HL Deb 19 November 1996 vol 575 cc1195-6

3.18 p.m.

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many of the 28 water companies have produced firm proposals for new charging methods for their customers when they are no longer allowed to use rateable values on 1st April 2000.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the Government announced their intention on 4th April 1995 to amend the legislation in order to enable water companies to continue to use rateable values as a basis of charging for water after 31st March in the year 2000. This amendment will be made as soon as a suitable legislative opportunity arises. Water companies are not, therefore, required to produce firm proposals for new charging methods by that date.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. Will the matter of appeals and rebates be gone into at the same time?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I think that appeals and rebates are rather different from the question of whether these charging methods can continue after the year 2000.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the noble Earl say whether the Government will encourage water metering after the year 2000 and, if so, why?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the simple proposition is that 92 per cent. of domestic households pay water rates at the moment based on rateable value and 8 per cent. have meters. The Government favour selective metering. It should be voluntary and needs to be applied sensitively for large families and others with special needs who have a high use. But it is for the water companies to decide.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that as a result of being metered for the past five or six years, I pay around half the amount for my water than I did when it was rateable?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is interesting. I suggest my noble friend applies the same technique to his whisky bottle.

Earl Russell

My Lords, if the noble Earl has finished his whisky bottle, can he say whether in any proposals to extend water metering there will be consultation with the Department of Social Security over the possible burden for those on social security benefits?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, this is a matter for the water companies, and they do it at the moment. They decide whether or not they wish to go to metering. Usually what happens is that houses built after 1989 and any new houses are metered; it is only the old houses which are not metered. Of course, the water companies will take into account the position of people in a difficult financial position.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that most commodities are sold in accordance with the law of supply and demand? Would it not be reasonable therefore for water companies to charge rather more when there is a drought and less when there has been a lot of rain?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend makes a number of pertinent observations. However, the one he has just made would be enormously controversial. There has been enough difficulty over the past year in ensuring that everyone receives sufficient water. This year, when there really was a drought, everyone seems to have had plenty of water. But nobody is congratulating the water companies on what they have achieved this year; they are simply being lambasted for what everyone thought should happen last year.

Baroness David

My Lords, are the water companies satisfied that they know exactly what is going on in this area?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I have not asked each of the 10 water and sewerage companies and the 19 water companies whether or not they are satisfied. But I have no reason to believe that they are not.