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Water Authorities

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th July 1974.

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Mr. Adley:

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the working of the new water authorities.

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Widnes

It is much too early to comment on the performance of the new water authorities since they assumed executive responsibility for water services only on 1st April. However, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced to the House on 27th June, we consider that the new organisation should be reviewed in about two years' time.

Mr. Adley:

I realise that the authorities are new, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that in my constituency and elsewhere the absence of sewerage facilities, largely caused by the absence of funds, means that the water authorities are usurping the position of the planners because water authorities have to decide to which sewerage scheme to give priority? Is the Minister satisfied that his Department has enough information about the priorities and the way in which water authorities are establishing their priorities?

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Widnes

We are gathering that information at present. I repeat that water authorities have had a very short period of life so far. Planning was a major worry which we often expressed when the Water Bill was going through Parliament. I am happy to say that in most areas considerable co-operation exists between the regional water authority and the planning authorities, and for the progress of both that is essential.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

Does my hon. Friend agree that we want to keep open the possibility in the future of redressing the mistakes made in the recent past and of having an effective link with local government possibly via regional elected authorities?

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Widnes

That is for the more distant future. I think that we must allow the water authorities to continue for two years without disturbing their functions. My main criticism of water authorities, which is similar to the criticism made by my hon. Friend, is that they are basically undemocratic bodies. That is what is wrong with them.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

After the two-year period, will the Minister extend his review to the local authorities? Is there not a strong case for some local authorities being all-purpose authorities, such as my own constituency and possibly the former county of Hereford?

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Widnes

If we were to conduct a major review of local authorities, I would fear for the suicide rate among the officers. The Labour Party is pledged to look at some of the more glaring anomalies that resulted from the Local Government Act 1972.

Mr. Ioan Evans:

Although there is general satisfaction among ratepayers at the way in which the Government have dealt with rates, there is particular dissatisfaction about the water and sewerage rate. Could that be reviewed before the two years have elapsed? For people whose premises are not connected to the public sewer to have to pay this rate is adding insult to injury.

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Widnes

I said in reply to an earlier Question that this is being considered by the National Water Authority and we are hoping for a report by the early autumn so that the anomalies can be put right at least by next year.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Is the Minister aware that the new regional water authorities have one thing in common: that rural ratepayers pay considerably more for their water and drainage? Will he ensure that before next year this anomaly is taken care of in the rate support grant?

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Widnes

The hon. Gentleman refers to the rate support grant but I remind Opposition Members that it was the Conservative Government who removed from local authorities responsibility for sewerage and water. The hon. Gentleman asks me whether we can give help through the rate support grant. It is true, and always has been, that water supplied by a water board area of a regional water authority is more expensive in a rural than in an urban area. The water authorities will be looking into this in their pricing policies.