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Provisions Relating to Meters etc.

Public Utility Transfers and Water Charges Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 2nd February 1988.

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Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley , Stoke-on-Trent North 9:45 pm, 2nd February 1988

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 13, line 30, leave out 'so much' and insert 'no part'.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 9, in page 13, line 31, leave out `as is attributable to compliance with a request' and insert 'if a reasonable request is'.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley , Stoke-on-Trent North

I want to be brief. If the amendment was accepted it would amount to a reasonable amendment to the Bill as any "reasonable request" by a water consumer would mean that where it was necessary to adjust or change the siting of a water meter in someone's home the water undertaker or water company would meet the cost rather than the individual consumer.

It is important to put the amendments into the context of the legislation as a whole. Consumers have every right to be concerned about the legislation's financial effects, not only on those who are facing increased charges as a result of the installation of water meters in the compulsory metering areaa, but on those throughout the country who will have to meet the extra costs incurred as a result of paying off outstanding debts to water authorities to pave the way for privatisation. On top of that, consumers are likely to face a position whereby water authorities will state that a water meter must be sited in a particular position in a home. The consumer will have to meet the cost should it be necessary to change the position of that water meter.

It would be easy to extend the references made earlier about consumer protection to some kind of charter for consumers which would include the right for any consumer to make a reasonable demand or suggestion to the water authority about where a meter should be sited. It seems to us entirely wrong and unfair that consumers should be forced to have a meter in their own homes, in a totally unsuitable place, or to meet the cost of putting such meters elsewhere. It is on the basis of extending consumer rights in the water industry that we have tabled these reasonable amendments.

Photo of Mr Colin Moynihan Mr Colin Moynihan , Lewisham East

The amendments would place on most undertakers an unacceptable burden of needless expenditure. Undertakers would not be able to recover the extra costs associated with resiting a meter in a position other than that reasonably proposed by the undertaker.

The question of reasonable location for meters would be governed by regulations on siting to be made under clause 5. The hon. Lady is aware of the three options for siting: close to the curtilage of the property, either outside or inside the boundary; as near as possible to the outer wall of the building, and as close as possible to the entry point of the supply pipe into the building; or inside the building, as close as possible to both the internal stop tap and the entry point of the supply pipe into the building or dwelling. Undertakers should respond to reasonable requests to resite meters, and it will be open to them, in some exceptional circumstances, not to make a charge for that.

If that were as far as we went, I would feel that the hon. Lady had a case. However, the most important and critical part of the argument that I am developing is that, in cases of dispute, there is scope for arbitration under schedule 1, paragraph 9. The hon. Lady mentioned the possibility of a totally unsuitable place. I would argue that the possibility of a meter being placed in a totally unsuitable place might well be covered in arbitration. However, it is unacceptable for undertakers always to be required to bear the full cost of resiting meters, especially when the original positioning of the meter complies with regulations to be made under the Bill. Undertakers could be forced into lengthy arbitration about what constitutes a reasonable request, for which all their customers would pay through future Bills.

I hope that my explanation of the importance that we attach to the need for arbitration will find agreement coming from Opposition Members as well as my hon. Friends, and I invite the House to reject the amendment.

Photo of Mr Roland Boyes Mr Roland Boyes , Houghton and Washington

The Minister has talked about scope for arbitration. However, it is interesting that, in replying to the important points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley), he never once mentioned the word "consumer". His reply was all about the annoyance, inconvenience and concern of the water undertakers. It never entered his head that we had handed him on a golden platter the opportunity to disprove much of what we have been arguing this evening, and for many hours in Committee: that Opposition Members are concerned first and foremost with the consumers' needs, concerns and worries. Once again, the Minister stands up and says, "Well, it might inconvenience the water undertaker if someone wanted a meter moved." Of course it might, but that is the kind of business that we are in. Water undertakers may find themselves inconvenienced from time to time.

We are on the side of the consumer. We shall continue to fight for the consumers' rights and to lobby for the consumer. We accept that the final vote this evening will go the Government's way. However, many people will be concerned with water meter trials, and, after that, with universal metering. Right up to the end of the Bill, we shall continue, with strengthened arguments, to protect the rights of the consumer.

Amendment negatived.

Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of Mr Colin Moynihan Mr Colin Moynihan , Lewisham East 9:54 pm, 2nd February 1988

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is a short Bill, but one which is important both to the Government's privatisation programme, and the future arrangements for charging for water supplies. We have had an exhaustive examination of it in Committee, and I believe that we represent the Bill to the House with some significant improvements.

I confess myself deeply impressed by the knowledge of hon. Members on the various subjects, but perhaps chiefly by the expertise of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) whose past service in the water industry was frequently in evidence to assist the elucidation of many otherwise obscure points.

In Committee, we amended the metering and charges provisions. In particular, we introduced a new provision to enable water undertakers to require the installation of meters in new or converted houses, or to stipulate that plumbing he suitable for later installation of meters.

Provided that the House gives the Bill a Third Reading tonight, as I am confident it will, it will go from here to another place significantly strengthened and improved not least, indeed foremost, in the interests of the consumer. Those of us most concerned can now turn our attentions to the policy objectives that the Bill enables us to implement. We look forward with confidence to the successful introduction of privatisation legislation, both for water and electricity, and to the programme of metering trials and the lessons that we in Government, and the water industry, will learn from that.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Mrs Virginia Bottomley Mrs Virginia Bottomley , South West Surrey 9:55 pm, 2nd February 1988

Much has been made of the importance of the metering trials and much of what the Minister has said will reassure people. Many may be ignorant of the fact that we have had metering of water since the end of the 19th century.

The most important feature of the Bill is that it prepares the way for privatisation. The privatisation policies of the Government have been one of our major successes. More than a third of those previously working in the public sector are now working in the private sector. People are more responsible for their own lives, managing their own companies and keeping Whitehall further away from their concerns.

Many will be reassured by the proposals for a National Rivers Authority providing for integrated river management and pollution control. Recently, there has been worry about the quality of our rivers: our constituents will bear testimony that this is a subject of growing concern.

This may be one of the last opportunities to discuss the substantive issues involved in privatisation before the Government finalise their proposals. Before moving forward, at this stage I would like my hon. Friend to give full consideration to the model offered by the statutory water companies. Much is made of the fact that 25 per cent. of water is already supplied by the 28 statutory water companies. I have the privilege to be a director of one of those companies. My friend, Sir John Page, the former Member for Harrow, West, now chairman of the Water Companies Association, previously had a similar responsibility.

The Labour party has frequently spoken about the needs of the consumer. Statutory water companies, based on a philosophy of service, act as mutual companies together with the consumers. The dividends are limited by law and surplus funds must be applied to reducing future water rates. With the provision of water serious consideration must be given to long-term investment. Each generation provides the long-term infrastructure necessary to supply water for future generations. If we move towards plcs, primarily focusing on the returns to the shareholder, there may be serious implications for the water industry.

I ask my hon. Friend to follow the advice offered by my noble Friend Lord Nugent the other day who asked that the model of the statutory water company, a tried, tested and trusted model, should be given every consideration before the Government moved further with legislation for water privatisation. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly support this Bill.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton 9:58 pm, 2nd February 1988

We have discussed at great length tonight certain issues that will be affected by the Bill. However, there is one issue to which we have not referred, but which I consider to be the most important. When the trial schemes were suggested or introduced by water undertakings no opportunity was given to the people involved in those trial areas to decide whether they wanted to be included. We consider that to be totally undemocratic.

The people who are taking part in the trial areas have been dragooned into the trials and on that premise we shall divide the House on Third Reading. We consider the Bill to be totally unfair, unreasonable and undemocratic. Against that background we suggest that the Government should withdraw the Bill or we shall vote against it.

10 pm

Photo of Mr Colin Moynihan Mr Colin Moynihan , Lewisham East

By leave of the House, I should like to express my thanks to those hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee and those other hon. Members who have contributed to our deliberations today.

I spoke earlier of the contribution of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), but I should like to place on record my appreciation of the efforts of all the Committee members in scrutinising and testing the Bill's provisions.

The Bill is concerned with two of Britain's most essential industries. The attention that it has received has been commensurate with the importance of the subject. The Bill has been thoroughly considered in Committee and our discussions today have allowed further examination of some of its most important aspects. It is now ready to go to another place, and I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 267, Noes 223.

Division No. 163][10 pm
AYES
Adley, RobertBiffen, Rt Hon John
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBiggs-Davison, Sir John
Allason, RupertBlackburn, Dr John G.
Amess, DavidBlaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arbuthnot, JamesBody, Sir Richard
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Ashby, DavidBoscawen, Hon Robert
Aspinwall, JackBoswell, Tim
Atkins, RobertBottomley, Peter
Atkinson, DavidBottomley, Mrs Virginia
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Baldry, TonyBowis, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBrazier, Julian
Bellingham, HenryBright, Graham
Bendall, VivianBrittan, Rt Hon Leon
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Benyon, W.Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Bevan, David GilroyBuchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Buck, Sir AntonyHayes, Jerry
Budgen, NicholasHayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Burns, SimonHayward, Robert
Burt, AlistairHeathcoat-Amory, David
Butcher, JohnHeddle, John
Butler, ChrisHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Butterfill, JohnHicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hill, James
Carrington, MatthewHind, Kenneth
Carttiss, MichaelHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Cash, WilliamHolt, Richard
Chapman, SydneyHordern, Sir Peter
Chope, ChristopherHoward, Michael
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Colvin, MichaelHowell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Conway, DerekHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Cope, JohnHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Cormack, PatrickHunter, Andrew
Couchman, JamesIrvine, Michael
Cran, JamesIrving, Charles
Currie, Mrs EdwinaJack, Michael
Curry, DavidJackson, Robert
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Janman, Timothy
Davis, David (Boothferry)Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Day, StephenJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Devlin, TimJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Dickens, GeoffreyKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dicks, TerryKey, Robert
Dorrell, StephenKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKnapman, Roger
Dover, DenKnowles, Michael
Dunn, BobLang, Ian
Dykes, HughLawrence, Ivan
Eggar, TimLee, John (Pendle)
Emery, Sir PeterLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Evennett, DavidLilley, Peter
Fairbairn, NicholasLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fallon, MichaelMaclean, David
Farr, Sir JohnMcLoughlin, Patrick
Favell, TonyMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Fenner, Dame PeggyMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyMiscampbell, Norman
Fookes, Miss JanetMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Forman, NigelMoate, Roger
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Monro, Sir Hector
Fox, Sir MarcusMoss, Malcolm
Franks, CecilMoynihan, Hon C.
Freeman, RogerNeale, Gerrard
French, DouglasNeedham, Richard
Gale, RogerNeubert, Michael
Garel-Jones, TristanNewton, Rt Hon Tony
Gill, ChristopherNicholls, Patrick
Glyn, Dr AlanNicholson, David (Taunton)
Goodhart, Sir PhilipNicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)
Goodlad, AlastairPage, Richard
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesPaice, James
Gorman, Mrs TeresaPatnick, Irvine
Gow, IanPatten, Chris (Bath)
Gower, Sir RaymondPawsey, James
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Greenway, John (Rydale)Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')Porter, David (Waveney)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Powell, William (Corby)
Grist, IanPrice, Sir David
Ground, PatrickRaffan, Keith
Grylls, MichaelRathbone, Tim
Gummer, Rt Hon John SelwynRedwood, John
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Rhodes James, Robert
Hampson, Dr KeithRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hanley, JeremyRiddick, Graham
Hannam, JohnRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Harris, DavidRoberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Haselhurst, AlanRoe, Mrs Marion
Hawkins, ChristopherRossi, Sir Hugh
Rost, PeterThornton, Malcolm
Rumbold, Mrs AngelaThurnham, Peter
Ryder, RichardTownend, John (Bridlington)
Sackville, Hon TomTracey, Richard
Sainsbury, Hon TimTredinnick, David
Scott, NicholasTrippier, David
Shaw, David (Dover)Twinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shelton, William (Streatham)Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Waldegrave, Hon William
Shersby, MichaelWalden, George
Skeet, Sir TrevorWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)Waller, Gary
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Ward, John
Soames, Hon NicholasWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Speed, KeithWarren, Kenneth
Speller, TonyWatts, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Wells, Bowen
Squire, RobinWheeler, John
Stanbrook, IvorWhitney, Ray
Steen, AnthonyWiddecombe, Miss Ann
Stern, MichaelWiggin, Jerry
Stevens, LewisWilkinson, John
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Wilshire, David
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stokes, JohnWinterton, Nicholas
Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnWolfson, Mark
Sumberg, DavidWood, Timothy
Summerson, HugoWoodcock, Mike
Taylor, Ian (Esher)Yeo, Tim
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Young, Sir George (Acton)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thatcher, Rt Hon MargaretTellers for theAyes:
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)Mr. David Lightbown.
Thorne, Neil
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeClwyd, Mrs Ann
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Coleman, Donald
Allen, GrahamCook, Robin (Livingston)
Anderson, DonaldCorbett, Robin
Archer, Rt Hon PeterCorbyn, Jeremy
Armstrong, Ms HilaryCousins, Jim
Ashdown, PaddyCox, Tom
Ashley, Rt Hon JackCrowther, Stan
Ashton, JoeCryer, Bob
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Cummings, J.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Cunliffe, Lawrence
Barron, KevinCunningham, Dr John
Battle, JohnDalyell, Tarm
Beckett, MargaretDarling, Alastair
Beith, A. J.Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bell, StuartDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyDewar, Donald
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Dixon, Don
Bermingham, GeraldDobson, Frank
Bidwell, SydneyDoran, Frank
Blair, TonyDouglas, Dick
Blunkett, DavidDuffy, A. E. P.
Boateng, PaulDunnachie, James
Boyes, RolandDunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Bradley, KeithEadie, Alexander
Bray, Dr JeremyEastham, Ken
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Fatchett, Derek
Buckley, GeorgeFaulds, Andrew
Caborn, RichardFearn, Ronald
Callaghan, JimField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Flannery, Martin
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Flynn, Paul
Canavan, DennisFoot, Rt Hon Michael
Carl Me, Alex (Mont'g)Foster, Derek
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Foulkes, George
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Fraser, John
Clay, BobFyfe, Mrs Maria
Clelland, DavidGalbraith, Samuel
Galloway, GeorgeMoonie, Dr Lewis
Garrett, John (Norwich South)Morgan, Rhodri
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Morley, Elliott
George, BruceMorris, Rt Hon J (Aberavon)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMowlam, Marjorie
Godman, Dr Norman A.Mullin, Chris
Golding, Mrs LlinMurphy, Paul
Gordon, Ms MildredNellist, Dave
Graham, ThomasOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)O'Brien, William
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)O'Neill, Martin
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Grocott, BruceParry, Robert
Hardy, PeterPatchett, Terry
Harman, Ms HarrietPendry, Tom
Heffer, Eric S.Pike, Peter
Henderson, DouglasPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hinchliffe, DavidPrescott, John
Holland, StuartPrimarolo, Ms Dawn
Home Robertson, JohnQuin, Ms Joyce
Hood, JamesRadice, Giles
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Randall, Stuart
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)Redmond, Martin
Howells, GeraintRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Hoyle, DougRichardson, Ms Jo
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Robinson, Geoffrey
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Rogers, Allan
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)Rooker, Jeff
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Illsley, EricRowlands, Ted
Ingram, AdamRuddock, Ms Joan
Janner, GrevilleSalmond, Alex
John, BrynmorSedgemore, Brian
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Sheerman, Barry
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Kilfedder, JamesShore, Rt Hon Peter
Kirkwood, ArchyShort, Clare
Lambie, DavidSkinner, Dennis
Lamond, JamesSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Leighton, RonSmith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)Snape, Peter
Lewis, TerrySoley, Clive
Litherland, RobertSpearing, Nigel
Livingstone, KenSteel, Rt Hon David
Livsey, RichardSteinberg, Gerald
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Stott, Roger
Lofthouse, GeoffreyStrang, Gavin
McAllion, JohnStraw, Jack
McAvoy, TomTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
McCartney, IanTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Macdonald, CalumThomas, Dafydd Elis
McFall, JohnThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Turner, Dennis
McKelvey, WilliamWall, Pat
McLeish, HenryWallace, James
McNamara, KevinWalley, Ms Joan
McTaggart, BobWardell, Gareth (Gower)
McWilliam, JohnWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Madden, MaxWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Mahon, Mrs AliceWigley, Dafydd
Marek, Dr JohnWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Wilson, Brian
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Winnick, David
Martlew, EricWise, Mrs Audrey
Maxton, JohnWorthington, Anthony
Meacher, MichaelWray, James
Meale, AlanYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Michael, Alun
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Tellers for the Noes:
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)Mr. Frank Haynes and
Millan, Rt Hon BruceMr. Frank Cook.
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.