HC Deb 16 July 1990 vol 176 cc664-6
3. Mr. Michael

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met the chairman of Welsh Water plc to discuss water quality.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)

I met Mr. John Elfed Jones, in his capacity as chairman of the Welsh Language Board on 9 July. I look forward to meeting him and his colleagues in Welsh Water plc on 6 September.

Mr. Michael

When that meeting takes place, will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to discuss his welcome and long-overdue assurance that we shall have statutory water quality objectives for all rivers and estuaries in Wales? Will he go further and discuss with the chairman of Welsh Water how that will be paid for? Will he give an assurance that the contribution invested by the Government will continue at the same level as in the period just before privatisation?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman encourage the chairman of Welsh Water and the company to give up the idea of a flat-rate charge, or water poll tax as it is known, and to retain the present system at least until after the next general election, when the long-term future of the water industry will be determined?

Mr. Hunt

I understand that Welsh Water made clear exactly what its preferred method of charging was early in 1989. It was clearly laid down then and was set out in the prospectus. The hon. Member will know that Dwr Cymru has laid down an investment programme of £1.75 billion over the next 10 years. That is a record level of investment, and it will be maintained. The hon. Gentleman should remember that the last time his party was in office there was a 50 per cent. cut in investment.

Mr. Livsey

When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the chairman of Welsh Water plc, will he point out that the company is perhaps even more leaky than the Cabinet discussing German matters? One third of the water supply goes down the drain which is a cause of concern for water quality, and which badly affects Welsh Water's profits. Will he ensure that consumers will not have to pay for essential repairs but that money will come from the company's profits?

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman raises an important subject which I know exercises the mind of the chairman of Dwr Cymru and his colleagues. The amount of leakage is serious and too high. I know that it will be one of the subjects that I shall discuss with Welsh Water when I meet the chairman on 6 September. It is certainly a problem which needs to be solved.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best guarantees of improvement in water quality are the National Rivers Authority and increased investment, neither of which would have taken place without the privatisation of the industry?

Mr. Hunt

I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned that. I wish sometimes that we could have a more even-handed approach from the Opposition, and that they would pay tribute to the important reforms that we have introduced.

Mr. Gareth Wardell

When will all untreated sewage be prohibited from entering Welsh coastal bathing waters?

Mr. Hunt

As soon as possible, all significant discharges of sewage to coastal and estuarial waters will be treated.

Mr. Wigley

Is not the Secretary of State aware of the tremendous variations in the quality of drinking water in Wales? In such circumstances, it is ridiculous for a uniform charge to be made on the pretext of the same price for the same service, when it is clearly not the same service. There will be a massive revolt against even pricing. Is not it time to nip this in the bud and stop it growing into an enormous problem?

Mr. Hunt

Welsh Water made clear its preference early in 1989. We are talking about a range of services to be supplied and the method of charging. The hon. Gentleman has overexaggerated the problems that it will cause because many people in Wales had been expecting such an announcement. It is for the director general, Mr. Byatt, to consider charging from the point of view of the consumer.