§ 8. Mr. Holt
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what information he has as to the amounts paid by major commercial and industrial firms in water rates since the introduction of water metering, and of the comparable amount paid under the former historical method of raising payment on rateable values in (a) the Thames water authority area and (b) the Northumbrian water authority area.
§ Mr. Gow
Details of individual bills paid by consumers for their water services are not held by the Department. Water undertakers offer to all classes of consumer the option of a metered supply, in order to comply with section 30 of the Water Act 1973.
§ Mr. Holt
Does my hon. Friend accept that there are many domestic water ratepayers who are appalled to learn that institutions and banks can save astronomical sums of money by going over to metering and that they then have to bear the cost of that? What will the Government do to reduce the amount of money having to be paid by water ratepayers, particularly in the light of the advertisement appearing in the CBI News, encouraging all firms to go over to metering, when that money will have to be made up by the domestic ratepayer, who is currently unable to have any form of rebate?
§ Mr. Gow
My hon. Friend is a distinguished former member of the Thames water authority but I must remind him that, whereas rates are a tax, water rates are a charge made for a service provided. The Government believe that it is right that the charge should reflect the use that is made by the consumer and that, in many cases, particularly with industrial and commercial premises, it is much fairer to charge on a metered basis rather than on the basis of rateable value.
§ Mrs. Currie
As a financial supporter of the Thames water authority, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he has any real plans for putting a stop to the staggering rise in water rates—for example, a little rate-capping? Would he take note of the fact that many ordinary ratepayers and water ratepayers will not for long tolerate the monopoly prices charged by this monopoly supplier?
§ Mr. Gow
I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend. Our estimates are that the average increase in main charges for 953 water for the coming financial year is 5.1 per cent. and for households 6.4 per cent. In the Thames water authority area, the average annual bill for a property with a rateable value of £150 will go up by £3.75 for the whole year and, for a property with a rateable value of £400, by £6.68 for the whole year.
§ Mr. Nellist
Given the almost unprecedented criticism coming from the Conservative Benches, does the Minister think that it might be a good idea to institute direct elections to the water boards so that water ratepayers can decide on the future of those whom he has appointed to the boards?