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Lord Graham of Edmonton: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 26 in my name which is grouped with the amendment we are discussing. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for explaining our concerns. I declare a non-financial interest in that I am the honorary secretary of the All-Party Group on the Welfare of Park Home Owners. The Minister's department will be aware that people who live in mobile homes are sometimes taken for a ride in the context we are discussing. The all-party group includes in its membership David Rendel, the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock; Roger Gale and John Butterfill. We were delighted recently to persuade the Minister, Hilary Armstrong, to establish a ministerial group to examine the views of site owners, residents, local government officials and others who seek to improve the lot of the people we are discussing.

People consider mobile homes as being outwith the normal range of provision. However, there are more than 200,000 mobile homes throughout the country. At a modest estimate, that means half a million people. Often those people lose out in terms of the protection afforded to them in this regard. Most mobile home parks are well run and most of the residents are happy. But some site owners are very reluctant to play the game by their residents. I do not deny that it is a commercial business, but some owners take advantage.

When a water charge is to be met and, by agreement, it is shared by those who use the water, one would think that reasonable--it does not always happen--and one would think it reasonable that the site owner seeks to make a profit. However, it is not unreasonable that the individuals concerned should raise the issue. But it is a sad fact that many of the residents of mobile homes are elderly and vulnerable. They are disadvantaged in many ways. Sometimes they have difficulty in raising the issue with the owners of the sites. One solution would be for them to take the owners to court--of course they could, at a cost--but, with the increasing pressure on legal aid, they would have difficulty in finding the money to do so. I am talking about site owners who know that they are doing wrong--and persist in doing so--and the vulnerable individual is the one who suffers.

As my noble friend Lord Addington said, steps are being taken to remedy that. Ofwat is bringing in a remedy under Section 150 of the Water Industry Act and consultations are taking place. The gravamen of the amendment is to ask the Government whether they are aware of the problem and whether they have a better solution than the ones proposed. Is there a good reason why vulnerable, inarticulate and sometimes poor people should have to rely upon their own cash and the courts to seek redress? I do not believe that that is the case.

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Yesterday in the other place my good friend Hilton Dawson, the MP for Lancaster and Wyre, raised the issue of the need to address more seriously the problems of mobile home residents. The problem concerns others, but it particularly concerns those who buy mobile homes for retirement. They believe they have bought a piece of paradise--very often it is true--but sometimes it becomes a nightmare. I hope that the Minister recognises the problem and that the Government will try in any way they can to make it easier for people who live on mobile home sites to enjoy the same advantages as others. People who live in council flats and many other places are able to rely upon landlord and tenant legislation to protect them against harassment. A whole range of legislation protects them but it does not protect the mobile home owner.

I move this as a probing amendment. I am anxious to hear what the Minister has to say. If it is a sympathetic answer I am prepared to consider not putting the amendment to the vote.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Amendment No. 25 proposes an addition to the powers of the Director General of Water Services when making a water resale order. The amendment would allow the order to force the disclosure of information by the person reselling water to the purchaser. This is a subject slightly outside the scope of the Government's water charging review and the other measures in the Bill, in which we have concentrated on the charges paid to water undertakers.

The use of the powers in Section 150 is, so far, untried. The director has recently proposed to make an order to limit resale prices and that has been widely welcomed. I welcome this proposal too. But my immediate reaction to the amendment is that it is surely premature to ask for an extension of powers to make an order before the existing power has been used even once. The Government would prefer first of all to take stock of how the order works within the present available powers. These already enable the director, as he is proposing, to limit water resale prices to the fair recovery of the sums paid by the reseller to the water undertaker. Once the order is in operation, if we were confronted with evidence that it was not entirely effective, then we would consider legislation or some other measure. But we would prefer not to accept an amendment that assumes that the presently proposed order will not be effective in forcing water resellers to charge only reasonable prices.

I turn to Amendment No. 26, which was spoken to by my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton. I pay tribute to the work which he and those to whom he referred have done in support of the interests of those living in mobile homes. I am certainly aware that my honourable friend Hilton Dawson, with great justification, has taken up the matter. However, Amendment No. 26 would go even further in creating a criminal offence to enforce the terms of the resale order. This seems to be out of proportion to a problem that we do not yet know we have. I would point

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out that the director general's regulation of the water undertakers, including the setting of price limits, is not supported by criminal offences. I do not think it appropriate that criminal sanctions should apply to water resale either.

At the moment the Government are not persuaded that either amendment is necessary. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I accept with appreciation the Minister's sympathy for what we are seeking. I acknowledge that there has been no case history in the matter. We know the nature of some of the owners of mobile homes sites. We support the amendment because we fear that when the Bill comes into force it will lead to the kind of anomaly, misuse and disgrace we have spoken about. As my noble friend will know from her wide experience of local government, there are many people who remain silent rather than, as it were, cause trouble. If you have a bad site owner who does not care tuppence about upsetting people, then the situation I envisage will arise. I accept that this may not be the right occasion to pursue the matter. I think the Minister is saying that we need hard evidence in front of us. If the all party group provides evidence of wrongdoing, I am satisfied that that will be looked at.

Lord Addington: I have a question for the noble Baroness. How will the Government acquire the information? The amendment I propose--I accept it may not be exactly right--allows the ultimate consumers of the water to know what the intermediary is charged and what they are being charged. It is a way of gathering information. If people are being swindled they tend to talk about it and will report it. Even if they do not all report it, some will. If we do not have that means of information gathering, ultimately no form of legislation will ever be effective.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It will be effective through the power of the director to limit the resale prices.

Lord Addington: I do not think that has answered my question at all. I do not propose to take the amendment to a vote at this point. It is something we will have to come back to. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, made a very powerful speech. If that was a gentle probe, I shudder to think what a thrust from him is like. The noble Lord is definitely my friend, although I think he made a mistake by referring to me as his noble friend. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

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Clause 10 [Extension of power to carry out works in connection with metering]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 27:


Page 7, line 28, at end insert--


    ("( ) After subsection (9) there is inserted--


    "(10) In this section, references to "premises", "building" or "house" shall be taken as also being references to--


    (a) any private dwellinghouse forming the whole or any part of any premises, building or house; and
    (b) any premises, building or house excluding any private dwellinghouse forming part of such premises, building or house".").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 to Schedule 3. They are all minor technical amendments to the same effect and for similar purposes and can be simply explained.

The amendments all cover the situation of what may be described as "mixed" premises; that is to say, a building that is used both as someone's principal or only home and for business premises. Particular examples are: living accommodation forming part of a public house, a flat over a shop, or even the caretaker's flat in a commercial building.

Amendment No. 27 to Clause 10 is to ensure that in such mixed premises the water company will be able to provide a metered supply for the part of the building used for business purposes, irrespective of whether or not the occupier of the residential part opts for a meter. It also means that once the business premises are separately metered, the water supplier will not be prevented from disconnecting the business premises because the residential part of the building forms a kind of shield.

I need not take much of the Committee's time in explaining Amendments Nos. 35 and 36. They simply cover the technical problem of premises which have a mixed use--partly residential and partly business. We are all agreed that the residential part should have protection against disconnection. What needs to be avoided is a situation whereby the fact that part of the premises is residential prevents appropriate remedies being taken against the business premises. If, for example, the building were a public house or a restaurant with living accommodation over it, there could be a very substantial use of water for commercial purposes.

Amendment No. 35 is intended to ensure that in mixed premises the water company can require separate service pipes for the parts that are used for private purposes and those that are used for business purposes.

Amendment No. 36 follows from that. It seeks to make clear that the ban on disconnections which is provided for in the Bill, and which we support, does not extend to premises that are used both for business purposes and as a dwelling house, and where the water supply is used for business purposes. That would ensure that, for example, a public house could be cut off, even though the landlord lived on the premises. It does not cover the situation whereby someone lives over the shop

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and the water supply is used only for the residential accommodation and not for the business. That would still be protected from disconnection. I beg to move.


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