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Watts Committee (Water Metering)

Volume 78: debated on Wednesday 8 May 1985

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6.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he received the report of the Watts committee on domestic water metering; and if he will make a statement.

I hope to receive the report before the end of next month. Thereafter I will make a statement. I have read my hon. Friend's pamphlet "A fair deal for water" which is an excellent contribution to the debate.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the cause of metering will be greatly served by the privatisation of water authorities, and that there is widespread support for that move on the Conservative Benches? In the meantime, will he encourage water authorities to introduce more extensive metering trials?

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, he will be aware that at present all water authorities offer the option of metering to all their customers. With regard to the first part of his question, he will be aware that the Government are examining the possibility of the privatisation of the water authorities and, under the lead of the Watts committee, the possibility of wider water metering.

Before the Minister makes any statement on the wholesale metering of water throughout the country, will he have regard to the fact that there are few democratically elected members on water authorities? Will he ensure that the water authorities are more democratic before he makes such a statement?

We have more streamlined and efficient water authorities today than ever before. On the issue of metering, I commend to the hon. Member the pamphlet of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), which, priced at £1·25, is extremely good value and a great deal better than the pamphlet written by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who advocated that the gain someone makes on his house should be subject to tax.

Will my hon. Friend accept, since in the way that the system operates at present there is no advantage in going for metering if one is on an average sort of rate, that there is a great deal of resentment, especially among single householders and the elderly, who get no concession or recognition for the fact that they use the service very little and are charged precisely the same as those who use it a great deal? Will he ensure that that vice is taken out of the system?

My hon. Friend is right. There is a widespread view that the present system of charging on the basis of rateable value is not fair. This has been considered in the past, but we are looking at it again. We shall certainly bear in mind the point that my hon. Friend rightly makes.

The Minister applauds the pamphlet of his hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman). Does he agree with his hon. Friend when he rules out a poll tax on water? Does he further agree with his hon. Friend's assertion in the pamphlet that the price mechanism ought to be the overriding factor in consumer demand? Is this what the Prime Minister really means by a classless society, when there is a differential on the use of water according to ability to pay?

The hon. Gentleman is creating a certain amount of advance and synthetic indignation about this. I was commending to the House, and, indeed, Mr. Speaker, I commend to you, the excellent pamphlet written by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman). [HON. MEMBERS: "Has the hon. Gentleman read it?"] Of course I have read it. Courtesy among colleagues is something not widely understood by Opposition Members. My hon. Friend was kind enough to send me an advance copy, as he will confirm, and I am grateful to him. I hope that today's exchanges will mean that the pamphlet is read even more widely. I hope that the Conservative Political Centre, which published it, will receive some more funds for its needs in the future.