§ 23. Mrs. Helen Jackson
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment he has made of the effects of the current year's price increase for water and sewerage. 
§ Mr. Atkins
The price increases will enable water companies to continue their investment programmes to fulfil their legal obligations to meet improved water quality and environmental standards.
§ Mrs. Jackson
Does the Minister recognise that this year's price increase will take more than 30 per cent. of this year's benefit increase and will therefore put people, particularly those who are on low incomes and benefit, in 212 even more hardship than they were before? Will he take the opportunity today to urge water companies around the country to give a payback to their customers for the price increases over inflation that they have imposed on them, as North West Water has done this year? Will he suggest that all other water companies in the country follow its example?
§ Mr. Atkins
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to congratulate my own regional water company, North West Water, on the results of its efficiencies and the effects of privatisation, which have done so much, and on offering a payback to my constituents and to many other payers. I would encourage every other water company to do the same as North West Water. The hon. Lady made a point about the more vulnerable members of society, and I join her in encouraging water companies to pay as much attention as possible to the needs of those people in terms of the schemes that they offer for the payment of water costs, and where necessary in providing cheap water meters.
§ Mr. Dobson
Does the Minister approve of the decision of Anglian Water to raise charges for people who are not receiving metered supplies but to hold down the price that is charged to people receiving metered supplies, or do the Government approve of that effort to blackmail people into taking water meters that they would not otherwise want?
§ Mr. Atkins
As many hon. Members will understand, the hon. Gentleman does not appreciate what is involved in the setting of water charges. He benefits, in the Thames region, from one of the best and cheapest supplies of water anywhere in the United Kingdom. Water companies throughout the United Kingdom invest a lot of money. They appreciate that the quality of water has to be improved as a result of directives from the European Union. All that costs money, which must come from the customer as well as the marketplace.