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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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.