HC Deb 29 March 1976 vol 908 cc869-72
2. Sir A. Meyer

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received since the publication of the Daniel Report on the impact of water rates on commercial undertakings in Wales.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Alec Jones)

Since August 1975, we have received 14 representations, three about the cost of metered water supplies and 11 about the level of water abstraction charges.

Sir A. Meyer

In spite of that astonishingly small number, is it not a fact that the level of water charges in Wales now constitutes a serious discouragement to firms planning either to set up or to expand in Wales? In view of the song and dance made by the Minister's right hon. and learned Friend about what he has done for domestic payers, is it not time that he gave at least as much consolation to commercial undertakings?

Mr. Alec Jones

It is certainly true that the level of charges to all consumers in Wales has risen far more than we should have liked. However, the hon. Gentleman has some responsibility in the matter, because the Conservative Government whom he supported were the Government who actually introduced the water charges legislation. Relieving one type of consumer could be done only at the expense of other consumers. I doubt whether many of the domestic consumers in the hon. Gentleman's constituency would welcome increased charges.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, while we welcome the fact that in their consultative paper the Government have accepted the principle of partial equalisation, we believe that the consultative paper does not go far enough in providing a long-term solution by finding a more satisfactory basis than the present rating system and in tackling the problem of industrial charges?

Mr. Alec Jones

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a Question later on the Order Paper dealing specifically with charges relating to rateable values.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct in saying that the present unsatisfactory state of affairs is entirely due to the Conservative Party, but what further consideration has been given to the possibility of the equalisation of water charges in England and Wales? Further, will my hon. Friend say whether the Daniel Report will now be considered side by side with the White Paper on water undertakings generally?

Mr. Alec Jones

We published the Report and asked for the advice and opinions of all bodies in Wales. When that advice is received, we shall be declaring our intentions in this matter.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

Is the Minister aware that the just and necessary action that the Government must take is to establish an all-Wales water authority and endow it with a power not only to develop this rich natural resource but to sell Welsh water to English industry and conurbations for a material return which could be invested in Wales, perhaps in reducing our own water charges?

Mr. Alec Jones

I disagree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. I believe that the resources of the United Kingdom should be used to benefit the whole of the population of the United Kingdom.

10. Mr. Grist

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he will review the system of levying domestic water and sewerage charges based on rateable values; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Alec Jones

Charging policy is constantly kept under review, but I see no immediate prospect of change in the system of basing domestic water and sewerage charges on rateable values.

Mr. Grist

Since the present Government have been in power for over two years now, and since the consultative document pays no attention to this problem, will the Minister say what justice there is in the ratepayers of Cardiff paying over twice as much for water and sewerage as is paid by those in the Rhondda, and those living in council houses paying so much more in Cardiff, an authority which looked after its water interests before the re-organisation, than those in other parts of Wales? Where is the justice?

Mr. Alec Jones

The longer the hon. Gentleman remains on the Opposition Benches, the more concern he shows for water consumers in Cardiff and, indeed, in Wales as a whole. If one were to change the system to meet the requirements and the wishes of the Cardiff authority, it would mean that one would have to pay as much in water rates if one lived in a cottage in Conway as one would have to pay if one lived in a mansion in Cyncoed. I do not believe that that would be a fair allocation of charges.

11. Mr. Wigley

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he arranged a meeting with the Chairman of the Welsh National Water Authority to discuss the price of water to industry in Wales.

Mr. Alec Jones

I already hold regular meetings with the Chairman of the Welsh National Water Development Authority.

Mr. Wigley

As one who lives nearer to the cottage in Gwynedd than to a mansion in Cardiff, may I remind the Minister that the Daniel Report, referring to the cost of water to industry in Wales, states that Wales is less attractive to incoming industry because of the price of water? In the discussions which are going on will the hon. Gentleman make sure that there is an equalisation or, better still, a transfer of resources to Wales to bring down the price of water to industry in Wales to make sure of better industrial development?

Mr. Alec Jones

Attracting industry to Wales involves not only water charges but infrastructure, training, and a whole variety of matters. I do not believe that to solve one problem necessarily makes a major contribution to the attraction of industry. I trust that hon. Members appreciate that the partial equalisation scheme that we have suggested for domestic consumers means a transfer of £4 million to Wales water consumers from the pockets of other water authorities.

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