Equalisation Payments to Be Made to Certain Water Authorities

Part of Orders of the Day — Water Charges Equalisation Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th March 1977.

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Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath 12:00 am, 16th March 1977

That is an even more astonishing assertion. If this Bill requires to be amended in another place to include the private water companies, it will he so amended. I gave the undertaking in Committee which I give again this evening. Both undertakings were accepted by the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones), speaking for the Official Opposition, but they were not accepted apparently by the second Opposition spokesman on this Bill, the hon. Member for Conway, who represents Wales. That is the most extraordinary gymnastic performance I have seen in a long time, and if the hon. Gentleman wishes to change his vocation, I shall be glad to offer him a scholarship in gymnastics at one of my sports centres, where he would be better qualified to participate.

I should like to deal with the matter of delay. We spent 20 hours in Committee discussing one clause. I have admitted that the Bill was introduced into this House later than I had hoped, and it was due for Second Reading on the day the House adjourned out of respect for a former Prime Minister—which delayed the matter for several more days. That made the timetable difficult. Nevertheless, in our view it would have been reasonable to have got that Bill through Committee in four sittings. But to have eight sittings and to spend 20 hours on one clause was quite ridiculous.

I said in Committee that I had told local authorities that they could not expect to hold up their accountancy arrangements, their computer operations and their billing for too long, and that we wanted the Bill by 1st April. When the point was reached when I felt in fairness to the authorities' accountancy and administration procedures that it was impossible to hold out hope of getting the Bill for this year, I made an announcement to that effect. In one sitting we dealt with the next five clauses. If ever there was a give-away of the Opposition's attitude in Committee, it was that. After eight sittings and 20 hours on one clause they succeeded in delaying the implementation of the Bill for 12 months. After that the rest of the Bill was dealt with in one sitting. Their change of attitude was extraordinarily revealing.