HC Deb 27 April 1994 vol 242 cc239-41
14. Mr. McKelvey

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has had with Scottish local water authorities over the future of Scottish Water.

Mr. Lang

Many local authorities responded during the Government's extensive public consultation last year. It is regrettable that they have been prevented from having constructive discussion with the Scottish Office by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities'campaign of non-co-operation.

Mr. McKelvey

Nevertheless, does not the Secretary of State begin to get more than an inkling that the people of Scotland simply do not trust the Government on their future plans for water? They're no' daft. They have observed what happened in England. The water boards that were set up were replaced by quangos and the water was then flogged off. The results were higher prices and thousands of people deprived of a water supply. We will not tolerate that in Scotland. If the Secretary of State wishes to allay the fears of people in Scotland, why does not he scrap the present plans for water or, if we must have boards, let them have a majority of elected councillors or other elected representatives.

Mr. Lang

The reform of the water and sewerage industry in Scotland is driven by the fact that, with the disappearance of many regional authorities, it is necessary to find new arrangements to ensure that water and sewerage are delivered as efficiently and cheaply as possible. That is the motive behind the establishment of three publicly owned water authorities. Privatisation is not part of that plan and does not enter into our considerations.

Mr. Gallie

Will my right hon. Friend accept my welcome for the three publicly owned water and sewerage authorities in Scotland? Does he anticipate, as I do, a better service for my constituents as a consequence, particularly when one thinks of the sewerage provisions? Beaches in my constituency have been branded among the dirtiest in Europe. Strathclyde plans to build, rather belatedly, a sewage plant up against new housing, behind a beach and beneath Greenan castle. Surely things can only get better.

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must put a question. I want Members to be brisk. I have said so many times.

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is right. It is precisely to take account of the need for new investment such as that identified by my hon. Friend that we propose the development of the three new publicly owned water authorities.

Mr. Foulkes

The Secretary of State has again ruled out the privatisation of water. Will he confirm that the new quangos would have power to franchise out all or some of their services to private companies? Will he rule that out as well?

Mr. Lang

I certainly will not rule out the attraction of private sector finance into the industry. That is one of the reasons why we went for the system that we did. To enable the public water authorities to raise money in the private sector for new capital investment while they continue to control and own the assets of the industry is precisely the way to relieve the pressure on the Scottish Office block and prevent the need to take money away from housing, roads, health, education and all the other matters that the hon. Gentleman and his party regard as so important.

Mr. Galbraith

Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that the members of the new water and sewerage boards will all be elected? What does the Secretary of State have against democracy? Is it just that every time he tries it, he loses?

Mr. Lang

I am a strong supporter of democracy, as my record bears testimony to and as the local government results on 5 May will demonstrate. Membership of the water authorities and other matters are still to be decided, but there will certainly be local authority representation on them, alongside the necessary skills that we shall need from the business community to ensure the efficient operation of those authorities for the benefit of consumers.

Forward to