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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I note that the Minister welcomes Amendment No. 128 which inserts the word "reasonably". That was a precursor to the other two amendments because the consumer council would reasonably want those powers that we were giving it should Amendments Nos. 131 and 137 have been accepted. I shall read what the Minister has said about the dispute resolution procedure being sufficient, but I have doubts that at the moment the CCW is in a position to ensure that it can acquire all the information that it requires.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Before the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment, perhaps I can correct her. My reassurance was that the duty to

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behave reasonably was already present and, therefore, the amendment was not necessary—rather than saying that I was accepting the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank the Minister for that clarification. I agree that the word "reasonably" appears in line 28. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 129 to 132 not moved.]

The Duke of Montrose moved Amendment No. 133:

    Page 52, line 25, at end insert—

"except where the Authority is the body which has failed to supply information, and in which case the Council shall have regard to advice from the Secretary of State as to the application of subsection (3)(c) above"

The noble Duke said: In moving Amendment No. 133 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 135, 136 and 138. On page 51 at line 24 it is provided that the council may direct the authority to give it information. It is not, in our view, fitting or sensible that the authority should then be in a position to direct the council that it cannot supply the requested data because it would be undesirable to publish it.

On Amendment No. 135, the authority consists of a small number of people easily identified and clearly tied up with water matters. The Secretary of State is not any old Secretary of State but whichever one has the environment portfolio. On the other hand, the Assembly is a large body of people. Job titles are not the same as in London. Job content is not the same. The Bill should make it clear that there is a defined area within the Assembly which has rights of access to this information and that no other will do.

Turning to Amendment No. 136, the council may from time to time be reluctant to comply, or feel that it should not comply. It may also feel that it should publicise both the request and the reasons for its refusal to fulfil the same. It is possible that the body demanding the information will be unwilling itself to publish the details. The council should have the right to publish these reasons.

I now turn to Amendment No. 138. On page 51 of the Bill, the provision from line 24 onward specifies that the council may direct the authority or an undertaker to supply information. Under the terms of the Bill, the authority has the final say over whether this information may be published. In this clause it is made clear that if the council fails to allow publication of requested data, that failure may be published in the manner chosen by the body that requested it in the first place. That is unbalanced.

At the moment, relationships between the current director and WaterVoice are apparently good enough, so that, in practice, neither would have to "direct" and neither would "fail to comply". The changes being brought about by the Bill may, however, affect those working relationships, and not necessarily for the better. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Amendment No. 133 would require the council to seek the opinion of

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the Secretary of State when considering whether to publish a notice of reason from the authority on its refusal to provide the council with information.

I hope that I can reassure the noble Duke as to why, in each case, the Bill states that the council should have regard to the authority's opinion on whether information may have a serious or prejudicial effect.

Assessing whether publishing information may have a serious or prejudicial effect on a company may mean examining quite technical details involving financial markets, for example. There is nothing within the Bill to prevent the council from also consulting the Secretary of State, but the authority is best placed to take a proper judgment. That is still the case, even when it is the authority that holds the information.

Amendment No. 135 would allow only the Minister responsible for water services within the National Assembly for Wales to make a request for information from the council. It would, of course, normally be the case that the responsible Minister would make the request, and, where necessary, there would be liaison within the Welsh Assembly. However, the Assembly is a single entity in law and I do not believe that it would be appropriate to treat it differently in the Bill. I should be in trouble with the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, were I to say anything other than that.

I suggest that Amendment No. 136 is not necessary. The protection built into the Bill is to ensure that whichever body receives a notice explaining the reasons for refusing to supply information gives some thought to the implications before publishing it—especially the views of the individual or body which supplies the information. But, aside from the general safeguards on publication, there is nothing in the Bill that would prevent the council from publishing its own notice of refusal to supply information.

Amendment No. 138 would require the Secretary of State to enforce against the authority a council request to provide information. We would expect the authority to behave in a responsible and appropriate manner. However, except for the powers of judicial review, the Secretary of State currently has no powers to enforce against the regulator. It would have serious implications for regulatory independence if she did. I do not believe that it is a road that we should start along, even for such a relatively—I do not deny its importance—minor issue as this. I hope that the detailed explanations I have given have reassured the noble Duke and that he will not feel the need to press this matter further.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: Before the Minister sits down, I acknowledge her remarks about the Assembly, and point out to the noble Duke that there is an environment Minister in the Assembly who would, on every occasion, deal with such a matter. There is also an environment committee in the Assembly, which the environment Minister would consult on occasions about such matters.

The Duke of Montrose: These amendments contain a fairly varied menu. I am grateful to the Minister for

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addressing each of them individually. In the light of what she has said, I think that we should take the amendments away and read her remarks in Hansard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 134 to 138 not moved.]

Clause 43 agreed to.

Clause 44 [Provision of statistical information to consumers etc]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 139:

    Page 54, leave out lines 7 to 9.

The noble Baroness said: I move this amendment merely to thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for agreeing to take the amendment away and reconsider it. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The Minister agreed to take away the amendment, not to accept it.

Baroness Byford: I accept that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 140 and 141 not moved.]

Clause 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 [Consumer complaints]:

[Amendment No. 142 not moved.]

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 143:

    Page 55, line 4, after "subsection" insert "(2A) or"

The noble Baroness said: This group of amendments is intended to give the CCW the power to set a level of compensation and not simply to have to refer the complaint on.

We believe that it is reasonable that, as a consumer body, the council should have the power to set a level of compensation not in excess of £5,000. That will not break the bank for any water undertaker, but we believe that it would give consumers confidence that it would be able to take action on their behalf rather than merely investigate, pass the buck to the authority and be able to do nothing substantial about a complaint. I beg to move.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I strongly support the amendment. In my experience, as matters stand, consumers have little chance to complain properly and to seek compensation. I believe that such a provision would considerably strengthen the powers that are necessary to achieve recompense for consumers.

I have long experience, for example, of cases of pollution from old pipes despoiling clothes, involving considerable amounts of money, where water companies have repeatedly refused to compensate adequately. These powers are necessary to secure such recompense.

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6.30 p.m.

Baroness Byford: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 151 and 153, which are also in this group. Both are probing amendments.

As the proposed new Section 29(11) now stands, it could be taken to mean that the council "may" report to the authority or to the Secretary of State or to the Assembly. Surely it is intended that it should report to the authority and to either the Secretary of State or the Assembly. I seek clarification because the word "or" links everything together. I am sure that my legal knowledge is not as good as that of the team sitting behind the Minister.

As to Amendment No. 153, subsection (2) will remove the duties of the authority in regard to complaints. Where in the Bill does it ensure that complaints sent to the authority are not simply ignored as being none of its business? The public are prone to take complaints to where they believe they should be dealt with, and then involve the press if they do not get a satisfactory answer from that source. Perhaps the Minister can clarify the situation.

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