Water bills are regulated by Ofwat, which sets price limits every five years. Government guidance to Ofwat in advance of the 2014 price review has emphasised the importance of delivering a fair deal for all customers, and of protecting customers who are struggling to pay their bills. We have also published guidance to help companies to introduce social tariffs for vulnerable customers.
There is a cost-of-living crisis in my constituency and throughout the country. Millions of households in England and Wales are experiencing water poverty. Will the Minister support Labour’s proposal to impose—not just recommend—a duty on water companies to introduce social tariffs to help struggling families to pay their bills?
I entirely understand what the hon. Lady has said about the cost of living. We are all aware of the problem. I represent an area in which incomes are very low, and in which water bills are a significant issue. It is clear from our discussions with Ofwat—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has engaged in some recently—that it understands the importance of the issue, and believes that the benefits to water companies of, for example, low borrowing rates should be passed on to customers. I am pleased that companies are considering the introduction of social tariffs, and I shall continue to keep the matter under review.
I congratulate all who have been elevated to both Front Benches. We look forward to the return, in the very near future, of those of them who have served on the Select Committee—[Laughter]—in their ministerial capacity.
Will my hon. Friend use his good offices to press Ofwat to ensure that the 2014 price review enables the necessary investment to be made in the infrastructure and in innovation? May I also tease out of him the date on which the Water Bill will be given its Second Reading, and can be scrutinised by Parliament?
The timing of the Bill is, of course, a matter for those who manage our business. I look forward to debating the issues with colleagues in the House and, subsequently, in Committee.
What my hon. Friend has said about investment in the sector is crucial. We have already managed, through our regime, to deliver huge investment in water infrastructure. We now want to establish a regime which, while being fair to customers, also attracts further investment, so that we can have an industry that is fit for the future.
May I begin by paying tribute to the previous Minister who worked in a bipartisan manner throughout his term in office and welcoming both new members of the Government Front-Bench team? I should also thank the chairlady of the Select Committee for her tutelage of us all over the past three and a half years.
Does the Minister understand that when households are struggling with inflation-busting water bills, it is simply unacceptable for water companies to try to avoid paying corporation tax? If he does, will he work with Opposition Members to make the necessary improvements to the forthcoming Water Bill?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post and look forward to debating these issues with him. As we look at the regime the Bill is seeking to bring in, we can discuss some of these issues, although there are probably other key areas we will want to focus on. The issue of corporation tax is crucial across many industries and I look forward to hearing what the hon. Gentleman has to say on the subject as we move forward.