Water and Sewerage Charges

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6 May 1981.

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Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford 12:00, 6 May 1981

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received for the inclusion of water rates in the rebate scheme.

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

The National Water Council has concluded that the best way to alleviate the present sense of unfairness about the charging system is to extend optional metering to domestic households. Where this option does not exist at present the council recommends that water authorities should draw up a timetable for its introduction in the next few years.

The council also concluded that, despite the representation which both it and the Government had received, the present legislation does not allow means related rebates for water services, and it reaffirms its belief that assistance to consumers should remain with the social security system.

Finally, I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) for not advising him of the bracketing of his question.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Will the Minister accept that his answer will disappoint my constituents, particularly the lower-paid workers? Is he aware that if the change to metering will cost the tenants money, the lower-paid will not be able to afford it? Will the hon. Gentleman therefore consider replacing the water authorities with a democratically elected body?

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

We have no intention of abolishing the water authorities. The majority of the members of the authorities, including the Yorkshire water authority, are drawn from elected bodies. Any problems that the lower-paid may have over the cost of changing to metering are best left to the social security system. The change to metering will be a slow process, but the choice will be offered.

Photo of Mr Jack Dormand Mr Jack Dormand , Easington

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) said earlier that he had not been notified that his question was to be grouped with other questions. You will recall that much the same happened to me recently when my question was No. 9 on the Order Paper. Hon. Members frequently have other matters to attend to before coming to the Chamber for Question Time. Are the Government being inefficient and incompetent, or are they following a deliberate policy? Such problems did not arise under the previous Government. Should not Departments notify hon. Members whenever questions are to be taken together?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

It is in everyone's interests for hon. Members to be notified when this happens. Normally, they are, but human errors do occur and sometimes the notice does not arrive.

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

I repeat that it was an error by my Department, for which I have apologised. It was not deliberate, and we shall do better in future.