HC Deb 10 November 2003 vol 413 cc70-8 'After section 105 of the WIA there is inserted— "105A Schemes for the adoption of sewers, lateral drains and sewage disposal works

(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for him to make schemes for the adoption by sewerage undertakers of sewers, lateral drains and sewage disposal works of the descriptions set out in paragraphs (a),(aa) and (b) of section 102(1) above.

(2) The regulations may require sewerage undertakers to prepare draft schemes and to submit them to the Secretary of State.

(3) Each scheme shall relate to—

  1. (a) the area of a sewerage undertaker, or part or parts of it; or
  2. (b) the areas of more than one sewerage undertaker, or part or parts of them.

(4) It shall be the duty of a sewerage undertaker, in specified circumstances, to exercise its powers under section 102 above with a view to making the declaration referred to in subsection (1) of that section in relation to sewers, lateral drains or sewage disposal works which—

  1. (a) fall within the area to which a scheme relates; and
  2. (b) satisfy specified criteria.

(5) The circumstances and the criteria shall each be—

  1. (a) specified in the regulations; or
  2. (b) determined in accordance with the regulations and specified in the scheme.

(6) In relation to the exercise of those powers pursuant to that duty—

  1. (a) section 102 above shall have effect—
    1. (i) with the omission of subsections (2), (5) and (7);
    2. (ii) as if in subsection (1) the words "sections 103, 105 and 146(3) below" read "section 105B below";
    3. (iii) with the omission of the words "or application" in subsection (3);
    4. (iv) as if for subsection (4)(a) there were substituted—
shall give notice of its proposal to the owner or owners of the sewer, lateral drain or works in question unless, after diligent enquiry, he or they cannot be traced; shall publish notice of its proposal in the prescribed manner; and";
  1. (v) as if in subsection (4)(b) "two months" read "two months or, if longer, the period specified by virtue of section 105B(5) below" and "section 105 below" read "section 105B(4) or (5) below, or "; and
  2. (vi) as if section 96(3) of the Water Act 2003 did not apply;

  1. (b) sections 103 and 105 above shall not apply; and
  2. (c) if the regulations so provide, section 146(3) below shall not apply in circumstances or cases specified in the regulations.

(7) A duty imposed on a sewerage undertaker under subsection (4) above shall be enforceable by the Secretary of State under section 18 above.

(8) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1) above shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

105B Adoption schemes: appeals

(1) Any person falling within subsection (2) below may appeal to the Authority if he is aggrieved by—

  1. (a) the proposal of a sewerage undertaker to make a declaration under section 102 above in relation to a sewer, lateral drain or sewage disposal works, pursuant to the undertaker's duty to do so under section 105A(4) above (the "relevant duty"); or
  2. (b) the failure of a sewerage undertaker to make such a proposal pursuant to that duty.

(2) The persons referred to are—

  1. (a) an owner of a sewer, lateral drain or sewage disposal works;
  2. (b) any other person affected by the proposal, or the failure, in question.

(3) The grounds upon which a person may appeal are—

  1. (a) in a subsection (1)(a) case, that the relevant duty is not owed in relation to the sewer, lateral drain or sewage disposal works, or that the making of the proposed declaration would be seriously detrimental to him;
  2. (b) in a subsection (1)(b) case, that the relevant duty is owed in relation to the sewer, lateral drain or sewage disposal works; or
  3. (c) any other prescribed ground.

(4) An appeal under subsection (1)(a) above shall be made within two months after notice of the proposal is—

  1. (a) served on the owner of the sewer, lateral drain or sewage disposal works; or
  2. (b) published in accordance with section 102(4) above as modified by section 105A(6) above,
(or, if both occur, within two months after whichever is the later).

(5) An appeal under subsection (1)(b) above shall be made within such period as is specified in the scheme (not being less than two months).

(6) On the hearing of an appeal under subsection (1) above, the Authority may—

  1. (a) in a subsection (1)(a) case, allow or disallow the proposal of the sewerage undertaker; or
  2. (b) in a subsection (1)(b) case, determine that the undertaker was not under the relevant duty in relation to the sewer, lateral drain or sewage disposal works in question,
or, in either case, make any declaration that the sewerage undertaker might have made, unless the proposal is disallowed.

(7) If, in a subsection (1)(a) case, the Authority finds that the making of the proposed declaration would be seriously detrimental to the appellant, it shall disregard any duty on the part of the sewerage undertaker to make the proposal for the purpose of determining whether to allow or disallow the proposal.

(8) If, in a subsection (1)(a) case, the Authority disallows the proposal of the sewerage undertaker, the scheme pursuant to which it was made shall have effect as if there were no duty under section 105A(4) above on the sewerage undertaker in relation to the sewer, lateral drain or sewage disposal works in question.

(9) Where the Authority makes a declaration under subsection (6) above, it may, if it thinks fit—

  1. (a) specify conditions, including conditions as to the payment of compensation by the sewerage undertaker; and
  2. (b) direct that its declaration shall not take effect unless any conditions so specified are accepted.

(10) A declaration made under subsection (6) above shall have the same effect as if it had been made by the undertaker.

(11) The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision in connection with appeals under this section.

(12) The regulations may, in particular, require the Authority to have regard to prescribed matters when determining an appeal under this section.

105C Adoption schemes: supplementary

(1) The Secretary of State may vary any scheme, or revoke it.

(2) Before making regulations or any scheme under section 105A above, and before amending or revoking the regulations or varying or revoking a scheme, the Secretary of State shall consult—

  1. (a) each sewerage undertaker which would be affected;
  2. (b) the Authority;
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  4. (c) the Council;
  5. (d) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

(3) The Secretary of State shall publish each scheme he makes, and any such scheme as varied, in the way he considers best for the purpose of bringing it to the attention of those likely to be affected by it.".'.—[Mr. Morley.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Morley

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 8—Discharges to watercourses

'(1)After section 165 of the WIA, there is inserted—

"165A Power to discharge to watercourses

(1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, every sewerage undertaker may, for the purpose of carrying out its functions, discharge water with or without other matter from any relevant pipe into any watercourse.

(2) Nothing in this section shall authorise any discharge which—

  1. (a) damages or injuriously affects the works or property of any railway undertakers, navigation authority or riparian owner; or
  2. (b) floods or damages any highway.

(3) Nothing in this section shall be construed as permitting the making of any discharge without the authority of any consent that may be required by virtue of Part III of the Water Resources Act 1991.

(4) The provisions of paragraph 6 of Schedule 12 to this Act shall apply to the exercise of the powers conferred by subsection (1) above.

(5) In this section 'relevant pipe' means any sewer, stormwater overflow, sewer, disposal main, lateral drain or outfall owned by or vested in a sewerage undertaker."

(2) In section 219(I) of the WIA (general interpretation), in the definition of "accessories", after "washout pipes," there is inserted "outfalls (with ancillary works)".

(3) In Schedule 12 to the WIA (compensation etc.in respect of pipelaying and other works powers)—

  1. (a) in paragraph 6(1)(a), after "section 165" there is inserted "for section 165A"; and
  2. (b) in paragraph 6(2)(b), after "section 165 of this Act" there is inserted ", or of water or effluent under section 165A of this Act.".'.

New clause 13—Power to require adoption of private sewers in Wales

'After section 102 of the WIA there is inserted—

"102A Power to require adoption of private sewers in Wales

(1) As regards Wales the National Assembly for Wales may by regulations establish a scheme to enable a sewerage undertaker to be required to adopt a sewer to which this section applies.

(2) A scheme under this section may apply to any sewer which is—

  1. (a) situated within the area of a sewerage undertaker or which serves the whole of or any part of that area; and
  2. (b) not vested in a sewerage undertaker.

(3) Regulations under subsection (1) may amend section 105 so as to extend the appeals procedure to the scheme, provided that the appeal shall be heard by a person other than the person imposing the requirement to adopt.".'.

Government amendments Nos. 100 and 101.

Government amendments Nos. 103 and 121.

Mr. Morley

In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) tabled an amendment that aimed to tackle the serious problems caused by private sewers. Indeed, that issue was raised by Committee members from all parties. The Government are well aware of these problems and are keen to take positive action, which is why we commissioned an extensive research project into the extent of private sewers and published a public consultation document. With that in mind, I told my hon. Friend that we would introduce a suitable Government amendment to deal with the thrust of the argument that he and other Committee members had made.

We considered a number of alternatives, and I am pleased to say that we thought that my hon. Friend's proposal was the most appropriate. New clause 14 gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations to allow schemes for the adoption of private sewers. Government amendment No. 103 ensures that the Welsh Assembly has the power to make regulations under the proposed new section if it so chooses. It is important to note that the new clause is an enabling power, and is not a recipe for the wholesale transfer of private sewers to sewerage undertakers. Furthermore, the regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure to allow full parliamentary scrutiny before they are made.

The Government have not yet made any decisions on the best way forward on private sewers. The new clause allows adoption, if a decision is made to pursue that course of action, and offers flexibility to ensure that we introduce a sensible solution following full consideration of the range of options. As my hon. Friend knows, we discussed in Committee the fact that we would hold a public consultation and respond to the options that people favour. We still have a lot of work to do on the best way forward on private sewers. The new clause gives us an opportunity to introduce adoption in various forms, but the Bill includes the enabling powers for which my hon. Friend, supported by other Committee members, was arguing.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

May I tell my hon. Friend how much we welcome the provision? I am sure that all Committee members share that sentiment. However, will my hon. Friend give me an idea of time scale? I accept that the new clause is an enabling provision, but some people who welcome it will want to know how long it will be before the consultation is complete and the Government have considered its implications. More particularly, with regard to cases where there is a crucial need for action, when will the provision be implemented?

Mr. Morley

I understand my hon. Friend's point. The most important thing is to respond to the public consultation, and we hope to reach that milestone in the near future. There is, as I have said, a great deal of work to do, not least in taking stakeholders' views into account. That will take time, but it is difficult to say how long. However, as a rough guide, I expect the Government's response to the public consultation to be made within the next six months. Inevitably, however, further work will need to be done. It is difficult to give an exact time scale, but there is quite a lot to do before we can put the provision in place, which is why the enabling power was included in the Bill.

6.15 pm

We have provided for an appeals procedure and appropriate consultation, both on the regulations and each scheme. Work is under way to evaluate the responses to the consultation, and further consultation is likely as we narrow down the choices on the best way forward. Following discussions with the all-party group on sewers and sewerage, I know that its members have views on the subject to which the Government would like to listen. Considerations will include obvious financial implications for the generality of customers, and clearly it will be important to weigh up the balance of the different interests. We will continue to make that a priority and involve everyone with an interest, including, of course, colleagues in the House. Indeed, I am grateful for the interest that has been shown in this matter, and found discussions with the all-party group helpful.

The new clause was tabled to demonstrate that we are serious about tackling the problems faced by householders, and I am pleased to commend it to the House. I should also like to commend Government amendments Nos. 100, 101 and 121, which are minor, consequential amendments.

Mr. Wiggin

I shall speak to new clause 8, which seeks to ensure that sewerage industries can discharge water into any watercourse that will not flood or damage any of those covered by subsections (2)(a) and (b) of proposed new section 165 of the Water Industry Act 1991. Sewerage undertakers' former power to effect discharges from public sewers and their other pipes needs to be restored, subject to certain safeguards for affected landowners riparian owners and public bodies. No damage or interference must be caused to the property or operations of railway undertakers, navigation authorities, riparian owners or highway authorities; all necessary consents to discharge to watercourses must be obtained from the Environment Agency in accordance with the Water Resources Act 1991 for the avoidance of pollution; and full compensation must be paid to those adversely affected by such discharges, in accordance with paragraph 6 of schedule 12 to the Water Industry Act.

Sewerage undertakers should have the right to discharge the contents of public sewers and other pipes into watercourses and canals because, without that right, they currently have to obtain a compulsory purchase order, which can take up to two years. This is what proposed new section 165A of the Water Industry Act seeks to achieve, reflecting the principles of section 165 of that Act, which authorises the discharge by water undertakers of water to watercourses for the purpose of facilitating the carrying-out of works.

New clause 14, which the Minister introduced, is obviously welcomed by people who are discharging into private sewers, and I am delighted that he listened to comments by Committee members from all parties. Strong feelings were expressed, especially by Members representing areas where large numbers of people were discharging into, or taking their water from, a single source. Members on all sides of the House believe that the issue needs to be addressed positively, for the benefit of both water companies and customers. Obviously, there are significant cost implications for water companies, and the Minister recognises how important they are.

I shall not say any more as I know that we need to cover a great deal more business.

Paddy Tipping

I wish to place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister, his officials and, looking at the complexity of new clause 14, parliamentary counsel. I am delighted that we are making progress on the issue with which the new clause deals and that my hon. Friend has responded to constituency concerns throughout the country. The powers are permissive and enabling, and the next task of my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King), who have campaigned long and hard on this issue, and I will be to put them into practice. The aspect of the W. S. Atkins report—an initiative brought forward by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—that struck me most was the scale of the problem. We all knew that there was a problem, but we were astonished at its degree and depth across the country.

As the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) said, there are significant cost implications. We will have to wait and see the outcome of the consultation. I do not want to prejudge that outcome, but the responses received so far suggest that the option of passing ownership of the sewers to water and sewerage undertakers, as set out in the Atkins report, is probably the easiest and most popular way forward. That has clear cost implications. The only meaningful way forward would apply over a period of years. I repeat that point—it is over a period of years that one would want to share the cost with consumers in general. That issue will have to be taken into account in discussions on the next price review period.

I am delighted that we have made so much progress. I know that people in Newark and Sherwood, in a small part of my constituency where 1,441 people are affected, are delighted that we are making progress. We must now ensure that the principles agreed to in the Bill are put into practice, but I accept that that will take time.

Mr. Simon Thomas

I welcome the new measures. We debated them in Committee, where hon. Members from all parties mentioned the various parts of their constituencies that they will affect. I could spend the next 20 minutes listing some wonderful Welsh names in referring to places that are affected by bad sewerage, but I do not think that that is necessary to secure the progress of the measure. What the Minister has said makes new clause 13 redundant—a proposal that attempted to achieve the same purpose as new clause 14 in the Welsh context. Government amendment No. 103 will insert into the Water Industry Act 1991 the measures in new clause 14 so that the National Assembly for Wales will be able to make its own scheme.

Further down the line, there will be huge issues about costs, surveying and so on. As constituency Members of Parliament, we all know about the problems that will arise, but a very important principle has been established tonight—we are dealing with a public health issue. What we call private sewers fulfil some of the most essential functions in our public health system. If we cannot get this matter right, what we are seeking to achieve in the Bill in securing higher environmental standards, water quality and water saving and conservation will be for naught. That will be the case if we cannot ensure over the next 10 to 20 years that our sewerage system is updated to meet the needs of an expanding 21st century economy, rather than those of the expanding 19th century economy, as at present.

Those are the important principles to which the Government have agreed. I will not say that they have conceded those points, as that might suggest that some sort of battle has occurred. Instead, there has been a debate, progress has been made and the Government have rightly acknowledged that those issues need to be resolved and have recognised that the new clause is probably the best way of resolving them in the context of the Bill. I am sure that many of us would have liked to see a bit more detail in the provisions and that we could all suggest what the best approach might be. Nevertheless, an important principle has been laid down. There will be schemes and each of them will be considered on its merit, and a proper authority will look at that process—the National Assembly for Wales and the Secretary of State in England.

We now have an opportunity to improve our sewerage system to meet the required needs, as well as to make a huge impact on the environment and on some aspects of public health. Everyone who has had sewage in their garden will be thankful for what has happened in the House tonight.

Mr. Drew

I wish to make a very narrow point. I could have intervened on my hon. Friend the Minister a second time to raise it, but I thought it better to do so in a short speech. We have been reassured about the time scale—I heard what he said and welcome it—but my next point follows from what my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) said and relates to cost implications. When we see the different options and get some clarity about which we prefer and how we might adopt more than one, if that is what is proposed, can the process be dealt with in secondary legislation? Having introduced the enabling powers, we would not want to have to wait until the next water Bill was introduced to carry into action exactly what all of us want to achieve in respect of the adoption of private sewers. If my hon. Friend the Minister clarifies that situation, an awful lot of people will be listening. I am sure that they will welcome the moves that the Government have already made, as well as their intentions.

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I shall be extremely brief; as my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) rightly said in Committee, "Enough said—job done."

The Minister and his Department must take enormous credit for allowing the new clause into the Bill. Originally, such provision did not feature in the Bill at all, and many of us were afraid that we would miss a once-in-a-Parliament opportunity to remedy a serious situation. Although the new clause does not go as far as we would have liked, it has gone a long way in beginning to put right the anomalous situation that has arisen. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend the Minister, his officials and the water companies through the all-party group on sewers and sewerage, of which colleagues in all parts of the House are members and to which he has made a valuable contribution. I look forward to discussing these matters with him and W. S. Atkins in the near future. The people of the Woodlands residents association, of which I am a member—I have declared my interest—will be very happy.

Mr. Morley

There is still some time to go.

Andy King

It will happen some time in future, but we look forward to that day.

Mr. Morley

I think that there is an argument for protecting controlled waters, and that may sometimes involve compensation and protection against pollution, so I cannot accept new clause 8, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin).

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) rightly said that I had dealt with the concerns he raised in new clause 13. Furthermore, I appreciated very much the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew), for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) and for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping).

I repeat that there is obviously a lot of work to be done, and the matter will not be dealt with in the short term. Nevertheless, the powers in the Bill allow us to deal with what we recognise to be a very serious problem throughout the country.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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