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Water Authorities (Staff)

Volume 934: debated on Wednesday 29 June 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what guidance he has issued to water authorities concerning the salary levels of employees and the number of staff employed, in the light of existing salaries and numbers.

Salary levels and staff establishments are matters for the internal management and negotiating procedures of the water industry itself, but we have made clear to water authorities the need to exercise restraint.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that rising water rates are resented? Does he accept that it is undesirable that an unelected body, which in practice is responsible to no one, should have absolute power? If salaries were excessive, perquisites were excessive and the provision of motor cars was excessive, am I right in supposing that the public would have no remedy and Ministers would have no responsibility?

If Ministers have no responsibility and if they have no powers except over the capital expenditure of the water authorities, it is because the Conservative Government enacted the Water Bill that took away those responsibilities from local authorities and from the Government. However, they are not entirely unelected bodies. The majority of the members of regional water authorities are members of local councils. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will support what the Government have to say in the White Paper on the water industry, which we hope to publish soon.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that not only was it a Conservative Bill that caused these organisations to be instituted but that the rates have roughly doubled, because the cost of sewerage is included, and that about £100 million of rate support grant that otherwise would have gone from the Exchequer to support sewerage services is now no longer available to regional water authorities?

That is true. I hope that ratepayers will recognise that the sewerage element in their rates is now in the water rate and not in the general rate.

The Government appear to have done precisely nothing, arising out of last summer's drought, to prevent a repetition. Does the hon. Gentleman expect a firm programme to be announced to meter water supplies in the forthcoming White Paper?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is unable to be here this afternoon, will be most disappointed at the suggestion that he has done nothing about providing the necessary water. I am sure that my right hon. Friend, the Early-Day Motions from Members of the House, the Prayers and whoever answered them have provided the answer, to the extent that there is no danger of any shortage of water this year, even if we have fine weather for the rest of the summer.