HC Deb 06 December 1978 vol 959 cc1413-4
15. Mr. George Rodgers

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has held discussions with representatives of the North-West water authority about the cost of replacing the antiquated sewerage system in the region; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Denis Howell

I have had no direct discussions with representatives of the authority, but officers of the Department maintain a close liaison with the authority's management team on this subject. I understand that it is not yet possible to make any accurate estimate of the probable costs involved, and I can add little at this stage to the reply that I gave to the hon. Members for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) and Rochdale (Mr. Smith) on 27th July.

Mr. Rodgers

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the obsolete sewerage system in the North-West is a consequence of many years of neglect? Would it not be totally unfair if householders were called upon to foot the bill, particularly as the rate rebate formula does not apply to water rate contributions?

Mr. Howell

There have been many years of neglect and it is a serious problem, particularly in the North-West. I shall be happy to discuss the matter with my hon. Friend, the local authorities and the water authority whenever they wish to do so. There must be more detailed surveys to find out what is involved before we can hold discussions. Householders will have to pay in one form or another, however the replacement is financed. I understand that the water authority has resolved to increase its capital programme over the next five years by about 50 per cent.

Mr. Farr

Before regional water authorities are allowed to engage in huge and lavish public expenditure schemes, will the Minister devise a method by which they are more accountable locally for the money that they spend?

Mr. Howell

I cannot remember the hon. Gentleman being in the Lobby with us when we voted against the Water Bill in 1973. There is a serious problem in our old industrial cities, which is caused by the collapse of underground sewerage facilities. That problem must be tackled. It does not involve the use of unnecessary or lavish public expenditure. That expenditure is essential in the public interest.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a frightening picture of underground dereliction in the North-West? Is it not crazy that under the water equalisation grants system the North-West of England will pay £750,000 to the national pool in order to subsidise areas such as East Anglia?

Mr. Howell

When the capital programme gets under way in the North-West, the equalisation picture will be different. That is one reason why I shall be happy to meet the authority to discuss the matter.