HC Deb 22 January 1992 vol 202 cc310-1
14. Mr. Madden

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress is being made to offer water consumers a choice in how to pay for their water consumption.

Mr. Baldry

The Director General of Water Services is encouraging companies to improve customers' awareness of their right to opt for a meter at their own expense and to deal with difficulties such as the high cost of installation and the unattractive tariffs set by many water companies. The director general's policy on charging for water was set out in "Paying for Water, the way ahead", a copy of which has been placed in the Library.

Mr. Madden

Is the Minister aware that many people, including families in Bradford, are terrified of their water bills as a result of having water meters fixed to their homes? Is he aware also that they are unable to pay their bills and are putting their health and hygiene at risk by unreasonably cutting their use of water? Will he instruct the water companies not to install water meters compulsorily? As a member of a party that proclaims its support for freedom of choice, will he arrange urgently for water consumers to have a real and genuine choice of how they pay for their water in future?

Mr. Baldry

Each company is responsible for deciding on its preferred system of charging, subject to the overriding requirement that it does not give undue preference to or unduly discriminate against any class or group of customers. Metering is one obvious way of charging for water services and is the general method in other countries. It is potentially the fairest charging method as customers have some influence on their own bills.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Does the Minister accept that the public would be more willing to pay by any means for their water supply if the Government would act speedily and effectively on the alarming report published this morning by the National Rivers Authority, which indicates clearly and precisely that agriculture is responsible for the biggest source of serious pollution incidents affecting public water supplies? Will he accept that the Department of the Environment has a special responsibility to protect the general public and the water supply against the huge and mighty pressures from agriculture which are always there?

Mr. Baldry

It is because we recognise those responsibilities, not only in relation to agriculture but generally, that privatisation has enabled the water companies to invest some £5,000 a minute, each and every minute between now and the end of the century, on enhancing water quality in this country.

Mr. Cryer

Does the Minister accept that his response on compulsory imposition of metering is unacceptable to ordinary people? In Bradford many people object to the imposition of metering by Yorkshire Water, an organisation which puts private profit before public service. If the Government are really concerned about genuine choice and the citizens charter and all the other public relations paraphernalia, why do they not give citizens a choice and make it their right to have either metering or a general charge?

Mr. Baldry

Water is a facility for which it is right and proper that there should be a payment. Metering is one obvious way of charging for water services because it is generally the method used in other countries and it is a fair method because consumers are then paying only for the water that they use.

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