The Liberal Democrat Conference: Stricter control of water profits urged

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The Independent Online
THE Liberal Democrats would not support the renationalisation of the water industry, the conference decided yesterday.

Instead, stricter measures to control charges and shareholders' dividends, punitive taxation of profits from share options, a ban on the sale of land by the privatised companies and the outlawing of water disconnections were called for.

The decision means that returning the industry to public control has the support of only one leading opposition politician, Margaret Beckett, Labour's former deputy leader, who has mooted a partial transfer at least.

Matthew Taylor, environment spokesman and MP for Truro, one of the areas worst affected by rocketing charges, said: 'A government that promised a cheap, efficient and environmentally responsible policy has delivered an expensive, inefficient and increasingly environmentally irresponsible one.'

Renationalisation would cost pounds 10bn and was the wrong answer. 'That's five times what the Lib Dems promised to invest in education at the last election. If pounds 10bn is available, let's spend it on our children, on our health service, on housing the homeless . . . You will all have your own priorities but surely spending pounds 10bn on water company shareholders is not one.'

Representatives overwhelmingly condemned government plans for a partial sell-off of the Royal Mail but backed commercialisation of the service within the public sector. They called for withdrawal of borrowing restrictions and access to private sector capital for new business developments and a corresponding right for the Government to earn dividends on its shareholding.

CONFERENCE AGENDA:

Topics being debated today are:

Private security controls.

Employment policy and the national minimum wage.

Quangos.

School meals.

Northern Ireland.

Asthma and air pollution.

Discrimination in health care.

Abolition of the monarchy.

Charles Kennedy MP will make a speech to mark the end of his presidency.

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