HC Deb 02 February 1988 vol 126 cc937-43
Ms. Walley

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 13, line 30, leave out 'so much' and insert 'no part'.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 9, in page 13, line 31, leave out `as is attributable to compliance with a request' and insert 'if a reasonable request is'.

Ms. Walley

I want to be brief. If the amendment was accepted it would amount to a reasonable amendment to the Bill as any "reasonable request" by a water consumer would mean that where it was necessary to adjust or change the siting of a water meter in someone's home the water undertaker or water company would meet the cost rather than the individual consumer.

It is important to put the amendments into the context of the legislation as a whole. Consumers have every right to be concerned about the legislation's financial effects, not only on those who are facing increased charges as a result of the installation of water meters in the compulsory metering areaa, but on those throughout the country who will have to meet the extra costs incurred as a result of paying off outstanding debts to water authorities to pave the way for privatisation. On top of that, consumers are likely to face a position whereby water authorities will state that a water meter must be sited in a particular position in a home. The consumer will have to meet the cost should it be necessary to change the position of that water meter.

It would be easy to extend the references made earlier about consumer protection to some kind of charter for consumers which would include the right for any consumer to make a reasonable demand or suggestion to the water authority about where a meter should be sited. It seems to us entirely wrong and unfair that consumers should be forced to have a meter in their own homes, in a totally unsuitable place, or to meet the cost of putting such meters elsewhere. It is on the basis of extending consumer rights in the water industry that we have tabled these reasonable amendments.

Mr. Moynihan

The amendments would place on most undertakers an unacceptable burden of needless expenditure. Undertakers would not be able to recover the extra costs associated with resiting a meter in a position other than that reasonably proposed by the undertaker.

The question of reasonable location for meters would be governed by regulations on siting to be made under clause 5. The hon. Lady is aware of the three options for siting: close to the curtilage of the property, either outside or inside the boundary; as near as possible to the outer wall of the building, and as close as possible to the entry point of the supply pipe into the building; or inside the building, as close as possible to both the internal stop tap and the entry point of the supply pipe into the building or dwelling. Undertakers should respond to reasonable requests to resite meters, and it will be open to them, in some exceptional circumstances, not to make a charge for that.

If that were as far as we went, I would feel that the hon. Lady had a case. However, the most important and critical part of the argument that I am developing is that, in cases of dispute, there is scope for arbitration under schedule 1, paragraph 9. The hon. Lady mentioned the possibility of a totally unsuitable place. I would argue that the possibility of a meter being placed in a totally unsuitable place might well be covered in arbitration. However, it is unacceptable for undertakers always to be required to bear the full cost of resiting meters, especially when the original positioning of the meter complies with regulations to be made under the Bill. Undertakers could be forced into lengthy arbitration about what constitutes a reasonable request, for which all their customers would pay through future Bills.

I hope that my explanation of the importance that we attach to the need for arbitration will find agreement coming from Opposition Members as well as my hon. Friends, and I invite the House to reject the amendment.

Mr. Boyes

The Minister has talked about scope for arbitration. However, it is interesting that, in replying to the important points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley), he never once mentioned the word "consumer". His reply was all about the annoyance, inconvenience and concern of the water undertakers. It never entered his head that we had handed him on a golden platter the opportunity to disprove much of what we have been arguing this evening, and for many hours in Committee: that Opposition Members are concerned first and foremost with the consumers' needs, concerns and worries. Once again, the Minister stands up and says, "Well, it might inconvenience the water undertaker if someone wanted a meter moved." Of course it might, but that is the kind of business that we are in. Water undertakers may find themselves inconvenienced from time to time.

We are on the side of the consumer. We shall continue to fight for the consumers' rights and to lobby for the consumer. We accept that the final vote this evening will go the Government's way. However, many people will be concerned with water meter trials, and, after that, with universal metering. Right up to the end of the Bill, we shall continue, with strengthened arguments, to protect the rights of the consumer.

Amendment negatived.

Order for Third Reading read.

9.54 pm
Mr. Moynihan

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is a short Bill, but one which is important both to the Government's privatisation programme, and the future arrangements for charging for water supplies. We have had an exhaustive examination of it in Committee, and I believe that we represent the Bill to the House with some significant improvements.

I confess myself deeply impressed by the knowledge of hon. Members on the various subjects, but perhaps chiefly by the expertise of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) whose past service in the water industry was frequently in evidence to assist the elucidation of many otherwise obscure points.

In Committee, we amended the metering and charges provisions. In particular, we introduced a new provision to enable water undertakers to require the installation of meters in new or converted houses, or to stipulate that plumbing he suitable for later installation of meters.

Provided that the House gives the Bill a Third Reading tonight, as I am confident it will, it will go from here to another place significantly strengthened and improved not least, indeed foremost, in the interests of the consumer. Those of us most concerned can now turn our attentions to the policy objectives that the Bill enables us to implement. We look forward with confidence to the successful introduction of privatisation legislation, both for water and electricity, and to the programme of metering trials and the lessons that we in Government, and the water industry, will learn from that.

I commend the Bill to the House.

9.55 pm
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Much has been made of the importance of the metering trials and much of what the Minister has said will reassure people. Many may be ignorant of the fact that we have had metering of water since the end of the 19th century.

The most important feature of the Bill is that it prepares the way for privatisation. The privatisation policies of the Government have been one of our major successes. More than a third of those previously working in the public sector are now working in the private sector. People are more responsible for their own lives, managing their own companies and keeping Whitehall further away from their concerns.

Many will be reassured by the proposals for a National Rivers Authority providing for integrated river management and pollution control. Recently, there has been worry about the quality of our rivers: our constituents will bear testimony that this is a subject of growing concern.

This may be one of the last opportunities to discuss the substantive issues involved in privatisation before the Government finalise their proposals. Before moving forward, at this stage I would like my hon. Friend to give full consideration to the model offered by the statutory water companies. Much is made of the fact that 25 per cent. of water is already supplied by the 28 statutory water companies. I have the privilege to be a director of one of those companies. My friend, Sir John Page, the former Member for Harrow, West, now chairman of the Water Companies Association, previously had a similar responsibility.

The Labour party has frequently spoken about the needs of the consumer. Statutory water companies, based on a philosophy of service, act as mutual companies together with the consumers. The dividends are limited by law and surplus funds must be applied to reducing future water rates. With the provision of water serious consideration must be given to long-term investment. Each generation provides the long-term infrastructure necessary to supply water for future generations. If we move towards plcs, primarily focusing on the returns to the shareholder, there may be serious implications for the water industry.

I ask my hon. Friend to follow the advice offered by my noble Friend Lord Nugent the other day who asked that the model of the statutory water company, a tried, tested and trusted model, should be given every consideration before the Government moved further with legislation for water privatisation. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly support this Bill.

9.58 pm
Mr. O'Brien

We have discussed at great length tonight certain issues that will be affected by the Bill. However, there is one issue to which we have not referred, but which I consider to be the most important. When the trial schemes were suggested or introduced by water undertakings no opportunity was given to the people involved in those trial areas to decide whether they wanted to be included. We consider that to be totally undemocratic.

The people who are taking part in the trial areas have been dragooned into the trials and on that premise we shall divide the House on Third Reading. We consider the Bill to be totally unfair, unreasonable and undemocratic. Against that background we suggest that the Government should withdraw the Bill or we shall vote against it.

10 pm

Mr. Moynihan

By leave of the House, I should like to express my thanks to those hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee and those other hon. Members who have contributed to our deliberations today.

I spoke earlier of the contribution of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), but I should like to place on record my appreciation of the efforts of all the Committee members in scrutinising and testing the Bill's provisions.

The Bill is concerned with two of Britain's most essential industries. The attention that it has received has been commensurate with the importance of the subject. The Bill has been thoroughly considered in Committee and our discussions today have allowed further examination of some of its most important aspects. It is now ready to go to another place, and I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 267, Noes 223.

Division No. 163] [10 pm
Adley, Robert Biffen, Rt Hon John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Biggs-Davison, Sir John
Allason, Rupert Blackburn, Dr John G.
Amess, David Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arbuthnot, James Body, Sir Richard
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Ashby, David Boscawen, Hon Robert
Aspinwall, Jack Boswell, Tim
Atkins, Robert Bottomley, Peter
Atkinson, David Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Baldry, Tony Bowis, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Brazier, Julian
Bellingham, Henry Bright, Graham
Bendall, Vivian Brittan, Rt Hon Leon
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Benyon, W. Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Bevan, David Gilroy Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Buck, Sir Antony Hayes, Jerry
Budgen, Nicholas Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Burns, Simon Hayward, Robert
Burt, Alistair Heathcoat-Amory, David
Butcher, John Heddle, John
Butler, Chris Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Butterfill, John Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hill, James
Carrington, Matthew Hind, Kenneth
Carttiss, Michael Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Cash, William Holt, Richard
Chapman, Sydney Hordern, Sir Peter
Chope, Christopher Howard, Michael
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Colvin, Michael Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Conway, Derek Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Cope, John Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Cormack, Patrick Hunter, Andrew
Couchman, James Irvine, Michael
Cran, James Irving, Charles
Currie, Mrs Edwina Jack, Michael
Curry, David Jackson, Robert
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Janman, Timothy
Davis, David (Boothferry) Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Day, Stephen Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Devlin, Tim Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Dickens, Geoffrey Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dicks, Terry Key, Robert
Dorrell, Stephen King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knapman, Roger
Dover, Den Knowles, Michael
Dunn, Bob Lang, Ian
Dykes, Hugh Lawrence, Ivan
Eggar, Tim Lee, John (Pendle)
Emery, Sir Peter Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Evennett, David Lilley, Peter
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fallon, Michael Maclean, David
Farr, Sir John McLoughlin, Patrick
Favell, Tony McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Miscampbell, Norman
Fookes, Miss Janet Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Forman, Nigel Moate, Roger
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Monro, Sir Hector
Fox, Sir Marcus Moss, Malcolm
Franks, Cecil Moynihan, Hon C.
Freeman, Roger Neale, Gerrard
French, Douglas Needham, Richard
Gale, Roger Neubert, Michael
Garel-Jones, Tristan Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Gill, Christopher Nicholls, Patrick
Glyn, Dr Alan Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)
Goodlad, Alastair Page, Richard
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Paice, James
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Patnick, Irvine
Gow, Ian Patten, Chris (Bath)
Gower, Sir Raymond Pawsey, James
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Greenway, John (Rydale) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Porter, David (Waveney)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Powell, William (Corby)
Grist, Ian Price, Sir David
Ground, Patrick Raffan, Keith
Grylls, Michael Rathbone, Tim
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Redwood, John
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Rhodes James, Robert
Hampson, Dr Keith Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hanley, Jeremy Riddick, Graham
Hannam, John Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Harris, David Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Haselhurst, Alan Roe, Mrs Marion
Hawkins, Christopher Rossi, Sir Hugh
Rost, Peter Thornton, Malcolm
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Thurnham, Peter
Ryder, Richard Townend, John (Bridlington)
Sackville, Hon Tom Tracey, Richard
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Tredinnick, David
Scott, Nicholas Trippier, David
Shaw, David (Dover) Twinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shelton, William (Streatham) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Waldegrave, Hon William
Shersby, Michael Walden, George
Skeet, Sir Trevor Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Waller, Gary
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Ward, John
Soames, Hon Nicholas Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Speed, Keith Warren, Kenneth
Speller, Tony Watts, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wells, Bowen
Squire, Robin Wheeler, John
Stanbrook, Ivor Whitney, Ray
Steen, Anthony Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Stern, Michael Wiggin, Jerry
Stevens, Lewis Wilkinson, John
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wilshire, David
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stokes, John Winterton, Nicholas
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Wolfson, Mark
Sumberg, David Wood, Timothy
Summerson, Hugo Woodcock, Mike
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Yeo, Tim
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret Tellers for theAyes:
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley) Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Mr. David Lightbown.
Thorne, Neil
Abbott, Ms Diane Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Coleman, Donald
Allen, Graham Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Anderson, Donald Corbett, Robin
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Corbyn, Jeremy
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Cousins, Jim
Ashdown, Paddy Cox, Tom
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Crowther, Stan
Ashton, Joe Cryer, Bob
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Cummings, J.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Barron, Kevin Cunningham, Dr John
Battle, John Dalyell, Tarm
Beckett, Margaret Darling, Alastair
Beith, A. J. Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bell, Stuart Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dewar, Donald
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Dixon, Don
Bermingham, Gerald Dobson, Frank
Bidwell, Sydney Doran, Frank
Blair, Tony Douglas, Dick
Blunkett, David Duffy, A. E. P.
Boateng, Paul Dunnachie, James
Boyes, Roland Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Bradley, Keith Eadie, Alexander
Bray, Dr Jeremy Eastham, Ken
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Fatchett, Derek
Buckley, George Faulds, Andrew
Caborn, Richard Fearn, Ronald
Callaghan, Jim Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Flannery, Martin
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Flynn, Paul
Canavan, Dennis Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Carl Me, Alex (Mont'g) Foster, Derek
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Foulkes, George
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Fraser, John
Clay, Bob Fyfe, Mrs Maria
Clelland, David Galbraith, Samuel
Galloway, George Moonie, Dr Lewis
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Morgan, Rhodri
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Morley, Elliott
George, Bruce Morris, Rt Hon J (Aberavon)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Mowlam, Marjorie
Godman, Dr Norman A. Mullin, Chris
Golding, Mrs Llin Murphy, Paul
Gordon, Ms Mildred Nellist, Dave
Graham, Thomas Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) O'Brien, William
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) O'Neill, Martin
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Grocott, Bruce Parry, Robert
Hardy, Peter Patchett, Terry
Harman, Ms Harriet Pendry, Tom
Heffer, Eric S. Pike, Peter
Henderson, Douglas Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hinchliffe, David Prescott, John
Holland, Stuart Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Home Robertson, John Quin, Ms Joyce
Hood, James Radice, Giles
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Randall, Stuart
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Redmond, Martin
Howells, Geraint Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Hoyle, Doug Richardson, Ms Jo
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Robinson, Geoffrey
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Rogers, Allan
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Rooker, Jeff
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Illsley, Eric Rowlands, Ted
Ingram, Adam Ruddock, Ms Joan
Janner, Greville Salmond, Alex
John, Brynmor Sedgemore, Brian
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Sheerman, Barry
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Kilfedder, James Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Kirkwood, Archy Short, Clare
Lambie, David Skinner, Dennis
Lamond, James Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Leighton, Ron Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles) Snape, Peter
Lewis, Terry Soley, Clive
Litherland, Robert Spearing, Nigel
Livingstone, Ken Steel, Rt Hon David
Livsey, Richard Steinberg, Gerald
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Stott, Roger
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Strang, Gavin
McAllion, John Straw, Jack
McAvoy, Tom Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
McCartney, Ian Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Macdonald, Calum Thomas, Dafydd Elis
McFall, John Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Turner, Dennis
McKelvey, William Wall, Pat
McLeish, Henry Wallace, James
McNamara, Kevin Walley, Ms Joan
McTaggart, Bob Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
McWilliam, John Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Madden, Max Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Wigley, Dafydd
Marek, Dr John Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Wilson, Brian
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Winnick, David
Martlew, Eric Wise, Mrs Audrey
Maxton, John Worthington, Anthony
Meacher, Michael Wray, James
Meale, Alan Young, David (Bolton SE)
Michael, Alun
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Tellers for the Noes:
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Mr. Frank Haynes and
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Mr. Frank Cook.
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.