Neil Parish welcomes Government support for water rate payers in the south-west

Neil Parish welcomes the £50 saving to water rate payers in the south-west but calls for more support for businesses. He backs the continued infrasturcture works and sewerage schemes to ensure the region has clean beaches.Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I thank the Minister for all his work in getting this Bill into Parliament so that we can deliver the £50 saving to water rate payers in the south-west, because they are a hugely deserving cause, as one would expect me to say.As other Members have said, although we have only 3% of the country’s population, we have 30% of its beaches. We welcome many holidaymakers to Devon and Cornwall—they are most wonderful places to go to, and I encourage every Member to do that—but of course people from throughout the country use those beaches, so a small share in the cost of cleaning them up and looking after them will be gratefully received, and is necessary and fair. I thank the Chancellor for getting the money through, because we inherited a very difficult financial situation from the previous Government. They had 13 years to sort this out in much better economic times; we have managed to find the money in very difficult economic times, and that is a worthy achievement.We must look at the profile of the people who are having to pay those bills in Devon and Cornwall. A large percentage of the population are elderly, including a lot of people who have been retired for a long time, and may have retired on good incomes but have found that inflation and other things have taken away their buying power.Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the average income per household in my constituency and the wider south-west is about £23,000, which is way below the national average?Neil Parish: I do indeed. We have to look at the income profile of people’s salaries and wages. We rely a great deal on tourism, which, while it is essential for the whole area, is not necessarily the most highly paid industry in the country. It is right to give support to the people paying those bills.The money that South West Water has made available to clean up the beaches is essential. Whatever the rights and wrongs of water privatisation, we must realise that before the industry was privatised, the infrastructure had not been dealt with. That meant that a huge backlog of work needed to be done on the sewerage works throughout Devon and Cornwall, and the cost of that was bound to impact heavily on water bills. In my constituency of Tiverton and Honiton there is a £2.8 million scheme to improve Cullompton sewerage works, which started last November and is due for completion in June. South West Water has also spent £340,000 on a scheme to enhance Allers water treatment works, and there is another scheme to enhance the Cullompton works. It is key that the company carries on putting the infrastructure in place so that we can get much cleaner beaches. We have beautiful countryside in Devon and Cornwall, but we should not forget that that people mainly come for our beaches, so it is absolutely right to keep them clean.We must consider those who are unable to pay their bills. There is a national cost of over £15 per bill to make up for those who cannot pay. The combination of those who cannot pay and those who will not pay is always the most difficult thing for Governments and companies to deal with.My hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) talked about businesses. The Bill does not cover businesses but private households. Businesses need much more competition. I urge the Minister not to let the horses frighten him. At the moment, the companies are saying, “You can’t possibly give us more competition, because that will frighten away investment from the City.” We do not want to frighten away investment, but neither must we be frightened away from looking at where we could create greater competition. In Scotland there is one nationalised company for wholesale water, and retail companies that can compete with one another. With our privatised water companies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we can look into ways to create more competition and then get the bills down for businesses too. It is essential that businesses, as well as householders, in Devon and Cornwall should benefit. The trouble is that if we spread the money for the £50 reduction across businesses as well, householders would lose a significant amount of it.We need South West Water to be clear about why it is putting its bills up by another £20 or so. Although that might be justified, we do not want it to eat significantly into the £50 that we have provided to help people with their bills. We must remember that the south-west has been singled out because it has the highest water bills in the country, mainly because of the cleaning up of the sewage works.The final point that I want to raise is about the London tunnel and the sewerage works in London. Last week I made an intervention that caused one or two long faces among Opposition Members, but I shall repeat the point. One night, when I was travelling back from here on my bicycle towards Chelsea bridge, going into Battersea, there was a low tide and I could smell the sewage being pumped into the River Thames. I question whether that should be happening in 2012. A company, a farmer or anybody else who polluted in that way would be prosecuted. Is there one law for some and another law for others?It is high time this issue was dealt with. I know that that involves a huge expensive infrastructure project, but in the 21st century it is essential to clean up the sewage that goes into the Thames. Every time there is a tremendous amount of rainfall, the sewage works cannot cope and out goes the sewage into the Thames. The water companies have the right to do that—whereas a business that did it would be prosecuted immediately. I am delighted that this project is to be undertaken. I know that parts of London do not welcome it because of how it will affect them, but for the greater good of the capital and of the Thames, it has to be done.| Hansard