HC Deb 19 January 1977 vol 924 cc316-7
12. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to lessen the impact of high water and sewerage rates on those with very low incomes who qualify for ordinary rate rebates.

Mr. Marks

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave him on 9th December.

Mr. Price

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is quite illogical—although I exempt my hon. Friend from any part in this—to tie water and sewerage charges to rateable value? Is my hon. Friend not aware that many elderly, single householders who live in high-rated properties will face great difficulty in meeting the new charges? Is this not a matter in which he should plan to move clear away from rates, dealing with it on a par with some other criteria?

Mr. Marks

There are a number of changes that I should like to make in water legislation, but at present I have no powers to make the rebate system apply to water charges. Some water authorities are using rates as only part of the charge.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

May we take it that the Minister and his colleagues will vote against the Water Charges Equalisation Bill, which will add a burden of £4 million in the Thames Water Authority area and £1 million in the North-West without giving rebates?

Mr. Marks

Not at all. People on low incomes in other parts of the country are paying up to 80 per cent. more than is paid by the average person in the Thames area. I trust that the Water Charges Equalisation Bill will be put before the House at an early date and that we shall bring forward proposals for further legislation on water by means of a White Paper within the next month or so.

Mr. Roderick

Will the Minister remind the Opposition that this is only a partial measure to make up for the loss in rate support grant following the policies of the Tory Government? Are the Opposition not aware that the system introduced by the Tory Government led to a vast increase in water charges in many parts of the country?

Mr. Marks

Yes, I shall be happy to remind hon. Gentlemen of those factors.