asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when the consultation document on the review of the water industry will be published.
§ Mr. John Silkin
The consultative document initiating a full review of the water industry is being published today. Copies of the document are available in the Vote Office, and the Department will be sending copies to the water authorities, to local authorities and their associations, and a wide range of other interested bodies. Copies of the document will also be available on demand from my Department for other organisations or individuals who would like to consider 597W and comment on the issues involved. I am anxious to encourage wide public debate on the proposals, and the consultation period will therefore extend until the end of July. The Government's final decisions will, I hope, be announced in the autumn.
The consultation document focuses on two major issues—the general structure of the industry, and the charging policies it should follow. On the former, we propose a strengthening of the National Water Council in the form of the establishment of a National Water Authority, with increased powers and functions relating to the planning and execution of a national strategy for water. The broad structure of the industry, and in particular the independent status of the regional water authorities, would however remain largely unaltered. As part of the strengthening of the centre, the document also suggests the possible merger of the British Waterways Board with the proposed National Water Authority in order to form the nucleus of a National Navigation Authority. Detailed and separate consultations on this matter will begin immediately.
On charging policy, the Government propose to introduce a measure of equalisation of charges for domestic supply, on the basis of a scheme which will pool the cost to the water authorities of financing debt incurred up to 31st March 1976 and redistribute it on the basis of a common cost per unit of supply. The broad effect will be to reduce the range of average household bills in England and Wales. Legislation will be required, and the Government will make every endeavour to bring this forward at an early date.
The document also announces the Government's decision, forshadowed in the Labour Party statement of policy of January 1973, to bring the water companies into public ownership as soon as practicable.
I believe that the discussion of these proposals over the next few months will be valuable and provide a firm and constructive basis for the future development of the water industry.