HC Deb 14 December 1988 vol 143 cc898-9
7. Mr. Corbyn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he last met the chairman of the Thames water authority; and what matters were discussed.

The Minister for Water and Planning (Mr. Michael Howard)

I met the chairman of Thames and other water authority chairmen on Monday 5 December. We discussed the excellent progress that the water authorities are making towards privatisation.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Minister arrange to meet the chairman of the Thames water authority again to discuss with him the authority's considerable land holdings? Will he ask the chairman to investigate why a number of completions of land sales that were imminent were withdrawn by the authority and the land subsequently sold to Wimpey and other developers? Will he also consider whether it is right for a public undertaking such as Thames water authority to be involved in exclusive private discussions with individual developers to whom it then decides to sell a particular piece of land? Does not the Minister think that we need a public statement on all the land holdings of the Thames water authority, their valuation and the method of their disposal?

Mr. Howard

In common with all other public bodies, the water authorities are required to obtain the best market price for any land holdings of which they dispose. If the hon. Gentleman has any information to suggest that the best market price has not been obtained, I should be grateful if he would draw it to my attention. All assets, including land holdings, will be fully valued in the prospectuses of the companies when they are offered for sale.

Mr. Hayes

When my hon. and learned Friend met the chairman of Thames water authority, did he congratulate him on improving customer services and reducing debt and operating costs?

Mr. Howard

Not, I confess, on 5 December, but I have done so on previous occasions.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Will the Minister acknowledge, as his advisers Professor Littlechild and Mr. Kinnersley have acknowledged, that it will be developers who will be most interested in buying into the privatised water industry and that, because they will control the water and sewerage infrastructure, the planning process is bound to be weakened?

Mr. Howard

I do not accept that for one moment. The planning process will continue to apply in its full rigour to land disposed of by the authorities.

Sir Anthony Grant

Rather than waste too much time discussing all this rubbish with the Thames water authority, will my hon. and learned Friend find a little time to discuss with the Anglian water authority, where he will find the greatest possible enthusiasm—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sure that it is true of lots of authorities, but the question is about Thames water authority.

Mr. Howard

I shall certainly do that, and I am sure that my hon. Friend's assessment is absolutely accurate.