HC Deb 21 January 1993 vol 217 cc489-90
9. Mr. Clifford Forsythe

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what capital investment was spent on water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland during each year since 1988–89.

Mr. Atkins

The capital investment for new construction and improvement on water services during the years in question was £13.9 million, £16.2 million, £20.6 million and £21 million respectively. The corresponding figures for sewerage services were £12.6 million, £12.4 million, £12.4 million and £16.2 million.

Mr. Forsythe

I thank the Minister for his information, but, in view of the well-known and total outrage at the idea of privatisting water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland, may I assure him that while, during all the talks, cross-community support could not be found for many things, in this case there will be total cross-community opposition to any proposals to privatise water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Atkins

I am not unaware of the hon. Gentleman's view on this matter, or indeed of the views of other hon. Members from Northern Ireland. As he knows, the Government commitment is that we will privatise as soon as practicable—by 1995 or 1996—but, of course, no firm decisions have been taken on the detail and I am open to consider any views that hon. Gentlemen may wish to put about the methods by which we privatise the water service.

Mr. McNamara

Nevertheless, can the Minister confirm that the proposed sale will be a trade sale—that is, that the people of Northern Ireland will not have the opportunity to buy individual shares if they should so wish? Will he, after he has given figures to the House of the amount of public investment that has already gone into the water and sewage industry, indicate to the House that, in terms of moneys being charged, this valuable Northern Ireland asset will not be sold for less than £500 million?

Mr. Atkins

I cannot confirm what the hon. Gentleman implies, that any decision at all has been made on the method of sale. We are still awaiting the feasibility study and when we get the results of that we shall be in a better position to judge. We have already said that we will consult. So far as capital investment is concerned, we have a rolling programme of investment, as required not only by the European Economic Community but by the need to modernise and bring up to date. We are committed to spending, over the next three years, £49 million, £79 million and £83 million in total on these most important services.