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Lord Dixon-Smith: Granted. One does wonder whether "misbehaviour" is a suitable word to be used in this context. We think that the words "inappropriate behaviour" would be rather more precise. "Misbehaviour" can comprise so many things. I think that "inappropriate behaviour" would tighten up the definition so that the reasons for removing someone from office will be sufficiently clear for everyone to understand. I do not think that "misbehaviour" is sufficiently clear. I beg to move.
Lord Borrie: I wonder whether I might intervene as self-appointed monitor of statutory provisions dealing with regulators who in some way go off the rails. There are various Bills, some recently passed by Parliament, which have used exactly the phrase used in the Bill. I am therefore rather surprised at the amendment.
The words "incapacity or misbehaviour" have long been known to lawyers. They appear in the Courts Act 1971 as the provision for dealing withif I may put it this waycircuit judges who go off the rails. It appears rather more closely at hand, in the field of utility regulators, in the Utilities Act 2000 and the Enterprise Act 2002. It may be of interest to Members of the Committee to know what a recent Lord Chancellornamely, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashferncommented in 1994 about what "misbehaviour" meant in relation to circuit judges. He said that it could include conviction for drink-driving, any offence involving violence, dishonesty or moral turpitude, behaviour likely to cause offence on religious or racial grounds, or behaviour amounting to sexual harassment.
Lord Dixon-Smith: It has been worth tabling the amendment if only for the explanation because it has brought a certain amount of joy. But, as a language purist, I could take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, on this. The fact that something has been accepted throughout the whole of history does not mean that it should necessarily continue. But that is a separate issue. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Clause 34 deals with the establishment of the consumer council for water. The Committee will forgive me if I take some time over this group of amendments because some 29 Liberal Democrat amendments are grouped within this clause, plus one tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and one tabled by us jointly. As they all refer to the consumer council for water and raise a number of points, I decided that we could discuss them in the same, albeit very large, group, but they all concern the consumer council's powers.
The first group, consisting of Amendments Nos. 77A to 77G, seeks to widen the scope for the consumer council for water from simply "relevant undertakers" to include "licensed water suppliers". I should be grateful if the Minister could say from his point of view why, on the face of the Bill at present, there seems to be a wish to restrict the consumer council to having powers which simply deal with relevant undertakers. It seems to me that if the effort is being made to establish the consumer council, which we certainly welcome very much, it would be useful if its powers went as wide as necessary to gain the confidence of consumers.
Amendments Nos. 85A to 85D have a purpose similar to that of Amendments Nos. 77A to 77G in that they widen the ability of the consumer council's, in this case, regional committees to establish a relationship between the regional committees and the licensed suppliers and not only undertakers.
Amendment No. 126 has been tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and I shall leave her to speak to it. Amendment No. 127 requires that the wider range, which would include licensed suppliers, gives the consumer council for water more information. We believe that if the consumer council is to be able to fulfil its role in a meaningful way, then it must be able to obtain as much information as it requires from water companies. If a water company fails to comply with a direction from the consumer council to provide information, then the company can be required by the consumer council to give reasons.
The consumer council for water may then refer the company's refusal to Ofwat to decide whether the company should be ordered to supply the information. I submit that supplying as much information as possible is extremely important to a consumer council for it to be able to fulfil its role. Although the Secretary of State will have a power to make regulations to prescribe a person other than Ofwat to decide whether a water company should be ordered to supply information to the consumer council, it is important that the Bill gives the consumer council as much power as possible. As it stands, the Bill proposes only a restricted power. The boot should be on the other foot; the Government should give us a good reason why they want to restrict the consumer council's powers rather than widening them.
Amendment No. 129 was tabled by both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and involves a discussion of the functions and duties of the water authority and the consumer council. The Bill seems to deny the consumer council the right to require the authority to supply information, although it is not an unreasonable right. The amendment would delete the subsection. Amendment No. 130, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, deals with the same point more simply by simply deleting the word "not".
Amendments Nos. 142 to 145 deal with the issue whether the consumer council can require compensation to be paid to customers. Our amendments are pretty modest, as we would empower it to do so only up to a limit of £5,000. For consumers to have confidence in the consumer council, it needs to have some power of redress that is not too lengthy or bureaucratic. The council will be made up under Nolan rules; it will be a responsible body; and it is reasonable that it should have that power.
Amendments Nos. 163 to 168 insert the consumer council for water in a number of contexts as a body that the Secretary of State must address. It is symptomatic that, although the Government have taken the good step of creating the consumer council for water, they have failed to include it in an extraordinary number of lists throughout the Bill as a body that needs to be consulted in many situations. I shall list those situations.
Amendment No. 163 adds the consumer council to the list of bodies that the Secretary of State must consult before making regulations about the quantity threshold requirements for competition. That seems a fairly fundamental area. The threshold requirement for competition, if the Government believe that competition is at all important, is of great significance, and the consumer council should be able to have a view of it.
Amendment No. 164 adds the council to a long list of bodies to which the Secretary of State must give a copy of a licence or a variation. Surely, if a licence is varied, the consumer council for water would need to know. That omission may simply be a mistake.
Amendment No. 165 adds the council to a list of those to whom the authority must give a copy of a notice of modifications to a water supply licence. The three amendments give some flavour of the idea that the consumer council will be unable to do its job properly unless it is included in the loop of what is happening in the world of water.
Amendment No. 166 illustrates the point particularly well that the consumer council is currently not included in the list of people whom the authority must inform about modifications to standard conditions of licences. Of course, it could be argued the council is there for the end-of-tap users and need not be concerned with the standard conditions of licence. Surely, however, the conditions of the licence are important in helping to achieve the things that consumers will be concerned about.
All these amendments add the consumer council into the chain of information. Amendment No. 168 relates to what happens when the Competition Commission makes a decision after its report. As the Bill stands, there is no requirement for the consumer council to be informed when the commission makes a decision about matters that concern it.
Baroness Byford: I hope I am correct in thinking that Amendments Nos. 154 and 126 are in this group. When we read the Bill, we found to our surprise that it sometimes referred to water companies alone, although the Government want to open competition so that water suppliers will come in. In some circumstances, water suppliers are not included in
I was formerly a member of the Train Users' Consultative Committee, which became the Rail Users' Consultative Committee, so I have had to handle the kind of thing that the consumer council will have to consider. I suspect that I shall split apart from the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on the question of how much information the council requires. At the moment, the relevant information goes to Ofwat and will go to the new regulating authority. Wearing the hat that I wore on my previous committee, some of that information may not be relevant to the council. That raises the problem of confidentiality, especially on competitive issues.
I am struggling to know how to tuck in what I want to say without being ruled out of order by the Lord Chairman or by the Minister, because the grouping of amendments is so huge. I apologise to both noble Lords in advance. There are so many aspects involved and it is unfortunate that so many amendments were grouped together, although they cover the same subject. It would have been easier for the Committee to speak to separate groups, as we did earlier, when the noble Baroness, Lady Young, kindly did not repeat what she had said because we had already been over the argument. In many ways, I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is trying to do.
Amendment No. 126 would mean that licensed water suppliers would have to give information to the council. That is necessary if the council is to fulfil its obligations under new Section 27A(12)(a), on page 37 of the Bill. The obligations are described in the definition of a "consumer matter" as,
I find these matters difficult, and other Members of the Committee may wish to contribute. These measures have huge implications. Either water suppliers, having been brought in by the Bill, should be included in all aspects of the Bill, or they should not. Why have they not been? Is there a good reasonperhaps a reason of competitionwhy they have not been included in regulation or cost bearing? Similarly, is there some reason why they have not been considered and included as consultees? They should be able to get information as regards the council.
I hope that I have reflected a little on the amendments spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and clarified our position, which may be similar in some ways. At some points, we will disagree. The Bill addresses the situation unevenly.
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