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The Duke of Montrose: I speak to Amendment No. 82, which is grouped with Amendment No. 81. Although our amendment follows much of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, it is perhaps more specifically geared to the question of agricultural and horticultural use of water. Like the noble Lord, we are grateful to see vulnerable groups listed in Clause 42. Their interests must be taken care of. Here, however, we are dealing with the matter of who should be appointed to the regional consumer committees.
In this regard, we are specifically considering the fact that, of the 48,000 current licences, 70 per cent are held by farmers or horticulturists, who account for only 1 per cent of actual water use. Nevertheless, water is a vital component for them. By the same token, their interests are vital in considering the overall interests of consumers as regards water. We have therefore tabled Amendment No. 82, which would incorporate the requirement to include rural interests in the list of special interest groups. In fact, the only special interest groups currently mentioned are disabled persons and persons with such experience. Although we may be introducing another specialist group, I think that the it is sufficiently significant to be considered.
Lord Borrie: I wonder whether I might express some opposition to both amendments. I live in a rural area. Therefore, I fully understand the substantial point of the importance of representation from rural areas on
However, is it not possible for meespecially at my ageto say, "What about individuals of pensionable age?" Although I may not be able to speak from personal experience about individuals on low incomes, I am very conscious indeed that their significance is mentioned in several places in the Bill. Why should they not have representation on the council if they are to be listed for the council in Clause 42?
My point is that I do not like too much prescription of that sort, so that all the members of a consumer council sitting round a table have marks on their forehead to show that one of them is rural, one of them is poor, one of them is disabled and so on. I do not know what size the council will beI am not sure whether the Minister has said what size it will bebut I dare say that it would be able to cover at least those groups and several other groups too. Appointing people because they come from a particular group is not necessarily a good thing, and we should not lay it down in statute. I recommend that the Committee oppose both amendments.
The remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, provoked me into rising. He described what I have usually had to face from the Minister. The Minister will remember, as will the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, several occasions when we were dealing with Bills relating to local government on which we tried to broaden, shall we say, the range of consultation. Generally speaking, the Minister argued that our propositions were fallacious and that it was unnecessary to broaden the range of consultees because there was no bar to it and the Government would do it and so on. We have had that argument from the Government, but, in this Bill, the Minister falls into his own trap by having a degree of over-specification.
Lord Whitty: I am not particularly happy with the amendments, for the very reason that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, gave: once we start a list, we either extend it hugely or, by exclusion, imply that other groups are not of such importance. We end up with an unrepresentative consumer council. The aim of the amendment is to make it more representative. I am not, at this point, persuaded. I am even less persuaded
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will recall that, sometimes, I have succumbed to rural arguments and, other times, I have not. For the moment, at least, I object to any addition to the list and am not prepared to look favourably on the amendments.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I commend one or two of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said. Why should there not be pensioners or people on low income on the council? Perhaps, the noble Lord should have tabled an amendment to that effect. We could have had a general debate about the matter.
I do not accept the arguments that the council might be too big or that people would have marks on their forehead. Water emanates from rural areas, and, often, rural people will barely have a water supply. There may be a well in the back garden, but they may wish to be connected to a mains water supply with a quality of water that may be far superior to what they get out of the well. They deserve that, and there is a health aspect to it.
My experience is that people in rural areas always lose out. They are always told that they must pay vast sums to be connected to services. The same thing applies to supplies of electricity. Outrageous sums are asked from rural people who want to get connected. In one case, a community of 50 people was asked to contribute to a £750,000 scheme to supply that community. That was an unfair burden, especially as the pipeline ran through that community to the urban areas. That is the sort of thing that goes on. There must be people on the consumer council to represent rural people who know of the existence of such schemes. Urban people turning on their taps every day do not think about people in that situation and cannot imagine being in it.
In the Explanatory Notes, the Government say that the establishment costs for the consumer council will initially amount to £1 million. It is expected that the long-term increase in costs for the new authority will be marginal and that, anyway, the increased costs, if I have understood the Bill, will be covered by an increase in water company licence fees. I want the Minister to clarify the funding mechanism for the council. Will the allocation of funds for the council come directly from the company licence fees, or will it involve additional expenditure by the Government? Will the Government fund it until the additional revenue starts to come through from the licence fees, at which point it will become, in a sense, self-funding?
I may have made a meal of it, but the Bill is not clear on that point. Even if the Bill is clear, it is not clear that we have understood it. I hope that the Minister will not mind giving an explanation. I beg to move.
Lord Whitty: The Bill provides for what the noble Lord seeks through the amendment. Clause 36, which we are about to discuss, provides that an undertaker's conditions of appointment may require the undertaker to contribute to the set-up and running costs of the consumer council.