HC Deb 17 January 1996 vol 269 cc735-6
14. Mr. Hanson

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will take steps to ensure that all bids by water companies for other privatised utilities are referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. [7901]

Mr. John M. Taylor

No. Each merger case will continue to be considered on its own merits and against the background of the market position at the time.

Mr. Hanson

Does the Minister think that it is in the interests of consumers in places such as south Wales and north-west England for one monopoly to buy another to create an even bigger monopoly? Is that not both anti-competitive and anti-consumer? Will he take time today to rethink his decision so that the basic interests of people in those regions are at least reviewed by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission?

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw my attention to consumers' interests. I will tell the House the story of the privatised utilities. Water investment has doubled. Our water is among the cleanest in Europe. Electricity prices are down 7 per cent., gas prices are down 23.5 per cent. and, since 1984, telecoms prices have been down 35 per cent. That is a success story all round, especially for the consumer.

Mr. Harry Greenway

What is the position in Thames Water's region? Is it not true that at no point were hose bans introduced during the hot weather, and that supplies were properly maintained to all parts of the Thames region throughout the recent water shortages? What is the quality of Thames Water?

Mr. Taylor

Better than ever is the answer to the final limb of my hon. Friend's question. He is right to offer an antidote to the scaremongering. I am glad that he brings a proper balance to these issues.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

Does the Minister agree with Ian Byatt, the water industry regulator, that there cannot be adequate regulation of a water industry that has been taken over by companies unless they are listed separately on the stock exchange and present separate accounts to stop them hiding gross profiteering from consumers and avoiding complying with Greenbury rules on executive perks and pay disclosure?

Mr. Taylor

I should not want to comment on any case that is uncompleted. It is for the Director General of Fair Trading to advise my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who will make decisions and announcements in due course, but I will carefully study the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred.