Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness O'Cathain: Before supporting Amendment No. 168UA, I would like to make a gentle suggestion to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. Her view of water undertakers as regards metering was very cynical. She suggested that if meters are installed undertakers will encourage people to use more water in order to receive more money. That is precisely the reverse of what happens. The reality is that when meters are installed, people are very conscious of the amount of water that they use and the cost of it, so they try hard to conserve water.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, about Amendment No. 168UA, there is a duty to promote rather than to impose. If the water undertakers have to impose yet more regulations or requirements on their customers, that will be extremely difficult and it would put a huge cost on to the water undertakers.

I take his point that at the moment much is done by the water undertakers to promote the efficient use of water by customers. I believe that the purpose of the

10 Apr 2003 : Column GC91

amendment is to encourage people to think about that even more. The undertakers do produce information notices about sprinklers and so on. But some water companies go further than that and tell people that in the area where they live there is a water shortage and so it would be better when planning their gardens to produce tropical plant gardens or gardens with drought-loving plants. I have seen many leaflets to that effect.

There is a kernel of something here, if we can get the message across, although I do not know how. I suspect that the water companies would probably say that if they are to undertake a big promotion of the efficient use of water they will need that offset against the price that they charge, or they will want some recognition of it in their prices. As it is so important that there should be efficient use of water it is good to have such a provision on the face of the Bill.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I support this group of amendments. I do not believe that there is a great deal of difference between us. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, of course, loves to argue about words. At this stage these amendments have been tabled to sort out where we stand. I do not believe that there is any disagreement that there should be something on the face of the Bill about the efficient use of water. I do not think that anyone would have a difficulty with that as a statement of principle. Whether one uses the word "efficient" or the word "conservation" is another matter.

Although I accept entirely that all public bodies should be involved with the efficient use of water, the Government and indeed all public bodies are not actually water suppliers. They do not have a relationship with customers. I am sure that the Government must be the customer of a great many water authorities. The water authorities are the bodies that have a direct relationship with customers across the country and that gives them a considerable influence over persuading their customers to use water efficiently.

One could make a slightly cynical observation that if Ofwat did not work quite so hard at keeping the price down, people would be slightly more interested in conserving water. As it is, they simply buy water in a bottle from the supermarket at a more expensive price per litre. There are some oddities when one considers the situation.

The primary responsibility for promoting the efficient use of water should go to the water authorities because they have the supplier/customer relationship with everyone, including, of course, the Government. However, they have to apply it to themselves. Members of the Committee will recall that I mentioned at Second Reading that we have one water authority that has too high a rate of leakage for anyone's comfort. Easily the biggest additional source of water in that area is the amount that leaks out of the authority's pipes. As water is neither created nor destroyed, that water goes somewhere. The fact is that it is treated but does not come out of the customers' taps. That also has to be considered.

10 Apr 2003 : Column GC92

I do not think that there is any disagreement anywhere in the Committee about this principle: that something on this subject ought to be on the face of the Bill. These amendments may not be perfect—amendments at this stage of a Bill rarely are—but I believe that we all have an obligation to work together to ensure that we can come up with an agreed amendment on this subject that can be put on the face of the Bill before it leaves this House.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I say to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, and to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, that I speak mainly as a customer. I am a metered customer of Wessex and an unmetered customer of Thames. In neither place do I find that a great effort is made to encourage me to be efficient with my water. The efforts that I have made have been of my own doing.

My more substantive point is that I believe that we need two matters on the face of the Bill. The first concerns the efficient use of water. In his reply the Minister will probably say that to give the Environment Agency the power over efficiency matters is sufficient, so such a provision does not need to be inserted in the Bill and that it is a duty on the water undertakers. I believe that water conservation is a slightly separate matter. I see the Minister frown. I shall try to define the difference. One point is that people should try to use less water and the other is that such matters as recycling of water are a conservation matter. I may not use less water, but I use the water available to me in a different way. I realise that I have not defined the situation well. I am sure that we shall return to this subject at Report stage and I shall work on my definition. I hope that in reply the Minister will address those as two different issues.

Lord Whitty: I can assure the noble Baroness that I was not frowning at her remark. I think we have just come to that stage in the Committee! Nor was I suggesting that this matter is all down to the Environment Agency. Amendment No. 168UA proposes a duty on water companies to promote the efficient use of water by their customers. That already exists in Section 93A of the Water Industry Act. Clearly, both conservation and efficiency are subsumed under that. In this Bill, paragraph 24 of Schedule 8 contains an amendment to extend that duty to licensed water suppliers. In effect, I think that matter is covered by existing legislation and by a part of Schedule 8 that we have already dealt with. I therefore do not believe that Amendment No. 168UA is needed.

On Amendments Nos. 170 and 171B, which apply duties to central government more widely, I am not sure whether the correct form of words is used or whether it is inserted at the correct place in the Bill. However, there is something in the noble Baroness's argument that there could be value in extending the scope of some of the initiatives across all public bodies.

10 Apr 2003 : Column GC93

I am prepared to take away the two amendments, to reflect on them and perhaps to come back if I see a better way of producing that result.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I particularly thank the Minister for that reply and assure him that that will also save government time when we come to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill.

Baroness Byford: I thank noble Lords for their comments on this group of amendments. I accept—but do not perhaps always fully agree with—what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said. I realise that the amendment is not perfect in any way. The Minister said that the power is already there. We looked at the duty in the Act and felt that we needed to strengthen it. I shall take that away and consider it. On the Minister's response to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, we should be delighted if he came back with something that would do what we are seeking to do in all of our amendments; that is, to conserve water. We seek to secure that at various places in the Bill—such a provision should be in it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 168V:

    Page 194, line 27, at end insert—

"In section 148 (restriction for charging for metering works), in subsection (2), after paragraph (c) there is inserted— "(cc) any sums which it is entitled to recover under an agreement under section 66D above;"."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 168VA not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 168W to 168Z:

    Page 194, line 39, at end insert—

"In section 163 (power to fit stopcocks), in subsection (1), after "the undertaker" there is inserted "or a licensed water supplier.""
Page 195, line 22, at end insert "or 66GG"

    Page 198, line 16, after "introduction" insert "or introductions"

    Page 198, line 27, after "introduction" insert "or introductions"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended during pleasure from 1.32 to 2.5 p.m.]

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 169:

    Before Clause 55, insert the following new clause—

(1) The Secretary of State and the Water Services Regulation Authority shall consult the Health and Safety Executive about all safety issues which may be relevant to the carrying out of any of their respective functions under Part I of the WIA.
(2) The Secretary of State and the Water Services Regulation Authority shall, in carrying out their respective functions under Part I of the WIA, take into account any advice given by the Health and Safety Executive about any safety issue (whether or not in response to consultation under subsection (1)).

10 Apr 2003 : Column GC94

(3) For the purpose of this section a safety issue is anything concerning the abstraction, storage, treatment or conveyance through pipes of water, or the storage, treatment or conveyance through pipes of sewage or trade effluent, which may affect the health and safety of—
(a) members of the public, or
(b) persons employed in connection with the above-mentioned activities.
(4) Sections 2 and 2A of the WIA and subsections (1) to (3) above do not apply in relation to anything done by the Water Services Regulation Authority—
(a) in the exercise of functions relating to the determination of disputes, or
(b) in the exercise of functions under section 31(4A) of the WIA.
(5) The Water Services Regulation Authority may, nevertheless, when exercising any function under section 31(4A) of the WIA, have regard to any matter in respect of which a duty is imposed by section 2 or 2A of the WIA or subsections (1) to (3) above if it is a matter to which the Director General of Fair Trading could have regard when exercising that function.
(6) The duties imposed by sections 2 and 2A of the WIA and subsections (1) to (3) above do not affect the obligation of the Secretary of State or the Water Services Regulation Authority to perform or comply with any other duty or requirement (whether arising under this Act or another enactment, by virtue of any Community obligation or otherwise)."

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of the amendment is to require the Secretary of State and the water services regulation authority to consult the Health and Safety Executive on all relevant issues. It is important because at the moment the Secretary of State has the discretion to consult the HSE. At an earlier stage of the Bill, we discussed people being judge and jury and so on.

The Secretary of State would be helped by having to consult the HSE. There are few more important issues than water, water and sewage, sewage and trade effluent; their effects on health are immense. I do not expect that I need elaborate for Members of the Committee all of the issues that arise when something in the system goes wrong.

I noticed that the Minister said in his response to the amendments grouped with Amendment No. 168MA that the Secretary of State had powers over the addition of substances to the water supply. I am sure that that is provided in previous legislation. That makes it even more important that the Secretary of State should at least have a duty to consult the HSE on any way in which he intends to exercise those powers.

The Minister may say that our amendment is not necessary because the Secretary of State would exercise his discretion responsibly. I am sure that he would. It is in the public interest to include the amendment in the Bill and not leave the critical issue of health and safety to political discretion. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page