HC Deb 30 April 1980 vol 983 cc1362-3
8. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he proposes next to meet the chairman of the Southern Water Authority.

Mr. King

I met him on 5 March in the first of my programme of separate meetings with the chairman and chief executive of every English water authority. I have not yet fixed the date of our next meeting.

Mr. Mitchell

Is the Minister aware that every Member of Parliament in the South of England has received many letters from constituents complaining about the large increases imposed this year by the Southern Water Authority? Will he consider introducing legislation to repeal the Water Act 1973 and return control of water and sewerage to the local authorities where, at least, there will be some degree of accountability? Further, will he examine the whole question of assessment of charges for water?

Mr. King

I shudder to think what might be the impact on water bills if the responsibility for water and sewerage fell into the hands of some of the present Labour councillors. While the increase in charges by the Southern Water Authority is pretty serious, it is as nothing compared with some of the rate increases under Labour-controlled authorities. We are tackling this real issue as positively as one can. We have set tight cash limits on capital expenditure, and we have set up clear performance indicators. We are now attaching performance aims to every water authority for the next year. I shall be taking the closest personal interest in the performance of each local authority.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

While my right hon. Friend is having these discussions with the water authorities, will he give a thought to delaying the implementation of section 30 of the Water Act, due to come into effect on 1 April next year, in view of the likely increase in charges that the implementation of that section will have?

Mr. King

It is a matter for argument as to how significant that would be. I hope that any changes can be phased over a significant period. As it is the intention to end discrimination between classes of consumers, I do not think it would be right to cancel that proposal.