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'(11) In section 222 (application to Isles of Scilly)
(a) in subsection (2), after the word "NRA", there is inserted the words "the Chief Inspector of Drinking Water"; and
(b) after subsection (2) there is inserted
"(2A) The Secretary of State shall, within a period of one year after the coming into force of section 57 of the Water Act 2003, make proposals to the Council of the Isles of Scilly for the making of an order under subsection (2) in relation to the carrying out of the functions of the Chief Inspector of Drinking Water in those Isles.".'.
'(3A) A water resources management plan that contains proposals for infrastructure investment intended to meet the requirements of an estimated growth in the quantities of water required, made by an undertaker for the purposes of subsection (3)(a) above, must include
(a) a least cost planning assessment that shall address in particular the potential effects of investment in
(i) water conservation promotion and education;
(ii) water efficiency technology; and
(iii) compulsory metering;
(b) a comparative risk assessment for each infrastructure investment option or alternative proposal considered; and
(c) such other information as the Secretary of State may specify in directions.'.
'have a duty to promote water conservation.'.
Norman Baker: I am grateful to hon. Members who spoke in the previous debate for making their comments brief so as to allow discussion on the next group of amendments. I did not speak in that debate, but I wish to say that the Minister also has the support of the Liberal Democrats in respect of the measures on private sewers. He may reflect on the fact that he has managed to unite the whole House in supporting the Government on that measure. Perhaps he should look for other policies of the same nature. The new clause in question was tabled two hours before a public meeting on sewers that I attended in Polegate in my constituency, and it went down well with the voters.
New clause 11 deals with water pricing, which is a big issue for consumers and others. The cost of water varies widely, and wildly, from one area to another, and not always on the basis of any deep logic. The post-privatisation arrangements were somewhat unfair, and water pricing inequalities have continued ever since.
A particular problem is that some water and sewerage companies have had to bear disproportionate costs because of the need to undertake environmental improvements. All hon. Members will be in favour of those improvements. Over the past 10 to 15 years, for instance, the quality of bathing water has improved markedly. However, that has had a disproportionate impact on water and sewerage companies in certain areas. The south-west has 30 per cent. of the English and Welsh coastline, but only 3 per cent. of the populationas well as a comparatively high amount of poverty. As a result, a disproportionate burden of environmental protection falls on that population. The Ofwat report, "Tariff structure and charges 20022003", shows that the average sewerage component of annual water bills is £125 in England and Wales, but £211 in the south-west. Combined with water provision costs, that makes an average annual combined bill of £326 in the south-west, compared with an average of £228 in the rest of the country.
The Government's position has always been that as the improvements benefit the local population, it is only right that that population should pay for them. As a principle, that cannot be faulted, but the problem is that environmental improvements in the south-west are not necessarily for the benefit of that region, but for that of the nation as a whole. A nationwide benefit derives from cleaning up our bathing waters that goes beyond that derived in the south-west. Although one could argue that there is a beneficial impact on tourism, for example, the current water pricing system does not take account of the national aspect.
We all want to enjoy clean beaches and unpolluted coastline, wherever we live. As a Member representing a coastline in the south-east, I do not want to be nimbyish by saying that as long as my coastline is all right, it does not matter what it is like in the south-west. I want the south-west and other areas to be as clean as the south-east. Nevertheless, a different method of pricing is
Andrew George (St. Ives): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that amendment, which is very important to the 2,000 of my constituents who are inhabitants of the Isles of Scilly. The Isles of Scilly have been excluded from some of the provisions in the Bill and in previous Acts. If we are to raise standards in water-related environmental matters, particularly drinking water, on the Isles of Scilly, it is important that such amendments are accepted in order to bring them up to the standards that are taken for granted in other parts of the country.
Norman Baker: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is correct that the Isles of the Scilly are excluded from some legislation, but my hon. Friend looks after his constituents assiduously, and I am sure that any omissions are flagged up in this House through amendments and by other means. I hope that the Minister will respond to the point.
Amendment No. 131, which was tabled in my name and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty), would introduce a rather radical approach to water infrastructure developmentradical in this country, that is, but less so elsewhere. It reflects aspects of best performance in the United States, where energy suppliers are not allowed to build new capacity for generation until they have demonstrated that they can meet by other means the requirements that are placed on them. That is the correct environmental approach, which the amendment would apply to the water industry in this country. It says, in effect, that in meeting the challenge of growing demand for water, it cannot and should not, for environmental reasons, be assumed that the only option is to find a way to supply that extra demand. The Government should not base their framework on "predict and provide". Increased abstraction, new reservoirs and new treatment facilities have a considerable environmental impact. We must consider ways of reducing demand, whether by encouraging water efficiency measures or considering metering in certain areas. Various levers can be pulled to reduce demand for water in a more environmentally-friendly way than churning up the countryside to produce new reservoirs. The water companies have not always paid attention to those alternatives: they need a bit of encouragement from the Government to do so.
Groundwater levels have reached record lows in some areasfor example, in Chilgrove in west Sussex, Ardingly in Sussex, and Arlington in my constituencywhere levels are down to 22 per cent.but there has
Water companies do not appear to have in mind alternatives to providing new infrastructure; they therefore need encouragement. It is possible to meet legitimate water demands through alternative means such as water efficiency and metering. We should adopt that approach, which is tried and tested in other countries. I hope that the Minister will view that with the seriousness with which the amendment was tabled.
I remind the Minister that Conservative Members voted for this amendment, but that he and his colleagues voted it down. The hon. Lady who tabled it is unavailable at the momentI believe that she is unwellbut it is most important that this duty is included in the Bill. The existing wording is not nearly strong enoughindeed, it is rather weaselly in comparison with what it should be. I therefore urge the Government to support the amendment: I am sure that in their heart of hearts they would like to do so.