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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: In the intervening two or three weeks since we last discussed the matter, I hope that the Minister has had to time to reflect on the issue of separating the people who cannot pay from the "won't" pay people that I tried to explore in my amendment which aimed to define "water poverty".
Lord Whitty: Occupiers use water. Therefore, the logical charge is on the occupiers. It is not the same as council tax. Water is supplied for the particular use of those people in those premises, whereas council tax is a general tax that is applied for all kinds of services whether or not the person who pays it enjoys that particular service. So I do not think that there is a read-across there.
I recognise the problem of debt. But, to adopt this proposal would raise other issues of principle. It is not so much the detailed wording, but that there are other issues of principle which must be answered before one can shift the burden of responsibility. For example, as regards metered premises, if the owners rather than the occupiers were responsible for the bills, there is absolutely no constraint whatever on the occupier using huge amounts of water because they will not have to meet the charge.
If we are talking about water conservation and efficient use of water, to shift the burden might not actually meet that objective. There are also detailed complications, in the sense that the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness allows us to prescribe classes of property and classes of owner. I think she has helpfully explained that that relates principally to houses in multiple occupation. But it means that the relationship between the owner and the occupier will be affected by this legislation in a significant way. In other words, if owners think that they will end up being responsible, it is probable that in certain circumstances the supply
Alternatively, that amount will be built into the rent in such a way that it might mean that certain families could not afford those premises. This raises wider issues in the relationship between the landlord and the tenant. Effectively, the proposal gives landlords the responsibility for the debts of their tenants. One way or another the land owner will try reasonably to avoid that responsibility.
So I recognise the problem and the cogency of some of the arguments that seek to shift the burden, but I think that also there are a lot of objections. Therefore, I am not minded in this context to move in that direction. Of course, there is the separate issue as to how we collect the debt and whether we can effectively, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, distinguish between those who will not pay and those who cannot pay. Administrative and guidance notes may help on that. However, I do not think that a wholesale shifting of the burden on to the owner would necessarily be beneficial for the other objectives of the Bill and that it raises bigger issues in the tenant-landlord relationship.
I have not commented on the information dimensions because I assume that they are supportive of the general intention. I am torn on the matter, but my view is that on balance the arguments against more than counter the arguments for making the change suggested by the noble Baroness.
Baroness O'Cathain: I thank the Ministernot profusely I have to say, but he did not really expect that. Perhaps I may put him right on one matter. He said that there would be a profligatealthough he did not use that worduse of water by the people using the water. The fact is that they are not paying for it at the moment. There is probably a profligate use of it anyway by these people in multiple occupations.
The issue is a very serious one and it is getting worse. It is not as if the issue had just reached the stage of £10 per customer. However, it is a rum thing for a government to say that it does not really matter, "We shall not go after the 'won't payers'" and, "It does not matter. The rest of you will have to pay £10 a year more for your water". The problem is that more and more people are climbing on this bandwagon. They are aware that this is happening and are saying, "We don't have to bother because no matter what we do, they can do as they like and we still will have the water", because there is no disconnection charge and it is something quite different.
The industry as a whole is dealing withit must beDEFRA in trying to reach some solution to the problem. But I hope that the Minister will bear in mind just how serious this situation is and how much more serious it is likely to become. I am disappointed, but I can assure him that the issue will not go away. I just hope that the Government, together with the industry, can reach a solution that alleviates the problem for those that my noble friend so rightly says really cannot pay but who have to pay. They feel they have a moral
"For Schedule 6 (which relates to the making of orders providing for exemption from restrictions on abstraction) there is substituted "SCHEDULE 6 Sections 27A and 39B
ORDERS RELATING TO ABSTRACTION OF SMALL QUANTITIES ANDCOMPULSORY REGISTRATION OF PROTECTED RIGHTS
Notice of draft order
1 (1) An application to the Secretary of State for an order under section 27A(1) or 39B(3) of this Act (an "order") shall be accompanied by a draft of the proposed order.
(2) Before submitting a draft order to the Secretary of State, the Agency shall publish a notice
(a) stating the general effect of the draft order;
(b) specifying the place where a copy of the draft order, and of any relevant map or plan, may be inspected by any person free of charge at all reasonable times during the period of twenty-eight days beginning with the date of first publication of the date; and
(c) stating that any person may within that period, by notice to the Secretary of State, object to the making of the order.
(3) A notice under this paragraph shall be published either
(a) at least once in each of two successive weeks, in one or more newspapers circulating in the area to which the draft order relates; or
(b) in any other manner which, in any particular case, may be certified by the Secretary of State to be expedient in that case.
(4) Not later than the date on which the notice is first published in pursuance of sub-paragraph (2) above, the Agency shall serve a copy of the notice on
(a) every local authority (in its capacity as the local planning authority), joint planning board or National Park authority whose area consists of, includes or is included in the area to which the draft order relates;
(b) any relevant water undertaker;
(c) any internal drainage board
(i) whose district consists of, includes or is included in the area to which the draft order relates;
(ii) from whose district water is discharged into any relevant source of supply; or
(iii) into whose district water is discharged from any relevant source of supply;
(d) any navigation authority, harbour authority or conservancy authority having functions in relation to
(i) any relevant source of supply; or
(ii) any related inland waters;
(e) if a relevant source of supply or related inland waters are tidal waters in relation to which there is no such navigation authority, harbour authority or conservancy authority, the Secretary of State for Transport;
(f) any person authorised by a licence under Part 1 of the Electricity Act 1989 to generate electricity who is (in that capacity) the holder of a licence to abstract water under Chapter 2 of Part 2 of this Act from
(i) any relevant source of supply; or
(ii) any related inland waters;
(g) English Nature, if the area to which the order relates is or includes England, or part of it;
(h) the Countryside Council for Wales, if the area to which the order relates is or includes Wales, or part of it; and
(i) the Broads Authority (established under the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988), if the area to which the order relates is or includes the Broads (as defined in that Act), or part of it.
(5) Where an application for an order is made, the Agency shall also publish a notice in the London Gazette
(a) stating that the draft order has been submitted to the Secretary of State;
(b) naming the areas of each of the authorities or boards in respect of which a copy of the notice is required to be served under sub-paragraph (4)(a) above;
(c) specifying a place where a copy of the draft order and of any relevant map or plan may be inspected; and
(d) where the notice required by sub-paragraph (2) above is published in a newspaper, giving the name of the newspaper and the date of an issue containing the notice.
(6) In this paragraph
(a) where a draft order makes provision generally (rather than for a specified geographical area), references to the area to which the order relates are to the whole area (whether England, Wales or both of them) in relation to which the order is applied;
(b) references to a National Park authority are to a National Park authority established under Part 3 of the 1995 Act;
(c) a "relevant source of supply", in relation to a draft order, means
(i) if the draft order relates only to particular sources of supply (or a class of them) in an area, any of those sources of supply (or any source of supply in that class) in that area;
(ii) otherwise, any source of supply in the area to which the draft order relates;
(d) a "relevant water undertaker", in relation to a draft order, means a water undertaker which is the holder of a licence to abstract water under Chapter 2 of Part 2 of this Act from
(i) a relevant source of supply; or
(ii) a source of supply which is related to a relevant source of supply;
(e) for the purposes of paragraph (d) above, a source of supply (the "related source") is related to a relevant source of supply if it appears to the Agency that, having regard to the extent to which the level or flow of water in the related source depends on the level or flow of the waters in the relevant source of supply, the ability of the water undertaker to abstract water from the related source in accordance with its licence may be substantially affected as a result of the draft order;
(f) "related inland waters" are inland waters the level or flow of which may, in the Agency's opinion, be affected by changes in the level or flow of the waters in a relevant source of supply.
Duty to provide copy of draft order
2 Where an application for an order is made, the Agency shall, at the request of any person, furnish him with a copy of the draft order on payment of such charge as the Agency thinks reasonable.
Making of order
3 (1) Where an application for an order is made, the Secretary of State may make the order either in the form of the draft or in that form as altered in such manner as he thinks fit.
(2) Where the Secretary of State
(a) proposes to make any alteration of an order before making it; and
(b) considers that any persons are likely to be adversely affected by it,
the Agency shall give and publish such additional notices, in such manner, as the Secretary of State may require.
(3) Sub-paragraph (4) below shall apply if before the end of
(a) the period of twenty-eight days referred to in sub-paragraph (2)(b) of paragraph 1 above;
(b) the period of twenty-five days from the publication in the London Gazette of the notice under sub-paragraph (5) of that paragraph; or
(c) any period specified in notices under sub-paragraph (2) above,
notice of an objection is received by the Secretary of State from any person on whom a notice is required by this Schedule to be served, from any other person appearing to the Secretary of State to be affected by the order (either as prepared in draft or as proposed to be altered) or, in a case where the Secretary of State directed the Agency to apply for the order, from the Agency.
(4) Where this sub-paragraph applies and the objection in question is not withdrawn, the Secretary of State, before making the order, may take such steps as he sees fit and, in particular, may
(a) cause a local inquiry to be held; or
(b) afford to the objector and to the Agency an opportunity of appearing before, and being heard by, a person appointed by the Secretary of State for the purpose.
(a) the order (whether as prepared in draft or as proposed to be altered) relates to any tidal water situated in Wales (or in area of the sea adjoining either the coast of Wales or an area of sea forming part of Wales); and
(b) no navigation authority, harbour authority or conservancy authority has functions in relation to that tidal water,
the Secretary of State shall not make the order except with the approval of the Secretary of State for Transport.
Notice and inspection of final order
4 (1) Where an order is made under section 27A(1) or 39B(3) of this Act, whether in the form of the draft proposed by the Agency or with alterations, the Secretary of State shall give notice to the Agency
(a) stating that the order has been made, either without alteration or with alterations specified in the notice; and
(b) specifying the date (not being earlier than twenty-eight days after the date of the notice under this paragraph) on which the order shall have effect;
and the Agency shall forthwith publish the notice.
(2) The Agency shall keep a copy of every order made under section 27A(1) or 39B(3) of this Act available at its offices for inspection by the public, free of charge, at all reasonable times."."