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Lord Monkswell: My Lords, bearing in mind the judgment of Pepper v. Hart, will the Minister advise the House whether it was the Government's intention, when putting the Water Industry Act 1991 through Parliament, to deprive consumers of a clean water supply?
Lord Gisborough: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the water authorities are claiming that there are very few, if any, complaints about such metering systems? In fact, they are very popular, especially with people on small budgets because they can regulate themselves day by day.
Lord Lucas: Yes, my Lords; my noble friend is quite right. At least 90 per cent. of those who have such devices installed are very happy to pay their water bills in that way. We see no reason why they should be deprived of the ability to pay their bills in the way that they desire just because it upsets local authorities.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, what about the 10 per cent. who are not happy? Is it not the case that to remove such a meter--and indeed, to install one--is an extremely difficult and technical matter which requires a good deal of operational plumbing? Moreover, the removal of such meters requires several days' labour. If someone falls behind with the payments, it means that he will be deprived of what is, after all, a natural resource and one without which we cannot live. Therefore, is it right that the Government should encourage that method of payment when, according to the noble Lord's own figures, at least 10 per cent. of customers are unhappy with the situation?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, anyone who is unhappy enough with the system not to want to proceed with it merely has to ask for its removal. It is not a complicated matter; it is merely a valve in the main water supply system. Indeed, it is a very quick and simple exercise to remove it. Someone who is behind with his water payments, who is cut off through this mechanism and who, thereafter, has the device removed will then have his water supply restored.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, if there have been problems with the removal of such water devices when so requested by customers, I very much hope that that fact will be passed on to Ofwat, which I am sure will be most interested. Such devices are installed on premises on the condition that they are there at the request of customers and with their consent.
Baroness Fisher of Rednal: My Lords, the Minister quoted statistics from Ofwat. However, he did not give us any statistics as regards the cut-offs that local authorities are reporting. Indeed, it is reported that over 10,000 cut-offs are taking place all over the country. We are discussing a serious matter. Water has now become a very expensive commodity because water charges are based on the rateable value of the property and not the amount of water that customers are using. I completely understand why people find themselves in difficulty
Lord Lucas: My Lords, it comes down to the fact that these devices are on customers' premises at customers' request, or at least with their agreement. If a customer wishes to have his water metered so that he pays only for what he uses, he has that right. We appreciate the difficulties which some people have in putting the money together to pay regular bills and large bills such as water bills. That is why we welcome arrangements which allow them to pay--as these devices do--more gradually than standard water bills allow, and which are proving convenient and proving to be what these customers want.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, under the Bosnia Peace Agreement, the parties undertook to establish full freedom of movement throughout Bosnia and to work with UNHCR towards an early return of refugees. We expect the parties to live up to these commitments. We are in regular contact with IFOR and fully support its efforts to promote freedom of movement and to create a secure environment for UNHCR and other civilian bodies to carry out their work.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Is not the question how the agreements are to be implemented? Will the Minister and her colleagues use her influence, which stems from our previous record on aid and our full participation in the military force, to ensure that what was agreed at Dayton is implemented?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I assure the whole House that we are already using our influence in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, suggests, but co-ordinating the return of refugees is the responsibility of the UNHCR under the peace agreement. IFOR is authorised to support the work of UNHCR. Last week I discussed with several senior brigadiers in IFOR, and indeed with Mrs. Ogata of UNHCR, exactly how this is being carried out. I am convinced that every effort is being made not only to help ensure freedom of movement but also to provide for general security and to back up the International Police Task Force (IPTF) in monitoring law and order. It is perfectly clear that IFOR cannot by itself guarantee the safety of all refugees. That must ultimately be the responsibility of the parties and their police forces. It is
Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is great concern about the flow of arms to the separate states which are signatories to the agreement? In the light of the fact that the IFOR troops will be withdrawn in due course, does that not create a situation of great instability in the area? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that this trade in arms to these new states will be limited?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I too have heard the stories about arms flows. What must happen is that the parties themselves must, under the agreement, certainly register what they are doing. We all perceive that there could be potential instability at the end of the year. That is something that the commanders of IFOR on the ground are aware of. We must also build up the civilian desire and determination for peace. That is why we are working along with the British forces in IFOR and a number of others to try to make the place as stable and as normal as possible so that people deny the use of arms and are properly employed on jobs which will help the rebuilding and reconciliation. It is a difficult task and there are no easy answers, but it is being worked at with extreme care at the present time.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I fully endorse what the Minister has said about the need to build up the civilian support for peace in Bosnia. The Minister will, of course, be aware that there is a December deadline for the withdrawal of IFOR. Does she agree that, given the current situation in Bosnia, it is vital that we should start planning for an effective IFOR mark 2? Will the Minister say what the Government's current position is on a successor to the implementation force?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, IFOR has at least seven months more in which to work. NATO is resolved, as I think the noble Baroness knows, to complete its current mission on time. A great deal of work is being done to increase the speed at which this is now being carried out. It was for those reasons that I spent some time in Bosnia last week. We expect the parties to take on the responsibility for their own region. Certainly the current situation on the ground and the information we receive on a daily basis both from our own IFOR commanders, and indeed from the Office of the High Representative and UNHCR, are all being put together. However, it is much too early to speculate in the way the noble Baroness would like me to do.
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether preparations are going forward satisfactorily to prepare for the elections; whether a proper electoral register has been prepared; and whether displaced persons will have postal votes?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right to underline the importance of the elections to come. I spent some time with OSCE in Sarajevo discussing whether the conditions will be met
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