HC Deb 03 November 1976 vol 918 cc1398-400
19. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has for the further integration of water resources in North-West England.

Mr. Denis Howell

The North-West Water Authority has executive responsibility for the management of all water resources in its area and I have no plans at present to make any change in these arrangements.

Mr. Morrison

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that any attempt to nationalise the Chester Waterworks Company would not be welcomed by my constituents? In the event of his doing so, by how much does he estimate that the cost of water would increase?

Mr. Howell

When I make a statement shortly on the future of water supplies, the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question might be relevant. Most of the operations of the company to which he refers are not in the North-West Water Authority's area but in the area of the Welsh National Water Development Authority. Many of us have noted in this dry summer that the exclusion of private companies from the water industry as a whole has been regrettable.

Mr. Wigley

The right hon. Gentleman has referred to resources in Wales which serve North-West England. Is he aware that water from Wales for industry in the North-West is sold at about half the price at which it is available in Wales and that water taken from Wales by the North-West authorities is sold back to Wales at a much higher price? Does he not agree that it would be equitable for Wales to have more benefit from its resources?

Mr. Howell

I am well aware of the fact that in this dry summer the Welsh people have had cause to be grateful for the large-scale investment by Lancashire, Liverpool and the Midlands in establishing water industries in Wales. If we had not had those resources available to us, we might have been in an extremely difficult situation.

The undertakings which were built by municipal authorities—what might be termed municipal Socialism—have brought tremendous benefits in rateable value and employment to the areas concerned.

Mr. Heffer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although I realise that there is an advantage to Merseyside under the present arrangements, hon. Members from Wales have a point? Will he look at the matters which our Welsh colleagues have raised?

Mr. Howell

I am not quite sure what point my hon. Friend thinks that our Welsh colleagues have. There is a discrepancy about charges, but the Government's proposals for a degree of equalisation will considerably assist in that direction and will be forthcoming in the not too distant future.

Mr. Speed

How can the right hon. Gentleman justify the extraordinary slur on water companies contained in his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison)? Has he one scrap of evidence to show that they have failed in their duties? Is he aware that I consider that the 28 water companies have done as well as, if not better than, the regional water authorities?

Mr. Howell

I made no slur on the companies. I observed that at a time of national water shortage the policy of excluding private companies from the totality of available water resources has turned out to be nonsense.