I had arranged to meet early in November the late Chairman of the Authority. Hon. Members will join me in sending deepest sympathy to Lady Brecon. I shall now resume the regular meetings which I had been holding, prior to my illness, with representatives of the Authority.
We share my hon. Friend's regret at the death of Lord Brecon. Our arguments were always about policy and never of a personal nature. Will my hon. Friend intervene in the proposal made by the Authority for direct billing? I am disturbed to find that the Authority is still progressing the proposal, and I ask my hon. Friend to stop it at this stage. Will he also speak to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment about taking the Craig Goch reservoir out of the regional context and considering it in the United Kingdom context, so that we may have the maximum reservoir there and not the minimum reservoir as is now proposed?
We have already told water authorities that in considering whether to extend direct billing they must pay close attention to the overriding need to avoid any net increase in public expenditure. At a meeting last Thursday—at which the Government were represented by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Sport and Recreation—with representatives of the local authority associations and the National Water Council, the question of direct billing was discussed. As a result of that meeting, we are considering what further advice should be given. Most hon. Members will be glad to know that three authorities at least have come together and will, we hope, agree on a solution to the problem of Craig Goch that will result in the supply of water to people in Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom.
Does the Minister accept that the Welsh experience of the long drought this summer is final proof, if proof were needed, of the urgent need for a truly Welsh national water authority, covering the whole of Wales, invested with adequate powers to develop our rich water resources, with power to sell surplus resources to the industries and conurbations in England which need them and to establish a Welsh national grid?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I do not agree with a word he has uttered on this subject. I believe that the resources of the United Kingdom must be developed as a whole for the betterment of all our people.
Does my hon. Friend appreciate that the proposed arrangement for collecting water charges can only mean rocketing costs followed by great public indignation? Does he further agree that local authorities are perfectly capable of doing this job—as they have done in the past—at far less cost?
The answer is not quite as simple as my hon. Friend suggests. My information is that it is not only a question of whether local authorities are capable of doing this job. Some local authorities want direct billing and others want to continue the present practice. The question of cost is a matter of doubt. Further information is necessary before advice can be given. The WNWDA is paying £1·16 million to local authorities this year for the collection service. The Authority's estimate is that direct billing would save them £600,000 a year. The solutions are not quite as simple as they might seem to be at first sight.