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Lord Whitty: These amendments deal with a particular sector. Some of the general points which I made to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, apply also in this regard. In this case, if we accepted these amendments, water companies would have to accept a notice of reversion from subsequent tenants or property owners into whose property a meter had been installed at the instigation of a tenant without the express permission of the landlord, even when that may have occurred more than 20 years before.

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I have remarked on the general provision of being able to revert at any time, but giving rights of reversion to subsequent tenants or to property owners who were not involved in the original request opens up the prospect of opting in and out of measured and unmeasured charging for the same premises over and over again, potentially for an indefinite period.

I made my views clear on how that would apply to the generality of consumers when debating the earlier group of amendments. Potentially, there would not only be administrative costs, but unconstrained switching could cause uncertainty for the industry and changes in prices for the generality of consumers who would normally expect to know what they would have to pay for their water.

To that extent, each successive tenant could exercise the right to minimise his or her own bill--in either direction, depending on water usage--so the diminished revenue would have to be made up from the general customer base and overall charges would have to rise. That would arise from any switching but, through unconstrained switching, would be dramatic.

For that reason, we consider that the provisions in the Bill provide a balanced approach, substantially extending consumer choice, but also maintaining some degree of certainty for both consumers and companies.

In a landlord/tenant relationship, it does not seem to me that the general point has any less validity. There is no reason for treating different forms of tenures in different ways. The right to demand a meter, or to change the basis of charging, accrues to the person who pays the bill, irrespective of any other status. When the landlord takes on the role of consumer and pays the bill, tenants do not have any direct responsibility for the water bill, although it may be included in their rent, but the landlord will decide whether or not to have a meter and the consequences that flow from that. However, if the tenant has direct liability for the water charges, subject to certain practicalities, it is a matter between the tenant and the water undertaker.

Therefore, we consider that the same regime should apply in tenanted premises as it does in owner-occupied premises. I hope that in relation to the general point--in relation to the effect that it would have on the charging structure in general and in relation to the lack of clear reason for treating tenanted premises differently--the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale: I have been glued to this discussion on Clause 6, but, of course, silently. However, the Minister may not have considered one particular point: the change of use of a dwelling. My noble friend Lady Miller spoke about a property in which she has a partial interest, which I understand is divided into two maisonettes. It may be that the owner of the property--in her particular case I suppose that it would be the property company, but in other circumstances it may be a private owner of a property--may decide to amalgamate the two maisonettes into a single dwelling. What then is the position of the person who occupies that property, either as a tenant or, if the property is sold, as the new owner, in

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relation to what the noble Lord described as "switching"? He was talking about unrestrained switching, but I believe that in this case it would be rational switching. What is the attitude of the noble Lord to that particular situation?

Lord Whitty: If it is an unmeasured charge, of course, that will be a major change to the building and, therefore, that will be reflected in the charging system in any case. If one part of the building is metered and the other part is not, it would be a matter for the new landlord, if he is paying the bill, whether a measured charge is opted for or not. If a measured charge is already established in such premises, in normal circumstances the measured charge would prevail. There may be other circumstances in which there is a more dramatic change of use--what is technically a "change of use" as distinct from a merger of dwellings--and that may involve a change in the charging regime. However, in a straightforward case, when two flats are knocked into one, it would be a matter between the landlord, if he were paying the bill, and the water undertaker.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: The Minister is always extremely courteous. I shall certainly give him the courtesy of reading carefully what he has said. However, having listened to him, I feel that I do not agree with anything he has said. I want to be sure of my understanding of what he has said and to ensure that I do not find a different view when I read it.

With regard to the last line of the amendment, I believe that if the clause stands as it is, and my amendment is not accepted, the position would be still inequitable. The Minister has not addressed the position of the normal rules of landlord and tenant; that a tenant cannot change a property beyond the length of the lease. That has never been the case before in English law, but this clause would allow that.

If someone were to go abroad for 18 months for work and he let his apartment while he was away, the tenant would have the right to put in a meter--perhaps because he has only one child and it is convenient for him--but the landlord would have no say in it whatsoever. However, the landlord may have three or four children and would not want to have to pay his water bills on a volume charge when he returns. As the landlord has no say whatsoever--that is agreed; fair enough, in my view--it is inappropriate that this clause should extend the right of the tenant beyond the length of the tenancy against the wishes of the landlord. As I said, at this stage I shall do no more than read carefully what has been said. I ask the Minister to take another look at this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 17:


Page 5, line 28, leave out ("that")

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to allow companies to install meters for measuring waste water discharges from premises where that is deemed to be appropriate. Water companies are concerned that where water is charged for on a measured basis, the effect

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of Clause 6 would be that the sewerage charges would have to be related to the amount of water consumed. Of course, charges schemes already contain provisions to that effect, but they also allow for the decoupling of the measured water charge and the measured sewerage charge where there is no relationship between the two--that is the crux of the matter--for example, where water is supplied from a private source but the foul water is discharged into public facilities. Water companies can, of course, separately meter sewage discharges. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, would remove the direct link that currently exists between the volume of water paid for by customers paying on a measured basis and their sewerage bill. I understand that the argument behind the amendment is that the undertakers may not wish to be tied, when charging with reference to volume, to the volume of water supplied to the householder. That may be because the householder has an alternative water supply, for example, a well.

Water companies' existing charges schemes provide that, where a consumer pays for their water on the basis of volume, their sewerage charge will be based on the volume of water consumed, usually less 5 or 10 per cent for personal consumption. The provision in the Bill is, therefore, consistent with current charges schemes. The Bill would give stability to customers, who would be clear about the method by which the foul water element of their sewerage charge would be calculated.

If there are a small number of properties--involving very small sums--in this situation, it is unlikely to be cost-effective for the water company to provide sewerage meters as an alternative way of assessing measured waste water charges. However, I would be prepared to look more closely at the proposition if the noble Lord were able to provide evidence that that was a significant problem which required such action. As I indicated earlier, based on companies' current charges schemes, we are unable to conclude that that is the case. I would, therefore, ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Addington: That answer raises the question of what is a significant number. That depends probably on where one is standing. If one happens to be one of the few people concerned, I am sure that it is a significant number. But having heard the Minister's reply and the fact that the Government are leaving the door slightly ajar, even though they are threatening to slam it, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Restriction on change in basis of charging]:


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