Water

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th July 1994.

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Photo of Mr Jimmy Dunnachie Mr Jimmy Dunnachie , Glasgow Pollok 12:00 am, 6th July 1994

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what percentage of the new water authority board members will be councillors.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

There will be a significant number of elected councillors among the membership of the new water and sewerage authorities. Further decisions on appointments have not yet been taken.

Photo of Mr Jimmy Dunnachie Mr Jimmy Dunnachie , Glasgow Pollok

I thank the Minister for his reply. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), wrote the Minister a letter some time ago expressing the anxieties of Eastwood district council about the lack of elected membership on the governing bodies of the water boards. The Minister's reply was terse, to say the least. He told the Under-Secretary of State that it would be wrong to put elected members in a position of power on the water boards in case they went against Government policy, inasmuch as the Minister thought that elected members were not the representatives of the people and that local people should be represented on the boards by those with money, companies and so forth—not ordinary elected members, but lackeys whom the Minister would pick—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I hope that a question will come my way soon, instead of a statement. Perhaps the Minister can attempt an answer.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

I think that the hon. Gentleman was paraphrasing a rather good letter. I can assure the House, as I have done before, both in the Chamber and in Committee, that there will be a significant number of local elected councillors on the water authorities. They will be there for their blend of skills and experience and perhaps because of their previous work with water authorities and local authorities. After we have consulted and the Bill has been enacted, I think that Opposition Members will be very pleased with the results.

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

For the benefit of Opposition Members, will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to say clearly and slowly, if possible in words of one syllable, that under his plans water will not be privatised but will remain in public hands, that that is enshrined in law, that there can be no disconnections, and that local elected councillors will be on the boards? Will he also confirm that, regardless of what system is in place, water bills in Scotland will have to rise, due to the investment required?

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. I thank my hon. Friend very much for putting his question so concisely.

Photo of Mrs Ray Michie Mrs Ray Michie , Argyll and Bute

What guarantee can the Minister give that the large rural areas of Scotland will be represented on the water quangos? For example, will Orkney and Shetland have any representation in the Northern water area, will Argyll and Bute have any in the Western area, and will Dumfries and Galloway have any in the Eastern area? There is a real anxiety that some of the smaller unitary authorities could end up with no representation at all.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

There is always anxiety in any world where change is envisaged. I assure the hon. Lady that this change will be very much for the better. All areas will have reasonable representation, not only on the water authorities, but on the councils that we are appointing.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

Has the Minister had time to look at the Which? report on English private water companies, which states that while costs and profits of water companies south of the border have increased by 70 per cent. water costs to consumers have doubled? Indeed, it says that the only things rising faster than the exorbitant cost of water south of the border are the extravagant salaries of the chief executives of water companies. Given the disaster that is unfolding south of the border, is that not an argument for keeping Scottish water under local democratic control?

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is no. On the second part, the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, having read the Committee's deliberations, that the authorities that we have set up are public authorities, the members of which are appointed by the Secretary of State and are democratically responsible to him. I think that all will be well and that we shall get on with doing what is required—improving the water and sewerage services in Scotland as soon as possible.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

The Minister will recall that in March this year, 97 per cent. of the people of Strathclyde region rejected the Government's proposals for putting water into the hands of quangos. Last Thursday, more than 97 per cent. of the people of Monklands, East rejected the Government and their policies as well, giving the Government their worst election result in any parliamentary by-election or election since 1918 when the universal franchise came in. Does the Minister realise that one of the factors contributing to that is the Government's Marie Antoinette approach to Scottish water? The people of Scotland are clearly saying to the Government that they want water in the hands of local elected people and that unless the Government do that they will continue to be humiliated and punished by the people whom they deny.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

Even by the hon. Gentleman's own standards, that is about as far away from the question on the Order Paper as he could possibly get. After all that has happened in the past three weeks, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should have raised the subject of Monklands at all. I should have thought that he would go into purdah and shut up for the next couple of years, and see just how much work his party has to do to bring democratic government back into local government in Scotland.