HL Deb 24 June 2003 vol 650 cc263-81

In section 6 of the Environment Act 1995 (c. 25) (general provisions with respect to water), in subsection (2)(b), after "Wales" there is inserted "(including the efficient use of those resources)".

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 160A not moved.]

Clause 69 [Environment Agency to be enforcement authority under the Reservoirs Act 1975]:

[Amendment No. 160B not moved.]

Clause 72 [Flood plans]:

Lord Whittymoved Amendment No. 161:

Page 85, line 17, after first "a" insert "large raised"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 73 [National security]:

Lord Whittymoved Amendment No. 162: Page 86, line 34, after "reservoir" insert "(whether a large raised reservoir or not, as the case may be)

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Livseyof Talgarth moved Amendment No. 163: After Clause 76, insert the following new clause—

"SUSTAINABLE CONSERVATION OF WATER RESOURCES The Environment Agency shall continuously monitor water resources in England and Wales to ensure—

  1. (a) that all water resources are ecologically sustainable;
  2. (b) high levels of water quality;
  3. (c) that water quality consistently improves over time;
  4. (d) that compensatory river flows can sustain a river system:
  5. (e) that volumes of water in lakes and reservoirs comply with agreed pre-determined levels;
  6. (f) that oxygen and acidity levels meet agreed parameters;
  7. (g) that fresh water fisheries can sustain the renewal of fish populations;
  8. (h) that actions and targets are laid down as a result of river basin management plans agreed with river basin management committees."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 163 is the braces for the belt which is the EU Water Framework Directive. If that does not come through in the Bill, this is a longstop to try to ensure that we have proper environmental sustainability. The amendment deals with the sustainable conservation of water courses. We ask for the Environment Agency to monitor continuously water resources in England and Wales to ensure that all water courses are ecologically sustainable; that there are high levels of water quality; that water quality consistently improves over time: that compensatory river flows can sustain a river system; that volumes of water in lakes and reservoirs comply with agreed pre-determined levels; that oxygen and acidity levels meet agreed parameters; that fresh water fisheries can sustain the renewal of fish populations; and that actions and targets are laid down as a result of river basin management plans agreed with river basin management committees.

That is a longstop if we do not have adequate protection in the Bill. We would like to ensure that the principles of environmental sustainability are contained in this legislation. We believe that the main points are made in the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord links this amendment to the Water Framework Directive and in some sense it would appear to be another attempt to put chunks of the directive or what one needs to do under the directive on to the face of the Bill. I know that is what the noble Lord thinks and that is what the Liberal Democrat Benches have been urging on us, but the logic of decisions taken during the passage of the Bill is that, for the implementation of the directive, we are resting on the normal transposition process. Therefore, the Bill does not cover the range of areas covered by the Water Framework Directive. While many of the objectives are desirable and reflect other parts of the Bill, it seems superfluous to have in the Bill a clause that will be dealt with by another piece of legislation, albeit secondary legislation, under the European Communities Act. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord does not pursue the amendment.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, I note what the Minister said, and I also note the late hour. This amendment is essential to ensuring the environmental and sustainable conservation of water resources. However, I do not wish to press this amendment at present. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 85 [Self-lay and adoption of water mains and service pipes]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbletonmoved Amendment No. 164: Page 101. line 6, at end insert— ( ) The prohibition imposed on a water undertaker by subsection (11) above shall be enforceable under section 18 above by the Authority.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 86 [Requisition and adoption of sewers]:

Lord Livsey of Talgarthmoved Amendment No. 165: Page 105, line 31, at end insert— (5) After consultation with any such bodies a s appropriate the Secretary of State shall publish a protocol for unadopted sewers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I ant sure that the Minister will note that I have considerably modified this amendment, which refers to unadopted sewers. The Minister was helpful in Committee. In the report of the Committee proceedings of 29th April 2003, one can read that the Minister assured the Committee that as far as the new build was concerned, any new sewers would be the subject of a protocol that was established as a result of a consultation in 2000, which sets out the key elements of design and construction of sewers for all new developments".—[Official Report, 29/4/03; col. GC 161.]

That is what the Minister said when we discussed another, similar amendment. He stated then that, the situation is far more complicated with regard to existing private sewers".—[Official Report, 29/4/03; col. GC 161.]

At that time, the Minister said that he would shortly issue a consultation paper seeking views on possible solutions to deal with the problems.

In this amendment, I am not asking for precise commitments from the Minister in the Bill, but I am asking for parity with new developments as far as unadopted sewers are concerned. We arc asking for a protocol for unadopted sewers, in the same way as the Minister outlined that there is a protocol for new sewers. This would be a commitment from the Government to ensure that these unadopted sewers would be the subject of a protocol and would be brought up to scratch over time. It gives the Minister more leeway than I gave him in previous amendments in Committee.

I doubt whether there is any Member in the other place who is not afflicted with the problem of unadopted sewers in his constituency. They are a blight on housing, and a huge problem. If the Minister will accept this and produce a protocol that lays down the conditions for unadopted sewers to be brought into the system in a way of the Government's choosing, many residents throughout the country would be eternally grateful. This is important, and I beg to move the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, it is a regrettable fact that unadopted sewers have an awkward parallel with unadopted roads. Sometimes, trying to put the situation right is a moot point. If people have lived with unadopted sewers and unadopted roads, often the problem of getting them into a state in which they can be adopted—which means lifting them to a standard where they are of comparable quality and comparable stamina to existing public roads or sewers—places the householders with considerable financial liabilities.

It may be a regrettable reality, but if the Secretary of State produces a protocol on the matter—it would not cost the Exchequer exorbitant sums of money—there will be great difficulty and disappointment. The Secretary of State can, and probably should, come up with a protocol. But none of us should begin to assume that the protocol will necessarily provide relief or an immediate solution to those who must live with such problems, if there is a problem.

The situation will be rectified only when property owners who are affected eventually dip into their pockets and lay out the necessary capital, as has been the case with unadopted roads. If they do so, and must subsequently put their property on the market, they will normally get their money back in enhanced value. But that does not alter the fact that many of them will not want to sell their property; nor will they want to put their hands in their pockets. This is a quite fruitful way of causing divisions in what are often tight-knit communities.

That said, I agree entirely that, where such problems exist, they should be tackled if possible. However, they can be tackled only with the voluntary agreement and co-operation of those who have enjoyed the benefit of living for so long with an unadopted sewer.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I recognise some of the points and problems referred to. However, the amendment is slightly misconstrued. The protocol to which the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and I referred deals with the design, construction and adoption of new sewers and the process of development. In this amendment, for the most part, we are talking about what should be done about existing unadopted sewers. It is doubtful that a protocol for unadopted sewers would be parallel to that which has been produced for new development.

The next stage of the work is to look at existing private sewers. We will shortly produce a consultation paper engaging with everyone concerned about solutions for dealing with existing private sewers in England and Wales. I am not sure of the outcome of the consultation. However, it will not be the same sort of protocol to which I referred in Committee. Therefore, it is premature, and probably inappropriate, to stipulate a protocol in this part of the Bill. I must therefore resist the noble Lord's amendment.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for his support of the amendment. I note what the Minister says; however, as he said previously, there will be a consultation paper on unadopted private sewers. I am sure that we will all be anxious to know the outcome of that consultation. It is not asking much of the Minister in these circumstances to produce a protocol and to give a commitment that it will incorporate the findings of the consultation paper. The amendment was deliberately loosely framed, but we seek a commitment.

In the circumstances, it may be necessary to return to the matter on Third Reading. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 88 [Requisition of lateral drains]:

Lord Whittymoved Amendment No. 166: Page 108, line 43, leave out subsection (8) and insert— (8) The substitution by subsection (7) of section 101 of the WIA does not apply in respect of requirements notified under section 98 of the WIA before subsection (7) comes into force.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

11 p.m.

Clause 91 [Communication with public sewers]:

Baroness O'Cathainmoved Amendment No. 167: Page 113, line 42, at end insert— (2A) For paragraph (b) of subsection (2) there is substituted— (b) to discharge directly or indirectly—

  1. (i) foul water into a sewer provided for surface water; or
  2. (ii) except with the approval of the undertaker, surface water into a sewer provided for foul water; or"."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 167, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 168, 169 and 170. The background to these amendments is that sewerage and drainage systems are designed to cope with existing and planned development. Systems have to be managed to cope with excessive rainfall or demand. However, water companies have no discretion as to where a developer or householder connects to the drainage and sewerage systems. Some developments are designed with sustainable drainage systems such as soakaways. That may mean that there is no surface water sewer. Currently, there is nothing to prevent a householder from connecting his surface water run-off to the public foul sewer. Such overloading of systems can lead to flooding.

There is a case for allowing water companies to reject or amend developers' plans or householders' requests for connection in cases where it may lead to problems for existing infrastructure and to suggest alternative connection solutions. The amendments will allow sewerage undertakers some discretion as to whether to allow connection of private surface water sewers and drains to public sewers in circumstances where less costly provision for surface water disposal could be made. It will enable sewerage undertakers to develop a sewerage system planned and managed in a sustainable manner, to reduce the risk of flooding from sewers and to ensure consideration of sewerage and ancillary works at an early stage of the development and construction process.

In Grand Committee, the Minister acknowledged the importance of sewerage and the necessity for developers to take account of the problems that can arise if the developer does not recognise what has happened there already and what will be needed in terms of increased pressure on the system. He said that the Government were in discussion with water companies and the ODPM about sewerage development. He continued, recognising the problems. He responded that sustainable surface water drainage systems are being considered by a working group under the chairmanship of the agency. He suggested: If we can develop such systems, they can significantly reduce pressure on the sewerage system by collecting, treating and disposing of surface water locally into the ground. … We also need to establish the responsibilities and the costs of building and maintaining such systems". The Minister referred to the consultation paper launched on 22nd May.

He added: Until that work is completed and decisions have been taken on it later in the year, I believe that it would be premature to accept the amendment as it stands and to see whether … we should amend Section 106 of the 1991 Act".—[Official Report, 29/4/03; col. GC 163.]

There is a lot of good reasoning in the Minister's arguments. We understand that the Government will publish its own consultation on SUDs in the autumn, along with a consultation on private sewers—should these be adopted by the industry. We are concerned that there is no guarantee that these amendments, if withdrawn, would feature in a subsequent Bill, which we assume would be the environment Bill.

Supporting the case against the Minister's arguments, subsection (4A)(a) in Amendment No. 168 states that where, it is feasible for an alternative method of drainage to be provided. utilised, maintained and kept in repair", and in (b) that it is, justifiable taking into account the relative cost to the applicant".

The fallback position for the industry would be to seek assurances that provisions covering the amendments would be incorporated within a subsequent environment Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, we support the amendments, particularly those which relate to foul water. It is a huge problem in some areas and a very serious degradation of the water environment.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I recognise that and the problems which this group of amendments seek to address. But I repeat what I said in Committee. We have issued the Framework for Sustainable Drainage Systems in England and Wales as a consultation paper which, among other things, focuses on the issues of sewerage, including the problem where foul sewers also carry surface water and the surcharge and discharge that results from that.

That consultation is quite complex. I am still of the view that we should await that consultation before proposing amendments to the 1991 Act, to which these amendments are directed.

A further consultation stage may be necessary later this year so that we can consider further all the specific disposal arrangements, including the issue of enforceable ownership and arrangements relating to the connection and maintenance of private sewers. Until we have gone through that process, it is premature to amend Section 106 of the 1991 Act.

Therefore, while registering similar concerns to the noble Baroness, I would not wish to see the amendment in the Bill. However, as a result of the consultation, it may be that some other piece of legislation may be appropriate to carry forward similar amendments.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, it could also be that after the process of consultation nothing would be done; then what do we do? If this is such a serious matter, we want to ensure that it is somewhere in the Bill.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, at the end of the consultation period we will take decisions in the light of the consultation. It is conceivable that one of the options would be to do nothing. I very much doubt it however; this is too serious a problem for no action to be taken.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, listening to the last sentence or so I feel happier. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 168 to 170 not moved.]

Baroness O'Cathainmoved Amendment No. 171: After Clause 91, insert the following new clause—


(1) Section 101A of the WIA (further duty to provide sewers) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsections (7) to (10), wherever the words "Environment Agency" appear, there is substituted "Secretary of State"."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment changes the appellant body from the Environment Agency to the Secretary of State. That will remove the inequality of sewerage undertakers having to appeal to the body they were in dispute with. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, when the Environment Act was drafted in 1995 it was considered that the Environment Agency was the appropriate body to consider disputes arising from a sewerage undertaker's decision. It had, and still has, the expertise for dealing with such matters. I know that there are concerns about the pressure on the Environment Agency with the time taken to deal with such disputes; particularly those challenged by undertakers through a judicial review. But were they to revert to the department, as the noble Baroness's amendment suggests, the department would still have to depend for its expertise on the Environment Agency's advice.

So that would not avoid pressurising the Environment Agency; it would merely lead to a degree of duplication between the department's responsibilities and the expert advice and guidance from the Environment Agency. I am therefore not persuaded that such a change is necessary.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I heard what the Minister said, but I can imagine a situation where if the Secretary of State had responsibility, he or she would have more clout than the Environment Agency to get things done more quickly than at present. I will probably have to come back to the matter. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness O'Cathainmoved Amendment No. 172: After Clause 91, insert the following new clause—


(1) In section 144 of the WIA (relating to the liability of occupiers for charges), in subsection (1), after "of this section" there is inserted "and of section 144AA below". (2) After section 144 of the WIA there is inserted—


(1) In respect of any premises of a class prescribed for the purposes of this section, section 144 above shall take effect as if for the references throughout that section to the occupier or the occupation of premises there were substituted references to the owner or ownership of such premises. (2) Regulations made for the purposes of subsection (1) above may also modify or extend the application of that subsection in one or more of the following respects by providing that—

  1. (a) in relation to any specified types of premises within the class of premises prescribed for the purposes of subsection (1) above, for the references to the owners and ownership of such specified premises, there shall be substituted references to such other categories of persons and to such rights as may be prescribed by the regulations;
  2. (b) specified classes of persons who are—
    1. (i) owners of classes of premises prescribed for the purposes of subsection (1) above, or
    2. (ii) within those categories of persons prescribed for the purposes of subsection (2)(a) above,
  3. (c) the owner or occupier of any premises of a class prescribed for the purposes of subsection (1) above which are provided with any service by a relevant undertaker in the course of carrying out its functions shall, when requested in writing to do so by the 271 undertaker, provide the undertaker with such information as may be prescribed concerning the ownership or occupation of those premises;
  4. (d) such statutory undertakers or public bodies as may be prescribed shall, when requested in writing to do so by a relevant undertaker, provide the undertaker with such information as may be prescribed concerning the current or former ownership or occupation of any premises of a class prescribed for the purposes of subsection (1) above which are or have been provided with any service by the undertaker in the course of carrying out its functions.""

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to remedy a deficiency in the water industry legislation. It does not define who is the water industry customer in houses in multiple occupation; for instance, holiday lets, bedsits, lodgings or bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It is important that all water industry customers should be properly defined so that relationships can be established and, in particular, so that customers who receive water and sewerage services can be charged for those services and any debt can be collected.

The Water Industry Act 1991 gives statutory water and sewerage undertakers—the water companies—the power to levy water and sewerage charges on the occupiers of properties supplied with water or drained directly or indirectly into a public sewer. That is consistent with the statutory duty on water companies to provide water and sewerage services to the occupiers of such premises under Section 144(1).

The Water Industry Act, with all its amendments, does not define the meaning of the word "occupier". In many cases, that is not a difficulty, but it is a serious problem for houses in multiple occupation. Without a clear definition of "occupier", water and sewage undertakers are having difficulties imposing charges on houses in multiple occupation. Property owners operate such properties as commercial businesses. The existence of a water supply is required to render the property lettable, and in many cases has been provided at the request of the owner.

Owners argue that they are not responsible for charges and that the water companies should bill the occupiers. However, there is no requirement on them to tell the industry who the occupiers are. Moreover, in many situations the tenants' occupation is far too transient and temporary to enable a water company to levy charges to each multiple occupant. Indeed, water companies would be in breach of privacy if they inquired on a monthly basis about the number of tenants or bedsitters in each lodging for the past month, whether they were single or a couple and therefore what fraction of the bill attributable to the property could be sent to each named individual. That simply does not make sense, but that is the ridiculous situation that directly results from a lack in a definition in law of the term "occupier".

The water industry has sought legal opinion and has been advised by Queen's Counsel that the definition of the term "occupier" in cases of multiple occupation can be secured only through further legislation. The water industry is in a unique situation in that companies have a statutory duty to supply, whether or not they are paid by their customers. In that respect, their legal situation is similar to that of local authorities, which provide services such as rubbish collection to individual properties and to people living in them, irrespective of whether council tax has been paid.

The amendment draws on the solution that enables local authorities to levy council tax in cases of multiple occupation. It provides for regulations to define the body of individuals liable to pay water or sewage charges for particular properties by establishing a clear definition of the term "occupier". There is, therefore, an in-built flexibility as to which properties will be affected. The liable individual could be the owner or someone else as determined by regulation. The amendment would also require the owner or occupier of a class of dwellings prescribed by regulations to provide the statutory undertaker with information concerning the ownership and occupation of those dwellings. That would be useful where water companies needed information to ascertain who was the occupier in the case of a particular property.

Importantly, the amendment would not impose a liability on housing associations and local authorities where the usual single landlord tenant relationship exists. Also, it would not change the direct relationship that exists between any person using tap water who needs to get in touch with his or her local water company on matters to do with the actual water supply.

There is a good case for changes in primary legislation. The failure of the water industry to recover costs from the people using multiple occupation premises places a significant additional and unfair burden on the customers who are charged and do pay their bills. Domestic customer debt, generally, has been estimated at between £5 and £10 per customer per year. Debts from multiple occupancy dwellings account for a disproportionate share of this burden. We must remember that multiple occupancy of the transient kind is very often practised by upwardly mobile professionals and similar groups who cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as vulnerable or in long-term poverty.

I have some figures which have been estimated from data provided by three large water companies, Northumbrian Water, Essex and Suffolk Water, and United Utilities. Together, those companies represent 11 million customers out of 52 million served by the industry in England and Wales—more than one in five customers. The figures represent both measured and unmeasured households, in both urban and rural areas, both in the north and the south of the country. We find that, within the industry, approximately 6 per cent of chargeable properties are houses in multiple occupation, but those properties accounted for 13 per cent of household debt written off in 2001–2. That means that those properties account for more than double the debt cost that the water industry incurs for other kinds of property. That is before we look at outstanding debt, not yet written off, which has been steadily growing in the last few years, when sanctions and terminated supply were stopped.

Water industry debt is a complex problem which needs to be addressed from several perspectives. The figures I have just quoted show that there is a special problem with houses in multiple occupation, which stems from a lack of definition in law for the customer receiving water services and responsible for paying water charges. The deficiency can be remedied only through targeted specific primary legislation. I beg to move.

11.15 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing forward a very important amendment for us to consider. I shall not go into the detail that my noble friend covered. The amendment asks who is the water industry's customer in houses in multiple occupation. That is a problem that needs addressing.

My noble friend clearly stated that within the industry approximately 6 per cent of chargeable properties are houses in multiple occupation but that those properties accounted for 13 per cent of debt written off in 2001 and 2002. Those properties account for more than double the debt cost which the water industry incurs from other kinds of property. It is an important issue. I hope that if the Government are not able to accept my noble friend's amendment in its present form, they will recognise publicly the difficulty that afflicts water companies and come up with their own proposals for moving forward on the matter.

Lord Whitty

My Lords. I recognise the difficulties caused by the problem of debt and how it is often related to absconding tenants. But the solution the noble Baroness puts forward is a revolutionary proposal with rather wide ramifications. Effectively it would make landlords responsible for their tenants' debts. So far as I am aware there is no other situation where that is the case. It has ramifications in relation to other suppliers of services such as utilities and other private services. I am not sure that it benefits water conservation. Presumably in metered premises—many HMOs are metered—there is no incentive for the tenant to save water if the landlord always stumps up for the bill. Therefore, I am not sure that the amendment would achieve many of its aims but in any case it raises such wide issues that I do not think that one could introduce such an enticing but radical concept.

It is not just a simple question of redefining who is the client. The matter goes to the heart of the landlord/tenant relationship in the context we are discussing and in other contexts. I do not accept that we should adopt the measure in respect of water debt. Difficult though that situation is for many water companies, we should try to find another solution.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I accept the comments he has just made about the difficulty in regard to landlords and tenants. As a landlord I worry about that, but my let property is not a house in multiple occupation. There is a serious problem here that needs addressing. This Bill may not be the right place to do that. However, I support my noble friend's amendment as the matter we are discussing is a growing problem. As we said in earlier debates on the Bill, it is easy for people to walk away from the responsibility of paying their water bills.

Perhaps the time has come to give additional thought as to how this kind of problem can be overcome. If it is a case of non-payment for gas or electricity, the supply gets cut off and there is no charge for it. But water is still there; the water has to be supplied. Although I fully understand and accept the Minister's logic and I declared an interest as a landlord, there are problems here. I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter. I am not suggesting that they come back with another amendment. The problem is long term and needs to be addressed as it will not go away. Unfortunately, it is on the increase. That is why I support the thrust of what my noble friend is trying to achieve in defining where the buck stops.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend. I am also grateful to the Minister for his comments. He said that the amendment would not benefit water conservation or the environment, but the problem is a drain on the resources of every customer in the land. We all pay more for water because of what are called wanton non-payers—they are not poverty non-payers—who seem to be getting away scot-free.

We ought to do something to tackle the problem. Other ways have been suggested, and perhaps we should look at them, although it is too late to introduce them to the Bill. We are hoisting the warning cone to say that the situation that has gone on since the sanction to cut off water was taken away cannot go on. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 92 [Devolution: Wales]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guitingmoved Amendment No. 172A: Page 116, line 42, at end insert— (g) the function of the Secretary of State under section 16A(5)(a);",

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 93 [Minor and consequential amendments and repeals]:

Lord Whittymoved Amendments Nos. 173 and 174: Page 117, line 19, after "enactments" insert "and instrument Page 117, line 19, after "repealed" insert "or revoked

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Baroness O'Cathainmoved Amendment No. 175: Page 181, line 48, at end insert— ( ) In Schedule 4A—

  1. (a) for paragraph 1(2)(a) there is substituted—
    1. "(a) a private dwelling-house constituting the whole or any part of household premises.";
    2. 275
    3. (b) at the end of paragraph 1 there is added—
(3) In this paragraph, "household premises" shall have the same meaning as in section 17C of this Act."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment corrects a deficiency in the Water Industry Act 1991 which was introduced through the Water Industry Act 1999. The amendment would make it easier to distinguish between business and domestic customers by extending the clear-cut definition in Schedule 4 to the Bill to other parts of the Water Industry Act where definitional clarity is needed.

The Water Industry Act 1999 amended the 1991 Act so as to provide two new rights for domestic customers—the right not to be disconnected for non-payment of water charges and the right not to be metered compulsorily in normal circumstances. Both those new rights require that a clear distinction is made between domestic and business customers. Unfortunately, the Act did not clearly distinguish between domestic and business customers in the case of mixed-use properties—for example, where a landlord lives on top of a pub, a janitor lives on industrial premises, or a groundsman resides at a golf club.

In a letter to Water UK of 11th January 2000, the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said that, in the case of mixed premises, only the courts can decide definitely what the law means".

That of course is correct of all legislation, but we should now seize the opportunity to improve the quality of our laws by removing as much uncertainty as possible.

The uncertainty is damaging not only for water companies, but for customers, who do not know which legal provisions apply to them and whether they are to be considered as business or domestic customers. An example is the owner of a large family home who decides to convert it to a bed-and-breakfast establishment while still living in a small flat at the top. After conversion, the house becomes a mixed-use property. I understand that that happens regularly in the South West. An important financial consideration for such a customer is whether he or she will go on paying the same water charge based on the ancient rateable value of the family house, or whether the property will be compulsorily metered as a business property. That may make a significant difference to the customer's operating costs; therefore the law needs to state clearly what the situation is.

As the Bill contains a renewed attempt at creating definitional clarity between business and domestic mixed-use premises, in connection with the extension of competition in the water industry, I propose the amendment to extend the improved distinction to other parts of water industry legislation where the distinction is important for industry customers. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, when the Water Industry Act 1999 was passed, there was considerable pressure on this area of the legislation to protect consumers and give a wide definition. I would be reluctant therefore to take on something that would appear to narrow the definition of that protection. Even if we were to consider the redefinition of what was enacted in 1999, the substitution of a definition of "premises" in Schedule 4 would not be appropriate. That use is for the quite different purpose of distinguishing those customers to whom competition will apply, and will be set out in regulations. It would be difficult to frame a definition which tried to achieve different policy purposes.

To take just one example, the 1999 Act does not protect second homes against disconnection. On the other hand, second homes are still within the definition for the competition regime and that is appropriate. One cannot just transfer that definition into an improved definition in connection with disconnection and other protections for the consumer.

I am not persuaded that this is a sensible way to go, although I recognise some of the concerns behind the amendment.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I suppose that I could say, "Thanks, but no thanks". I hear what the noble Lord says. At this hour of the night I shall not get into a great argument with him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment. by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Byfordmoved Amendment No. 176: Page 184. line 19. at end insert—

"Metropolis Water Act 1852 (c. 84)

Section 1 of the Metropolis Water Act 1852 (restriction on sources of supply of water to London) shall cease to have effect.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is linked with Amendment No. 180—which is also linked with Amendment No. 188 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I shall be brief. I have been more fortunate in this amendment than my noble friend, ploughing heavily away on some of hers.

We raised this issue in Committee. I am grateful that the Minister realised that there was a problem. The Government have reacted to my amendment in bringing forward Amendment No. 188. At this stage, I should like to record my thanks to the Government. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I am very pleased to accept Amendments Nos. 176 and 180. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has noted in her amendment, the restriction on abstraction from the Thames below Teddington Lock is no longer required to protect public health. To this end, Amendment No. 188 has been tabled by the Government as an amendment to the Long Title of the Bill to accommodate this. I commend the amendment to the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbletonmoved Amendments Nos. 177 to 179: Page 206, line 21, column 2, at beginning insert—

"In section 21(9), the words from "in that subsection" to the end."
Page 207, leave out line 9. Page 207, leave out line 13.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Byfordmoved Amendment No. 180: Page 207. line 26, at end insert— Metropolis Water Act 1852(c. Section 1." 84)

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbletonmoved Amendments Nos. 181 and 182: Page 208, column 2, leave out lines 32 to 34. Page 208, line 46, at end insert—

"National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 1999 (SI 1999/672) In Schedule 1, in the entry relating to the WIA—
(a) in the paragraph relating to functions under sections 2, 5 (etc), the references to section 2, sections 18 to 22, sections 68 to 70, section 93A and section 205,
(b) the paragraph relating to section 28(4)."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 94 [Specific transitional and transitory provisions]:

Lord Dixon-Smithmoved Amendment No. 183: Page 118, line 7, at end insert— ( ) Any person who—

  1. (a) before the coming into force of any provision of this Act was not required under Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the WRA to have a licence in respect of any abstraction, but
  2. (b) following the coming into force of this Act does require such a licence in respect of that abstraction,
shall make an application for the licence within two years of the coining into force of section 7 of this Act, and the licence will be deemed to be granted on the terms of the application until the final and lawful determination of the application.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, I formally move the amendment. It was considered worthwhile doing this in order to get the Government's reaction. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, Amendment No. 183 deals with transitional matters relating to applications that will need to be made for licences, where activities are coming under control for the first time.

What is being proposed here affects all such activities and sets out in principle what the Government intend to happen anyway. We have stated as much in Taking Water Responsibly. However, legal advice is that such matters are not necessary on the face of the Bill and that the proper place for these is in the transitional regulations that are provided for under Clause 95 of the Bill. I can assure noble Lords that appropriate provisions comparable to this amendment will be incorporated within transitional regulations that will be placed before Parliament in due course.

Amendment No. 185 seeks to ensure that the mining, quarrying and engineering construction industries will be included in compensation arrangements should a licence not be granted. As I said when this issue was raised in Grand Committee, where any previously exempt activity is unable to continue as a result of the introduction of any new controls by the Bill, Clause 95 already provides that regulations can deal with the payment of compensation.

We recognise that in some instances existing quarrying operations will require an abstraction licence for dewatering only once the Bill has come into force. We also recognise that under the current clause compensation may not be possible in those circumstances. We are still considering how to address this potential gap and will table a suitable amendment at Third Reading. With those reassurances, I hope that noble Lords will feel that the amendments need not be pressed tonight.

There is one other related issue to which I must draw attention. In considering the nature of the risks and harm or damage leading to what is to be classed as an "emergency abstraction" by quarries, and so on, we have identified the need to amend the provisions of Clause 7. That, in turn, has led us to consider further the scope of environmental damage in Clause 27. I take this opportunity to inform noble Lords that we shall bring forward amendments to both clauses at Third Reading.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, I can only say a very heartfelt "thank you".

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, I also add my thanks.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.30 p.m.

Clause 95 [Powers to make further supplementary, consequential and transitional provision, etc]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbletonmoved Amendment No. 184: Page 118, line 19, after second "the" insert"Environment

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 185 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbletonmoved Amendment No. 186: Page 118, line 32, after second "the" insert "Water Services Regulation

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Byfordmoved Amendment No. 187: After Clause 96, insert the following new clause—

"CONSOLIDATION OF WATER-RELATED LEGISLATION Within one year of the date that this Act receives Royal Assent, the Secretary of State shall publish a draft Bill for consultation, consolidating the legislation relating to water.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we return to the issue that we raised in Committee when we stated very clearly that we were all having difficulty in working through the many Acts which have been revised along the way. Therefore, Amendment No. 187 states that, following Royal Assent, the Secretary of State will consolidate the Bill with previous water-related Acts to form a composite body of legislation on water-related topics.

On 28th May on the "PM" programme on Radio 4, it was reported that Romano Prodi had commented that the draft European constitution document was a wasted opportunity and that it was, in effect, too bland and anodyne. The programme's presenters interviewed Patricia Hewitt. They began by suggesting that those comments justified the Government's refusal to allow a referendum on the subject of the draft constitution. Miss Hewitt's response was that the draft was merely the putting together of four different treaties and that the action was "modernising" and "clarifying". Her whole attitude was that this draft represented some form of common sense and good practice.

We are led by a Government who utter "education, education, education". Another mantra is the oft-repeated one concerning "joined-up government". When the subject of consolidation of water legislation was discussed in Committee, the Minister was dismissive. He stated at col. GC 179: Indeed, the convention is that the priority for consolidation Acts is determined by the Law Commission rather than by a government department".—[Official Report, 29/4/03; col. GC 179.]

This is not a government department. This is—or I hope that it will soon be proved to be—the will of the House. Anyone who has tried to follow the responses from the Benches opposite, let alone the wording of the Bill, will be only too aware of the muddle that water legislation is in already. On top of that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller said, we will have the Water Framework Directive.

The water industry is regulated by the following Acts, which are mentioned in Schedule 9 to the Bill: the Reservoirs Act 1975, the Water Act 1989, the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Water Industry Act 1991, the Water Resources Act 1991, the Competition and Service (Utilities) Act 1992, the Environment Act 1995, the Competition Act 1998 and the Utilities Act 2000. That says nothing of the changes that were made in between. If one then goes through the record of changes that have been made to, for example, the 1991 Water Resources Act, one finds that it is derived from a further set of laws including the Water Act 1989, the Water Resources Acts 1963 and 1968, the Water Act 1973 and the Drought Act 1976. That is quite a mouthful. At this time of night, I say, "Well done, Hazel, for getting that mouthful together!".

That is confusing and I am glad to see that the Minister is slightly amused. Even the army of civil servants who are employed in their various ways and at different times on this Bill—we have been well supported by civil servants throughout our debates on the Bill—have found it difficult to point us quickly to the correct source or reference. I believe that it is part of our duty as a revising Chamber to ensure, so far as we are able, that the law is clear, understandable and enforceable. I cannot in all conscience say that of this body of legislation. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I am pleased to support the amendment and must say, "Well done", to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for listing all of the Acts to which we have had to refer during the course of the Bill. Ultimately, it is not for our convenience if there is a consolidation Bill but it is very much for the convenience of the eventual users of legislation, be they industry, individuals or consumers. It would take some time and effort on the part of civil servants to consolidate the Bill but that would be a service. In this country we are not good at making our legislation comprehensible to the general public. We must improve on that; it would be extremely good if we started with water, which is of such general interest to everyone. For those reasons, I am pleased to support the amendment.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the intentions of the amendment. I was not being dismissive earlier; I was merely stating the constitutional convention that consolidation of legislation and establishing priorities therefor are a matter for the Law Commission rather than the Government or the House when they react to one particular Bill.

The situation in relation to water is complicated but I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will agree that local government legislation or the criminal justice system could do with a bit of consolidation here and there. I am sure that there are many other areas that we could think of, even at this time of night, that are rather lacking in clarity for legislators, let alone the average citizen.

It is normal practice at the end of each Bill for us to report to the Law Commissioners about whether issues of consolidation are raised. I shall ensure that the House's views are brought to the attention of the Law Commission. Indeed, noble Lords will be aware that the Select Committee on the Constitution earlier expressed concern about the difficulties that were thrown up by the Bill. Although it was reassured by my statement that I should pass those concerns on to the Law Commission, that underlines the need for me to do so. I hope that that will be sufficient for this time of night.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. As he knows, when we originally met to look at the Bill, the matter was a huge problem, because we had to go to one authority, and then look at Butterworth, and then we had to look at something else. I am sincerely grateful for his comments that he will refer the contributions that have been made, particularly regarding the amendment. That is an extremely encouraging note when we are drawing towards a close—although we have not finished—at this late stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

In the Title:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbletonmoved Amendment No. 188: Line 11, after "England;" insert "to repeal section 1 of the Metropolis Water Act 1852:

On Question, amendment agreed to.