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Water Rates

Volume 885: debated on Monday 27 January 1975

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7.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is yet in a position to make a statement about the level of water charges in Wales.

It would be inappropriate for my right hon. and learned Friend to do so until he has received and considered the report of the Daniel Committee.

In view of the expected enormous increases in the water rates in certain areas, and the advice given in favour of phased equalisation by various bodies, will the Minister give me an assurance that phased equalisation has been considered? If it has been turned down, will he say why?

The hon. Gentleman speaks at the Dispatch Box time and time again on the principles of the Water Act 1973. Time and time again I have to tell him that he and his hon. Friends are responsible for the Water Act and for the consequences that flow from it. To spill crocodile tears about them at almost every Question Time is reprehensible. Equalisation is the decision of the Welsh water authority. I gather that the authority discussed phased equalisation and unanimously came to the conclusion that it should go for equalisation straight away. That is the authority's decision, and it must be responsible for it.

Will the Minister inform the House of the progress that is being made towards the establishment of a truly national Welsh water authority, inclusive of the whole of Wales, which will have the power to sell Welsh water to English conurbations at, for example, 20p per 1,000 gallons, and which would reduce the Welsh water rates to a nominal level?

I know of a number of hon. Members, including the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who at this time would not wish to be part of any Welsh water authority. The Daniel Committee has been asked to report on these vital issues and we must await its report.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the equitable solution to the problem would be the equalisation of water rates throughout England and Wales? Will he say what progress is being made towards that objective?

Certainly. There are many feelings on the matter. On many occasions many people, including ourselves, have claimed that there should be a more equitable distribution of water charges not only in Wales but between Wales and corresponding English authorities. That may be one of the matters that the Daniel Committee will bring to our attention.

I agree with the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), but does the Minister agree that whatever reforms are needed for the water authorities the rivers must be run as a whole? Does he agree that in the second half of the twentieth century it is nonsense to suggest that England, Wales and Scotland cannot sufficiently co-operate to ensure that one river is managed as a whole?

That certainly is the principle and philosophy which underline the drawing of the boundaries of the Welsh water authority and the neighbouring water authorities. That is why we have bits of England in Welsh authorities and bits of Wales in English authorities. It makes a lot of sense.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has had any recent discussions with the borough of Newport concerning water charges.

No. Nor has my right hon. and learned Friend received representations from the borough.

Are the proposed charges consistent with Circular 282/74, issued from the Welsh Office, which urges local authorities to keep down charges of new rates to a 20 per cent. increase? Is my hon. Friend aware that the new sewerage charges alone would mean an increase of between 150 per cent. and 200 per cent., while the increase in the water rate would be no less than 142 per cent.? Does he appreciate that this sewerage charge would be about equal to 70 per cent. of the rates required for borough purposes, and that the Dukes Committee, which studied the matter, urged that equalisation should not start until after April 1976? Will my hon. Friend see to it that this new super-bureaucracy is in line with Government policy?

We have no control over the rate charges in any particular area, other than in the sense of controlling the general criteria, and then only in a reserve sense. I am sorry to have to tell my hon. Friend that the charges are a direct and inevitable consequence of the Water Act 1973.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Further to that point of order. As Welsh Questions were taken only once in the last Session of Parliament, as today we have been unable to reach several important Questions, as there has not been an opportunity for many supplementary questions to be taken, and as this—

Order. The hon. Member is making it more unlikely that we shall get back to taking Welsh Questions today. May I take his point of order at the end of Questions?