HC Deb 17 December 1980 vol 996 cc278-9
8. Mr. Madel

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether, following his letter to the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South of 7 July, the Government are now planning to make any legislative, administrative or financial changes in the present system of charging for cesspool emptying; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Fox

I am now receiving replies from local authorities to a questionnaire about numbers of properties without mains drainage, arrangements for removing effluent, and cost. When all the replies have been received, we shall consider whether any changes as my hon. Friend mentions are required.

Mr. Madel

As well as looking at the cost to owners of unconnected properties of disposing of their drainage, will my hon. Friend also look at the cost that the water authority levies on the local authority for disposing of the collected drainage? Many people feel that the water authorities are charging too much.

Mr. Fox

This is a complex question. Some hon. Members have suggested that this duty should be performed by water authorities rather than by local authorities, in which case the situation would be even worse. But included in our survey will be the whole question of costs incurred between local authorities and water authorities.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Minister now agree, however, that the previous Conservative Government's Water Act 1973 is clearly seen as a particularly foolish piece of legislation, not least because of the harmful effect upon over 1 million rural residents dependent upon cesspools? Does he now regret the fact that the Conservative Opposition of a couple of years ago blocked the previous Labour Government's attempt to relieve this problem? When can we expect him to take action on behalf of those whom he purports to represent?

Mr. Fox

I think that, with hindsight, all Governments regret certain policies. Concerning the reorganisation of water, sensible people realised that something had to be done about the situation that existed then. In terms of cesspools and the hardship that has been created, we are looking very carefully at this matter. It was under a Labour Government that a decision was taken in the High Court—in Daymond versus South-West water authority—that brought all this to light. However, we shall make certain that we do the best we can for those about whom the hon. Member is concerned.