HC Deb 17 February 1982 vol 18 cc278-9
14. Mr. Heddle

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has any plans to increase the level of consumer representation on regional water authorities.

Mr. Giles Shaw

My right hon. Friend will be considering the arrangements for representing consumers in the light of responses to our consultation paper on the membership of regional water authorities in England and the consultative document on"Consumers' Interests and the Nationalised Industries", issued last December by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Mr. Heddle

Will my hon. Friend accept the congratulations of all water consumers on the initiative that his Department has taken in issuing this consultative document? Does he agree that, to the majority of water users, regional water authorities are monolithic and bureaucratic, insensitive to their needs and deaf to their protests? Therefore, in order to increase democratic accountability in the regional water authorities, might it not be a good idea to increase council representation and perhaps establish a water users' consultative council?

Mr. Skinner

Another quango.

Mr. Shaw

The consultative paper makes it clear that there are a number of possibilities, including increased local authority representation, but we do not consider that directly elected bodies would be appropriate. How nationalised industry consumer representation transpires is a matter for the other consultative document to which I referred.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Is my hon. Friend aware that many water authorities have a bad image because of the remote democratic control that many people feel exists? Does he not feel that if there were more accountability we might get a better and cheaper service?

Mr. Shaw

I share my hon. Friend's views. He will be aware that one of the results of the investigation by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission into the Severn-Trent water authority has been to improve significantly the way in which that authority is organised. I look forward to other possibilities in that direction.