Equalisation Payments to Be Made to Certain Water Authorities

Part of Orders of the Day — Water Charges Equalisation Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th March 1977.

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Photo of Mr Alec Jones Mr Alec Jones , Rhondda 12:00 am, 16th March 1977

I agree that we heard a great deal about the subject in Committee. For several sittings I thought that we would hear of nothing else. I do not object to that; nor do I object to the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) raising the issue tonight.

The hon. Member said that there was substantial evidence to support his claim, but there are different views about what is right and what is wrong on the issue. The hon. Member referred to his own Government's White Paper and to statements made by my late right hon. Friend, Mr. Tony Crosland. His quotations from the Daniel Report referred to the situation that existed in 1974–75. I do not expect that at the end of my speech we shall be any nearer an agreement, but in the exceptional circumstances of the year 1974–75, when the rate support grant settlement was made within days of a Government taking office, we had experienced the reorganisation of local government and of the water authorities. An element of additional relief was given to the Welsh authorities to compensate them because the effects for them were greater than those for England.

The situation did not remain there. The differential between the domestic relief in England and in Wales was narrowed in the following year—as the hon. Member conceded. Because the rate support grant settlement is a decision made by Government after consultations with the local authority organisations, the Government are in the strongest and best position to say what they included and took into account.

In the settlements for 1976–77 and for 1977–78 there is no question of water charges being taken into account by the Government in their decisions about the levels of domestic relief. Those decisions that were taken for the years 1976–77 and 1977–78 were based solely on the likely effects of changes in the levels of relief on local authority domestic rate pound-ages and had no relevance whatsoever to the level of water charges in Wales or in any other part of the United Kingdom. They had no connection with them.

I can only repeat the point that I made in Committee. However much one sought to alter the level of rate support grant, it would not affect the level of water charges. The Bill is about a partial equalisation of water charges. We know that it is a modest scheme, and it is a limited scheme even in its expectations of life. By its very nature, it could not take into account those other factors.

Therefore, although I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not agree with me, I assure him that the water charges are not taken into account and were not a factor in deciding the level of the domestic element.