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Earl Russell: My Lords, while I join with my noble friend Lord Roper in welcoming many parts of the Statement, perhaps I may also draw the Minister's attention to a report in last Sunday's Observer to the effect that an organisation of groups of Christian missionaries led by Mr Franklin Graham are ready and waiting to take over the administration of large parts of the aid programme. For the reasons so admirably outlined in this Chamber yesterday by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, will Her Majesty's Government use whatever influence they may possess to ensure that this development does not take place?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I believe that I have made it absolutely clear in this House, as we have through the Statement, that we would want to see the UN playing a large role in the reconstruction. Obviously, NGOs will have some part to play, with the major role played by the UN with respect to immediate humanitarian needs. In that context, I take on board the concerns mentioned by the noble Lord. But in view of the role we see being played by UN organisations, given the experience they already have in Iraq with the Oil for Food programme, those concerns will not arise.

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Lord Mishcon: My Lords, can we spare a moment, without any question of political allegiance, to pay homage to our Prime Minister, who has guided this country until now with wonderful courage and endurance?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I entirely endorse the comments made by my noble friend.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there are many areas of Iraq without recognised aid agencies or NGOs? Is her department going to be wary of those individuals who set up as aid organisations and who have a political incentive in seeking political legitimacy? Is the noble Baroness's department aware of that risk?

The noble Baroness mentioned not reintroducing skills because there are many skilled people in Iraq. Does she agree that training is essential? For example, it is quite urgent for professionals in the media who have known nothing but Saddam Hussein's regime? Would her department consider, for example, short courses of three or six months which could be offered not only to Iraqis in Iraq, but perhaps those in the Iraqi community in this country?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I believe that I can assure the noble Earl that, given our considerable experience of working with NGOs in other parts of the world, we are aware and know the risks which can arise sometimes in seeking to use their role for political legitimacy. It will be at the front of our minds as regards Iraq.

As regards training and short courses, particularly in the media, that is something that we already carry out. It may well be that some Iraqi journalists have already attended programmes. I see absolutely no reason why we should not be doing that.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness for missing the beginning of her Statement. Nothing could have brought home more clearly than the Statement the terrible shortage that there will be in Iraq of authority, the means to enforce and also the resources to meet all the requirements that will now be presented in that trouble country.

In that regard Iraq is perhaps fortunate in that it has close neighbours in a number of countries who have very good reason to be thankful for the departure of Saddam Hussein and his regime. As members of the Gulf Co-operation Council they have resources and disciplined manpower that could very well be useful. It would obviously be an act of great good neighbourliness on their part for the future. Her Majesty's Government have particularly close relations with the countries concerned. I wonder what discussions they will have to encourage them to see what part they can play in helping Iraq, their neighbour, in its time of need?

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Baroness Amos: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. Indeed, the GCC will be important. The noble Lord will be aware that we have been engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the GCC. In fact, my noble friend Lady Symons attended a recent meeting with the GCC and that discussion and dialogue will continue.

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The noble Lord is right. There are considerable resources in the region that could be used creatively and well in the longer term reconstruction and assistance to Iraq, and we will look to all those possibilities.

        House adjourned for the Easter Recess at ten minutes past five o'clock until Monday, 28th April.

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Official Report of the Grand Committee on the

Water Bill [HL]

Thursday, 10th April 2003.

(Fifth Day)

The Committee met at noon of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Carter) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Carter): The usual announcement was made at the beginning of the Committee stage. I remind noble Lords that in the event of a Division, the Committee will adjourn immediately for 10 minutes.

Schedule 4 [Licensing of water suppliers]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 166D:

    Page 147, line 7 after "Assembly;" insert—

"(iii) each relevant licence holder;"

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 166E, 166F, 166G, 167A and 168ZA.

I seek clarification through Amendment No. 166D. When a reference to the Competition Commission concerns a single licence holder, the report goes to him immediately and at the same time to the Secretary of State and the Assembly. What is different about a referral of more than one licence holder is that they will all have to wait a further two weeks before receiving the report. We could not quite understand those provisions in the Bill, unless I have read them incorrectly. What will the Secretary of State and the Assembly do during those 14 days? There are those who, looking at past performance, will say that the amendment will not even be opened, let alone read, straight away. I do not quite understand why there is a 14-day delay when the decision has obviously been taken.

On Amendment No. 166F, subsections (6) and (7) give the Competition Commission the duty, "so far as practicable", to prevent disclosure of anything that is not in "the public interest", against "commercial interest" or harmful to an individual. This is only a small suggestion, but does that suggest that the Competition Commission is not to be trusted? Does the Secretary of State have a different yardstick? She can hardly be responding to an appeal because the report has yet to be published. On what grounds is it envisaged that the Secretary of State will exercise the power to ban the publication of aspects of the report?

Amendment No. 166G is a probing amendment. The Competition Commission has the duty, on page 146 at line 6, of specifying the modifications by which the anticipated adverse effects,

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    "could be remedied or prevented".

The words that we wish to omit suggest that the authority can gainsay the Competition Commission. One is tempted to ask: why involve the commission at all if it can be overruled on disclosure by the Secretary of State on modifications by the authority? These are all slightly technical amendments.

Amendment No. 167A relates to line 18 on page 149. If the authority is limited to making modifications that are recommended by the Competition Commission, there will be no need for any of that to be stated. There is much to-ing and fro-ing, and all of that is to be done in a timescale that no one who has ever waited for a promised regulation, guidelines or White Paper from the Government might credit. We wonder why the words are in the Bill.

Amendment No. 168ZA is another probing amendment. It appears that licensed water suppliers are to be allowed to have their own treatment works. Will the Minister expand on that and the subject of ownership by the licensed water suppliers of buildings, pipes and lands? Will they, for example, be able to take over existing water undertakers' responsibilities in that way, sell off the water abstraction end but retain the treatment works and delivery system? If a water undertaker develops a delivery system for a licensed water supplier and charges for it, will the system belong to the licensed water supplier?

I apologise for the fact that these are fairly technical amendments. We are seeking clarification on them. I beg to move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): The essential point about the amendments is that the provisions are virtually the same as those in the Utilities Act. Although there are points in the Bill at which water clearly needs to be treated slightly differently from gas and electricity because of the structure of the market or the regulations, unless there was a specific reason for departing from the wording of the Utilities Act—or the earlier gas and electricity Acts—so far as gas and electricity are concerned, we have not departed from it.

On the specific point relating to 14 days, the standard conditions would relate to many licences but when one is dealing with a number of licensees some matters could be involved that are confidential to some of the licensees and not to others. The view is that we should need more time in which to sort that out before sending them what is in effect a standard reply circulating everything to everyone.

Amendments Nos. 166D, 166E and 166F, if taken together, would remove the right of the Secretary of State to excise sensitive matters from commission reports. The provision of confidential information to the commission and its use of that information is essential to enable it to do its job. As I said, those are the same provisions as apply to gas and electricity and there is no particular reason why those providing confidential information under the Gas Act should have their interests protected whereas those under the equivalent water licensee provisions should not.

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Amendment No. 166F relates to our reasons for involving the commission on modifications if the Secretary of State can veto. Again, that is consistent with the Utilities Act in relation to the implementation of government policies. The Secretary of State is unlikely to intervene frequently but the power is available in the Gas Act and the Electricity Act. The Secretary of State has wider interests than those of the Competition Commission, and that may lead to such a veto.

Amendments Nos. 166G, 167A and 168ZA would require the authority to be precise about any specifications that it had made for licences in the report and therefore there would not be any discretion left to the authority to make whatever modifications it believes are appropriate to give effect to the commission's conclusions. Again, that is similar to the position relating to gas and electricity. To remove that in the case of licensed water suppliers would be inconsistent and would add to the burden on the Competition Commission of getting it absolutely right. However, to give effect to its intentions, the authority's own expertise needs to be brought to bear in terms of the precise drafting of the licence. That discretion is sensible in relation to all of the utilities.

If the authority attempted to make modifications that were not in line with the conclusions of the report, the Competition Commission can exercise a veto under new Section 17P. That protection is also available.

On Amendment No. 168ZA, the noble Baroness asked whether licensees would still be able to acquire treatment works. The answer is that if they will not acquire, that may be because licensees have their own treatment works and input treated water to the undertaker's network. If the noble Baroness requires further clarification, I had better write to her because I am not entirely sure whether that directly answers her point.

The main point is that the provisions are the same as in the gas and electricity legislation and I do not see any overriding reason why things should be different in this respect.

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