No such estimate has been made. One of the objectives of the proposed metering trials is to help the industry assess the costs and practicality of metering multi-storey flats and properties served by a common supply pipe.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that discussions which are presently taking place about the future of the water industry are causing a great deal of concern in constituencies such as mine where there are common supply pipes in multi-storey flats? Will he therefore give me an assurance that any costs associated with converting those properties—should the devastating proposals concerning water and privately-owned meters go through—will not be borne by the consumer?
The hon. Lady will be aware that in the Committee considering the Public Utility Transfers and Water Charges Bill we are discussing amendments to ensure that the cost burden moves from owners to undertakers, thus reforming the Water Acts of 1845 and 1951. The major changes will require owners to have separate joint supplies explicitly for the purpose of metering. I can give the hon. Lady an undertaking that the burden will not fall on them.
Some consumers have indeed benefited from metering. One of the important issues involved with the compulsory trial schemes that are being proposed is the effect of metering on a range of consumers in a certain locality. Schemes will enable undertakers to identify technical difficulties associated with putting meters in properties.
The Minister knows that there are tremendous cost and technical difficulties associated with putting meters into multi-storey flats. How does he square that with the fact that, for 70 hours or more of consideration of the Public Utility Transfers and Water Charges Bill, he has tried to convince us that water meters will be fairer because consumers will be able to control how much water they consume? Is he not getting himself into an awful problem and a difficult contradiction?
I am glad to say that we have encountered no problems so far in the 70 hours of Committee proceedings to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Indeed, I thank him for his perceptive and useful analysis of the problems, including the problem that he has just mentioned. A lot of satisfactory work has been done on the matter that he raised. In reply to his first point, undertakers will have to consider the effect of metering and the effect of charges on metering, which will range beyond the single option referred to by the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) and raised by the hon. Gentleman in Committee yesterday.