HC Deb 25 July 1979 vol 971 cc592-3
13. Mr. Dickens

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has considered a capital grant towards the introduction of meters for the domestic water supply to enable water authorities to invoice on water used.

Mr. Fox

No, Sir. I do not think it will be appropriate for such costs to be met from public funds.

Mr. Dickens

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency, and throughout the country, many elderly people are living on their own and paying more for their water supply than some houses where there are seven occupants? This is totally unjust and totally unfair. As we meter gas and electricity, can the Minister say whether we could move towards a fairer situation, using water meters?

Mr. Fox

I am somewhat sceptical about the advantages of metering water. The National Water Council is considering a pilot scheme of this kind to see whether the cost benefit study would prove what my hon. Friend obviously believes it would.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

A large part of the water service charge is for sewerage. As yet no one has proposed that we meter the disposal of sewage, so would it not be crazy to meter water? Would it not be far better to have a rebate system, such as that which applied in 1973, when people were entitled to a rebate of their sewerage charges?

Mr. Fox

I really do not think that this is the occasion to draw a distinction between sewage and water. I am sure that the definition would vary from one hon. Member to another. I remind the hon. Gentleman that what really matters is that we should try our best to make the water industry efficient and keep the bills as low as possible.

Mr. Best

Does my hon. Friend agree that the principle which should guide legislation is that people should pay for what they use? Consequently, a metering system is ultimately the fairest system that we could have. Does my hon. Friend also agree that the failure to revalue the rating system will only heighten the anomalies thus increasing the need for a complete reappraisal of our rating system?

Mr. Fox

These are obviously very severe problems, but I am sure that the House would agree that we in this country use water in a ridiculous way. [Interruption.] I am not speaking personally. In other countries they treat water as a vital commodity. I am not certain that that applies here.

Mr. Denis Howell

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that my hon. Friend the Members for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) was absolutely right, because so much of the water which is disposed of is treated and becomes drinking water? Therefore, in terms of finance in this industry it is totally ludicrous to divorce charges on one side of the industry from the other. Is he further aware that we share the hon. Gentleman's scepticism—which he also asserted last time he answered questions, regarding the change to a metering policy—and feel that it would cause hardship to the larger and poorer families? Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Severn-Trent authority was empowerd by him to introduce meters at a cost of £50 each? Who is to pay for the metering and inspection service? Is this not a redistribution of charging within that authority, militating against the interests of the poorer and larger families?

Mr. Fox

The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that these are matters for the Severn-Trent authority. That authority determines the costs of delivering water to its customers. The same applies to metering. However, I certainly take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said.