HC Deb 02 November 2000 vol 355 c553W
Mr. Ian Stewart

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when the Government plans to publish the draft Water Bill; and if he will make a statement. [136776]

Mr. Meacher

I will publish a draft Water Bill for public consultation on Monday 6 November. The draft Bill will have three main elements: first, it will contain provisions to improve the management of water through reforms to the abstraction licensing system and by promoting greater water conservation by water companies; second, it will re-introduce the regulatory reform provisions for water that were removed from the Utilities Bill in March 2000. These clauses have been updated since then, mainly to reflect any relevant amendments made to the equivalent energy provisions now in the Utilities Act 2000. The overall aim is to put the consumer at the heart of the regulatory process and to make regulation more open and accountable; and third, the draft Bill will contain a number of other useful but minor improvements to the regulatory systems for water and reservoir safety.

The draft Bill includes provisions to increase the maximum penalty for abstraction and impounding offences and for supplying water unfit for human consumption from £5,000 to £20,000. This reflects the importance the Government attaches to ensuring appropriate fines for water offences. Unlimited fines are available in the crown courts.

The draft Bill will also give new powers to the regulators to fine water companies up to 10 per cent. of their turnover for breaches of their conditions of appointment, or for failure to achieve prescribed standards of performance.

We are also consulting on measures to ensure that customers have easy access to reliable comparative information on water company performance. We are working with the water industry with the aim of developing a pilot scheme. We are also consulting when we publish the draft water bill on introducing any necessary legislation to require companies to provide comparative performance information to customers.

Copies of the draft Bill and covering consultation paper, and an accompanying publication setting out the Government's Regulatory Impact Assessment, Environmental Impact Assessment and a Policy Appraisal for Equal Treatment will be laid before the House at 11am on Monday 6 November.