In view of the proposed timetable for water reorganisation, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider amending the Bill published today to make statutory provision for machinery of consultation between existing water and sewerage authorities and the new ones?
I do not think that any statutory provision will be necessary. One appreciates that over the whole range of local government reorganisation there is a tight timetable to which local authorities have to work. I do not envisage any difficulty about consultation under the present auspices.
Is this Bill really necessary, or is it one of those which have been extracted from a departmental pigeon-hole when there is not much else to put into the programme? [Interruption.] I am referring to the programme of the Department. Will my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that some of us are extremely sceptical about the claim that large authorities lead to greater efficiency? Time and time again we have seen the opposite occur.
I regard the Bill as necessary. The general principles of it are widely accepted. There have been discussions about the composition of the regional water authorities and here we have gone a long way to meet the objections of local authorities by providing for an absolute majority of local authority members on each regional authority.
Although the Opposition have serious misgiving about much of the Bill, especially about the taking away of local authority services and about the failure to nationalise all water, may I ask whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that it would be wrong not to pay tribute to the Government for bending to public opinion about the maintenance of the canal system and keeping the British Waterways Authority in existence? To that extent we offer some welcome to the Government's proposals.