written to Welsh Members and those English Members with a direct interest, explaining that because I am engaged in that consultation process I can make available at present only the basic framework for the guidelines. A copy of that letter is in the Library.

Among the principal points that I make in it are these. First, I would welcome comments on the draft guidelines from hon. Members and, as I have said to the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans), from the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, and I shall take their comments into account. [Interruption.] Yes, I shall even take the comments of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) into account if he cares to make them in a more constructive and helpful fashion than sitting in his usual noisy, ill-mannered way, mouthing imprecations from the Opposition Benches. If he wants to say anything, I shall give way to him.

Mr. Edward Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil)

The whole of this order is irrelevant nonsense given the fact that the vast majority of the people of Wales are interested in Welsh water charges. When will the right hon. Gentleman come to the issue of Welsh water charges?

Mr. Edwards

If the hon. Gentleman believes that the efficient organisation and management of an industry has no relevance to charges, it is hardly any surprise—

Mr. Rowlands


Mr. Edwards

—that the Government of which he was a member proved such a disaster.

Mr. Rowlands

No, it is marginal.

Mr. Edwards

I return—

Mr. Rowlands


Mr. Edwards

I think that we have heard enough from the hon. Member. Clearly he does not have much to say.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. Perhaps I might help. The order has nothing to do with charges.

Mr. Edwards

Far be it from me to argue with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I went on in the letter to make it clear that every district or county local authority would be represented on the consultative bodies. It is desirable that the committees should not be too large, but the numbers will be dictated by the number of local authority representatives, to which I have referred, and the need for consumer, agricultural, industrial, commercial and amenity interests to be represented.

The numbers represented on community health councils vary between 16 and 32, with the majority between 18 and 25. I see no difficulty in following a similar pattern for the consumer advisory committees, which would mean having a majority of local authority representatives in some cases.

Another point that I bring out in my letter is that the guidelines will make provision for the appointment of members and the election of chairmen, together with the essential practical arrangements such as travel and subsistence allowance and the provisions of secretarial support.

In these guidelines, clear advice will be given on the arrangements for access to the water authority and for liaison between the chairmen of committees and the authority, including the frequency and timing of their meetings. It would seem right for the five chairmen of the committees to meet together with the Welsh water authority, say, twice a year, or as frequently as they may think appropriate. There could also be provision for the five chairmen to meet together and for them to meet the chairman of the Welsh water authority, if that were thought desirable. These, again, are all points about which I shall welcome comments during the consultation process.

In laying the order, which deals only with the board appointments, I am not seeking to criticise the existing members. On the contrary, I should like to take this opportunity to thank the chairman, Mr. Haydn Rees, and all his colleagues for the immense amount of work that they have done. That should be on the record.

Mr. Rowlands

Sheer pomposity.

Mr. Edwards

At the moment when I thank the chairman and the members for their hard work and their contribution to running the authority, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil shouts "Sheer pomposity". I hope that the chairman and the members will note that the only constructive contribution that the hon. Member has made to the debate is to deride the people who have given so much by way of public service to the authority in Wales.

When the Welsh water authority was set up in 1974 it took over functions which for many years had been exercised by local authorities. It is understandable that the decision was taken to draw on the experience of local authority members and that the new management arrangements, particularly the committee structure, should have been based on the conventional local authority practice. As time has passed, this structure has increasingly come to be a handicap rather than a help. It is that handicap that the order seeks to remove, and I commend it to the House.

10.7 pm

Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda)

The first question that the House ought to consider is whether there is any case for reorganisation. The second question is whether this is the right sort of reorganisation.

Paragraph 8 of the consultative document stated that it was the Secretary of State's view that there was a strong case for reorganisation, but neither in his consultative document nor in his speech this evening has he made out a case, let alone a strong case.

Mr. Rowlands


Mr. Jones

The Secretary of State makes a series of assertions about the weaknesses—or apparent weaknesses, in his eyes—of the present structure. He talks in the consultative document of management having difficulty about exercising tight financial control. There is no mention of that tonight. He does not talk about the present structure not enabling local government to play an effective part, yet he now proposes that local government should play a less effective part.

In the consultative document the right hon. Gentleman referred to the present structure as inhibiting quick decision-making and blurring the responsibility of officials and board members. It is no good his making those assertions unless they are backed up by facts, and those facts have been singularly lacking, not only in the consultative document but in the right hon. Gentleman's speech tonight.

There may be some evidence of the need for reorganisation, but so far the Secretary of State has completely failed to produce it to the House. He mentioned some matters concerning the Severn-Trent water authority and added "I think they apply as much to the Welsh water authority as to Severn-Trent". Everything he said tonight started with the word "I". It was all "I", "I", "I". The right hon. Gentleman might be God's gift to the Conservative Party, but he is certainly not God's gift to the people of Wales.

I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the speeches made by him and by his hon. Friends smiling so smugly behind him. When the Welsh Grand Committee discussed the matter, the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) said: I think that the Welsh Water Authority is, in general, doing a very good job. Yet today he will vote to reorganise it. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Hooson) said: There is no question but that the authority is doing a great deal of worthwhile work".

Mr. Hooson

Is the right hon. Gentleman maintaining that because people say that an authority is working on the whole in a reasonable way it is impossible to improve its workings?

Mr. Jones

Not at all, but the Secretary of State has given not one reason for reorganisation except his determination to weaken local authority representation.

Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

The right hon. Gentleman should read the rest of my speech.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman need not worry. I shall come back to him later. There are more beautiful quotations to come.

In the same debate, the Secretary of State said of the Welsh water authority: In short, it has completed an immense job of reorganisation and rationalisation and is now in a position to exploit to the full the advantages of the water reorganisation which the previous Conservative Government promoted in 1973."—[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 18 July 1979, c. 13–23.] If the 1973 Act was so wonderful, why do we now need this reorganisation without any explanation?

Not only is the case not made out. The Secretary of State is bulldozing his proposals through the House not with almost indecent haste but with genuinely indecent haste. The consultative period lasted 46 days, including the whole month of August when anyone in his right senses knows that most organisations are involved in holidays.

Mr. Ioan Evans

That applies especially to local authorities which, as is generally known, do not meet in August. The document was sent out on 28 July. Originally, replies had to be back by 11 September. Most local authorities in Wales would not have met during that time.

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend emphasises my point. When this was raised in the House the Secretary of State said that the period had been extended for a large number of organisations and that late representations were taken into account, but organisations intimately concerned with the water authority in Wales were rushed into making their observations by 11 September and did not even know that late observations would be taken into account.

When the Secretary of State made his statement to the House on 30 November, he said: There will be a further opportunity for consideration before we debate the proposals."—[Official Report, 30 November 1981; Vol. 13, c. 32.] Yet less than two weeks later we are asked to approve, without amendment, this major reorganisation of the water authority in Wales.

When I asked the Secretary of State on that occasion about the guidelines, he said that for the help and guidance of the House he would seek to publish the guidelines regarding the membership and function of the local consumer advisory committees.

It is not reasonable that hon. Members should have received notes on the guidelines today when the matter is being debated this evening. The Government are considering reorganisation of other water authorities, but I see no reason why we should rush into the reorganisation of the water authority in Wales when everyone knows that the fundamental principle of the 1973 Act was that the water industry was a United Kingdom industry and the two matters should therefore be intimately linked.

Be that as it may, the major change proposed by the right hon. Gentleman is a considerable reduction in local authority representation on the water authority. If the Secretary of State's original views had prevailed, that representation would have been eliminated. Instead of that, the order cuts their membership from 20 to four. On that basis, I suppose that it is slightly better than the original proposals, but those proposals regarding local authority representation were completely inadequate and do not meet the traditional and necessary involvement in the administration of water services that local authorities ought to have.

I agree with the Under-Secretary of State, who in the Welsh Grand Committee debate said that local authority members on the Welsh authority should have a knowledge and experience gained on either the water authority or the council likely to be of benefit to the other.

The hon. Member for Anglesey advocated that all district councils should have representation on the water authority. The Under-Secretary referred to membership of the authority— not of any sub-committee— and the participation of local authority members". He urged his hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey to consider their value as being indirectly elected people on the authority, and also the fact that they are familiar, as councillors, with local problems."—[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 18 July 1979; c. 35.] If local councils had that importance when this matter was discussed in the Welsh Grand Committee, they have that importance today.

The 1973 Act, which the Secretary of State extolled, specifically required certain criteria for membership of that committee. Members were required to have experience of fisheries, land drainage and agriculture. The order reserves the position on fisheries and land drainage but makes no mention of agriculture.

The Secretary of State's statement used the word "business" and added in brackets "including agriculture" as one of the qualifications necessary for membership, but there is no reference to agriculture in the order. Will agriculture have any sort of reserve position in the water authority? If not, why not? If it will, why on earth do the Government not say so? Now that we have a change in local authority representation, there is a significant shift towards centralisation at the expense of any form of local democracy.

Whatever our differences over the size of the water authority and the specialised interests that ought to be represented on it, I cannot believe that anyone can justify the proposal that every appointment shall be solely at the disposal of the Secretary of State for Wales.

I shall quote the hon. Member for Anglesey again so that he will have good value for money.

Mr. Rowlands

Ask him to intervene.

Mr. Jones

He said—

Mr. Best

That is very naughty.

Mr. Jones

I know that it is naughty. The trouble is that your words are taken down and used in evidence against you—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Jones

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Anglesey said that the Welsh water authority was a quango which did not have the degree of direct accountability which people want to see. The order will make the water authority the biggest quango of all time. Why not reserve specific places on the water authority for a range of people? Why not reserve places for the CBI and the Welsh TUC? Why not allow, above all, the local authority associations to nominate their members? If necessary, the Secretary of State could select his chosen four from, say, eight that the associations would nominate. This was the pattern laid down in the Land Authority for Wales which has worked, so far as I am aware, extremely well. This would make some move towards the restoration of a degree of accountability.

When the Secretary of State was in opposition he gave the impression on numerous occasions that he was opposed 'to the idea of quangos whose appointment should be at the discretion of the Secretary of State. Now, in government, he is the strongest supporter of a quango and making it even tougher than before.

Consumer interests are the major issue in relation to the order. We are asked to pass the order without seeing the guidelines relating to local consumer bodies. All we have heard is the Secretary of State's thinking on the matter. I accept that individual complaints or complaints affecting one or two Welsh water authority divisions can be dealt with by the proposed five local consumer advisory committees that the Secretary of State proposes.

I would like the Secretary of State to show some evidence that he will save £130,000 as a consequence. The right hon. Gentleman is to set up five new consumer organisations. He is to give them secretarial assistance, which is right, but he believes that he will save £130,000. Irrespective of that argument, I believe that there are, and will be, consumer problems that affect all water consumers in the area of the Welsh water authority. There will not simply be localised problems. The major problem will be the pricing policy. I do not believe that local committees, five in number, will adequately express the view of consumers in Wales and those parts of England covered by the authority in relation to pricing. This is an issue that affects all consumers throughout the area covered by the water authority.

Mr. Rowlands

Apart from pricing policy the issue of direct billing will also arise. The method of collection is increasingly the issue that will affect consumers. It is vital to the whole argument on water charges.

Mr. Jones

I agree with my hon. Friend. I used pricing policy as my first example. My second is direct billing. I know from experience in my own constituency and from what I have heard in many parts of Wales that this has become a major issue with consumers. There are also sewerage charges and recreational problems that are not purely localised.

There is clear need for a strong consumer council able to play an effective role on these major issues that affect not simply small localities—for instance, Mid-Glamorgan or Glamorgan—but the whole of the water industry in Wales. It should be formally recognised that representatives of local consumer advisory councils can be indentified as a water consumer council with the duty—not the option or choice—to raise with the chairman and the water authority those consumer problems which are matters greater than those of local concern.

The hon. Member for Anglesey has moved further to the back of the Chamber where he is probably scanning as quickly as possible what he said in the speech to which I have referred. I can tell him that what he said is what I read out. In that debate the Secretary of State said that there was no question but that water charges were an issue of major current importance in Wales.

If that was true in 1979, it is even more true today. In 1979 at least the non-meter domestic consumer had the benefit of the Water Charges Equalisation Act which was passed when we were in government. Between 1975–76 and 1978–79 the average domestic water bill in Wales rose by 35.6 per cent. In the same period the average domestic water bill in England rose by 54.7 per cent. That shows that the Bill was having the effect of narrowing the gap. We had difficulty in passing that Bill because of the Conservatives' opposition to it.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jones

When I have finished this argument the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) can read to me something given to him by the Minister's PPS because he cannot read it out himself.

In 1979 the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) said: in principle we recognise that a system of equalisation is the right way to achieve a balance between water authorities, and the Government will be giving their consideration to the best way in which this can continue to be achieved."—[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 18 July 1981, c. 23.] When the hon. Member for Conway said that, I thought that he had been to Damascus. I thought that he had seen the light. We have had no recognition from the Government since then. The principle of equalisation which the hon. Member for Conway thought so essential in 1979 is of no consequence now that 1981 is here.

Sir Anthony Meyer

The right hon. Gentleman knows of the high esteem in which I hold him, and always have. He will therefore be aware of the feeling of disappointment and dismay with which I heard him attack my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best). The right hon. Gentleman knows, because he has had experience of a PPS sitting behind him, that my hon. Friend, whose championship of his constituents is the envy of us all, cannot possibly reply. I have checked what my hon. Friend said in those debates. I am satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman has grossly misrepresented what my hon. Friend said. I am sure that with his reputation he would not wish to mislead the House. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will wish to withdraw his misleading allegations.

Mr. Jones

If the hon. Member for Flint, West can say that I have misquoted what the hon. Member for Anglesey said, I should be willing to withdraw my remarks, but I read from Hansard. I believe that in general the Welsh water authority is doing a good job. The hon. Member for Anglesey advocated that all district councils should be represented. The hon. Member for Conway had to deal with the problem. In dealing with it the hon. Gentleman said how important it was that the expertise of local councillors should be used, and was being used, for the benefit of the water authority in Wales. That is why I am surprised that the hon. Member for Anglesey, who was such a great advocate of the principle of equalisation, should be willing to rush to the Lobbies to get the order through.

In 1979 the Conservatives were keen on equalisation. I remind the House that the annual report of the Welsh water authority for the year ending March 1981 states: The termination by the Government of payment of our £3 million a year under the Water Charges Equalisation Act and the absence of any long-term substitute for it adds 5 per cent. to the water service charges of our domestic customers. If the order attempted to tackle the major problem of the charges and the unfair burden that we bear in Wales it would be of greater significance and value. However, it does not. Nor have the Government made out a case for the order. They will use it to move towards more centralised control of water and ignore local democracy, so I ask my hon. Friends to vote against it.

10.30 pm
Mr. Tom Hooson (Brecon and Radnor)

We have heard much ado about very little. One might have expected the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) to study the facts on which my right hon. Friend has brought the proposal forward.

The Monopolies and Mergers Commission undertook an extensive study of the Severn-Trent authority and reached a conclusion which last week in the Welsh Select Committee we heard commended by the chairman of the National Water Council for its excellence. The only dissent from that distinguished spokesman of the water industry was in challenging whether there was a case for local authority representation.

We also know of the experience of Mr. Haydn Rees, to whom a tribute is due for his excellent service on the authority. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend's tribute to him should have been cheapened by seated interjections from the Labour Benches. Mr. Rees has a distinguished record in Welsh local government. With his knowledge of the Welsh water authority and local government, it is particularly impressive that he commends the proposal.

The Minister has circulated a document which gives considerably more information on the situation than is acknowledged by the right hon. Gentleman. For all those reasons, I am astonished by the sheer ignorance of his attack on my right hon. Friend.

The right hon. Gentleman also seemed to believe that direct billing should be attacked. Is he aware that the Welsh water authority makes a clear saving of over £1 million by direct billing instead of making payments to the local authorities?

Mr. Alec Jones

I did not attack direct billing. I merely said that it was of concern not only to small local groups of consumers but across the whole range.

Mr. Hooson

I accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation.

It is clear that there is considerable resentment at the sheer cost of water bills. A responsible Government should take every possible step to achieve greater efficiency. We hear of savings in the administration of the authority, but a much more difficult benefit to measure is that which comes from getting people of managerial quality to serve on the authority.

That is basic to the concept of this slimmed-down authority. There is no question in my mind but that the people of Wales and the areas touching on Wales that are served by the Welsh water authority are more interested in securing efficiency in the operation of the authority than they are in whether they are theoretically represented by people who are virtually unknown to them and of whose names and identities they are probably unaware.

Inefficiency invariably starts at the top in any large organisation, and the best way to start slimming down the Welsh water authority is at the director level of the members of the authority. To bring the number down from three dozen to a little over a dozen is a sensible step, which, in the words of the chairman, will lead to much more incisive discussion in the authority". It is astonishing that such an obvious improvement in efficiency is opposed by the Opposition.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

Would the hon. Gentleman apply the same principle to the House?

Mr. Hooson

I have often thought that there would be a considerable gain in quality in the House if the number of Members was halved. I find that a highly seductive subject to pursue. However, it is not the subject that we are debating tonight.

Whatever one assumes on the absolute value of the local government representatives, the question then arises "Are they cut off from giving helpful advice to the authority?" The answer is that they are not. They are organised in five groups that include representatives of every district and county. For that reason, I am astonished that such an obvious step in improving efficiency should be opposed with a great deal of sound and fury, but very little sense.

10.37 pm
Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) has demolished the argument put forward by the Government. When I tried earlier to illicit from the Minister an explanation of why the Government were reorganising the water authority in Wales, he said that it was because the chairman was to retire in May. Not only is the content of the order deplorable but its presentation is bad. The way in which the Secretary of State is treating the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs—a Select Committee of the House of Commons—is also deplorable.

My right hon. Friend referred to the fact that a consultative document was sent out to local authorities on 28 July and they were asked to respond by 11 September. Local authorities meet often every month, but they do not meet in August. The Secretary of State had the political impertinence to ask them to return their representations by 11 September. He extended the deadline later because he realised the stupidity of his action. What did the local authorities tell the Secretary of State? We should know their comments before this order is placed on the statute book.

I am surprised at some of the Conservative Members who served on the Select Committee. They have a Jekyll and Hyde attitude to politics in the House. Upstairs they seek to represent the people of Wales, but downstairs they are like puppets behind the Minister. On every occasion they fall in line with what the Minister says.

It was one of those who felt that perhaps we should not look at the water industry because the Secretary of State might be on the verge of taking a decision. But so informed are Conservative hon. Members in Wales that they have not a clue about what the Secretary of State will do next. They agreed to set up an inquiry into the reorganisation of the water industry and, of course, they are in the majority on the Select Committee, so we set about looking into the reorganisation.

Once the news got out that the Select Committee was to embark on that task, it received a flood of information. Every local authority in Wales wrote telling the Committee how bad it thought the consultative document was. But I want to be fair to the Secretary of State. One local authority said that he had at least made provision for four representatives, making the local authorities better off than they were. But they still—the Welsh counties, the Council for the Principality, the Association of District Councils and a wide range of organisations—deplore the action taken by the Secretary of State.

Sir Anthony Meyer

It would not be appropriate to enter into the discussions that preceded the decision of the Select Committee to embark on this inquiry, especially in view of the absence of the former Chairman of the Committee, but it is only natural, when an inquiry such as this is announced, that every local authority will write clamouring that it has been done out of its rights. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) is carrying out his duty of representing the views of the local authorities, but do not let him pretend that he is giving a balanced view. He is merely echoing the views of one group of interests.

Mr. Evans

I was referring to the local authorities in Wales, and only to those local authorities. The way that the Government dismiss local democracy—

Mr. D. E. Thomas

An interest group.

Mr. Evans

These are the democratically elected representatives of the districts and counties in the whole of Wales. I shall be happy to give way to the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) again if he can say what organisation has written to the Select Committee praising the Secretary of State. Can the hon. Gentleman name one body?

Mr. Hooson


Mr. Evans

No. The hon. Gentleman has made his speech. I am prepared to give way to the hon. Member for Flint, West.

Sir Anthony Meyer

The National Water Council is all in favour.

Mr. Evans

I must concede that the hon. Gentleman has named one organisation which supports the Secretary of State out of 40 which have written to the Committee.

This debate is about the creation of a quango. In fact, it is an aqua-quango. But it is a quango with a difference. It is a quango with a quirk, and the quirk is that the Government cannot reorganise the regional water authorities in England unless we have legislation. It is a quirk—it is almost queer—that the Secretary of State is able to do this by means of a statutory instrument, because some time ago we were talking about the reorganisation of government in Wales and certain powers were taken by the Welsh Office to deal with the Welsh water authority. The Secretary of State has seized upon that device, and he is bringing about the reorganisation of the water industry in Wales.

When things get bad and Tory Governments find that their policies are not working, they turn to reorganisation. The previous Tory Government reorganised local government and the NHS, and they made a botch of both. The present Government have introduced a Bill to deal with local government. They are having another go at making a mess of it, but they have already had to withdraw the Bill before it has had a Second Reading.

The previous Tory Government also reorganised the water industry in 1973 and made a mess of the job. Why are the present Government acting so hastily, when English water authorities are not being dealt with in the same way?

The Select Committee is taking evidence and examining the question of reorganisation, but as soon as the Committee decided to consider the matter the Secretary of State prejudged the issue and decided to go ahead with his reorganisation. Why is Wales being treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom? Why are we being treated as a guinea pig while the Government experiment to see whether they can hit on a method that can be adopted for the rest of the United Kingdom?

It is proposed that the new authority should have 13 members—all appointed by the Secretary of State. Even the two representatives of the 37 districts and the two for the eight counties will not be elected by those councils. There is to be a substantial reduction in the number of members from local authorities.

I do not say that the authority is perfect or that we cannot make changes, but we must ensure that we do not get the sort of reorganisation of the water industry that we got in 1973. The present authority has 10 representatives of county councils and 10 members from district councils, with the other 14 members and the chairman being appointed by the Secretary of State. It has 15 members appointed by the Secretary of State, but 20 from local authorities. That is better than having the authority under the control of the Secretary of State.

When we consider the future of the industry, why do we not introduce an element of industrial democracy, as the Labour Government did in some industries, so that the workers have an opportunity to be represented on the new authority?

There has been inadequate consultation. Conservative Members accuse me of referring constantly to local authorities, but they are not the only bodies that feel aggrieved. The Wales TUC says that it has been unable to properly consult with its affiliated membership and we would argue that the issuing of such a document with an extremely limited consultation period effectively undermines the consultative process and causes us to doubt whether the Government is truly interested in receiving the considered views of those within the principality. What an indictment from the trade union movement in Wales! The local authorities would have difficulty in assembling their opinions between the end of July and early September. The trade union movement would also have difficulty in ensuring that all its various affiliated organisations had a "feed-in" to a consultative document during August and be in a position to present its considered views on what the Government were doing by the beginning of September.

I return to the local authorities. The Association of District Councils—the 37 councils in Wales—said: The association is opposed to the order, which very substantially reduces local authority representation on the Welsh Water Authority. It has issued a memorandum, which the Select Committee will discuss, although the die will be cast on the Floor of the House if the Government proceed with the order and put it on the statute book. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda said, we shall vote against it. But let us give the Government the opportunity to withdraw it. Let them take it back and not commit the folly of presenting it to the House for it to turn down. I hope that Conservative Members will not troop into the Lobby for the Ayes and vote for the order when no case had been made out for it.

The Secretary of State is empowered to act to alter the membership of the Welsh water authority by order. That applies only to the Welsh authority. English water authorities' membership can be altered only by legislation. This is a quirk of legislation. There is no factor that makes Wales unique. The Association of District Councils believes that the proper course is to proceed on an England-Wales basis as the membership issue is equally applicable in England. Instead, the Secretary of State has chosen to proceed unilaterally and in haste.

We talk about unilateral action, and sometimes Conservative Members condemn it, but on this occasion their Government are taking it. The Secretary of State is saying "We are going to do this". The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services has received a report from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the Severn-Trent authority, which contains certain criticisms of the authority. The right hon. Gentleman's reaction is to say "We shall not rush into taking precipitate action. We must have a consultative process. Discussions will take place throughout England to find the best remedy." But for Wales the Secretary of State intends to go his own way. When the consultative process has come to an end in England, we may find that it is wished to increase local representation.

We must await the findings of the Select Committee. There is no urgency, save for tackling the problem of water charges. Ministers talk about administration, but they know that they will not deal with the serious problem in Wales, which is equalisation. The Labour Government introduced that concept, and this Government have abandoned it. They have imposed a water bill on the Welsh people that is much higher than they have had before. The Government propose to move the chairs around in the belief that they are making a radical change.

We should not take a decision until the Select Committee has deliberated. The Department of the Environment, which is responsible for local government in England, is issuing a consultative paper and we should know what that contains before we go ahead.

What do the Welsh counties have to say? Sometimes the districts go one way and the counties go another. That is not so on this occasion. There is unanimity among the districts and the counties. The counties have been "utterly dismayed" by what the Tory Government are doing. Local authority associations in Wales have expressed their unanimous opposition to the Government's proposals. One does not always get unanimity among local authorities, but—almost in the words of St. Francis of Assisi—the Government have united the people of Wales against the order. We did not have from the Secretary of State a mention of what the local authorities are saying.

Mr. Hooson

The hon. Gentleman speaks about the unanimity of the people of Wales. Would he care to add that, apart from the local authorities, the majority of representations to the Secretary of State have been in favour of these proposals?

Mr. Evans

That is not my reading of a flood of correspondence. I challenge the hon. Member to name any responsible organisation in Wales that has given evidence that supports the Secretary of State. Why did the Secretary of State not mention it if there is such tremendous support for these measures? There is unanimity on the part of the local authorities.

The Welsh counties committee summarises matters thus: The Government's proposal represents a retrograde step of considerable significance to local government. It is an erosion of local democracy and accountability, and the creation of a nominated body along the lines proposed is deeply resented. There is no evidence that the consumer interest will be better served under the new proposal. We were issued with a document containing guidelines for consumer representation. We knew that the debate was to take place today. The document was sent out by the Welsh Office on Friday. The Secretary of State undertook to send us the information. It is only today that we have received it. It is dated 11 December. It is now 14 December. There has been no consultation, although the document talks about consultation.

The Welsh counties committee does not say that the present arrangements are perfect. It welcomes the opportunity to participate in an examination. Some of the people who have served on these bodies have had long links with them. One can argue whether there should be quangos. I believe that there is a place for the quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation in our governmental structure. The weakness arises when these nominated bodies are nominated entirely by the Secretary of State. Bodies to which local authorities nominate members represent a democratic expression.

The Welsh counties committee was strongly opposed to the chief executive becoming a board member, because that goes against the whole basis of local government and the way in which matters are handled, yet the Government are to give the chief executive a place on the board. The committee is dismayed that the Government are pressing ahead with their proposals, which are closely in line with those in the consultative document. That has been put to the people of Wales. There may not have been an initial reaction to that document, because people did not have time to consider it, but the more that they consider it, the more they dislike it.

The Secretary of State is in a peculiar position, because other Ministers can claim that they represent the people. We had a general election and the people elected a Conservative Government, but the people of Wales did not elect a Conservative Government. The people of Wales would never have elected the Secretary of State. Therefore, before he takes action he should realise that the majority of hon. Members in Wales are not of his party. He has put himself in the position of determining who is to serve on the new body.

We must seek a more democratic form of accountability in determining who serves on the various bodies in Wales. It could be done by bringing district councillors, county councillors and Members of Parliament together in Wales and determining the matter together, rather than having merely people who are appointed by the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State has made no case for bringing the order before the House, and I shall vote against it this evening. The Government may win the vote tonight, but they will not win the argument. The argument will not end here tonight. Local government representatives of all political persuasions in Wales will oppose the order, and the time will soon come when we shall reverse what the Government are doing this evening.

11 pm

Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)

I feel something of an interloper on a peculiarly Welsh occasion, but the subject of hydrographics knows no boundaries. My constituency—and, indeed, most of Herefordshire and much of Cheshire—falls within the area covered by the Welsh water authority, and tonight's proceedings are very important to the citizens in my part of the country.

I am very grateful for the presence this evening of my hon. Friend the Member fo Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment who has responsibility for English water affairs. It is important that English water should be looked after. In Hereford we fall within the aegis of the Department of the Environment for most things except water, although we fall under it partially for water.

The question of the structure of the water industry has been occupying the minds of hon. Members during the debate. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) has been waxing lyrical about the status quo. I do not think that his eloquence and ecstasy will be matched by my constituents when they get their water rate demands. My mail is seasonally burdened by water rate correspondence, and there are expressions of anguish from all over my constituency at the steady increase in the demands.

I look upon the reorganisation of the Welsh water authority as an attempt to come to terms with the type of structure that is necessary to provide a more economical and efficient service. To a large extent, it will have to be judged by result and not by prejudice.

Dr. Roger Thomas

I remind the hon. Member that Herefordshire may not have the water falling on the county, even though it has to pay the bills.

Mr. Shepherd

If the hon. Gentleman can find some other way of storing the water we shall not charge him for transporting it to the sea.

It is absolutely right that we should look upon water as an industry and not as a service. It provides a basic utility, in the same way as the coal industry, the electricity industry and the steel industry. That is how we should look at water, and that should be our objective in considering how best to organise the water industry.

Hitherto in Herefordshire we have had some very good representatives on the water authority, and I should like to pay tribute briefly to their work. They have not necessarily been in political agreement with me, but we have together produced some good results from time to time for our constituents. We have not perpetually had good results. Nevertheless, we have in the tradition of Herefordians stood our corner over the generations and often done quite well.

I have one small complaint to make to my right hon. Friend concerning the manner in which the statement was made to the House on 30 November. He very kindly arranged for English Members with interests to be sent a letter saying that there was to be a statement. It was date-timed 2.15 pm for a statement at 3.30. It is not normally my practice to participate in Welsh questions, because that is a peculiarly Welsh affair, and, although I live only a mile outside Wales, I do not interfere too much in Welsh affairs or in Welsh questions. At that time, I had an important, long-standing constituency engagement which I would have had a chance of rescheduling if I had known the previous week that a statement was likely. I make that complaint, as it is somewhat galling to arrive at 4.15 to find a statement just winding up.

I wish to make some basic points about the way in which I must consider the cost of water and the way in which water is organised in Hereford. First, the average domestic rateable value is disproportionately higher in Herefordshire that that in Welsh districts. Consequently, average water charges are at least one-third higher. We pay more for water in relation to equivalent property.

The rate support grant domestic element for England is 18p in the pound, compared with 36p in Wales. When the difference was made by the former right hon. Member for Grimsby, the late Mr. Anthony Crosland, it was said that there was an element of rough justice in it. In Herefordshire, we felt that it was very rough justice. It was designed at that time to reflect the differences in the cost of providing water, and we do not benefit. It has been denied ever since, but that was said in the House. it is very difficult to get the point across.

In Herefordshire, there is a marked absence of the various industrial grants available in many parts of Wales.

Finally, every bit of trade effluent in Herefordshire must be treated in the sewage works. Most trade effluents in Wales go to sea outlets, producing a marked difference in industrial costs related to the cost of handling industrial trade effluents.

Those four points make Herefordshire very different from the West of England. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to bear those points in mind when considering the structure of the board. I wonder, first, why he reserves the right to appoint the local authority members concerned. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am somewhat disappointed to hear cries of "Hear, hear" from the Opposition, but it is a fair question. Will there be a specifically English presence on the board to reflect the difference in requirements of England compared with Wales?

The draft order states in article 3(2): In appointing the members of the Welsh authority the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of members of the authority being familiar with the requirements and circumstances of the authority's area. The very big difference between England and Wales makes it important that there should be an English presence on the board.

In his consultations concerning appointments, will the Secretary of State reiterate loudly his assurance that English-based organisations and authorities will be consulted when local authority representatives for the board are being sought? It is also important that he take steps to ensure that, local authority members having been appointed to the board, the ordinary consumer may with the greatest possible ease and the minimum possible inquiry find out who is his representative on the authority? The Association of District Councils' submission, which most hon. Members will have received, states in subparagraph (e) on page 4 that the association wishes to Ensure that the name of the local district representative on the Water Authority is known to the district councils, parish and community councils, citizens advice bureaux, consumer advice centres, chambers of trade and commerce and libraries", and so on. That is very important.

The community health councils have provided a valuable input into the operation of the health services in Hereford. If that kind of input can be translated to the water industry, I welcome the setting up of consumer advisory committees. It would be nicer if we called them consumer water councils, but I appreciate the point in the legislation.

Once again, the English differences must be taken into account. The requirements of Herefordshire and Cheshire are different from those of Wales. Although the hydrographical basin takes in the Wye and the one next door the Usk, it may be convenient from the Welsh point of view to run the Wye and Usk divisions together. On the other hand, it might be for the convenience of consumers in Herefordshire and Cheshire if there was a CAC based upon the English districts represented. That would recognise the difference between England and Wales in the provision of water.

Does my right hon. Friend's anticipated £100,000 saving on this organisation allow for the costs of the CACs? I was not certain whether it did.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

indicated assent.

Mr. Shepherd

That is good to know. We now have the firm knowledge that at least there will be a £100,000 saving if this reorganisation goes ahead. That is welcome.

I have tried to outline the points that make Herefordshire different from Wales. There is no doubt that it is different. I hope that the Minister will assure me that my fears about the proper representation of England on the new organisation are groundless.

I am confident that in the longer term the function of the Welsh water authority in relation to English consumers will be one of understanding.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I remind the House that the debate finishes at half-past eleven and I understand that the Minister would like 10 minutes in which to reply.

11.12 pm
Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

I assure the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) that he has the full support of Plaid Cymru Members in arguing the case for English minority on the Welsh water authority. Perhaps that is some consolation to him.

I am not so sure that I agree with the rest of the hon. Gentleman's analysis, in particular his emphasis on water as an industry rather than a service. In a sense, the order represents the final, logical conclusion of the 1973 Act, because the Welsh water industry is removed from any semblance of democratic accountability and becomes another piece of corporate centralist management.

There is no time to go through the whole history of the development of water as a public utility in the United Kingdom, but it is a significant history. The development of the water service, its place in public health and housing policy, and their close integration with local government is finally destroyed. Water is now seen as a saleable commodity, with no democratic accountability and with little or no consumer consultation.

The whole exercise is cosmetic so as not to tackle the basic issue of the cost of water and where the burden of that increased cost falls. This exercise increases the charge on the consumer. Under the previous system, water charges were rebatable, but under this system the low income consumer bears a relatively higher burden, particularly the low income consumer in Wales.

The order does not quite take us back to the days prior to the Public Health Act 1875, when water was purchased from private water company stand-pipes at a cost of a farthing for every five gallons. The stand-pipe supply was available only at times convenient to the company. We are, however, going back to increasing privatisation in Government thinking as it relates to water as a basic utility.

Water supply and sewage disposal are essentials of life. In this sphere, as in so many, the Government are ensuring that the essential things of life are more expensive for the majority of working people. The 1973 Act and this logical conclusion of it are typical of the manner in which the Government now operate. I was saying to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), if I may quote a private conversation without going out of order, that, had his devolution proposals been successful, hon. Members would not have been wasting the time of the House tonight.

The 1973 Act, as put into effect, provided for a regional structure for the water industry in England and a national structure for Wales. It took the water service out of local government, turned it into an industry and under-funded it. I am sure that the social consumption expenditure by the State on the water service was reduced. This is confirmed by the withdrawal of rate support grant and the new capital investment ceilings introduced for the water service.

Within two years of the new water structure introduced in 1974, there were massive increases in water charges—as high as 56 per cent. for water supply and a staggering 90 per cent. for the general service charge in Wales. This has been the real cost of reorganisation. Whatever the Secretary of State says about the savings that he will make in the administration of the water service, this is nothing as compared with the loss borne by the consumers of Wales through his decision not to continue the equalisation policy of the previous Government. That is what concerns the people of Wales—not the cosmetic exercise of producing a new corporate structure for the water industry.

The order must be opposed. A serious point arises that the Secretary of State shrugs aside the manner in which the order has been introduced. As a member of another Select Committee, it is not for me to defend the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. In my view, however, it demonstrates a contempt for Select Committee procedure if Governments take executive decisions when they know that a Select Committee is deliberating in that same area. If the Secretary of State is so sold on consultation, he should at least consult hon. Members as well as local authorities before coming to a decision.

I turn to the structure that the right hon. Gentleman proposes for his consultative committees. I ask him to spell out, by letter, if not in reply to the debate—provided that time is allowed to study the letter—what the consumer advisory committees will do. They strike me as similar to the consumer advisory committees in other nationalised industries and public utilities that are not among the most effective organs to defend consumers.

The right hon. Gentleman says in his guidelines or his thoughts about possible guidelines—the thoughts of our Chairman Secretary of State—that the consumer advisory committees will be able to consider various issues in their area including the variation of charges. Will he spell out whether the CACs will be able to make specific recommendations to the water authority in Wales about the charge it makes internally and any charge that it will make for water that is extracted from reservours such as Llyn Lelyn in my constituency and used outside the Welsh Water Authority area?

In the Secretary of State's thoughts about guidelines he tells us that the Committees are provided with technical and professional advice required for consideration of the matters in hand. Can the Secretary of State spell that out in greater detail? If the advisory committees are to be effective they need to have expertise to respond and analyse proposals by the water authority. If they are to scrutinise the work of the authority on behalf of the consumer, they will need effective and technical advice.

The Secretary of State adds that it would be sensible for the guidelines to clarify the scope for Committees to be given information about the Authority's plans. What type of information is involved? In what sense will it be an exercise in open government and in what sense will it be a cosmetic effort?

The order is typical of the conservative Government in Wales. It it the unacceptable face of corporatism yet again. It avoids the real issue—the cost of water to a country which over-produces water.

11.21 pm
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)

I hope that when the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) he was comforted by the reminder that if he had not helped to win a famous victory on devolution the issue might have been transferred elsewhere and he could not have made his valuable contribution to our affairs tonight or made his comments in this place about the proposals.

The hon. Member for Merioneth and the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) spoke about water charges being the major issue and about the water equalisation measure. The trouble with the water equalisation measure that we inherited was that it was eccentric in its consequences and indefensible in its result. A Bill that takes resources from authorities that most need them and hands them to authorities that need them least cannot stand up for long. It was not possible for the previous Government, nor is it for us, to produce an equalisation Bill that does not have those unfortunate and eccentric consequences.

Mr. Alec Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Edwards

No. I want to respond to the debate. I wish to deal with the uncharacteristic, monstrously unfair attack by the right hon. Member for Rhondda on my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best), who is not in a position to defend himself.

My hon. Friend, in drawing attention to the possible representation of district authority interests, said that he hoped that some consideration would be given to trying to enable district councils to have a degree of representation, other than direct representation.

Mr. Alec Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Edwards

No. I have much more to say. Our proposals for consumer bodies enable district councils to have a degree of representation other than direct representation. It has been pointed out that it is difficult for councillors to discharge their functions efficiently and effectively on both local authorities and on the Welsh water authority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) spoke about the interests of the English authorities. I apologise to my hon. Friend for the late arrival of the notice of the statement. I can only say that the letter to him went out at the same time as those to all the other hon. Members to whom notice was given, and I am sorry if those letters arrived later than was desirable.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Why is the right hon. Gentleman apologising to his hon. Friend when we on this side were in the same position of not having received the document?

Mr. Edwards

I gave notice to my hon. Friend—and I did so because he would not necessarily have been in the House for Welsh questions or have known that we were dealing with this Welsh matter—at the same time as I gave that notice to the right hon. Member for Rhondda and to the representatives of Plaid Cymru and the other parties in the House.

My hon. Friend spoke of the need—and he was right—to provide a more economical and efficient service, and that is the object of these proposals. He spoke of the need for the English authorities to be represented. I am not sure whether he was here for my opening speech. I emphasised particularly the fact that I would consult all the relevant local authorities to ensure that English interests were properly taken into account. He asked why I should make the appointments. By asking the question he identified one of the reasons for my doing so.

There are a number of local authority associations. Indeed, there is a split in the local authority association in Wales—

Mr. Rowlands

They are all against the order.

Mr. Edwards

—which makes it extremely difficult to get a direct nomination from those authorities, and particularly to take account of the interests of the authorities. That is one of the reasons why I want to consult fully—

Mr. Alec Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Edwards

—with the authorities before dealing with this point.

Mr. Alec Jones

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman about that.

Mr. Edwards

I want to move on to the other points raised by the right hon. Member for Rhondda. He said that no case had been made for reorganisation. A large majority of those, other than the local authorities, who responded made it clear that they generally favoured the moves that we are proposing. Of course, so did the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in its detailed study, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Hooson) drew attention—

Mr. Rowlands

It had nothing to do with the Welsh water authority.

Mr. Ioan Evans


Mr. Edwards

—and the chairman of the National Water Council in his recent evidence to the Select Committee. There is no doubt about the serious concern among users about the need for more efficient organisation.

The right hon. Member for Rhondda spoke about what he called my indecent haste. We gave the local authority organisations the opportunity to make representations. We responded to those representations and we altered our proposals so that their interests should be defended—

Mr. Alec Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman now give way?

Mr. Edwards

As I listened to the hon. Member for Aberdare describing why it was impossible for local authority representatives to make any contribution during two and a half months of the summer—

Mr. Rowlands


Mr. Edwards

—it seemed to me that the two and a half months that they had—

Mr. Ioan Evans

It was August.

Mr. Edwards

It seemed to me—

Mr. Alec Jones


Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) knows that if the Minister does not give way he must resume his seat.

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Alec Jones


Mr. Edwards

Between July and the end of October I continued to listen to representations. The right hon. Gentleman might well have judged that perhaps it was not a terribly good idea to have them dominating the organisation of a major industry of this kind.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Oh, no.

Mr. Alec Jones


Mr. Rowlands

That is scandalous.

Mr. Edwards

Then we had the right hon. Member for Rhondda pleading that agriculture was not properly represented, and that a number of other bodies did not have direct representation. The object of this reorganisation is to create a board that does not directly represent individual interests but provides the best possible service for water users as a whole; and it is on that basis that I commend the order to the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 104, Noes 46.

[Division No. 24] [11.30pm
Alexander,Richard Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)
Ancram,Michael Cockeram.Eric
Beaumont-Dark.Anthony Cope,John
Beith.A. J. Cranborne, Viscount
Bendall,Vivian Dean, Paul (North Somerset)
Benyon.Thomas (A'don,) Dover,Denshore
Benyon.W. (Buckingham) Dunn.Robert(Darfford)
Berry, Hon Anthony Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Best, Keith Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)
Biggs-Davison,SirJohn Faith, MrsSheila
Blackburn,John Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Bottomley, Peter (W'wichW) Fletcher-Cooke.SirCharles
Brinton.Tim Garel-Jones,Tristan
Brittan.Rt. Hon. Leon Goodhew.Victor
Brooke, Hon Peter Goodlad,Alastair
Brotherton,Michael Griffiths,PeterPortsm'thN)
Brown,Michael(Brigg&Sc'n) Grist, Ian
Buck.Antony Gummer.JohnSelwyn
Budgen,Nick Hawkins, Paul
Butcher,John Higgins, RtHon Terence L.
Cadbury,Jocelyn Hogg, HonDouglas(Gr'th'm)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Hooson,Tom
Carlisle,Kenneth (Lincoln) Hunt,John (Ravensbourne)
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Jopling, RtHon Michael
Kershaw,SirAnthony Rossi, Hugh
Lang, Ian Sainsbury.HonTimothy
Lawrence, Ivan Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lennox-Boyd.HonMark Shepherd,Colin(Hereford)
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Skeet, T. H. H.
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Speed, Keith
Lyell, Nicholas Speller.Tony
MacGregor,John Stanbrook.lvor
Major,John Steel, Rt Hon David
Marland,Paul Stevens, Martin
Marlow,Antony Stewart, A. (ERenfrewshire)
Marten, Rt Hon Neil Stradling Thomas.J.
Mather.Carol Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mellor, David Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Meyer.SirAnthony Thompson,Donald
Moate, Roger Thorne,Neil(IlfordSouth)
Morgan,Geraint Trippier, David
Murphy,Christopher Waddington,David
Neale.Gerrard Waldegrave.HonWilliam
Needham,Richard Waller, Gary
Nelson,Anthony Ward,John
Neubert.Michael Watson,John
Newton,Tony Wells, Bowen
Onslow,Cranley Wells.John(Maidstone)
Osborn,John Williams.D.(Montgomery)
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Wolfson.Mark
Percival. Sir Ian Tellers for the Ayes:
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW) Mr. David Hunt and Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Anderson,Donald John,Brynmor
Atkinson, N.(H'gey,) Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh 'dda)
Bennett.Andrew(St'kp'tN) Kerr, Russell
Booth, RtHon Albert Lamond, James
Bray, Dr Jeremy Leighton,Ronald
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. McCartney.Hugh
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't 'n& P) McNamara,Kevin
Campbell-Savours, Dale Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Canavan,Dennis Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Powell, Raymond(Ogmore)
Coleman,Donald Rowlands,Ted
Cowans, Harry Skinner.Dennis
Cryer,Bob Snape, Peter
Cunliffe,Lawrence Spearing,Nigel
Davidson,Arthur Thomas.Dafydd(Merioneth)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Thomas, DrR.(Carmarthen)
Dixon,Donald Tinn,James
Dormand.Jack Wainwright,E. (DearneV)
Eastham.Ken Welsh,Michael
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) White, Frank R.
Foulkes, George Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
G rant, George (Morpeth)
Hardy, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Haynes, Frank Mr. George Morton and Mr. Allen McKay.
Hogg, N. (EDunb't'nshire)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Welsh Water Authority (Constitution) (Variation) Order 1981, which was laid before this House on 1st December, be approved.