Water Legislation

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th June 1992.

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Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox , Woodspring 12:00 am, 17th June 1992

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to introduce provisions revising the legislation governing the water industry.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister (Department of Environment) (Environment and Countryside)

The enhanced powers of the Director General of Water Services to monitor performance by water companies and to foster competition, will be brought into effect on 1 July. New powers for the director general to decide various types of dispute between customers and companies will be brought into effect on 1 September.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox , Woodspring

The Minister's response will be extremely welcome in my constituency of Woodspring and throughout Bristol. Is my hon. Friend aware that the proportion of the water industry's profits that now goes to shareholders is lower than the amount of interest that was returned to the Government when the industry was in public hands? The privatisation of water has been vindicated on the ground not only of environmental stewardship, but of pure economics.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister (Department of Environment) (Environment and Countryside)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Moreover, as we said in yesterday's debate, the water companies are investing twice as much in the infrastructure as they have made in profits. That is a pretty good record, which is not matched by many other companies in this country.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend

Does the Minister admit that it is a great pity that the Government did not take the opportunity presented by the recent legislation, which introduces the powers to which he referred, to prevent water companies from introducing compulsory metering? In virtually all cases where meters are installed, those customers, who have no choice about metering, have found that their bills have shot up well above those that are based on the rateable value of customers' houses. If he admits that mistake, we will give him every assistance in passing a quick Bill to prevent compulsory water metering.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister (Department of Environment) (Environment and Countryside)

The hon. Gentleman misses the point, as did his hon. Friends yesterday. The fact is that the water companies are providing a service to the public that has to be paid for somehow. We have three powerful watchdogs—the National Rivers Authority, the Director General of Water Services and the drinking water inspectorate—which act as regulators to the industry. As we have set up those regulators, it is best to let them get on with their job and not, as politicians, try to interfere with their decisions.

Photo of Mr Rupert Allason Mr Rupert Allason , Torbay

Is my hon. Friend aware of the grave anxiety in the south-west about the water bills that have been sent out by South West Water? Has he any proposals, following the controlled experiment on the Isle of Wight, to recommend or introduce widespread water metering, at least to make certain that high consumers of water pay for the service? The burden should not be transferred to single pensioners living alone who are receiving excessive bills based on water rates.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister (Department of Environment) (Environment and Countryside)

There has had to be tremendous investment in the infrastructure in the south-west to comply with EC directives and improve the quality of bathing waters around the coast. That has cost a considerable amount, which has had to be paid for by consumers in the area. However, we intend shortly to issue a consultation paper on all aspects of water conservation and how it may be used, distributed and stored. Obviously, water metering will be one of the options canvassed in that consultation paper.