South West Water

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20 April 1994.

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Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning , Tiverton 12:00, 20 April 1994

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to discuss with South West Water the charging policy for water consumers.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

Both the Department and Ofwat have had a number of discussions with South West Water about the importance of keeping price rises to the minimum.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning , Tiverton

Is my hon. Friend aware that, since the latest increase this month, there is now grave concern at the ability of those on fixed incomes and pensioners with modest savings in my constituency of Tiverton to find the money to meet this year's bill, let alone the expected increases in future years? When speaking to South West Water, will my hon. Friend examine carefully its contribution to the investment in the clean up of south-west beaches and its exorbitant charging for installing water meters? Will he also make representations to his colleagues in the Treasury to ensure that they are aware that financial help will be needed to assist the people of the south-west?

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

I understand the concern that my hon. Friend represents, which has been expressed to my right hon. Friend and me by hon. Members from the south-west on numerous occasions. As we all know, there are many beaches in the south-west of England, but fewer people than in the rest of the country to pay for the clean up required, as well as the cost of water. I shall convey my hon. Friend's concerns to my colleagues in the Treasury and to the water companies.

Photo of Ms Jean Corston Ms Jean Corston , Bristol East

Is the Minister aware of the growing consensus against the use of compulsory water metering, which is considered a waste of money that should be spent on repairing our ancient water system, and in favour of using council tax bands to assess water bills?

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

The hon. Lady's view is not held unanimously, even on her side of the House. Many people feel that metering has a part to play, just as it does in charging for electricity and gas. Given that we are discussing the use of a long-term resource with increasing demands on it, metering seems to be the fairest and simplest way to charge for it. However, I recognise that concerns have been expressed about the possibility of council tax banding. Hon. Members must understand that, were that option to be considered, it could be just as damaging in terms of people's pockets as any of the other options.

Photo of Mr John Hannam Mr John Hannam , Exeter

Is my hon. Friend aware that water prices for the average householder in the south-west have nearly doubled in the past few years and will double again by the end of the decade if something is not done? With the water regulator now beginning his work on preparing the charging formula for July's announcement, does my hon. Friend accept the urgency of getting agreement in Brussels on slowing down the implementation of the EC directive?

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

I am aware of the concern, largely because many of my hon. Friends have expressed it to me and the Secretary of State. On the directive on urban waste water treatment, we are doing exactly what he asks and seeking to persuade the Commission and our colleagues within the Union that that matter will cost far more than they expected. They are beginning to understand that. As a result, it may be recognised that it can be spread over a longer period.