HC Deb 04 December 1996 vol 286 cc1029-30
7. Mr. Dover

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment he has made of the impact of privatisation on the performance of the utilities. [5786]

The Minister for Industry (Mr. Greg Knight)

Privatisation, with independent regulation, has brought substantial benefits to the consumer in the form of lower prices, higher standards of service and wider choice, and it has led to a welcome improvement in efficiency.

Mr. Dover

Will the Minister confirm that, in addition to all those benefits, there has been an enormous increase in capital investment—indeed, in the water industry, £600 or more per household throughout the country? That has meant that North West Water in my area has been much more able to solve any water contamination problems and to improve water quality across the board. That has been nothing but good for local residents.

Mr. Knight

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Since 1990, the water companies have invested about £15 billion and they intend to invest about £24 billion in future years to improve water quality. All that will be done at no cost to the taxpayer.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Minister aware of growing unease among many people that the maintenance and safety of power lines are deteriorating? Not only was that manifested in the problems during the recent cold weather, but the Department of Trade and Industry must be aware that a farmer in my constituency had several of his livestock electrocuted and his wife injured by electricity leaking from such power lines. Will the Minister examine the standard of regulation to ensure that no corners are cut in maintaining the standard of power lines, thereby maintaining the safety of those who might otherwise be seriously injured?

Mr. Knight

Currently, the electricity companies invest about £1 billion a year, so there is record investment. However, the hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. I am not aware of the circumstances of the case in his constituency; if he would care to send me details, I will certainly consider the matter.

Mr. Gallie

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the safety record of the privatised electricity suppliers? Have not accidents in those industries plummeted since privatisation?

Mr. Knight

My hon. Friend is right: higher investment levels have generally led to better safety.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister recognise that companies such as North West Water, which have a monopoly to connect sewers and water supplies for builders building new properties, are ripping off those builders and charging about 10 times a realistic price? Is it not time that that rip-off was stopped, so that people building houses can get a fair deal?

Mr. Knight

If the hon. Gentleman really wanted a detailed reply to that question, he would have provided specific details. I invite him to do so, and I shall look into it.

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