HC Deb 18 February 1976 vol 905 cc1397-9

The water authority is required to reimburse local authorities for their administrative expenses under this Act'.—[Mr. Ridsdale.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Ridsdale

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This may seem to be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, because one ratepayer or the other has to foot the bill. Bearing in mind what the Minister has said about my concern for the domestic ratepayer, which is very real—the domestic ratepayer also has to pay the water rate as well—I am conscious that the water rate is not rebateable, although I have pressed successive Governments to make it so. I have a feeling, however, that with the present high level of water rates, this will soon be forced on the Government.

This Bill will impose considerable extra costs on local authorities. In the past we have seen that where one authority subsidises another, or central government subsidises local government, we do not get proper value for money. I think it right that administrative expenses should be borne by the water authorities and that they should reimburse local authorities for the expenses they incur under this legislation. We would have a double check of both authorities and ratepayers would see that they get value for money.

Mr. Alec Jones

No one would object to the principle behind the new clause, but I hope to assure the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) that it is not necessary. I referred to this matter on Second Reading in reply to an intervention by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) who raised the same point.

I said then and repeat tonight that no costs will fall on rating authorities. They will be able to bill water authorities for their administrative costs. We are conscious of the extra work this legislation will mean for local authorities and are anxious to ensure that administrative expenses should not be borne by local authorities but that water authorities should meet these costs.

I am advised that this will be done through the Collection of Charges Order which will contain provisions for local authorities to recover administrative costs, just as they have recovered the administrative costs of collection over the past two years.

My advice is that the new clause is not necessary because its provisions are already in the Bill.

Mr. Speed

May I thank the Minister for his very helpful reply. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), I was concerned to see that there should be no extra burden on local authorities who, Lord knows, have enough problems anyway.

If I am not out of order and as we are reaching the closing stages of this debate, I should also like to thank the Minister and his staff for their helpfulness and courtesy in what, for reasons we all understand, have been rushed proceedings. Not many hon. Members have taken part in the debate, but the contributions have been of a high standard and shown considerable expertise. We are grateful that the Minister has promised to look again at a number of important matters with a view to possibly meeting our case.

Mr. Denis Howell

May I express my appreciation to the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) and his right hon. and hon. Friends for the way they met us in difficult circumstances today. It is always difficult to try to get a Bill's remaining stages through the House in one go. We felt we had to do it for tremendous reasons of urgency and pressure. I am particularly grateful for what the hon. Member for Ashford said about my officials who have been under tremendous pressure to get the drafting right. I wish to express by appreciation to the members of the Opposition for their co-operative attitude throughout the passage of the Bill. I hope that that will long continue in other environmental matters.

Mr. Ridsdale

In view of the clear explanation which the Minister gave, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, and clause, by leave withdrawn.

Bill reported, with amendments; as amended, considered; read the Third time and passed.

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