HC Deb 02 July 1980 vol 987 cc1497-8
1. Mr. Renton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what response he has received from the water authorities in answer to his appeal for restraint in their budgets.

The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services (Mr. Tom King)

I have discussed with chairmen and chief executives of water authorities a number of ways in which economies might be made and performance improved. I have already received confirmation from certain authorities of the action they will be taking, and I am now considering the most effective ways in which these matters might be further pursued.

Mr. Renton

Is not the insensitivity of the water authorities such that my right hon. Friend should consider putting them into liquidation? Have not some of them shown great irresponsibility in their increases in charges, which the domestic consumer cannot avoid by saving water? Is it not a fact that the Southern water authority, which has a budget of many millions, does not even have a finance committee?

Mr. King

My concern is to make the present system work effectively. I do not think that my hon. Friend's initial suggestion would accelerate that process. I am considering a number of aspects of the structure of water authorities. On my hon. Friend's last point, I am concerned that there is no finance committee in the Southern water authority. That point has been made to me forcefully by a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends and by other hon. Members who came to see me. I shall take up the matter with the chairman of that authority.

Sir. Frederick Burden

Has my right hon. Friend received any proposals from the Southern water authority to improve its efficiency, cut its costs and ensure that the increased charges do not continue next year?

Mr. King

I took up with the chairman of the authority the question of its levels of manpower. I am pleased to say that I have received undertakings from him that there will be reductions in manpower levels, which is an important element, although not the largest element in its costs.

Mr. Oakes

May I come to the defence of water authorities which, after all, are the creatures of a former Conservative Government and which were bitterly opposed by the Opposition? What do the Government intend to do for the North-West water authority, which faces the imminent collapse of its sewerage system over most of its area? Will the Government give any assistance to that authority rather than allow the burden to be placed entirely on water users in the North-West?

Mr. King

The responsibility of Ministers is not merely to pass legislation, but to observe clearly how that legislation is operated. I make no apologies for the fact that I appear to be the first Minister who has taken the trouble to see individually the chairmen and chief executives of every water authority to discuss the system's operation. As the House learnt on an earlier occasion, I am well aware of the state of the sewers in the North-West. It is a major problem, not confined entirely to the North-West, but the North-West water authority is considering it at the present time. I shall certainly consider its proposals with sympathy.