Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: We had similar thoughts but found a different place in the Bill to insert them. They are found in Amendment No. 185, which is a long way ahead. We shall debate that amendment later. The issue of water running into sewers and so on is very important. I do not believe that it is given sufficient consideration in the Bill as it stands. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

Baroness O'Cathain: Obviously I support these amendments. I said at Second Reading that there should be an obligation on building companies, development companies and construction companies to consult with the local water and sewerage companies. After all, they have been operating either in their current form or in their pre-privatisation role in the area for more than a hundred years in most cases. They know the specific area involved. Too often one finds, with the value of hindsight, that buildings should not have been constructed in certain areas because the infrastructure was not capable of supporting the new development, particularly in relation to areas such as water meadows and marshy lands, which are prevalent in parts of the South and South East, despite our lack of water. That can cause enormous problems for the construction of new developments and for the existing buildings and structures in the area. If there is a way to have an absolute demand that any new development should consult with the local water and sewerage companies, that would be to everyone's advantage.

8 Apr 2003 : Column GC39

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I want to add to what has been said. My noble friend Lady Miller alluded to Amendment No. 185. We are discussing an important matter. In the past, I have had to deal with specific circumstances in which outdated flooding overflows have formed part of a previous development—perhaps 30 or 40 years previously. Additional housing in that situation caused serious pollution problems. They were not in the South East. Rivers of high-quality water were wrecked in storm conditions because of lax planning regulations when housing was expanded on certain sites.

Lord Whitty: While I accept what noble Lords have said about the importance of sewerage and the necessity for developments to take account of the problems that can arise if a development does not recognise what has happened there already and what will be needed in terms of increased pressure on the system—we are in discussion with water companies and the ODPM about sewerage and development—planning guidelines already specify that water companies should be consulted.

On the amendments as such, they are, as the noble Baroness said, the exact equivalent of those we have just discussed in relation to water, and they call for appraisals. I shall not repeat what I said about the desirability or preferability of having the RIA system, to which I referred. My comments in that respect also apply in this regard.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to noble Lords who spoke. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, commented on the importance of this matter; it is important. In some ways, it is almost more important than the water issue, although that sounds ridiculous. For those of us who went through areas and were caught out by flooding—that seems to happen so often—the most dreadful experience was not when clean water was coming in but when sewage water came back into people's houses. That is very undesirable. I hope that the Government will give greater consideration to this group of amendments. The householder can do nothing at all about the problem. One can get rid of dirty clean water—if I can express it that way—quite well, but the thought that one has had polluted water in one's house, however much one cleans it out, is absolutely abhorrent to most of us.

I heard the Minister's response to my earlier amendments. I am obviously disappointed that he is not able to give a better response to this group. Perhaps when he has had time to reflect on our discussions—Ministers' notes are often prepared before the debate has taken place—he may reconsider at a later stage. I hope that in particular in relation to this issue, which deals with the concerns expressed about foul water if flooding occurs; it also involves the importance of having enough good sewerage conditions, particularly with regard to new-build houses. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 115 and 116 not moved.]

Clause 41 agreed to.

8 Apr 2003 : Column GC40

Clause 42 [General functions of the Council]:

[Amendment No. 116A not moved.]

The Duke of Montrose moved Amendment No. 117:

    Page 48, line 31, at beginning insert "households containing"

The noble Duke said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 118 to 120.

This amendment has a slightly familiar ring to it; we are considering itemising various individuals and conditions. When considering the way in which the council might apply the criteria, it is important to consider households that contain the disadvantaged individual and not leave the clause open to rejection of their interests because another individual who is in the house does not meet those criteria. We have been given a request to have regard to the needs of full-time students. If a household of several students had one individual who did not meet the low-income criteria, the clause might allow the council to feel that it need not consider the interests of the remainder. By offering to households this consideration, that danger might be eliminated. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Amendments Nos. 117 to 120 would change the emphasis from individuals to households when it comes to the vulnerable groups to which the consumer council must have regard.

Could I reassure the noble Duke that if the interests of the individual are to be considered, the council is in effect already considering the interests of the household containing such an individual? This is the mirror image—the exact opposite—of the views that he expressed. That is particularly true with regard to water and sewerage services that are supplied to the premises as a whole in which the individual lives. That would be the case with issues related to water pricing. That is reflected in the vulnerable groups scheme, which is aimed at households that combine low income and unavoidable high-water use. However, there are occasions when the interests of the individual go beyond the interests of the household. For example, illness—such as the need for home dialysis—may make a consumer particularly vulnerable to interruptions in the water supply. We should ensure that the consumer council is able to have regard to those circumstances as well. The clause has been carefully drafted to achieve that without the noble Duke's amendment. I hope that, with that explanation, he feels satisfied that we are in agreement about what we want the Bill to say.

The Duke of Montrose: I thank the Minister for placing that explanation on the record, which is very much what we wanted. It proves that whatever the state of the household or the individual, it will receive the consideration that the council should give it. In view of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8 Apr 2003 : Column GC41

[Amendments Nos. 118 to 120 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Dean of Harptree): If Amendment No. 121 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 122.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 121:

    Page 49, leave out lines 13 to 35 and insert—

"( ) Subject to subsection (7) below, in the exercise of its function under this section, the Council shall have regard to the need for excluding from such proposals, advice, information and views, so far as practicable—
(a) any matter which relates to the affairs of an individual, where the publication of that matter would or might, in the opinion of the Council, seriously and prejudicially affect the interests of that individual; and
(b) any matter which relates specifically to the affairs of a particular body of persons, whether corporate or unincorporate, where publication of that matter would or might, in the opinion of the Council, seriously and prejudicially affect the interests of that body."

The noble Baroness said: This amendment and those grouped with it deal with two issues, the first of which involves the fact that the Bill appears to require the consumer council for water and Ofwat to publish an explanation. I should be grateful for the Government's views on which of those bodies should publish what sets of information. Secondly, the amendments aim to give back to the consumer council for water the power that the Bill currently proposes to remove from it; that is, the power of being able to publish large swathes of information.

The defence of that is that it might well affect a company's share price if certain information was disclosed. We would prefer the Bill to be drafted in a different way, so that the consumer council for water could discover and require all the information from the water undertakers, and then decide in its opinion what information was able to be disclosed.

It will be very difficult for the consumer council for water to fulfil its role sufficiently and as fully as we believe that it should be able to if the Bill stays as it is. As it is drafted, there are many occasions on which the defence of the water industry, should it choose to use it, could be, "Well, that information will lay us open to unfair competition or is commercially sensitive" and so on. The amendments are designed to discover the Government's thinking in drafting the Bill in such a way that the consumer council for water has far too little power in terms of requiring information. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Baroness Byford: I understand that there are many amendments in the group. Has the noble Baroness spoken to all of them?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page