HC Deb 06 December 1978 vol 959 cc1416-7
20. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about future charging for water supplies.

Mr. Denis Howell

The basis upon which water charges are made is contained in the Water Act 1973, and I have no statement to make upon that matter at the present time.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Is the Minister of State aware of the deep concern felt by many local authorities, including Berkshire county council, that the implementation of section 30 of the Water Act may cause a steep rise in domestic water charges? Without metering, does not the Minister agree that it is impossible to introduce a charge which is not arbitrary? In those circumstances, what proposal has he either to amend section 30 or to ensure that domestic charges do not rise at a time of pay restraint?

Mr. Howell

I am grateful to the hon. Member for drawing the attention of the House and the country to the likely effects of section 30, if that section continues to be unamended. The effect would be to transfer some of the weight of charging to the domestic consumer from industry as a whole, which would have rather serious repercussions. However, I am sure that individual metering of domestic water supplies in households is not the way to deal with that problem. It would be an extremely expensive operation and it would be an impost upon large families and the poorest families who are least able to bear that charge.

Mr. John Ellis

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many water authorities are discussing exactly such matters as he has mentioned—metering, making charges for connections, and so on? Will he ensure that they stop making this kind of investigation and these studies and use the money thus saved possibly to devise a form of lavatory that uses less water, which would give them more saving and is technically feasible?

Mr. Howell

I shall not comment upon my hon. Friend's last proposal—unless this new method of flushing which he has mentioned is intended to flush out the monstrous suggestion that we should have water metering. I assure my hon. Friend that the present Government have no intention of embracing any such policy.