HC Deb 27 June 1979 vol 969 cc420-2
8. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the present basis on which water charges are levied.

17. Mr. Michael Spicer

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received on the extension of metering of domestic water supplies.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Marcus Fox)

The present system of basing domestic water charges on rateable value has the advantage of being comparatively cheap and easy to administer and has stood the test of time. However, it does perpetuate certain anomalies and I have received 12 individual representations suggesting extending metering to domestic water supplies.

The question of future charging methods is currently under consideration by the water industry and I hope to discuss this with it soon.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Is my hon. Friend aware of the anxiety about the cost of water charges to householders? Is he aware that people can see no basis upon which these charges are levied in terms of the amount of water that they use? Does this not logically point to the introduction of metering rather more speedily than he has suggested? Will he look at the matter urgently?

Mr. Fox

Of course I am aware of the anxieties about the high charges. But the cost of introducing metering is a frightening proposition. Although that is not ruled out in the long term, it is being considered with other alternatives.

Mr. Spicer

Does my hon. Friend agree that the unit cost of installing metering has fallen so dramatically recently that it should be possible to give a wider airing to the experiment in domestic water metering which has been carried out in my constituency for 100 years?

Mr. Fox

My hon. Friend's proposition is questionable. However, I shall look into it. My information is that the cost of metering would not make water bills lower. Perhaps the most disturbing factor is that the people who are least able to afford water charges will be charged more.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Is it not crazy that people have to pay more for water service charges than for their general rate because one is subject to rebate and the other is not? Will he move speedily to introduce a rebate system for water service charges?

Mr. Fox

The previous Government decided that it would be wrong to introduce rebates for water charges. The water authorities have a statutory duty to charge the cost of the service that they provide. The Government have no intention of changing that.