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.
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?
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.
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?
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.