§ Mr. Gow
I understand my hon. Friend's point, but it is Government policy that a proper rate of return should be earned by assets in the public sector. As to the effect of inflation, a 1 per cent. increase in water charges would add one hundredth of 1 per cent. to the retail prices index. Mercifully, charges for water are a modest part of 936 household budgets. Moreover, water charges are taken fully into account when calculating supplementary benefit, and 3 million households receive help in that way.
§ Mr. Harris
Will my hon. Friend think again, even at this late stage, as many of us do not see the logic of the Government's policy? What is more, many people outside will be angry when they receive their water rate bills in a couple of weeks' time.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Will the Minister come clean either now or tomorrow and admit that the Government are imposing a tax on users of water, whether private or industrial? There is a tax on gas and electricity for the benefit of the Government's coffers, and water authorities are now being used in exactly the same way.
§ Mr. Gow
I do not agree that the Government are imposing a tax on water. We are requiring a higher rate of return on assets owned by water authorities. A consequence of that higher rate of return will be higher investment and a reduction in borrowing. The latter is a central purpose of the Government's economic policy.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We must move on, but in the debate tomorrow I shall bear in mind those hon. Members who wished to get in on this important question.
§ Mr. Winnick
I cannot pretend that it does. If you cannot accept it now, Mr. Speaker, may I give notice that I intend to raise a point of order with you at the first opportunity?