HC Deb 21 July 1986 vol 102 cc3-5
2. Mr. Wigley

asked the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met the chairman of the Welsh water authority to discuss the authority's budget.

9. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Wales when he intends to meet the chairman of the Welsh Water Authority to discuss with him the decision by the Government not to proceed with the plans to privatise the water industry in the next Session of Parliament.

The Parliamentary-Under Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Mark Robinson)

My right hon. Friend and I meet the chairman of the Welsh water authority regularly to discuss a variety of issues. I last saw him on 15 July.

Mr. Wigley

As the Welsh water authority recently announced a record £12.3 million profit, is it not scandalous that water rates in Wales should be increased next year by 9 per cent., an average of £10 per household, at a time when the Government are increasing pensions by only 1 per cent.? Does that not put an unacceptable burden on the lowly paid in Wales?

Mr. Robinson

No final decisions have yet been taken on the charges that are likely to be levied by the Welsh water authority in the coming year. The £12.3 million profit has been used to finance an increase in the capital programme from £41 million in 1984–85 to £54 million in 1985–86.

Mr. Powell

We have no objection to the coupling of questions, but one expects the Minister to reply to the second question. My question relates to the discussions with the chairman of the Welsh water authority about the Government's decision. On 9 June, only six weeks ago, the Minister was arguing for the privatisation of the water industry. Now the Government have changed their mind. It is no good the Minister shaking his head. If he reads Hansard for 9 June he will see what he said about privatisation. As the Government have changed their mind, one would have expected a Welsh Office Minister to make a statement to the House so that Labour Members in particular Welsh Members, could advocate what they wanted with regard to the water authorities, not what the Minister wants. In future, if the Minister is minded to couple my question with another, will he ensure that he answers it properly?

Mr. Robinson

In my reply I said that I met the chairman of the Welsh water authority regularly to discuss a variety of issues. These include the current status of water privatisation. As the hon. Members knows, having been in the Chamber for the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Government have no plans to change their policy towards water privatisation. They have simply announced that we shall not be introducing legislation in the coming Session.

Mr. Raffan

I welcome the extra £30 million of capital expenditure by the Welsh water authority in 1984–85, but will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the chairman's foreword to his annual report, which says that it sets the authority on the road to even higher levels of capital spending over the next three years?

Mr. Robinson

My hon. Friend is right to point that out. The chairman is very keen that capital investment by the Welsh water authority in the water industry should continue to go on apace. The chairman's report sums up the position well.

Mr. Alex Carlile

When the Minister last met the chairman to talk about the water authority's budget, did he discuss providing extra money to enable the Welsh water authority to monitor the caesium levels in sheep within its area? If not, will he give an assurance that Welsh Members will be given all the information necessary to enable them to judge the caesium levels in sheep in Wales? Furthermore, will he ensure that that includes all the statistical data in the Welsh Office's possession?

Mr. Robinson

That was not on the agenda at my meeting with the chairman of the Welsh water authority, but I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that we are publishing all the relevant information that is available on that topic.

Mr. Mark Hughes

I rise with great deference to intervene in Welsh Question Time, but why do the latest figures for England include the caesium level for brown trout, rainbow trout—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going very wide of the question.

Mr. Hughes

I accept that, Mr. Speaker, but—

Mr. Speaker

The trouble is, I cannot accept it.

Mr. Hughes

Why did the Minister not discuss the absence of any figures from the Welsh Office on the caesium levels in fish? It got figures on cabbage, rhubarb and gooseberries. Why not on fish?

Mr. Robinson

We are publishing all the statistics available to us.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

It may be premature to question my hon. Friend about the greater flexibility of capital raising after privatisation, but in the meanwhile can he confirm that he will issue firm advice to the Welsh water authority on the importance of ensuring that future rate increases are not significantly higher than the prevailing rate of inflation?

Mr. Robinson

I know that the water authority will do everything in its power to keep down rate increases to the lowest level possible.

Mr. Gareth Wardell

The Minister will be aware that more than 30,000 houses in Wales are served by unadopted sewers. Will he say when the Government will introduce measures to correct that, in line with their consultation paper, "Water and Sewerage Law"?

Mr. Robinson

As the hon. Gentleman has said, we have issued a consultation paper and we are now studying the responses that we have received.

Mr. Barry Jones

Is it not true that a privatised authority would not be a viable enterprise? Would not a commercialised water industry be disastrous for the country? Do not the Government's plans excite the hostility of tens of thousands of anglers in the Principality? There is no mandate in Wales for the privatisation of the water industry, and the party that proposes privatisation will be electorally wiped out.

Mr. Robinson

It is very likely that we shall be seeking a mandate for the privatisation of the water authorities. We certainly believe that the authorities have a great future as a privatised industry, as they will then be able to raise much-needed funding on the capital markets. There is every possibility that the Welsh water authority will be able to expand any recreational activities after privatisation.