HC Deb 13 July 1977 vol 935 cc161-2W
Dr. Edmund Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to publish the White Paper indicating the Government's policies on matters relating to water and sewage.

Mr. Denis Howell

The Government's decisions on the future of the water industry are set out in a White Paper published today. Copies of this are available in the Vote Office.

The main feature is the Government's decision to establish a National Water Authority (NWA) along the lines proposed in the consultative document issued last year. The NWA will provide a strong planning capability at the centre of the industry. One of its main tasks will be to prepare a national water strategy for all water services, and to ensure that the plans and investment programmes of the regional water authorities conform with national policy as expressed in the strategy.

The British Waterways Board will be transferred to the NWA as soon as that is set up. The White Paper, however, stresses the need for further work to establish the best permanent arrangements and method of financing for the waterways, and this work will be set in hand immediately.

The Government have decided that the Water Research Centre should be brought into the NWA, in order to provide the research capacity essential for the national planning authority. There will be appropriate safeguards to ensure scientific freedom and an effective rôle for outside interests.

The Government intend that the regional structure of the industry should be retained at present and reconsidered in the context of future local government patterns. There will, however, be some increase in local authority membership of regional water authorities in England to provide more effective local representation. There will also be some changes in responsibility for water services at local level in the light of the industry's experience since reorganisation.

The Government have reaffirmed their view that the private water companies should be brought into the public sector but conclude that this course is not practical at present and will be best dealt with in the context of the future of the regional water authorities. New arrangements are set out for sewerage charges for properties not connected to main drainage, which are intended to give some assistance to those householders who are at present facing very high charges.

The outcome of the review owes a great deal to the wide ranging and valuable response to the consultative document. I believe that these changes will benefit both water users and the industry itself. Legislative proposals will be brought before the House as soon as practicable. Meanwhile, administrative adjustments will be made wherever possible along the lines envisaged in the White Paper.