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Baroness Byford: My Lords, I want to add my weight to this set of amendments. So often legislation comes through and we do not always look at the regulatory impact. These amendments ask that this matter should be on the face of the Bill and that research and regulatory impact assessments be carried out automatically. I had hoped that the Government would welcome this. As this is not Committee stage, I cannot speak on this again, so I hope that the Minister will deal fully with the point.

I have a couple of questions on the regulatory impact assessments as laid down in the amendments. If the Government say that the amendments are not necessary, could they identify where, within the Bill, the matter is dealt with in a satisfactory manner? If the Government are to say "No" to these amendments, we need to know whether they are saying "No" to the

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individual amendments or whether the Minister feels that the matters are already covered in the Bill. If so, perhaps he could say where they are dealt with in the Bill.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the aims of the noble Baroness, but I do not believe that it is appropriate to write the RIA on the face of the Bill for wider consideration. As I have indicated, the Government are already committed to produce an RIA whenever these clauses are used to propose standards of performance. The Prime Minister made a Statement to that effect—nothing is more important than the Prime Minister's Satement. More relevantly, the commitment to RIA that accompanied the Bill stated that a separate RIA would be prepared on each occasion that the order-making power is used. Therefore, we have that in the process of the Bill. It is not in the Bill itself, but it is in the RIA produced with the Bill.

I am opposed to prescribing the form of the RIA on the face of the Bill because it would limit the development of the RIA process, which has been evolving over the past few years. It has brought in other matters such as environmental appraisals, rural proofing, equal treatment and so on as well as the more traditional areas of cost and benefit. Therefore, to prescribe it would set it in concrete, whereas the RIA process is evolving all the time.

Equally importantly, stating on the face of this Bill that an RIA is required every time an order-making power is used, would imply that where it is not so stipulated—despite the Prime Minister's Statement and other assurances by the Government—it may not be required. I am sure that this Government and any government of a party represented here would probably reassert that necessity. However, the fact is that in the courts, if it is stated in one place and not in another, that other place could say that it does not need an RIA to issue an order-making power under an Act, unlike under the Water Act which requires it to be done.

For that reason of precedent, I am opposed to putting the RIA on the face of the Bill, although we are very committed to ensure that no orders in this context under it would be issued without such an assessment.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, if such a matter had come through in the form of an order, which I presume he is inferring, would it be a negative or an affirmative order? That is of interest to us. Clearly, we have here the opportunity to debate the matter more fully. If it comes through as an order we have no power to stop it happening in the way in which the Government may wish it to be interpreted. I believe that clarification on that is important.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, a number of amendments in the group relate to different clauses. In some cases they are indeed negative procedures, but I am not sure that that is so in all cases. The objective of the

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amendment was to ensure that in all cases, in this context, the order-making powers, whatever the procedure within the House, should be accompanied by an impact assessment. I accept that principle, whatever the parliamentary process.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her support and I thank the Minister for his conciliatory attitude for which I am grateful. He quotes the Prime Minister on the importance of an RIA. The Minister said that if you put it in one Bill you would have to put it in all Bills, as lawyers would have a field day if it was not in one Bill. People would say, "Why not when it is in the Water Act? Why not have an RIA on every Bill, if the Prime Minister is so for an RIA?" I take the Minister's point that it could limit the development of the RIA, because it is an evolutionary process, but practically every business process is an evolutionary process. It is not necessarily fixed in concrete. Perhaps we could do something with the amendment. I will take another look at it to see whether we could cover that valid point.

One does not want to be fixed, but on the other hand, one wants to ensure that the impact assessment is made. I thank the Minister for his constructive comments. I will read them tomorrow, but I will probably come back at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 63 and 64 not moved.]

Clause 41 [Standards of performance in relation to sewerage services]:

[Amendments Nos. 65 to 67 not moved.]

Clause 42 [General functions of the Council]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 68:

    Page 49, line 8, leave out "and"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 68, 69 and 70 extend the list of groups to which the council must have special regard. It adds customers of undertakers that are not eligible to switch suppliers under the Bill's competition measures. It matches a similar duty on the authority and is part of a package of government amendments that increase the council's influence on the development of competition. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I welcome this group of amendments and the fact that the Government have chosen to strengthen the role of the council in this regard at least. I look forward to seeing that enacted.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, we welcome the amendments. We think that the consumer council should be looking in this area, and it is helpful.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendments Nos. 69 and 70:

    Page 49, line 9, at end insert "; and

(e) customers, of companies holding an appointment under Chapter 1 of Part 2 of this Act, whose premises are not eligible to be supplied by a licensed water supplier," Page 49, line 11, at end insert—

"( ) For the purposes of subsection (1) above, premises are not eligible to be supplied by a licensed water supplier if—
(a) they are household premises (as defined in section 17C above); or
(b) the total quantity of water estimated to be supplied to the premises annually for the purposes of subsection (2) of section 17D above is less than the quantity specified in that subsection."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 71:

    Page 49, line 29, leave out from beginning to end of line 6 on page 50 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 unincorporated, 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: My Lords, this group of amendments expresses why my pleasure in the previous group of amendments is slightly alloyed. We must return to the fact that in this Bill the Government have created a consumer council for water but in some areas of activity they have already drawn the teeth of that consumer council before it has had a chance to bite.

The Minister made a comment earlier this evening, when speaking to Amendment No. 53, about the monopolistic structure of the water industry, which is correct. The difficulty that the Government have had with the Bill is that they have modelled many of the clauses about the consumer council for water on the Utilities Act 2000. These amendments take us back to the unsatisfactory nature of those issues and the fact that we did not get much response in Committee, beyond the fact that the Utilities Act 2000 had been the model for them.

Amendments Nos. 71 and 72 are concerned with the powers of the council to publish information about water companies. I will return to them in more detail in a moment. Amendment No. 76 leaves the council with a more definite remit to specify its needs for information. As much wrangling could happen over the word "reasonably"; that amendment seeks to delete "reasonably" from the Bill. I do not think that the council would wish to act unreasonably, so I do not see any reason to have "reasonably" in the Bill.

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Amendments Nos. 78 and 79 concern provision of information to the council. Amendment No. 80 deletes the part of the Bill that creates what I call the "round the houses effect", where if a person fails to supply information to the council, that failure is referred to the authority, and the Secretary of State can make regulations about that failure and so on. This deletion enables the council to have a more direct approach.

Amendments Nos. 100, 101 and 102 give the council a duty to have regard for issues of individual or commercial confidentiality. The reason for including those in the Bill is that if the council is going to have a power to collect information, it must have regard to the fact that it is not going to abuse that power. In accepting the fact that it should have wider powers to collect information, it is sensible to table these amendments, which confine that power so that it cannot do anything that would damage either individuals or companies in a commercial manner.

I will return in more detail to Amendments Nos. 71 and 72. We accept that water companies are monopoly suppliers and consumer protection relies on close scrutiny by the regulator and the consumer body. An independent consumer body will be able to publicise information about a company where the council has evidence that the company is causing consumer detriment.

However, as currently drafted, the Bill can prohibit publication by the council of a water company's incompetence. That restriction is inconsistent with the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It is modelled much more on the Utilities Act, which supposes a structure that is not monopolistic. The Freedom of Information Act gives the presumption that a body can publish rather than cannot publish. As far as the consumer council for water goes, the whole Bill has been drafted in the negative with regard to publication issues. It cannot publish anything unless certain conditions are met. This group of amendments seeks to turn that around to a positive, so that it can publish everything, unless there is a good reason not to. I beg to move.

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