HL Deb 28 January 1986 vol 470 cc542-3

2.53 p.m.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any plans to link water charges to consumption rather than to the rateable value of a property.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the Government have welcomed the report of the Joint Study Group under the chairmanship of Mr. Watts, chairman of the Thames Water Authority, which recommends extensive trials of domestic water metering. We shall legislate at the earliest suitable opportunity and take other steps needed to make progress possible.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that helpful reply, will he agree that the question of efficiency in charging for water services depends on the meter? Also, can he say whether the development and design of water meters lead the Government to believe that a new efficiency may be promoted in this field?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, for all practical purposes the answer to my noble friend's second supplementary question is, yes. It is true, however, that there is an under-registration at very low flow rates but this is of no practical significance because of the small amounts of water involved. In the first part of my noble friend's supplementary question, I think he presupposes that we shall end up with compulsory metering, but this is by no means certain.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that most water authorities now give the option to domestic consumers to change from the rateable basis to a meter, but scarcely anyone has taken it up because it does not appear to be advantageous? Will my noble friend explain how he is going to make it attractive?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, my noble friend is, as is usual on this subject, absolutely right. I can confirm that since 1981, in the English water authorities' areas, only one in 1,000 customers has thought the option worthwhile. Nevertheless, it would appear at this moment, before we have any compulsory trials, to be a fair way of charging everybody for the amount of water used. The point that my noble friend makes will of course have to be included in such consultations as we conduct.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is the Minister aware that if metering becomes the norm, families with children will be the hardest hit and, if this is coupled with a poll tax, then it will be found that families with a number of children will be very hard hit indeed? Will the Government make sure that, if they do introduce compulsory metering for whatever reason, there will be some protection for families with children?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I have already made the point that compulsory metering, even if this statutory experiment is a success, is by no means certain. It is inevitable that it will depend on the cost-effectiveness in particular areas for particular households or groups of households and water authorities will have to decide on what arrangements are appropriate for their own consumers in their own particular areas or regions. Of course, the consumer consultative committees of water authorities will be very much involved in the discussions.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, has the noble Lord any information as to whether the take-up is influenced by the capital charges for putting in the meter, which some people think quite considerable, and whether any experimentation in lower capital charges would lead to much wider introduction of the metering service?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I rather think it is one of the situations like that of micro-computers: at the moment there is so little take-up. The figures I gave my noble friend Lord Nugent illustrate this. The charges are on average about £100 a meter. However, the more meters are introduced, obviously the lower the individual charge will become.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I am one of those who have gone over to water metering. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he does not agree that when the water authorities increase the charges to those who have gone over to metering they should give a full explanation for that. So far as I am concerned, I have received no explanation at all and I feel I may not have gained anything.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am very interested in the noble Lord's point. I find it difficult to imagine that the charges per se have been increased. Perhaps the old charge under the system based on the rateable value and the new charge based on the metered cost show some discrepency. However, if the noble Lord will give me details, I shall be perfectly happy to take up the matter.

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