§ 8. Mr. Atkinson
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a further statement on the introduction of water meters in private homes.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan)
It is for each water authority and company to decide whether to charge domestic customers by meter, taking into account all the circumstances. The metering trials which are to take place over the next three or four years are intended to help water undertakers take their decisions.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Does my hon. Friend accept that large numbers of elderly people will be especially grateful to him and to his Department for seeking to end the unfair system of water charges based on rateable values instead of on usage? How much will consumers in the trial areas be expected to pay towards the cost of metering, and does that represent the actual cost of installation?
§ Mr. Moynihan
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's first comment. Under the Public Utility Transfers and Water Charges Act 1988 the cost of installing meters compulsorily will be paid for by the water authorities or the companies concerned, which will recover those charges from the generality of customers. The customer cannot be charged directly for the compulsory installation of a meter. As my hon. Friend knows, the costs of the current trial programme is being shared between the Government and the water authorities.
§ Mr. Pike
Does the Minister accept that any move towards metering will involve large capital and ongoing revenue costs for the water authorities? Will that not mean that the water authorities will have to obtain increased income from consumers unless there is a massive saving of water because of the introduction of meters? Who, ultimately, will pay the costs involved with a metering system?
§ Mr. Moynihan
It is clear that the customers, ultimately, will have to pay those costs. We are considering whether to include a condition in the privatised utility companies' terms of appointment so that they can recover the cost of installing meters through their water charges to customers.
§ Mr. Barry Fields
Will my hon. Friend reconsider the trial meter areas and his Department's request that a certain number of meters be installed in homes? Does that not run contrary to the intention of the Home Office to reduce the number of people required to enter homes to read meters? The Isle of Wight is the largest meter trial area in the country, with more than 50,000 homes having meters installed and includes the homes of many elderly people. Will my hon. Friend reconsider that policy? Will he also commend the Southern water authority for its excellent consultation process on its trial area scheme?
§ Mr. Moynihan
It is right that proper care and attention is taken over the vetting of anyone entering a home to install a meter for any utility purpose. I am happy to congratulate the Southern water authority on its excellent work in the Isle of Wight. It has been wise enough to set up a free hot line so that anyone can telephone direct if he or she is in the least bit concerned about the validity of the individual coming through the door to install a meter during the trial period.
§ Mr. Boyes
Does the Minister recall that during the passage of what is now the Public Utility Transfers and Water Charges Act 1988, he gave an assurance that the views of those taking part in the meter trials would be fully taken into consideration during the consultative process? Will he prepare a report on the problems experienced during that consultative process? Is he aware that, in particular, the people of Normanton have been shabbily treated by the Yorkshire water authority and are highly dissatisfied? Will he visit Normanton so that he can appreciate the deep opposition to the introduction of universal water metering?
§ Mr. Moynihan
All schemes for approval have detailed proposals on the consultation process undertaken. They are considered in detail by my right hon. Friend before he gives approval for any of the schemes. I am aware of the strength of feeling in south Normanton and I have given an assurance to the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) that, once we have received the formal proposal, I shall go with him to a public meeting in the area to hear the views of local residents on its terms.