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Water Charges

Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1975

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied that water authorities are exercising due economies in order to keep increases in water charges as low as possible.

My right hon. Friend has asked water authorities to do everything possible to keep down their charges. I have no reason to believe that they are not heeding that advice.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Welsh National Water Development Authority, through a process of equalising its costs in one year, has brought about a situation in which the rate increase in my constituency is over 143 per cent.? Is he able to do anything about that? Cannot he persuade the authority to equalise its costs, as other water authorities have done, over a number of years?

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend. However, the Water Act 1973 requires authorities to break even taking one year with another. As regards equalisation, there is no way in which my right hon. Friend can intervene with a specific authority. Influencing the authorities is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.

Is the Minister aware that water authorities in various parts of the country have put up their rates, and intend to do so again, to a degree which is extremely worrying both to those who are connected to mains water and drainage and to those who are not? Will he give a greater assurance than he was able to give in reply to the original Question asked by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) that he will do his utmost to impress upon authorities the need to restrain short-term capital plans which are not essential?

I am certain that my right hon. Friend and the Minister responsible for water have done their best to impress that on the authorities. Unfortunately, under the terms of the Water Act 1973—which was not of our making—it is not possible for my right hon. Friend to intervene about charges levied by water authorities.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the serious concern which has been expressed to Members of Parliament representing Manchester at the continuing departure of the North West Water Authority from the national recommendations on the calculation of general service and water charges, and their failure to implement assurances which they gave to local authorities in December to rectify the anomaly caused in assessing charges for the current year? Is my hon. Friend aware that in the Manchester area the percentage increase in domestic charges in 1974–75 is 62 per cent.?

I am aware of the level of the increase and of the difficulties faced by some of the Greater Manchester districts. I shall look at what my hon. Friend has said.

Is the Minister aware that the county of Herefordshire falls within the area of the Welsh National Water Development Authority? Will he consider increasing the rate support grant for Herefordshire to that for Wales, which currently receives 37p in the pound compared with 18·5p in the pound received by Herefordshire, thus equalising the water rate burden?

I am aware of the anomaly. Herefordshire and Worcestershire come under the Welsh National Water Development Authority. I cannot give that assurance today. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I am meeting a delegation from Herefordshire tomorrow.

3.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement about the cost of the supply of water ; and what is the average increase in the cost of water rates in the United Kingdom during the year ending 5th April 1976.

The 1973 Water Act provides that it is for water authorities to decide what level of charges is required to meet their statutory obligation to break even, taking one year with another. I understand that the average increase in the authorities' water supply charges in England and Wales is likely to be of the order of 41 per cent.

Is the Minister aware that the increase in the domestic water rate for water supply by the Eastbourne Waterworks Company for the current year is 53 per cent.? Does he agree that the present system for levying water rate is regressive, unjust and unfair and should be scrapped?

We are looking at all the water authorities in the course of a two-year review. I repeat, however, that the creation of water authorities is not our doing. Many of the difficulties which this House and ratepayers face result from the Water Act 1973. I am aware of the position in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. However, in defence of water authorities, I must say that they were left with a considerable burden since 47 per cent. of their expenditure is to service capital debts. They were created naked by our predecessors, and now the public,have to pay for that creation.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a difference in the amount of water used for flushing lavatories in Scotland and England? In the interests of achieving lower costs, will he press for uniformity between the two countries on the lower level, even if he gets opposition from the Scottish National Party on grounds of devolution?

I am afraid that water is a subject which I never think of in connection with Scotland.