HC Deb 05 May 1993 vol 224 cc172-3
3. Mr. Wray

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many letters he has received about water privatisation in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir Hector Monro)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received 4,834 individual responses to the consultation on water and sewerage services, and 1,237 other letters about the future of the services since 17 November last year.

Mr. Wray

Does the Minister agree that chaos and misery have been created south of the border with 8,000 disconnections in 1989–90, 21,000 in 1990–92 and another 8,000 in 1991–92 in the Thames water authority? Those are shocking figures. Seven water authorities have doubled their disconnections, while salaries for managers and directors have increased. Will the Government never learn that the people of Scotland do not want privatisation or franchising? They want to keep their water in public hands.

Sir Hector Monro

The hon. Gentleman, like so many of his hon. Friends, jumps to conclusions. We have put forward eight suggestions and we are quite prepared to consider other methods of sorting out water in Scotland after the unitary authorities have been introduced. At present, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there is no disconnection in Scotland. We shall have to wait and see what legislation is required. But, in the meantime, I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises that local authorities in Scotland are finding plenty of ways of collecting water charges without the need for disconnection.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my hon. Friend confirm that among the representations that he has received, there have been representations from me, which have clearly suggested that the Government of Scotland must address the fact that we no longer have a means of measuring our entitlement from the public purse, because there is no allocation to England and our share of zero is exactly that—zero? Consequently, we must examine ways in which private money can reach the Scottish water industry in order, first, to take it out of the public sector borrowing requirement and, secondly, so that we do not use money that would otherwise be spent on hospitals and other important matters in our constituencies.

Sir Hector Monro

Yes, my hon. Friend makes a number of important points and his representations on the consultation document are being carefully analysed. What he has said is correct. A great deal of money has to be spent in future and the ways and means of providing it is part of the reason that we are dealing with the responses to the consultation document.

Mr. Tom Clarke

As the Secretary of State is leaving the Under-Secretary of State to answer all the difficult questions, will the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) tell us why the cost of privatisation has gone up so rapidly since the £50,000 estimate was given to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) last year? Why, having spent £100,000 on consultants, are the Government planning to spend £400,000, and where is the money going? If the latest estimate of £2.5 billion to meet EC conditions is accepted by the Government, why do not they meet the local authorities, which are perfectly capable of responding to that figure? Above all, since my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) asked the right hon. Gentleman to answer the question, will the Under-Secretary ask the Secretary of State to do what the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland did, and drop the whole crazy idea of water privatisation?

Sir Hector Monro

I certainly have not forgotten the hon. Gentleman's involvement in the matter, because for some months I have had a postcard on my desk showing the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) in a rather droochit boat, trying to catch something better than a cold. His hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central has been misleading Scotland about the cost of water in the past 24 hours. His radio discussion this morning was disgraceful, as he said that water costs had been reduced to £2.5 billion and he is totally wrong. He misread his question, which dealt solely with the European Community directive, and my answer, and he forgot the £2.5 billion required for infrastructure in Scotland, so he was wrong in both cases and he shot himself badly in both feet. The money for Quayle Munro, including the intial tranche and going through the consultation responses, was budgeted for and the rest of the money is certainly there to pay the salaries of the civil servants who are dealing with water, whichever route we decide to take.

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