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Water Charges

Volume 385: debated on Thursday 14 July 1977

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3.21 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps or appeal are open to a consumer of water supplied by a water authority who objects to a decision by that authority that he should be charged on a metered rather than a rateable value basis.

My Lords, it is for individual water authorities to decide upon and justify the basis of charges to individual consumers.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her succinct reply, but may I ask whether she does not thereby acknowledge that she was wrong to dispute, as she did in her letter to me of 28th June, that this was an arbitrary decision? Given that we are dealing with monopoly supplies that are necessary to life, would it not be better to have, as we have in respect of the nationalised industries, some machinery for determining disputes between these bodies and their customers?

My Lords, I do not agree that I was wrong when I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I do not consider that it is arbitrary when something is worked out on rational grounds, is explained to people and they have a right to take it up, even though it is not the sort of right of appeal to which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter is referring. There is no right of appeal to the Secretary of State, but it is, of course, open to the noble Lord to seek to persuade the water authority to charge him on rateable value rather than on a metered basis. Frankly, I think that the noble Lord keeps aiming his bullets at the wrong person. I imagine that the attitude of the water authority would be governed by the amount of water used in relation to the rateable value of the property.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, aware that pipes are not rational and often burst, and that therefore it would be far fairer if everybody were charged on a rateable value? If someone is on a metered value and a pipe bursts, the water authority is sometimes extremely tardy in coming to the help of the consumer and ensuring that the burst is located. One might lose hundreds of thousands of gallons if one were on a meter. It is most unfair.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, say what is wrong with the old system of rateable value? Why have the various areas of the Water Council decided to change? Also, what difference does it make to the consumer?

My Lords, most domestic consumers are on a rateable value. It is mostly industrial consumers or domestic consumers who are consuming large quantities of water who are metered. Nothing has been considered wrong with this situation. Indeed, in many countries, domestic consumers are metered.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, aware that there is nothing wrong if there is a genuine appeal against the possibility of an act of God, as my noble friend Viscount Massereene and Ferrard has just pointed out? It is the ineffectiveness of the appeal system which makes this an arbitrary decision and it could be an unfair one.

I have had to explain on previous occasions in this House that there is no appeal against an act of God. To whom would one appeal?