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Lord Williams of Elvel: I should like to speak to the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, in relation to the objections of Welsh Water and the fact that the amendment as drafted could be used by the director general of Ofwat to impose compulsory metering on undertakers. That was also the view of the all-party parliamentary water group in another place which, as the Committee will be aware, discussed charging policy, affordability and consumer interests in great detail. It reported that it was broadly in favour of the joint paper put to the Secretary of State for the Environment last November by the water companies and water services associations to which the Secretary of State has yet to respond. As I understand it, the paper was strongly opposed to the compulsory or widespread water metering of domestic properties.
That is the view of the all-party parliamentary water group; it is also the view of my party. We are strongly opposed to any form of compulsory metering for reasons which have been discussed at great length and with which I shall not weary the Committee this evening. Whatever the good intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, in tabling the amendment, we from these Benches would not wish the Government to include it in the Bill.
Lord Dixon-Smith: The amendment is directed towards the efficient use of water resources. It is commonly held, for historical reasons, that there is an imbalance of water resources between water companies in the South-East. Southern Water, the former Southern Water Authority, is generously or almost over-provided for in respect of abstraction licences, whereas some of the smaller water companies are under-provided for. For instance, in the case of South-East Water, on forecasts agreed with Ofwat, there may be a shortage of water in dry conditions.
Both the Government and the NRA have a duty to promote the most effective distribution of water resources. I therefore ask my noble friend the Minister to look at the matter. It may be said that these problems should be addressed by bulk supply arrangements. But bulk supply arrangements do not address the fundamental problem of an imbalance of abstraction licences. Indeed, by deferring that correction, they could provide a less economically effective solution.
The NRA's water resources strategy for the southern region contemplates the possible option of using NRA powers of licence revocation as a means of reallocating water resources. I wonder whether the Minister feels that that may be a solution to some of these problems and that the time is now at hand when such action should be taken.
Viscount Ullswater: Amendment No. 345A proposed by my noble friend Lord Jenkin has many similarities with the group of amendments about the efficient use of water that we debated earlier in Committee. My noble friend reminds me just how long ago it was that we actually had that debate. The amendment goes further however in that it includes promotion of the efficient use of sewerage services by customers.
Perhaps I may remind Members of the Committee of the earlier debate. I said that we were sympathetic to the proposal for water undertakers to be given a duty to promote the efficient use of water so long as they also had regard to the economics of such activities. Similarly, I also accepted that consideration might be given to increasing the powers of the Director General of Water Services to allow him to set and make suitable arrangements to publish standards of performance that water undertakers should achieve in respect of the promotion of efficient use of water by their customers. However, I could not accept that the director general should be given a duty to promote the efficient use of water which would require him directly to organise campaigns among customers to persuade them of the benefits of using water efficiently. I note the anxieties
Turning to the amendment before us, there are some parts concerning water with which, in the light of the earlier debate, I can sympathise. I am, however, concerned about the proposals for promoting the efficient use by customers of sewerage services. It is already an offence under Section 111 of the Water Industry Act 1991 to discharge harmful substances of a liquid or solid nature into a public sewer. As well as the possibility that such discharges could lead to blockage and damage to the customer's drain or the public sewer, they may also present costly problems for the sewerage undertaker at the treatment works.
It is in the water companies' own interests to try to ensure that customers do not discharge certain waste products into the public sewerage system. I understand that one water company was sued as a result of household waste being washed up on beaches after being discharged through an outfall pipe at sea. I understand that sewerage undertakers periodically give guidance to customers about this matter. Typically, such guidance provides advice about the proper use of sewerage services and the importance of disposing of certain waste products through the household waste collection service or at controlled waste disposal sites instead of down WCs, drains and manholes.
This month the Water Services Association intends to launch its Bag It and Bin It campaign to which my noble friend Lord Jenkin referred, which aims to encourage the public to dispose of household items in a responsible manner. The campaign is supported by a number of environmental pressure groups.
If customers are encouraged to use water efficiently, that in itself will have a knock-on effect in reducing the volume of water discharged to the sewerage system. The efficient use of water would also embrace re-use or recycling before water is discharged into the sewer system where such methods are economic. And volume-based sewerage charges may provide an added incentive to use less water. Indeed, where water is charged for by meter, it is generally the case that sewerage services are also charged for on the basis of the volume of water used, often with an allowance for water not returned to the system. But I do not consider that legislative provisions relating to the efficient use of sewerage services will achieve anything that is not already done or cannot be effected by provisions about the efficient use of water.
My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith introduced another but perhaps not related point in relation to shared resources. Where one company provides another with a bulk supply, the director general of Ofwat has power to insert provisions in supply agreements. The terms of bulk supply agreements are important and should be drafted to protect the interests of both parties in the event of problems such as water shortage. In some cases it may be appropriate to set up joint management boards to oversee the operation of bulk supply schemes.
In the earlier debate I gave a commitment to consider during the passage of the Bill through Parliament whether it should be amended to introduce provisions about water conservation. That consideration is in hand but is not yet complete. Although I sympathise with the general aims of the amendment, I believe that much of it is unnecessary and ineffective. I would therefore ask my noble friend to withdraw it.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am grateful to my noble friend for the points he has made, but I am not sure that I would feel able to accept them at this stage. I shall read carefully what he has said. He objected to imposing a duty on undertakers to get their customers to use sewerage services responsibly. The director general certainly feels that it is very important that he should have a parallel power to set performance standards for sewerage undertakers. It is not enough just to encourage the conservation of water. We should try to secure and facilitate integrated pollution control. We have heard a great deal about that during the passage of the Bill. Sewerage undertakers should, and of course do, make a charge for their services, including treatment and disposal, which is based broadly on the polluter pays principle. That is particularly true in relation to trade effluent charges. Without the parallel duty for sewerage it seems to me that these issues may not properly be addressed.
However, I shall study what my noble friend has said. I am grateful to him for repeating the undertaking to consider during the passage of the Bill the provisions about the conservation of water. It may well be that if measures come back from another place, probably in two or three months' time, we may have an opportunity to return to this subject again. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.