HC Deb 17 December 1979 vol 976 cc210-41 11.45 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Marcus Fox)

I beg to move, That the draft Water Charges Equalisation Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 7 December, be approved. The order was laid under powers vested in the Secretary of State under the Water Charges Equalisation Act 1977. The House will be aware that this is the third order to be laid in draft under that Act. It relates to the calendar year 1980. Similar draft orders were approved by resolution of the House in December 1977 for operation in 1978 and in December 1978 for operation in 1979.

I see many of my hon. Friends in the Chamber—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Too true.

Mr. Fox

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) is, as usual, quite right.

In introducing the draft order, I make it clear from the outset that it is the last full order that the Government intend making under the enabling Act of 1977. I realise that that will be a great disappointment to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), as the Act was his brainchild. Perhaps that accounts for its failure.

I propose briefly to deal with the details of the draft instrument that is before us. As in the case of the two orders made previously, the order directs certain named water authorities and water companies to pay specified equalisation levies to the National Water Council. It further directs the National Water Council to pay over the aggregate of those levies to certain other named water undertakers in the form of equalisation payments of specified amounts. These levies and payments will be payable in four equal quarterly instalments beginning on 15 May 1980.

The main features of the scheme used to calculate the levies and payments are the same as last year. The relevant financing costs of water undertakers—that is to say, the interest and depreciation relating to capital expenditure incurred before 31 March 1976 in the provision of unmeasured water supply—are divided by the number of premises receiving an unmeasured water supply. This gives a unit cost—both an average unit cost across the whole of England and Wales and an individual unit cost for each water authority and company. Undertakers with a unit cost below the national average pay into the equalisation pool. Undertakers with a unit cost above the national average receive from the pool.

The calculations involved are highly detailed and have to be entrusted to a computer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I thought that hon. Members would respond in that way. I hesitated before using the word "computer". A minor change needs 38 sums to correct it. That being so, perhaps hon. Members will question the whole basis of the scheme. The transfers shown in the present draft order—unlike those in the two previous orders—[Interruption.] I ask hon. Members to listen carefully because the order is rather different from the two orders that the Labour Government introduced.

The transfers, unlike those in the two previous orders, are arrived at by two separate calculations of the sort that I have described. The first and major calculation relates to the 1980 scheme itself. The calculation is made on the basis of best estimates obtained from all the water undertakers in detailed questionnaires. However, because the figures are based only on estimates, the Secretary of State is required by section 3(3) of the Act to determine the extent of any discrepancy between these estimates and the final figures as soon as practicable after the undertakers have completed their accounts. The Act also requires the Secretary of State to make any necessary adjustments to take account of these differences when determining levies and payments for future years.

This brings me to the second element in the calculations behind the draft order. For the first time, we now have the water undertakers' final figures for the 1978 scheme year and are able to work out the adjustments needed to correct the original transfers, which were given effect by the 1977 order on the basis of estimated figures. These correcting adjustments for 1978, when combined with the estimated transfers for 1980, produce the various levies and payments in the schedules to the present draft order.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

May I ask the Minister to bear in mind that, given the agreement of certain people in the House and the disagreement of some others with what is proposed, it is rather important that as much time as possible should be given to those of us who want to express disagreement with the orders?

Mr. Fox

Yes, indeed. I shall be as quick as I can.

I should add that the final figures for 1978 were supplied by the individual water undertakers, in the form of a detailed questionnaire certified by their external auditors. Not all undertakers have the same accounting year, and so the entire body of information needed to complete the calculations has only become available very recently. This is why it has been necessary to lay the draft order so near to the Christmas Recess. I should have liked to be in a position to let hon. Members have more time to consider the draft, but, given the very tight timetable which the scheme imposes, this was just not possible.

For the information of the House, a final point about the mechanics of the scheme concerns a couple of minor changes this year in the definitions and methods used to arrive at the equalisation transfers. As part of the consultation process with the water industry, a working group was set up earlier this year—comprising officials from the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office, and representatives of the National Water Council, the regional water authorities and the Water Companies Association. The group recommended changes in the way that premises are defined for the purposes of the scheme and that undertakers should use the revised definition when supplying final figures for the 1978 scheme year and figures for subsequent years. The group also recommended that, with effect from the 1980 scheme year, there should be a different treatment of expenditure by undertakers on importing supplies of water from other areas. Accordingly, these two changes have been incorporated in the calculations behind the present draft order.

In response to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, I shall now go a little more slowly, as this is how we see the future of the scheme.

I said earlier that this is the last full order that the Government intend making under the Water Charges Equalisation Act. With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to explain briefly the reasons for this decision.

The Water Charges Equalisation Act was introduced by the Labour Government at a time when there was some concern, following the reorganisation of the industry achieved by the Water Act 1973, about the increased level of charges facing some consumers. In a few parts of England, but to a much greater extent in Wales, water charges had been held down at an artificially low level by subsidies from the general rate, which in turn attracted the resources element of rate support grant. This was quite permissible under the legislation at the time, but when it necessarily came to an end with the setting up of the new authorities it brought home to the consumers who were affected the real cost of providing them with mains water. To some extent, the effect of this was subsequently cushioned by the introduction of equalisation across various water authority areas; but this in turn led to increases in other consumers' charges.

The transition to the present situation—in which water is supplied by water authorities and water companies which operate without subsidy—was therefore painful for some consumers in the early stages. In some areas, moreover, the increases appeared to be greater than they actually were when authorities began to switch from the collection of charges along with the general rate demand, which had tended to conceal the true cost, to direct billing.

The previous Government were concerned to alleviate the more acute pains that were felt particularly by consumers in the area of the Welsh National Water Development Authority, now the Welsh Water Authority. I do not criticise the previous Government for their concern, and I would not wish for one moment, in view of the Opposition's actions now, to suggest that perhaps in clinging on to a precarious working majority—as they were doing at that time—they had some incentive to protect their supporters in certain areas.

The 1977 Act was intended to produce some measure of equalisation in bills for unmeasured water supply—mainly to domestic consumers, though it also affected small businesses—in all parts of England and Wales. It is arguable whether such cross-subsidisation is correct in principle, but I shall leave that question for the moment. The simple problem with the equalisation Act is that it does not work well in practice. Although the previous Government wanted the Act to produce a degree of equalisation between the water bills of domestic consumers—

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Is it not true that in some respects the original Act does not work well? In the East Midlands, where we are to get a payment under this order, which the Minister proposes to stop, we have to suffer the pollution thrown into our river. The River Trent is linked to the River Severn, and the people in Birmingham and Burton-on-Trent get relatively pure water from Wales and elsewhere, pollute it and throw it into the Trent so that that river is the most polluted in England. We have to pay for that. We deserve a subsidy from the whole country for having to pay for the most polluted river in England.

Mr. Fox

The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) gives perhaps the best possible illustration of what nonsense this order is, in that one is trying—[Interruption.] Perhaps Opposition Members will listen. The right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) will have time to make his own points. How on earth, in an order of this kind, can one cover points such as that which the hon. Member for Nottingham, West made? There are 38 authorities involved in this draft order—10 water authorities and 28 companies, 22 of which pay in and about 16 collect. All we say is that the way in which the order was introduced in March 1976 was so inflexible that there is no way in which it can be changed. The right hon. Member for Rhondda knows that that is true.

Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda)

Are we to understand that the Government are not in favour of this order and that the Welsh Members are not in favour of it?

Mr. Fox

If the right hon. Gentleman had been present at the beginning of my speech, he would have heard me make it clear that this was the last full order of this kind; and if he will listen carefully to the end of my speech he will find that the Government are saying that an order will be presented in a different form. If he thinks carefully about the original order, he will be aware that certain adjustments are needed to balance out estimates to true figures. But we are not convinced at this stage that what was introduced is the right way of achieving the intention. I do not say that we shall not seek a better solution. There are particular problems in Wales and we accept that. We are introducing this order because there are problems peculiar to Wales. We believe that if one looks at the amount of money involved, and who receives it, it is right that hon. Members should realise that Wales is the main beneficiary—

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

No, it is not.

Mr. Fox

Of course it is. We are simply making the point that we do not seek to desert our friends in Wales.

The 1977 Act was intended to produce some measure of equalisation in bills for unmeasured water supply. Although the previous Government wanted the Act to produce a degree of equalisation in the water bills of domestic consumers, the Act is, in fact, drawn up to equalise only the historic financing costs of water undertakers—the effect of capital expenditure and debts incurred up to 31 March 1976. But, of course, there are several other important cost factors which go to determine the final level of bills. The equalisation Act was not designed to take those other factors into account. As a result, an Act which it was hoped would equalise water bills has, in a large number of cases, had quite the opposite effect.

The draft order works up to a point. It will reduce the extreme ends of the range of unmeasured bills for 1980 and it will move the bills of more than half of the consumers affected nearer to the national average bill. However, it also has the effect of moving the bills of 42 per cent. of consumers away from the national average. Many of those with above-average bills will be required to pay more, and many of those with below-average bills will have them reduced.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services has discussed this matter fully with the Secretary of State for Wales, and they have agreed that an Act which produces such questionable results can really have no future. It can and does produce perverse, absurd, and capricious effects. My right hon. Friends agreed that this would be the last full order under the Act. However, there will have to be at least one more order to tidy up the transfers that have been made before on the basis of estimated figures.

My right hon. Friends also considered very seriously the whole question of the present draft order. On balance, they decided that it should be laid this year because they felt that more time was needed to consider the whole matter. The Government have in mind that the Act itself should be repealed. But before legislation is introduced my right hon. Friends have asked our officials to give urgent consideration to the whole question and recommend what, if anything, might be done in the future. They will seek the views of industry on the matter and they will take full account of those views before coming to a final decision.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

In considering what will follow the order and the Act that is now on the statute book, and in view of the fact that Wales is a net exporter of a considerable amount of water and the Conservatives believe in the free economy, will the Minister consider the possibility of allowing Wales to sell its own water at the price it determines and therefore bring Welsh prices down?

Mr. Fox

The policy of previous Governments has always been that the sale of water will be simply done on the basis of the cost of delivering that water to wherever it may be needed. We will certainly consider all these points. I apologise for speaking in so much detail tonight, although I hope that what I have said will convince the House that what we are presenting is not something that we would have introduced in the first place. I ask my hon. Friends to support the order.

12.3 am

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

We have just listened to one of the most remarkable ministerial speeches that I have heard in 24 years' membership of the House. The Secretary of State for Wales wants to be very careful of his interventions, even at this early stage, because it seems that he is proposing to sell all the Welsh water consumers down the river. It is not just Wales, either.

Let us look at the reasons for the measure being introduced in the first place. It is quite impossible in any national water undertaking to have the sort of bureaucracy introduced by the Conservatives last time they meddled with water. That was the reason for the greatly increased charges. The Tories produced nine separate nationalised industries, each operating with its own bureaucracy. Indeed, it was not just nine bureaucracies for water. We had one for the Health Service and two or three for local government, which were all piled on to the ratepayers at one and the same time. It was that combination of factors which caused ratepayers to express their considerable concern.

The Minister is now seeking to say that he is prepared to justify the wide variations of charges which were produced as a result of water reorganisation. He would not justify that argument in the case of the Post Office, electricity or gas. When people post a letter in Orkney or Shetland, or in Merthyr Tydfil or London, they pay the same postal charge. That is the principle upon which a public service, if it is run in the naional interest, ought to operate. That was the immediate principle behind this order—that people who had a real grievance, particularly in Wales, the South-West, Anglia and Northumbria, should have a measure of justice.

When the Minister says that he is not coming forward with another order, he will have to explain that not only to the people of Wales, to whom he devoted a large part of his speech. He said nothing about the South-West, Anglia, Northumbria or the Midlands—all geographical areas of the country that will benefit considerably from this order. Therefore, the Minister is not just putting forward a Welsh point.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)

The right hon. Gentleman spoke as if the people of Northumbria were in some way hard done by. How would he justify a measure that has the effect of reducing the average water rates of people in Northumbria from 18 per cent. below the national average to 25 per cent. below the national average, which is the effect of this measure?

Mr. Howell

The Secretary of State knows perfectly well that this order is confined—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer".] I am answering. If hon. Members will listen more patiently they may learn something, otherwise they may go away just as ignorant as they came in, which would be a great pity for all of us.

This measure deals with one half of the water legislation—the supply of wholesome water. As the Secretary of State knows perfectly well, the other half of the measure, particularly in Northumbria where the Tyne and the Tees have to be cleaned up, imposes upon the water users in that part of the country an enormous burden that they have to carry as a result of past industrial activity.

If the Under-Secretary dislikes this order so much, I cannot understand why he has introduced it at this time. What amending legislation does he intend to introduce? In deference to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, he says that we shall not desert our friends in Wales. If we do not help our friends in Wales by means of adjusting charges, how will we bring help to our friends in Wales? There is only one other way—a straightforward subsidy either from the taxpayers or from the ratepayers. The Under-Secretary said that the Government will repeal the Act. However, he has left the House totally ignorant of how to achieve that which he believes to be desirable.

There is one other important reason for the Labour Government's approach in producing such orders. At the end of the day one must have some sort of national strategy for water. [Interruption.] I solved the drought, and I will solve this problem. If the present storms go on much longer, my transfer fee will go up considerably. One cannot have a national strategy for water resources unless there is some degree of co-ordination and national control. Water must be moved round the country, particularly from Wales to the Midlands and to Anglia.

The Under-Secretary of State asked a pertinent question, although I disagreed with his conclusion. He pointed out that if one does not help the Welsh with supplying not only Wales but England with water and if they are not allowed to charge what they wish for that water, there must be some fairness about the way in which the hardships of Welsh consumers are evened out. That must logically follow. The Secretary of State for Wales agrees. The Welsh cannot exploit the situation and charge the English, particularly in the Midlands and in the North-West, exactly what they wish to charge. As a quid pro quo, in order to be fair to Welsh consumers, we wish to introduce this sort of scheme.

Some of my hon. Friends representing areas that border the Thames will no doubt raise this issue shortly, but even in the London area there must be a national strategy for transporting water, given the increase in both domestic and industrial consumption. It is often suggested that more reservoirs can be built in the Thames valley. However, the environmental objections to building more reservoirs in the Thames valley, Kent and other places increase all the time. As we do not suffer from a shortage of water, the problem is simply one of transporting water from areas of plenty to areas of shortage. If water can be transported so that there are supplies of wholesome water throughout the country, there must be a sensible arrangement to equalise water charges.

That is the basis of the philosophy behind the order. The Ministers' words imply a general subsidy to Wales from the ratepayers and taxpayers. He has not said a word about the South-West, Northumbria and Anglia. The Anglian water authority alone will receive £2,635,000 as a result of this measure. Northumbria will receive £856,000, and, therefore, the Minister proposes a considerable additional burden upon the water users of those four major authorities as well as upon the Midlands authorities.

We shall support the order in the Lobby tonight because it is the logical consequence of having a well-ordered and sensible national water policy. Any alternative to the order would put at risk the national water strategy and would be manifestly unfair to the people of Wales, the South-West, Anglia, Northumbria and the Midlands.

12.14 am
Mr. David Mudd (Falmouth and Camborne)

I was hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, before the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) sat down. He was very kind in including the South-West in his arguments. I can think of many occasions from 1974 until the early part of this year on which hon. Members representing parts of Cornwall were making representations about how terrible it was under the system which has been described as being perverse, absurd and capricious, under which it seemed that various people who lived in the Midlands and the North saved up their dirty shirts and their dirty cars to come to Cornwall during the height of the holiday season to use our water supplies to offset their needs, with the result that water consumers in the South-West water authority area were paying increasingly for water charges to provide money through the taps, when the logical outcome of that was a cutback in residential and industrial development which was much needed in the South-West. But no doubt the right hon. Gentleman or one of his hon. Friends will touch on that when the Opposition sum up at the end of this debate.

Mr. Denis Howell

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to assert that people coming on holidays from the Midlands and the North cause problems for him in regard to water, will he tell us what is his assessment of the rateable income which holiday hotels, accommodation, caravans and camps of various sorts provide for his authorities, and not least in the number of jobs they provide for his citizens?

Mr. Mudd

The right hon. Gentleman is most gracious in throwing out that challenge. It is well-known in the South-West that visitors from the Midlands and the North come with a £5 note and a dirty shirt. They change the latter but not the former when they come into the West Country on holiday.

If we are talking about water charges equalisation, it is equally important that we should talk in terms of the equalisation of water resources and of the water authorities in terms of answerability to local ratepayers. Time and again we have, as I observed somewhat flippantly, perhaps, to the right hon. Gentleman, the problem that as a result of providing the genuine and untapped water supply at the peak of the holiday season, the South-West is forgoing the capital investment for industrial and residential development which is really the backbone to our particular problems in the South-West.

I hope that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary sums up the debate he will deal with this aspect of the Government's thinking as to how the South-Westcan gain in terms of Government investment and Government incentive by way of capital resources rather than merely subsidising the water that comes out of the taps.

My second point is directed more to my hon. Friends than to Opposition Members. It concerns the growing grievance in the South-West about equalisation in terms of cost but no question of equalisation in terms of the democratic answerability of our regional water authorities. Time and again—and I am sure that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) will raise exactly the same point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if he catches your eye—there is the growing frustration of constituents in Cornwall who say repeatedly "Our water rates are being increased by 50 per cent. What can we do about this?" We have to say "Members of Parliament are totally impotent in this matter. There is no consumer watchdog. There is no one to whom we can refer you in this great agony of your ongoing expenditure."

We hope that when there is a review of water authorities and water resources in the United Kingdom the Government will take on board that it is now long overdue that they should correct one of the massive oversights in the water resources legislation, introduced and passed under a previous Conservative Government, which actually deprived individual consumers of their rights of approach, of representation and of being considered when making reasonable representations about the constantly ongoing and oppressive threats of water authorities in regard to their incomes, their savings and their ability to pay.

12.19 am
Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Enough reference has been made to the dominance of Wales on the recipient side of the balance on this exchange, Wales receiving about one-third of the pooled fund. There has not been enough mention of the fact that the Thames water authority area—and that means the ratepayers in that area—contributes close on a half, say 45 per cent., of the fund, and a very large part of that comes from the ratepayers of London.

If this order goes through, it will mean that, on average, each of my ratepayers will be forced to chip in £1.30 a year to the common fund. It might be said that £1.30 in a year is not very much, but it has to be seen against the background of the general national position on rates and the gross difference between the rates paid by London ratepayers and the average for the whole of England and Wales, and particularly Wales.

I voted for the Act under which this order is made, partly because the principle behind the Act and the order is to try to equalise charges for equal services. If that principle were applied to rates generally, ratepayers in London would be a great deal better off than they are now. To the credit of the Labour Government, they were gradually moving, year by year, to a situation where on the general rates there was a slightly better equalisation between the rates paid in different areas of the country.

That principle is being reversed this year by the Government, and I cannot bring myself to adopt equalisation as a principle in some small sector of the rating field when it is flagrantly breached and the Government are going in the opposite, direction in the rating field in general. I therefore feel that this order should not pass tonight.

In my borough of Islington, on average general rates amount to a payment of £255 cash per year, which is £5 a week. General rates in Wales amount to £97 a year, which is less than £2 a week. How on earth can I tell someone living in a council flat in my constituency, who is paying £5, and often a good bit more than £5, a week in general rates, that he ought to put his hand into his pocket to find an extra £1.30 to go into a common fund to subsidise still further the ratepayers in Wales, who receive the same subsidies as anybody else, plus an extra domestic element to the domestic ratepayers?

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

As we are dealing with water rates, will the hon. Gentleman tell us what the water rates are in his constituency compared with the water rates in Wales? I think he will find that the water rates in Wales after equalisation are still higher than those in his constituency.

Mr. Cunningham

I was coming to exactly that comparison. I shall take water rates before coming to general rates.

Let us take the comparison—because these happen to be the figures that I have at hand—between the Thames water area on the one hand and Wales on the other. Last year and this year, according to figures that are publicly available, the variations above and below the average represented by the two areas have been 11 per cent. and 12 per cent. That is to say, ratepayers in Wales paid 11 per cent. or 12 per cent. more than the average between the two areas, and ratepayers in the Thames water area paid 11 or 12 per cent. under the average. It is not a great difference but nevertheless a difference. It would appear from the figures available that in cash terms it amounts to under £5 in one case and around £10 a year in the other. Each ratepayer in Wales is paying between £5 and £10 more for the water service than each ratepayer in London, so the Secretary of State has got his point.

However, what is the situation when we come to general rates? It is nothing like that. There is a variation between those areas, or the nearest that one can get to them—inner London and Wales. In inner London, average rates per hereditament are £311 a year. In Wales, they are £97 a year—£6 a week as against £1.86. That is a variation above and below the average of approximately 52 per cent. Water rates alone cannot be picked out for equalisation when there is no move towards equalisation on the rest. Indeed, this year, there is a move away from that.

The people of London have had a raw deal for many years out of the rating arrangements. The efforts made by the Labour Government to assist inner city areas are now being reversed and it is unjustifiable to impose the extra surcharge upon London ratepayers in order to assist those who pay infinitely less for their services. Also, the domestic ratepayers in the Thames water authority area are undergoing an additional burden because of the compulsory non-subsidy between the industrial consumer and the domestic consumer. That obligation rests under statute upon the Thames water authority. It is not fair that the domestic ratepayer pays those two surcharges, and it cannot be put across to the ratepayers of London that the subsidy should continue.

12.26 pm
Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)

I am delighted to enter into this short debate because I have been critical of the water authorities and the industry for some time. My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) mentioned that there was no direct consumer representation. In fact, I moved a Ten-Minute Bill during the last Parliament to set up a consumers' council but, regrettably, hon. Members did not accept it. It was a pity.

Water equalisation is nonsense. Under the draft statutory instrument we are giving water to the Anglian, Northumbrian, Severn-Trent, South-West and Welsh water authorities. Yet we are taking from private water companies—such as the East Anglian water company—in those areas where we are subsidising. Similarly, with the Hartlepools water company we take away and give it back to the Northumbrian water authority.

Mr. Alec Jones

Does not the hon. Gentlemanrealise that the private sector water companies were included only at the direct request of Conservative Members?

Mr. Durant

That is not relevant to the point I am making. We are talking about difficulties in certain areas of the country and the easier position of other parts of the country with regard to equalisation. I am saying that in the areas where we are subsidising we are also taking water away, whether private water companies are in those areas or not. I make no point about private water companies. For example, in Wales we are taking money out of the Wrexham and East Denbighshire water company and giving it back to the Welsh water authority. It is the same part of the country. I am illustrating the nonsense of the principle.

There is injustice to the Thames water authority in particular. It will have to meet an enormous bill of almost £4 million, and that is unfair on consumers in one part of the country. It is contrary to the beliefs of Conservative Members. We believe that economic costs should be passed to the consumer. I believe that the Welsh should have to pay their corner towards their water. In the past, the Welsh water authorities—

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

Has the hon. Gentleman thought out what he is saying? Does herealise what it would cost those in a village of 500 who are 15 miles or so from the nearest waterway to pay for the Conservative principle of fair charges for water? It would be unbelievable.

Mr. Durant

The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating to make his point. Following that logic, any company that delivered any goods over a long distance would charge a different amount for them. I do not take that point.

We are told that money is being provided to get a balance in the water rate demands to consumers. If the money were being used to provide more water conservation in order to improve water capabilities and the collection of more water, I might not be so averse to the order. At present we are subsidising some water rates, and I do not believe that that is a sound principle.

The proposals are unfair for those in the Thames valley area. I express that view strongly. I am not keen on the water authorities. They have large offices and live fairly comfortably in their premises all over the country. We ought to be more critical of their role.

We should not necessarily support the scheme. I am delighted that the Minister has said that this is the last such order. That is a concession, and I hope that it is written in strong words in Hansard and that he will not come back next year with another "last time".

The Thames water authority has considerable problems ahead with sewerage. Many of the drains in London were installed in the early 1800s and their life is coming to an end. Large capital expenditure will be required, and I do not suppose that Wales would be keen on helping if we asked for assistance because of the financial difficulty involved in replacing London's drains.

I am not prepared to vote against the Government. The Minister has at least said that this is the last time that we shall have such an order. The scheme has been unfair and nonsensical.

12.32 am
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

Almost everyone agrees that the Water Act 1973 created a series of unfair bodies and was one of the disasters of the then Conservative Government.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)

It was not the worst.

Mr. Bennett

It was not far short of the worst. But my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) did not do much better when he brought in the water charges equalisation scheme.

We have a system of grossly unfair charges for water. There is a complete lack of equity in all water charges. They reflect neither consumption nor people's ability to pay. The order makes things worse.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath referred to letters. Of course, letters posted in different parts of the country all have the same charge, but different weights of letters have different charges. We ought to be looking at the ability of people to pay and the amount of water that they consume.

Not only does the order not reflect how much water people consume or their ability to pay, but it does not reflect local costs. We ought to be concerned about those matters rather than geographical areas. What sense is there in saying that a pensioner in Stockport ought to subsidise someone in Wales or East Anglia who may be much more affluent? We ought to take into account an individual's ability to pay and not lump together everyone in a region.

It seems that there is a very strong argument for abolishing the system by which water charges are based on regions and instead basing them upon the ability of the individual to pay. I have tried on many occasions to convince the House that we should introduce a rebate system for people on low incomes, particularly pensioners, in respect of water charges.

This measure is always worked out on a yearly basis, which is grossly unfair. Over the years people in the North-West, particularly in some of the cities, have shown a great deal of foresight in the provision of water services. Over 20 or 30 years they have made a very big contribution. Now they are being asked to make a further contribution for those areas which showed little or no foresight—

Mr. Alec Jones

There is no evidence of that.

Mr. Bennett

There is evidence that a lot of rural areas made no provision for water for a long time, whereas urban areas made provision at the beginning of the century and, as a result, benefit now from a relatively cheap system.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the charge is as much for sewerage as it is for clean water, and that in 1973 the Conservatives took £100 million off the rate support grant in respect of sewerage and imposed it on the consumer through the water rate?

Mr. Bennett

Yes, I am well aware of the problems created over sewerage. Before the 1973 Act, at least the sewerage charges attracted a rebate for people on low incomes. That was taken off them again, making it harder for them to meet the charges.

The crazy situation now—certainly in Stockport—is that individual occupiers of dwellings are being asked to pay about £136 to £140, but the rebate brings the figure down to about half what they are being asked to pay for water rates. There is little or no equity in these charges.

We should be moving to a national system for water collection and supply, with a national charge and with local areas responsible for supplying it to individual occupiers—

Mr. Denis Howell

That was in our White Paper.

Mr. Bennett

Our White Paper did not restore supply to local areas. It put supply on a national basis.

Charges should be based on the ability of an individual to pay rather than on the ability of an area to pay. It is time we voted against the order. If my hon. Friends vote with me, I hope we shall succeed in throwing out the water equalisation charge.

12.38 am
Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

I declare an interest, because, through a company with which I am associated, I have a relationship with the Water Companies Association. My speech tonight, however, does not have much to do with the water companies as such, except in so far as they are involved in the supply of water.

The title of the order might lead one to imagine that as a result of it everyone in the country would be getting his water at approximately the same cost. But, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) knows, that is far from the truth. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) made a powerful point about the difference between the rates paid in Wales and the rate paid in London. That clearly shows that if an advantage is gained in one sense it is lost in another, probably to a greater extent than the right hon. Member for Small Heath imagined when he pressed the parent Act upon the House.

I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on what he has told the House tonight. I am glad that this is the last time that the order can come before the House, and I welcome his statement and the forthrightness of his speech. But, of course, although we say that this is the last time that such an order will come before the House, the question of water charges and the structure of charging for water remains. That, I think, is a much more thorny problem than perhaps any of us, including the right hon. Member for Small Heath, imagined.

As more and more people become concerned about the cost of water—it was certainly one of the issues which arose most frequently on the doorstep in my constituency during the last election campaign—more and more people will want a system of charging based not upon rateable value but on the amount of water which is used. This, in turn, will inevitably, I believe, push us in the direction of some form of metering as a means of assessing how much water a family is using.

I shall be told, of course, that to talk about metering in national terms is to talk about £300 million, but I wonder whether we have to content ourselves with the idea that there is one sort of water meter which will never change, which will never be modified and will never be made cheaper. I do not believe that to be so. I am sure that if the water industry put its mind to producing some form of cheap meter it would not be beyond the wit of man to do it. For my part, I should like to see all new houses now being built supplied with a water meter already installed. That would be one way of meeting a future cost.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that half the water charges are in fact for sewerage? Although it has been suggested that one may be able to put in a meter to charge for water supplied, no one has yet suggested a practical way of metering sewage as it is sent out of a dwelling.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

The hon. Gentleman has little faith in human ingenuity. I have no doubt that if such a meter is required it will be discovered.

I have concentrated on the question of charging because it brings me to the whole point of the order, namely, that the Thames water authority, which supplies my constituents, is being required to find £4.39 million in the year 1980–81—an increase of 1½p in the pound on the water rate to my constituents—and, at the same time as the authority is being asked to find that money to produce the spurious equality which the right hon. Member for Small Heath thought he was producing, my constituents are being asked also under section 30 of the Water Act to find a further 4½p in the pound, because, being supplied by the Thames water authority, they are within the area which includes Greater London and, as we see the industrial and commercial premises in Greater London changing their water charging basis as a result of the 1976 amendment to section 30 of the Water Act, so we shall see those premises paying much less for the water they use and my constituents, mainly domestic consumers, paying very much more.

Mr. Denis Howell

The hon. Gentleman will know that this is a measure to equalise charges between one authority and another, but the fact is that all the nine water authorities have already equalised their charges within their own areas, including his own. Is the hon. Gentleman objecting to the equalisation of charges within the Southern water authority or within the London authority, because the large conurbations within his own authority area in fact help his constituents in the New Forest constituency? The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends must be logical. If they object to water equalisation, they must object to it within their own regions as well as between one region and another.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman's geography is so rusty. If he thinks that the New Forest is in the Thames valley, he must do a bit more homework. I represent Newbury in Berkshire.

There is all the difference in the world between talking about compensation for the supply of water before it is supplied to domestic consumers and talking about the final price that the consumer has to pay. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman came unstuck in imagining that there was one simple answer which would produce, as he put it, a method which would allow water to be charged to the nation, as is electricity or gas.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that that argument is erroneous because he knows the geophysical problems of supplying water in those terms. They are very difficult. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman will also know, however much he may choose to shout, that the calculation of payment for the water equalisation order is so complicated that I doubt whether he could stand up at the Dispatch Box now and state exactly how it is worked out, despite the fact that the Act was his brainchild. He will also know that there are many people who query the basis of the order on the ground that it does nothing to increase the efficiency of the supply of water. Indeed, the calculation works in such mysterious ways that, as we are told, to make some minor change, a computer has to go through the most incredible electronic convolutions.

Mr. Denis Howell

The hon. Member's wages go through a computer.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

The right hon. Member is now moving from water to wages. I want to stick to this point about getting some equity and fairness into water charging. Just as we shall do without the Act, because it has not worked, so we have to look at the question of charging once more, through fresh eyes.

I return to the point about section 30. It is not reasonable or fair, it seems to me, to expect those living in the Thames water authority area to have to carry the huge burden which will be placed on their shoulders as a result of the implementation of section 30. If the Water Charges Equalisation Act deemed that all water consumers were equal, section 30 proved that some were more equal than others. If we are looking for equity and fairness, that Act is not the way to it and the sooner it goes the better.

When that Act has gone, the question will remain: how do we produce more equity in water charging and, in particular for my constituents, how are we to save them from carrying a burden in their water rate, quite unlike almost any other part of the country and which for some of them will be all but unbearable?

12.47 am
Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

The speech of the Minister in moving the order was described as remarkable. It certainly was, because I do not think I have ever before heard a Minister promote an order and then speak against it. I was most perturbed that he told us that it would be the last such order to be brought forward—although he then appeared to move away from that position—but did not tell us what was to take its place. Anyone who votes for this order on the basis of the Minister's speech is buying a pig in a poke. I hope that, like me, a good many other hon. Members will vote against the order and put it out this time. Let us act now and not take any notice of possibly spurious promises about the future.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

My hon. Friend is entitled to have great hopes that Tory Members will support him since many Tory Members voted against the 1977 Act. We are looking forward to the support of those hon. Members tonight.

Mr. Stoddart

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for drawing that point to my attention. I had noted that a good many Tory Members voted against the original measure. No doubt they will follow up their actions by voting with my hon. Friends and me tonight.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

Does my hon. Friend recollect that the Minister was one of those who voted against the measure at that time?

Mr. Stoddart

I note that point. I suppose it is too much to hope that he will cross the Floor tonight.

A good deal has been said against this order tonight. I, too, represent a constituency in the Thames water authority area. Like other people in London, people in my constituency pay very high rates, and we have noted that in other areas which receive benefit under this order people pay relatively low rates. It is absurd that poor householders and others in my constituency should have to subsidise poor people—and, indeed, rich people—in Wales and the South-West. That is a positive absurdity. If we want to equalise charges, we should equalise them in accordance with ability of the person to pay. If my right hon. and hon. Friends had thought more about that in the original Bill which we passed, it would have been a better Act. I hope that there will be more thought about that between now and the time when we vote.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), pointed out, since the equalisation charge, to a large degree, is based on capital expenditure before 1976, it is true that consumers in forward-looking authorities have not only paid for their own good, well-timed capital development but are now having to pay for capital development in other places which did not take place when it should have done.

Mr. Alec Jones


Mr. Stoddart

My right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) should listen. He will learn something as well. I was at one time leader of Reading county borough council. Together with Berkshire county council, we promoted the amalgamation of the water authorities in Berkshire and South Oxfordshire. I became a founder member of that water authority and chairman of the land and works committee, which was responsible for capital development.

I know that the central authority in Reading, which had spent money in goodtime, was a well-run and well-capitalised authority. But we found, when we went to surrounding areas, that a great deal of capital which should have been spent had not been spent. It had to be spent then.

Mr. Alec Jones

The Welsh authorities did not do that.

Mr. Stoddart

Perhaps the Welsh water authorities did not, and perhaps that is the reason why we are having this argument tonight. The point I am making is that the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North are on the ball. I have seen this in operation.

We have been talking here about £4.39 million to be payable by the Thames water authority, but I also want to make the point that by the end of 1981 the Thames water authority will have contributed about £10 million to this equalisation charge. That is patently absurd, and unfair to consumers in that area. I sincerely hope that all those who voted against the order last time will join us in the Lobby again tonight so that we can reject this order.

12.55 am
Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

I feel that I am rather out of tune with the debate because I support the general concept of the order. I shall vote for it if there is a Division.

Surely it is logical that the wealthier areas should support the poorer areas over the supply of water. I see nothing wrong with that concept. The South-West water authority covers much the same acreage as the Thames authority. However, the South-West authority has about 1¾ million ratepayers to pay the bill while the Thames authority has between 8 million and 10 million. It is the argument of the urban areas against the rural areas. The cost per head of supplying wholesome water in rural areas is much greater than in urban areas. The cost of removing sewage from houses in rural areas is considerably more than the cost of so doing in urban areas. Surely the areas in which the services are cheaper to provide should make a contribution to the areas where expenditure is inevitably much higher.

My second reason for supporting the concept embodied in the order has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd). It is a problem that has to be faced in the South-West area. Cornwall is capable of financing its water and sewerage systems for 10 months of the year. However, in July and August the problem extends beyond the capabilities of the ratepayers in the part of Cornwall that I represent.

Some system of support must be given to provide a credible and safe system for those who wish to enjoy holidays in Cornwall. I speak of Cornwall, but the argument is the same for Devon. Such a system must be found if we are to maintain present standards.

Cornwall has a winter population of about 400,000. That is the population from which ratepayers may be found. The statisticians tell me—I am always rather dubious about the figures—that during the peak of August Cornwall's population exceeds 1½ million and may reach 1¾ million. It is a system for 1¾ million for which the people of Cornwall are having to pay, not a system for 400,000. It would be impossible for local self-support to finance the system. The answer is a tourist tax, but every time that is discussed we never find an appropriate solution. If that is not possible, one solution is help through the rate support grant. I regret that the enabling Act abolished that form of support, as its passing has caused many of the problems that are experienced in the area that I represent.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Thames region has to provide water and sewerage facilities for him and others who come from Cornwall?

Mr. Penhaligon

I am prepared to make a contribution for those from Cornwall who come into the Thames region provided that the converse is accepted. The wisdom of Cornish folk means that the traffic is very much in one direction, except for a few who are crazy enough to be elected to this place.

The system in my area is on the verge of a breakdown. The hon. Members for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) and Falmouth and Camborne are in the Chamber. That indicates the seriousness of the problem. In my constituency, two-thirds of the area is now subject to a total embargo on any form of planning. That has been imposed by the South-West water authority. It is concerned that health and hygiene in the rivers and seas cannot be maintained if any more sewage is poured into the present system. The same situation applies throughout the length and breadth of Devon and Cornwall. The system is on the verge of a breakdown.

The district councils and the county councils no longer have responsibility for planning. Responsibility lies with the water authority. It was given an impossible job by the Government when it was formed. It is now the planning authority in my constituency and inneighbouring constituencies. Do the Government recognise the size of the problem in areas such as mine? If they are to scrap the present system of support, will there be no support in future, or will a better system be produced? If the Government intend to take the latter course, I am in favour. I might even support the scheme that they produce.

The idea of a totally fair system of charging for sewage disposal and water supply is not realistic. The charge for the water supply to farms in my area—I know that this is common to many other areas—is based not on the amount that is used but on the diameter of the pipes that happen to lead into the farms. There is no connection between the diameter of the pipes and the size of the farm.

To achieve a fair system of sewage disposal, I suppose that we must analyse the rainfall in various parts of the country, on various houses and sites, because the rainfall on a person's property affects what must be installed to help with the disposal. It is not on to kid ourselves that a totally fair system can be produced for water and sewage disposal. There is an impossible position in some areas and a simple one in others. Will the Government maintain a system under which those who are fortunate help the others?

1 am

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

May I inject a point of sweet reason into this otherwise angry debate, which rises above mere constituency interest, and talk about the rubbish that we put into our legislation? I draw the Minister's attention to article 2(2),which reads: Any reference in this order to a numbered article or schedule shall be construed as a reference to the article or schedule bearing that number in this order. I wonder what it could possibly be construed as meaning other than that the numbered article refers to the numbered article in the order. It is like saying that any reference to the Minister shall be construed as a reference to the Minister. That is as big a load of rubbish as we shall find anywhere.

I know that this provision appears in all such statutory instruments. However, it is self-evident that such a reference refers to an article in the order. If not, or if the parliamentary draftsmen think that some other form of words should be used to ensure that any reference to article 5 in the order refers to article 5 in the order, why is it not possible to draft the paragraph in a way which ordinary people can understand without having to laugh at it? Why not say, for example, in article 3, line 4: in accordance with the provisions of article 5 below"? Why not say, in article 5: Each equalisation levy payable under article 3 above"? If that form of words is not acceptable to the parliamentary draftsmen, why do we not include the words: article 5 of this order or article 3 of this order"? In that way, we should use five instead of 28 words. Everybody would know what it meant. We should not go on churning out this rubbish, which I thought the Government were determined not to do.

Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

My hon. Friend should be grateful for small mercies. When the order says "shall be construed", it is at least mandatory. It might have said "may be construed", which would have given a discretion to the Minister.

Mr. Lawrence

I do not wish to give the Minister any more discretion than he showed when introducing the order tonight. I merely wish to point out that in future drafts of this kind we could simplify the legislation, as the Renton committee recommended.

1.4 am

Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda)

I certainly do not want to get drawn into the matter of the exact wording of the order, although I have some sympathy with what the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said.

I cannot understand why hon. Members on both sides of the House say that the Act does not work but then say that they intend to vote against the order because it does work. There were two misconceptions. A great deal was said about rates. The Conservative Party, when previously in office, took water completely outside our rating system. This order does not deal with rates, and, though I sympathise with those who have problems with sewerage charges, it has nothing to do with those charges.

The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) said that the Welsh should pay for their corner. I point out to the hon. Member that many areas of this country benefit from this order. Wales is not the only beneficiary. Areas such as East Anglia, Northumbria and a whole range of other areas are involved, including those covered by the private water companies that were included in the orginal Act on the direct request, pressure and votes of the Conservative Party.

The Welsh area and other areas—especially those where there is a super-abundance of water—are well prepared to pay. I invite the Minister and the whole House to take into account the views of the Daniel committee which investigated this problem. That committee said that the only alternatives available were to accept some form of equalisation—neither the order nor the Act went that far; the Act merely dealt with partial equalisation—or to allow and encourage water authorities to sell their surplus water.

The legal advice given to the Welsh water authority was as follows: The Welsh authority can, by an agreement made under section 12 of the Water Act 1945 (as substituted by section 12 and Schedule 4 of the Act of 1973)"— passed by the Conservative Party— lawfully make a charge on the English authority for the bulk supply which exceeds the cost of providing that supply. So either we accept something along the lines of the Act and this order or we deliberately encourage authorities with a surplus of water to sell it to the highest bidder.

If that policy were to be adopted, it would jeopardise water supplies, not to Wales but to other major parts of this country which suffered from the drought of 1976. If that is what the Minister and the Government want, I give them fair warning on behalf of the Welsh authority that they can have it. Such a policy would destroy any hope of a rational water supply for this country. We hold the view—we have always held the view—that the water supply to all parts of the United Kingdom depends on the willingness to transfer supplies of water from a region that is in surplus to one that is not, based on the no-profit and no-loss principle. To transfer water from Wales to another region means that we need long-term planning and agreement between those affected.

We all know the problems that we suffered in the drought of 1976. We all know of the problem over the location of reservoirs. If there is a feeling of unfairness in one part of the United Kingdom about the cost of the water supply to domestic consumers, it is unreasonable to expect people to accept the siting of reservoirs in their area and yet permit the free transfer of water from that area to another.

There was unfairness when the Act was introduced. There was a tremendous increase in water charges in Wales, as opposed to almost any other part of the United Kingdom, including the London area. That was why we set up the Daniel committee, which quite clearly showed that the increased costs were costs of distribution and nothing to do with the efficiency of the water authority. They were basically increased costs which were a consequence of trying to provide adequate water supplies, principally to rural areas.

Therefore, we were faced with a choice. Unless we had something like what was recommended in the Daniel committee report, involving partial equalisation, we would have been forced to say that people must pay more for water if they lived in rural areas. If we want to ensure a fair distribution of water on a no-profit, no-loss basis, there must be some form of water equalisation. I believe that we should support the order.

1.11 am
Mr. Fox

With the leave of the House, I shall quickly reply to some of the contributions. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) said in 1977 that the scheme was working. In 1978 he said that it was working extremely well. One wonders what he would have said about it this year had he been in Government. If the scheme is working so well, how is it that bills in the Northumbrian water authority area will fall from 18 per cent, below the national average to 25 per cent. below, as a result of this order? The Anglian area bills will fall from exactly the national average to 7 per cent. below. On the other hand, bills in the Thames water authority area, already 12 per cent. above the average, will rise to about 18 per cent above. The worst example of all is the Wessex water authority, which is 27 per cent. above the average.

Of course, I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) said about capital resources and the answerability of the water authorities. If the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) listens carefully to what I have to say at the end of my speech, he may gain some satisfaction. I do not wish to talk tonight about the virtues of a tourist tax.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) was honest in that he admitted that the average bills in the Thames water authority area are about £20, and in Wales, even after equalisation, they are £25. It was less than fair to introduce rating generally and to make comparisons between London and Wales.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) is quite right

about the private water companies, which are paying in excess of £2 million.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) does not like this order at all. I welcome his support for my view. The ability to pay and the amount of water used are matters for another occasion.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) that this is the last order that we shall make. I take note of his observations on metering. I think that he exaggerates about section 30 of the Water Act. My latest information is that the burden, when section 30 is fully implemented, will not be as harsh as he thinks.

The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) says that I keep amazing him. He amazes the House constantly. He is really more in conflict with his right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath than with me. I urge him not to vote against the order tonight, because we shall bring about what he seeks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is far too learned to have spent so much time on article 2(2). We shall take note of that. I have made the point that this will be the last full order under the Act. There will, however, have to be at least one more order just to tidy up the transfers that have been made before on the basis of estimated figures. We Conservatives do not like estimated figures. The Government have in mind—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business): —

The House divided: Ayes 113, Noes 8.

Division No.128] AYES [1.15 am
Adley, Robert Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Ancram, Michael Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Aspinwall, Jack Dorrell, Stephen Grist, Ian
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Dover, Denshore Hampson, Dr Keith
Berry, Hon Anthony Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Heddle, John
Best, Keith Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) Hicks, Robert
Bevan, David Gilroy Eggar, Timothy Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)
Blackburn, John Eyre, Reginald Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Bright, Graham Fairbairn, Nicholas Hooson, Tom
Brinton, Tim Fairgrieve, Russell Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)
Bruce-Gardyne, John Faith, Mrs Sheila Hunt, David (Wirral)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Fanner, Mrs Peggy Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Fox, Marcus Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Chapman, Sydney Gardiner, George (Relgate) Kershaw, Anthony
Colvin, Michael Gorst, John Lang, Ian
Costain, A. P. Gow, Ian Lawrence, Ivan
Cryer, Bob Gower, Sir Raymond Le Marchant, Spencer
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Parris, Matthew Tebbit, Norman
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Patten, Christopher (Bath) Thompson, Donald
Lyell, Nicholas Patten, John (Oxford) Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
MacKay, John (Argyll) Penhaligon, David Thornton, Malcolm
McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Pollock, Alexander Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Major, John Proctor, K. Harvey Viggers, Peter
Marland, Paul Rathbone, Tim Waddington, David
Marlow, Tony Rees-Davles, W. R. Wakeham, John
Mather, Carol Renton, Tim Waldegrave, Hon William
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Waller, Gary
Mellor, David Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Ward, John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Rowlands, Ted Watson, John
Moate, Roger Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Wheeler, John
Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Shepherd, Richard(Aldridge-Br'hills) Wickenden, Keith
Mudd, David Sims, Roger Wigley, Dafydd
Neale, Gerrard Speller, Tony Winterton, Nicholas
Needham, Richard Sproat, Iain Young, Sir George (Acton)
Neubert, Michael Squire, Robin
Newton, Tony Stanley, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Normanton, Tom Stevens, Martin Mr. Peter Brooke and
Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Stradling Thomas, J. Mr. John Cope.
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S) Lamond, James
Cartwright, John Sandelson, Neville TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Cunningham, George (Islington S) Soley, Clive Mr. David Stoddart and Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.
Graham, Ted Spearing, Nigel

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved. That the draft Water Charges Equalisation Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 7 December, be approved.