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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I recognise the difficulties caused by the problem of debt and how it is often related to absconding tenants. But the solution the noble Baroness puts forward is a revolutionary proposal with rather wide ramifications. Effectively it would make landlords responsible for their tenants' debts. So far as I am aware there is no other situation where that is the case. It has ramifications in relation to other suppliers of services such as utilities and other private services. I am not sure that it benefits water conservation. Presumably in metered premises—many HMOs are metered—there is no incentive for the tenant to save water if the landlord always stumps up for the bill. Therefore, I am not sure that the amendment would achieve many of its aims but in any case it raises such wide issues that I do not think that one could introduce such an enticing but radical concept.

It is not just a simple question of redefining who is the client. The matter goes to the heart of the landlord/tenant relationship in the context we are discussing and in other contexts. I do not accept that we should adopt the measure in respect of water debt. Difficult though that situation is for many water companies, we should try to find another solution.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I accept the comments he has just made about the difficulty in regard to landlords and tenants. As a landlord I worry about that, but my let property is not a house in multiple occupation. There is a serious problem here that needs addressing. This Bill may not be the right place to do that. However, I support my

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noble friend's amendment as the matter we are discussing is a growing problem. As we said in earlier debates on the Bill, it is easy for people to walk away from the responsibility of paying their water bills.

Perhaps the time has come to give additional thought as to how this kind of problem can be overcome. If it is a case of non-payment for gas or electricity, the supply gets cut off and there is no charge for it. But water is still there; the water has to be supplied. Although I fully understand and accept the Minister's logic and I declared an interest as a landlord, there are problems here. I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter. I am not suggesting that they come back with another amendment. The problem is long term and needs to be addressed as it will not go away. Unfortunately, it is on the increase. That is why I support the thrust of what my noble friend is trying to achieve in defining where the buck stops.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend. I am also grateful to the Minister for his comments. He said that the amendment would not benefit water conservation or the environment, but the problem is a drain on the resources of every customer in the land. We all pay more for water because of what are called wanton non-payers—they are not poverty non-payers—who seem to be getting away scot-free.

We ought to do something to tackle the problem. Other ways have been suggested, and perhaps we should look at them, although it is too late to introduce them to the Bill. We are hoisting the warning cone to say that the situation that has gone on since the sanction to cut off water was taken away cannot go on. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 92 [Devolution: Wales]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendment No. 172A:

    Page 116, line 42, at end insert—

"(g) the function of the Secretary of State under section 16A(5)(a);","

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 93 [Minor and consequential amendments and repeals]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 173 and 174:

    Page 117, line 19, after "enactments" insert "and instrument"

    Page 117, line 19, after "repealed" insert "or revoked"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Baroness O'Cathain moved Amendment No. 175:

    Page 181, line 48, at end insert—

"( ) In Schedule 4A—
(a) for paragraph 1(2)(a) there is substituted—
"(a) a private dwelling-house constituting the whole or any part of household premises,";

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(b) at the end of paragraph 1 there is added—
"(3) In this paragraph, "household premises" shall have the same meaning as in section 17C of this Act.""

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment corrects a deficiency in the Water Industry Act 1991 which was introduced through the Water Industry Act 1999. The amendment would make it easier to distinguish between business and domestic customers by extending the clear-cut definition in Schedule 4 to the Bill to other parts of the Water Industry Act where definitional clarity is needed.

The Water Industry Act 1999 amended the 1991 Act so as to provide two new rights for domestic customers—the right not to be disconnected for non-payment of water charges and the right not to be metered compulsorily in normal circumstances. Both those new rights require that a clear distinction is made between domestic and business customers. Unfortunately, the Act did not clearly distinguish between domestic and business customers in the case of mixed-use properties—for example, where a landlord lives on top of a pub, a janitor lives on industrial premises, or a groundsman resides at a golf club.

In a letter to Water UK of 11th January 2000, the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said that, in the case of mixed premises,

    "only the courts can decide definitely what the law means".

That of course is correct of all legislation, but we should now seize the opportunity to improve the quality of our laws by removing as much uncertainty as possible.

The uncertainty is damaging not only for water companies, but for customers, who do not know which legal provisions apply to them and whether they are to be considered as business or domestic customers. An example is the owner of a large family home who decides to convert it to a bed-and-breakfast establishment while still living in a small flat at the top. After conversion, the house becomes a mixed-use property. I understand that that happens regularly in the South West. An important financial consideration for such a customer is whether he or she will go on paying the same water charge based on the ancient rateable value of the family house, or whether the property will be compulsorily metered as a business property. That may make a significant difference to the customer's operating costs; therefore the law needs to state clearly what the situation is.

As the Bill contains a renewed attempt at creating definitional clarity between business and domestic mixed-use premises, in connection with the extension of competition in the water industry, I propose the amendment to extend the improved distinction to other parts of water industry legislation where the distinction is important for industry customers. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, when the Water Industry Act 1999 was passed, there was considerable pressure

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on this area of the legislation to protect consumers and give a wide definition. I would be reluctant therefore to take on something that would appear to narrow the definition of that protection. Even if we were to consider the redefinition of what was enacted in 1999, the substitution of a definition of "premises" in Schedule 4 would not be appropriate. That use is for the quite different purpose of distinguishing those customers to whom competition will apply, and will be set out in regulations. It would be difficult to frame a definition which tried to achieve different policy purposes.

To take just one example, the 1999 Act does not protect second homes against disconnection. On the other hand, second homes are still within the definition for the competition regime and that is appropriate. One cannot just transfer that definition into an improved definition in connection with disconnection and other protections for the consumer.

I am not persuaded that this is a sensible way to go, although I recognise some of the concerns behind the amendment.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I suppose that I could say, "Thanks, but no thanks". I hear what the noble Lord says. At this hour of the night I shall not get into a great argument with him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 176:

    Page 184, line 19, at end insert—

"Metropolis Water Act 1852 (c. 84)

Section 1 of the Metropolis Water Act 1852 (restriction on sources of supply of water to London) shall cease to have effect."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is linked with Amendment No. 180—which is also linked with Amendment No. 188 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I shall be brief. I have been more fortunate in this amendment than my noble friend, ploughing heavily away on some of hers.

We raised this issue in Committee. I am grateful that the Minister realised that there was a problem. The Government have reacted to my amendment in bringing forward Amendment No. 188. At this stage, I should like to record my thanks to the Government. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am very pleased to accept Amendments Nos. 176 and 180. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has noted in her amendment, the restriction on abstraction from the Thames below Teddington Lock is no longer required to protect public health. To this end, Amendment No. 188 has been tabled by the Government as an amendment to the Long Title of the Bill to accommodate this. I commend the amendment to the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Schedule 9 [Repeals]:

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