HL Deb 04 March 1976 vol 368 cc1151-69

3.34 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In considering this Bill we are, in a sense, completing a full circle, for it has its origins in the decision of this House, in its judicial role, in the Daymond case. I cannot imagine that anybody needs reminding that the decision in this now celebrated case was that the South-West Water Authority was not entitled to charge Mr. Philip Daymond the sum of £4.89 as a sewerage charge on his house in Plymouth because that house had no sewerage. Here I must declare an interest, in that I shall be a beneficiary under the Bill when it becomes law, though I hasten to add that this is not why I am moving it or why the Government are anxious to put it on the Statute Book.

We accept that we pay rates which include a payment for education even where people have no children. We accept that we pay tax towards the whole range of Government expenditure, although there may be specific areas from which different individuals, according to their life patterns, do not feel that they benefit directly. On the other hand, we would not supinely pay a gas bill when we are not connected to gas. So it may seem odd that there should ever have been any question of making a specific charge for a sewerage service not received. But of course it is not as straightforward as that; things seldom are. Indeed, it was so far from being a simple question of black and white that your Lordships' Appellate Committee found for Mr. Daymond by only three votes to two. This indicates the intricate soul-searching involved in the judicial decision.

If Mr. Daymond is the hero of the story. His victory is one in the history of the individual's fight against what he believes to be iniquitous and unjust, and I passionately believe in the individual's right to take on the Government when he feels the Government are wrong; but in this instance there are, I am afraid, no real villains. In demanding the sewerage charge from Mr. Daymond, the Plymouth City Council, which acted as the agent of the water authority, was complying with an order made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State; and in making that order, my right honourable friend was following the intentions of his predecessors in the Conservative Government because both Governments thought that the Water Act 1973 gave them the power to make the orders in question. There is no dispute between the past and present Governments about this.

Now before the water industry was reorganised by the Water Act 1973, sewerage and sewage disposal were the responsibility of local authorities. Like other local government services, they were financed through the general rates, paid of course by everyone liable to be rated whether or not their properties were connected to the sewers. The Water Act took these services from local government and set up the new regional water authorities, which were made responsible for all water services. The Act provided for the water authorities to be financed by charges for services provided—not by general taxation—and it was the clear intention that eventually only those actually connected to the sewers would pay the sewerage charge. But it was also recognised that it would take some time to identify which properties were connected and which were. not. There was nothing extraordinary about that because until then there had been no real reason for anyone to need to know.

So, for a transitional period, it was necessary to continue the current arrangement, which meant that everybody who paid rates paid the sewerage charge; it was the Conservative Government's clear intention and belief that the Water Act included the necessary powers. It is true that, following that in this House, I firmly and, I thought, frequently and eloquently defended this position. But the decision of your Lordships' Appellate Committee was that in fact the Water Act as drafted did not contain the necessary powers; so the charge to Mr. Daymond was illegal. This meant that all charges for sewerage and sewage disposal levied on unconnected properties in the two financial years since reorganisation were illegal, and the main purpose of this Bill is to provide for them to be refunded—and for me personally to eat a number of very indigestible words. It is extraordinary how dry a Water Bill can be!

It was clear during the discussions on the Bill in another place that a very good case can be made out for requiring all properties, whether or not connected, to pay a proportion of the sewerage charge. I well remember arguing this very point myself last summer when the noble Lard, Lord Braye, questioned the Government's decision to confine the relief to unconnected domestic properties to 50 per cent. of the charge. I pointed out then that all members of the community, whether or not their properties are connected to mains drainage, benefit from the existence of adequate sewerage and sewage disposal facilities through improved public health and a cleaner environment.

Your Lordships may well ask why, in view of these compelling arguments, this Bill does not provide for a proportion of the sewerage charge to be levied on all properties. The answer is that the Government consider that this Bill must be treated as an emergency measure to deal with the immediate repercussions of the Daymond judgment, and that it would be wrong to include anything in it which might appear to be in any way attempting to overturn that judgment. An emergency Bill is not the vehicle to introduce any wider changes in the powers of the water authorities. Once this principle is accepted—as I am sure it is—it is vital for the local authorities that the Bill should be enacted before 31st March, so that the collection of charges for the next financial year can go ahead without causing any delay in issuing rates demands.

Most local authorities have already begun the process of printing rate demands on the assumption that this Bill will be passed largely in its present form, and any fundamental change of approach contemplated at this stage would, I really must stress, cause grave difficulties of cash flow for the local authorities. This is really the importance of getting this measure through as swiftly as possible.

My right honourable friend the Minister of State drew attention to these difficulties during the debates in another place, when the Opposition moved an Amendment to allow a proportion of the sewerage charge to be levied on unconnected properties. He explained then why, though we were sympathetic to the proposal in principle, the Government are unable to accept such an Amendment at this stage. However, he undertook to raise the question in the consultation paper on the Review of the Water Industry which the Government intend to publish later this month. This consultative document will also discuss the question of charges for emptying cesspools, which was also raised in the debates in another place, and the related question of whether that particular function should be the responsibility of local authorities—as at present—or of the water authorities. But these are problems which, I hope your Lordships will agree, cannot be resolved in this Bill.

I think that at this point I must emphasise that where services are clearly undertaken for the benefit of the whole community, and where it is quite impossible to attribute the charges to specific users, there is no difference of opinion that the water authorities should be able to charge all ratepayers for those services. These services include pollution control, the provision of recreation and safeguarding of amenities. All these are spelt out in Clause 2 of the Bill, so I shall not weary your Lordships by going through them one by one. These services account for between 2 per cent. and 5 per cent. of the general services charge. The variations are due to differences between authorities. However, it is true that some part of the cost of these services can be recovered from direct users. One example is fishermen.

Nevertheless, most of it cannot be attributed in this way and must remain a legitimate charge on the whole community. Because the Daymond judgment threw doubt on whether the Water Act, in its present form, gives the water authorities any power to charge for these services, Clause 2 of this Bill re-enacts the relevant part of Section 30 of the Water Act to make this crystal clear. But, in line with the Daymond judgment Clause 2 also makes it plain that for sewerage and sewage disposal water authorities may charge only those who are connected to the sewers, and who therefore use the sewerage service.

I now turn to the main provision of the Bill, the refund provision in Clause 1. The clause provides for the refund of all charges for sewerage and sewage disposal levied on unconnected properties in each of the last two financial years, and for the cost to be recovered in higher charges to the connected properties. The clause imposes a duty on the water authorities to make the refunds because there is no general obligation to refund money which has been paid under an error of law. Without this duty they would be open to challenge from another consumer who might object to his charges going up in order to meet the cost of refunds. Yet if a positive duty is to be imposed, it is essential to define its extent with meticulous care. None of us wants another Daymond case next year. There is a limit to the human and social capacity to absorb reversals of this order. That is why Clause 1 is as complicated as undoubtedly it is.

The Bill defines an unconnected property as one with no connection to the sewers, either for foul water or for surface water. This, too, is in accord with the Daymond judgment, which found that a water authority is entitled to charge only those who avail themselves of its services. Surface water drainage is a service—indeed, to a very large extent it is impossible to separate it from the foul side of sewerage—and it costs money, which must be recovered from those who use it. There was, however, considerable criticism in another place that Clause 1(7)(a) is not very clear about the circumstances in which a property is to be regarded as having surface water drainage, and I feel it helpful to say now that if the Bill receives a Second Reading, as I hope it will, the Government intend to bring forward an Amendment to narrow that definition.

My Lords, at this point I should mention one other Amendment which the Government have in mind as a result of further consideration following discussion in another place. An Amendment was moved there to add to the sums refunded any court fees or costs incurred by people who resisted the sewerage charges on unconnected properties before finally paying up, and who were subsequently vindicated by the Daymond result. Ministers were naturally sympathetic to this in principle, but explained that there were considerable difficulties of definition. However, my right honourable friend undertook to look at the problem again. We have now done so and have decided not only that we can, but that we should, do something to deal with this, and I will be bringing forward an appropriate Amendment in due course.

I cannot imagine anyone disputing the principle that people should get back charges they have paid in good faith, but which have subsequently been declared illegal. This applies equally to industrial and commercial ratepayers, including the nationalised industries, as it does to householders. But the unpalatable corollary of refunding this money is that other people's charges will have to go up to meet the bill—an inevitable financial see-saw. I know there is a strong view expressed that since the refunds that have to be made arise from a mistake by the Government's legislation, the Exchequer should pay. We simply cannot agree with that because we cannot possibly add an extra £60 million to Government spending in present circumstances, and it would still have to be paid for by the community. In any event, since the Daymond judgment means that for the last two years the sewerage charge should have been levied only on connected properties, this means that if that had been done those consumers would have had to pay more. Indeed, they would have had to pay the money now to be refunded. This would have been spread over those whose properties were connected. So although understandably unpalatable, it is not entirely unfair for them to bear the burden now.

But to alleviate the situation, which we recognise as being very difficult and unpleasant, we have agreed to waive recovery of any special domestic rating relief paid on account of sewerage charges in 1974–75. This will of course have to be deducted from refunds, otherwise people will be getting back more than they actually paid, which is not our intention. But the water authorities will be allowed to keep the money deducted in order to provide some help for the connected consumers, and this will reduce the cost by about £6 million.

Let me make it clear that the Government are not happy about this wretched situation. The water authorities estimate that the £60 millon to be refunded will mean, on average, an extra 21 per cent. on charges to connected consumers. It has been suggested that to ease the load the water authorities should spread the cost over two or three years, but I honestly do not think this would be satisfactory, since it would increase the cost in the long run, because water authorities would have to borrow to cover the deficits which would result. The water authorities have so far balanced their books and managed to avoid the deficits which have plagued so many nationalised industries. This is a matter of great importance, and it is in nobody's interest, whether or not they are connected to main sewerage, that they should run into deficit now. However, the Bill will not prevent from doing so any authority which wishes itself to phase the cost.

My Lords, as I have already indicated, this is not a Bill which any of us would have wished to have to put on the Statute Book unless the Daymond judgment had made it necessary. Now it is absolutely essential that it should pass as quickly as possible so that it should be firmly on the Statute Book and be so drafted that there can be no mistake about it. A detailed scheme for making the refunds has been worked out with the local authorities, subject to Parliament's approving this Bill, and the authorities need the statutory power in time to start making refunds as offsets to the rates from the beginning of the financial year. In all these circumstances. I hope your Lordships will feel able to give this Bill a swift passage.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her whether she is aware that her Ministry is alleged to have advised some local authorities, at any rate, to start proceeding on the basis of Clause 1(7)(a) as unamended? My local authority has sent a questionnaire round to ratepayers to find out whether they come under Clause 1(7)(a)(i) as at present drafted. If indeed this clause is going to be amended, that will have been a great waste of ratepayers' money. Will the noble Baroness's Ministry stop these people jumping the gun?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, one of the reasons why I indicated as quickly as I could this afternoon what was going to appear in the main Government Amendments was not only so that Members of this House should have notice of the fact, but also so that it should be noted by local authorities and others who are concerned. Of course, the problem here was the question of time, and also, because these problem arose in debate in another place, we are in fact trying to make the Bill rather more equitable than many people there—and no doubt the same problem would have been raised here—have thought it to be. So we are trying to do all we can, and anything that the noble Lord or his colleagues here or in another place can do to publicise this would, I am sure, be very helpful. I am quite certain my own Department has this matter well in hand, because the Amendment will in fact be tabled tomorrow. My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Birk.)

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, may I as one of those who is going to have to foot the bill, congratulate the noble Baroness on her good fortune in being about to receive a refund? I should also like to thank her for her explanation of how the need for this Bill arose in the first place and of the way in which it is intended to work out in practice, and to assure her of our intention to help the Bill on its way to the Statute Book in good time for those who must tidy up the disarray that we are in as a result of the Daymond judgment. The noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, yesterday reminded us that we are now entering Lent, a season for repentance, sackcloth and ashes; and it seems that this posture is still required today, coupled, perhaps, with prayer for rain as well. For though in the summer of 1973 we had many spirited debates on what is now the Water Act and some of the most learned legal brains in this House were brought to bear upon it, no-one spotted anything amiss with what is now Section 30 or sought to move any Amendments to it, though we had many Amendments to other parts of the Bill.

I well remember that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, who was one of the five noble and learned Lords sitting in judgment on the Daymond case, was indeed active in handling this Bill in Committee, but none of us, including himself, noticed anything amiss with Clause 30 at that time. This was perhaps because the noble and learned Viscount was, as a fisherman, more concerned with the purity of the rivers than he was, as a Law Lord, with the precision of the Bill's drafting. In any case, we are in a situation which now requires this Bill to put the original legislation right. Although this has been, as the noble Baroness said, a classic and most controversial case, I venture to think that the Bill will be largely agreed, though I was glad of notice of the Amendments that the Government are still proposing to put down. There was a moment, I must confess, when it seemed as though Her Majesty's Government might seek, through legislation, to give retrospective legality to what have now been shown to be illegal acts. as they did in the case of the Clay Cross affair; and inasmuch as they are not proposing to do that, I welcome this further act of repentance on their behalf.

My Lords, I would not want to let this occasion—this rather awkward situation—go by without paying a tribute to the new regional water authorities that were brought into being by the original Bill. They are not, and never have been, the most popular authorities in the land, coming to birth, as they did, as further generators of public expenditure at a time when all hands on all sides were bent on curbing public expenditure. They could hardly have come into existence at a more awkward moment, but that is not their fault. However much debate there may have been about ways and means, there was never any doubt about the need to reorganise the water industry and to put the supply of water, the disposal of sewage and other associated functions on a stronger footing. That has been done. As the backlog of deferred, neglected and misdirected investment has been undertaken, the tasks that the regional water authorities have been set are daunting and prodigious, We are sorry that there has been this hitch, for which we all bear a responsibility, but I think it would be right to express our admiration for what the regional water authorities are doing to meet the difficulties that they are in, besides the particular difficulties to which this Bill is addressed. As long as they spend our money wisely, we wish them well as they tackle their task, and particularly as they tackle it in this very dry weather.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin by seeking the indulgence of your Lordships' House on two counts. First, I must apologise for speaking with the beginnings of a rather nasty cold. I mention that so that noble Lords will understand if I become inaudible before I finish and so that your Lordships will know that doctors are just as delighted to discuss their own ailments as anybody else. Second, as this is the first time I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships' House, I must also seek the special indulgence which is shown to noble Lords making their maiden speeches. Having done that, I am bound to say that on the many occasions when I have come to your Lordships' House to listen to debates—and a very instructive, interesting and enjoyable experience that has been, providing great relief from what has been going on in another place—it has always seemed to me that noble Lords invariably show extreme indulgence to all speakers, whether they be speaking for the first time, have in fact spoken just once before or have spoken over and over again. So, if I am to enjoy a special indulgence in addition to that normally given, I am indeed fortunate, and I must make good use of the opportunity. I must also see to it that I adhere to the guidelines.

My Lords, I shall be brief, though I was reminded in an excellent maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, yesterday that it is not so much how long a speech actually takes as how long it seems to take that really counts; therefore, not only shall I in fact be brief but I hope that I shall also seem to be brief. I shall also try to be non-contentious, although it seems to me that there are important matters of principle which could emerge from this limited measure and perhaps I should be better serving the interersts of this House if I drew attention to those—the noble Baroness has already underlined one or two of them—rather than merely to indulge in the exchange of amiable pleasantries. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has explained the implications of this measure with great clarity and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has elucidated some of them still further. I am grateful to them for that. As the noble Baroness has said, this is a limited measure and essentially a short-term measure, but I believe that it could have serious and significant repercussions if we do not take great care.

My Lords, my involvement in this subject is two-fold. First, as a doctor, I have an interest and, perhaps, even some professional expertise in the matter of our sewers and how they are filled and emptied and, if I may develop the first involvement, may I say that, as a doctor, I honestly believe that our national sewerage and sanitation system has probably done more to promote the public health of our country than all the work of my medical colleagues put together. In that connection, we should guard very carefully against the danger that, by giving cash compensation, and very substantial compensation to the tune of £65 million, to those who do not enjoy this very necessary and important public service, we might somehow encourage these people to regard themselves as not being deprived, but as being privileged. I hope that we do not live to see the day when properties are advertised with a special asset that they have no sanitation and, therefore, financial advantages could accrue.

The real answer is to ensure that all our citizens enjoy the benefits of our truly excellent national sewerage and sanitation system. I think it right to say that we are not here dealing only with the people who live in the extremes of isolation; in many cases, we are dealing with people who live in the heart of our industrial towns, in the industrial North, the place which makes the nation's wealth and—perhaps this is not altogether unconnected—the place which also makes a great deal of the nation's sewage and effluent as well. I have a letter from a lady who lives in the centre of a Yorkshire town complaining, not that she has an outside lavatory—that is something about which too many citizens can still rightly complain—not that she has her own private cesspit, but that all she has is a tub which must be emptied and which she must share with her next door neighbour. That is in the centre of an industrial town.

The real answer is not cash compensation to people deprived of a service, but to ensure that, speedily and economically, we see to it that all of our people's homes are connected to our main sewage system. It would be dangerous if we encouraged people to retain or to try to perpetuate their own do-it-yourself sewage disposal system; for that is not the long-term answer at all.

Next, we also have to guard against another danger, to which the noble Baroness referred. It is that this measure should become the thin end of a very dangerous and damaging wedge whereby people come to believe that somehow they can opt out of public services and not pay for them. We cannot contemplate the day when childless couples can say, "Why should we pay the education charge? "; or when the dyslectic should be able to say, "Why should I pay for the libraries; I cannot read? "; or when the elderly should be able to say, "Why should we contribute towards the swimming baths? We cannot swim and we do not want to try." That is not the kind of thing to do at all.

Fortunately, we have two answers; and they are answers which I think we should underline with great care. First, no citizen can opt out altogether from the production of sewage; that sewage, sooner or later, must be disposed of somehow and, in the end, it will be disposed of at the public expense. Secondly, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, the general service charge covers many other matters like recreational facilities, fishing and so on, environmental control, the cleaning of our rivers and all those things which justify at least a part payment by those not connected with the sewage system; so we are not only dealing with domestic sanitation. There is a second, and more compelling, argument which we must underline. We are not dealing with people who have voluntarily opted out of some service which is available; we are dealing with people who have to pay for something they cannot have. That is a very different thing.

Here we have a rather important precedent which comes from a field of activity that I have been concerned in, the National Health Service. Under the National Health Service Act and the regulations which are made under it, the State has the obligation to provide general medical services for any man, woman or child who needs or requests them. In the very rare instances—and they are very rare—in which no National Health Service practitioner is available in an isolated area, there is a provision under the Act and under the regulations for people who need medical care to seek to obtain it privately and, then, to obtain reimbursement of the cost. I can give an example. I had experience of such a case when I was a member of the Lancashire Executive Council, the body responsible for domiciliary medical services in North Lancashire, in Furness, now part of Cumbria, where, for a short time, there was no National Health Service doctor. Until it was possible to obtain one, the patients were encouraged to seek private care from an elderly retired doctor who gave it privately and, then, they could obtain reimbursement from the State. It is a very different situation indeed from the situation whereby people try to opt out and not pay for something that they just do not want. It would be deplorable if this limited measure led to an escalating round of opting out campaigns from people who did not want to pay for things that they did not use.

Let me move on to my second involvement on this subject. For six years I have been involved in the preparation and presentation of a television programme in the North on citizens' rights. This is an information programme rather than a campaigning programme, which seeks to explain to people the sources of help available to them and the way in which they can obtain that help. It is an information service. We back up that programme with an advice bureau—probably the biggest citizens' advice bureau in the country. We deal with about 1,000 letters a week from puzzled people who write to ask what they can do about this or that; how they can get this or that; whether they are entitled to

I can say that at the time this matter first surfaced—and we all remember it it. Every one of those letters is answered in detail by an expert, if necessary. clearly—we were flooded with letters from people totally confused about what was happening, what was likely to happen and what had happened; from people who were not sure what their rights were or what they were going to be; whether they should pay and whether they would get it back. This underlines the fact that there is nothing more conducive to public resentment than doubts and uncertainty.

Therefore, I come to the point which is crucial. When this measure is enacted —and I hope that it will be enacted, and speedily—I hope that we shall take very active steps to ensure that those whom it concerns are fully informed of its implications. It is easy for the water boards to identify those who are connected with the public sewers. I am not, myself, so sure that it is so easy for them to identify the people who are not connected. We must let them know the position. Are all these people known? Do they have to do nothing but wait and get their money in the form of a deduction from their future rates, or do they make application? If so, to whom, how and when? I would stress that this is a very crucial matter. It is all very well to pass a necessary, wise and just measure, but it is very important that knowledge of it goes fully to those for whom it is intended. It has been my experience when trying to give help to groups of people that help does not always arrive at the people who are most in need. Very often those most in need are those who do not know where to go for help. I hope we will ensure that when this measure is enacted it will be brought closely to the attention of all those whom it will concern so that we do not have any perpetuation of the kind of doubt which leads to so much frustration, resentment and discontent.

With that, I will merely say that I and my noble friends will support this measure. We agree with the noble Baroness that it must be enacted quickly for the sake of the local authorities and to help their cash flow difficulties. I conclude by saying that it is a simple and short-term measure. There is nothing to reform our rating system as a whole. Direct taxation is an extraordinary system which pays no regard to the ability of people to pay, which collects the same amount of money from the house with the widow and six children as it does from the identical house next door with seven working adults. It penalises people who improve their homes at a time when it is socially and economically necessary that people should improve their homes. It is a system which is well in need of overall reform. This is a limited measure; let us see that it does not become the thin end of a dangerous wedge, and let us see that it is fully explained to those whom it concerns. I am grateful to noble Lords for listening to me. I hope that I shall receive the same attention if ever I am fortunate enough to be able to speak to the House on a matter more congenial than that of sewers and sewage.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken need ask for no indulgence for his maiden effort, for many of those who have long since lost their virginity in this House cannot equal his standard of persuasive eloquence. I should like to endorse his principle that it is right that we should pay for local authority services from which we derive no benefit, just as we pay education rates if we have no children at school. My Lords, I have to declare an interest here. One matter that the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, did not mention was the situation of persons like myself. I speak as the owner of an unconnected septic tank. If my tank is to be connected—which, in the noble Lord's view, is clearly my public duty—it will cost me several hundred pounds for which I shall get no relief from local authority or government. It will also mean the destruction of a shrubbery which has taken me 20 years to grow. I am now fairly well on in years and I do not much care what my house will be worth when I die, not having any heirs who are particularly interested in its value. For that reason I am extremely reluctant to ruin my garden and estate and incur heavy expense, which I would find very difficult, in order to fulfil this public duty which I entirely recognise.


My Lords, I apologise for not putting my name down to speak. One small misconception has arisen which the noble Baroness nearly touched upon. May I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, on his maiden speech. He referred to whether his speech seemed a long or short one. It lasted for 13 minutes, but it did not seem that length to me, and I congratulate him on his remarks. This matter, however, is rather different from the reference made by the two noble Baronesses, where people are charged for education although they have no children. In the case under discussion they may well have already paid out a considerable amount of capital and at considerable expense provided themselves with either water or sewerage connections. They may have a perfectly satisfactory connection, not necessarily destroying a shrubbery as the noble Baroness may need to do, and it seems rather hard that in addition to what they have already provided and found to be perfectly satisfactory they still have to pay.


My Lords, while congratulating the noble Lord on his maiden speech, which was delivered with great facility and confidence, I am afraid that I must differ from him slightly regarding the principle involved in this matter. I must confess I am an interested party. The matter is not as simple as it may appear at first sight: there are a great many houses in this country which are not connected to sewers and which cannot be connected to them because of their geological situation. If it is proposed to compel everybody to pay rates for sewers, whether they benefit from the service or not, there is a simple corollary which ought to be remembered: they will have to be given the right to insist upon being connected to the sewer, and the rest of the ratepayers will not enjoy footing the Bill.

4.14 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, this has turned out to be an interesting short debate. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, on his interesting and extremely good maiden speech; I join in the congratulations of other noble Lords. I should like also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for his support from the Opposition Benches. He said we ought perhaps to pray for water: he certainly rained down a great deal of repentance all over the place! I am grateful for his support because it is a recognition of the need for the expedition of this measure.

The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, made some interesting comments regarding public health and inadequate arrangements. I know the noble Lord will agree with me that some of the points he raised will have to be considered, both by the water authorities and the local authorities, in a much wider context. As I said when I was introducing the Bill, we are awaiting the consultative paper. I am sure some of the points he raised will have relevance in a much wider framework than the subject we are discussing today. One point—and this gives me the opportunity to dispel some misconceptions which might arise—is that this Bill can in no way be seen as an encouragement to people to make their own inadequate sewerage arrangements.

The total refund is £60 million and not £65 million. Refunds will be made to people who, because of the error in the legislation, had paid when they should not have done so. Therefore this measure is not an incentive to anybody to set up cesspools or septic tanks of their own which, as the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, said, would be an expensive enterprise; its purpose is to refund money which is due.

I was extremely pleased that the point about Government publicity was raised. This is something after my own heart. I could not agree more that doubt and uncertainty about what is going on, whether by central Government, local government or public bodies, is eroding the quality of life of people. Often people have no idea as to what they are entitled or how to set about dealing with these matters in our extremely complicated society. There will be Government publicity and publicity by local water authorities about this. This is a case where people will be much more aware of where their rights lie than in many other cases which the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, probably had in mind. The Bill refers to people who, although they know their homes are not connected, have paid these sewerage charges as part of the water rate. Nevertheless, I take the point, and will do all I can to see that my Department devotes sufficient publicity to this matter.

My noble friend Lady Wootton is a fellow septic tanker—if I may refer to her in that unflattering way as we both share the same interest in this matter. There is nothing in this Bill at the moment so far as I am aware to connect the unconnected. This Bill is to make a refund to those who have, to put it in a shorthand way, overpaid. There is a certain amount of truth in a much more general way in the point that she was making in answer to the noble Lord. Lord Winstanley. The Public Health Acts require adequate arrangements and in fact well maintained septic tanks and cesspools are frequently quite adequate. So far as expense is concerned, the emptying of cesspools can be quite an expensive operation because it is highly labour intensive and when one is thinking of places which are remote in the country one realises what it involves in terms of expense.

The noble Lord, Lord Burton, if I understood correctly, made the point that there is a difference, which I tried to pinpoint when I was introducing the Bill, between paying generally for education services or, as the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, pointed out, for maternity benefit and part of our welfare services and for anti-pollution services generally, and paying directly for a sewerage service which one has not got, and the example which I gave in regard to paying for gas if one is not connected.

The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, made all the points on behalf of the rest of the septic tankers and cesspoolers—if I may put them together in that way—and both the geographical and geological difficulties attached to this. Although this has been an interesting context in which to discuss this more narrow Bill this is not really the objective of the measure before you today. I feel from the contributions that have been made by noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate that we have the support of this House so far as this measure is concerned.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned during pleasure: House resumed by the Lord Chancellor.

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