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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 8—Discharges to watercourses—

'(1) After section 165 of the WIA, there is inserted—
"165A Power to discharge to watercourses
(1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, every sewerage undertaker may, for the purpose of carrying out its functions, discharge water with or without other matter from any relevant pipe into any watercourse.
(2) Nothing in this section shall authorise any discharge which—
(a) damages or injuriously affects the works or property of any railway undertakers, navigation authority or riparian owner; or
(b) floods or damages any highway.
(3) Nothing in this section shall be construed as permitting the making of any discharge without the authority of any consent that may be required by virtue of Part III of the Water Resources Act 1991.
(4) The provisions of paragraph 6 of Schedule 12 to this Act shall apply to the exercise of the powers conferred by subsection (1) above.
(5) In this section 'relevant pipe' means any sewer, stormwater overflow, sewer, disposal main, lateral drain or outfall owned by or vested in a sewerage undertaker."
(2) In section 219(1) of the WIA (general interpretation), in the definition of "accessories", after "washout pipes," there is inserted "outfalls (with ancillary works)".
(3) In Schedule 12 to the WIA (compensation respect of pipelaying and other works powers)—
(a) in paragraph 6(1)(a), after "section 165" there is inserted "for section 165A"; and
(b) in paragraph 6(2)(b), after "section 165 of this Act" there is inserted ", or of water or effluent under section 165A of this Act.".'.

New clause 13—Power to require adoption of private sewers in Wales—

'After section 102 of the WIA there is inserted—
"102A Power to require adoption of private sewers in Wales
(1) As regards Wales the National Assembly for Wales may by regulations establish a scheme to enable a sewerage undertaker to be required to adopt a sewer to which this section applies.
(2) A scheme under this section may apply to any sewer which is—
(a) situated within the area of a sewerage undertaker or which serves the whole of or any part of that area; and
(b) not vested in a sewerage undertaker.
(3) Regulations under subsection (1) may amend section 105 so as to extend the appeals procedure to the scheme, provided that the appeal shall be heard by a person other than the person imposing the requirement to adopt.".'.

Government amendments Nos. 100 and 101.

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Government amendments Nos. 103 and 121.

Mr. Morley: In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) tabled an amendment that aimed to tackle the serious problems caused by private sewers. Indeed, that issue was raised by Committee members from all parties. The Government are well aware of these problems and are keen to take positive action, which is why we commissioned an extensive research project into the extent of private sewers and published a public consultation document. With that in mind, I told my hon. Friend that we would introduce a suitable Government amendment to deal with the thrust of the argument that he and other Committee members had made.

We considered a number of alternatives, and I am pleased to say that we thought that my hon. Friend's proposal was the most appropriate. New clause 14 gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations to allow schemes for the adoption of private sewers. Government amendment No. 103 ensures that the Welsh Assembly has the power to make regulations under the proposed new section if it so chooses. It is important to note that the new clause is an enabling power, and is not a recipe for the wholesale transfer of private sewers to sewerage undertakers. Furthermore, the regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure to allow full parliamentary scrutiny before they are made.

The Government have not yet made any decisions on the best way forward on private sewers. The new clause allows adoption, if a decision is made to pursue that course of action, and offers flexibility to ensure that we introduce a sensible solution following full consideration of the range of options. As my hon. Friend knows, we discussed in Committee the fact that we would hold a public consultation and respond to the options that people favour. We still have a lot of work to do on the best way forward on private sewers. The new clause gives us an opportunity to introduce adoption in various forms, but the Bill includes the enabling powers for which my hon. Friend, supported by other Committee members, was arguing.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): May I tell my hon. Friend how much we welcome the provision? I am sure that all Committee members share that sentiment. However, will my hon. Friend give me an idea of time scale? I accept that the new clause is an enabling provision, but some people who welcome it will want to know how long it will be before the consultation is complete and the Government have considered its implications. More particularly, with regard to cases where there is a crucial need for action, when will the provision be implemented?

Mr. Morley: I understand my hon. Friend's point. The most important thing is to respond to the public consultation, and we hope to reach that milestone in the near future. There is, as I have said, a great deal of work to do, not least in taking stakeholders' views into account. That will take time, but it is difficult to say how long. However, as a rough guide, I expect the Government's response to the public consultation to be made within the next six months. Inevitably, however,

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further work will need to be done. It is difficult to give an exact time scale, but there is quite a lot to do before we can put the provision in place, which is why the enabling power was included in the Bill.

6.15 pm

We have provided for an appeals procedure and appropriate consultation, both on the regulations and each scheme. Work is under way to evaluate the responses to the consultation, and further consultation is likely as we narrow down the choices on the best way forward. Following discussions with the all-party group on sewers and sewerage, I know that its members have views on the subject to which the Government would like to listen. Considerations will include obvious financial implications for the generality of customers, and clearly it will be important to weigh up the balance of the different interests. We will continue to make that a priority and involve everyone with an interest, including, of course, colleagues in the House. Indeed, I am grateful for the interest that has been shown in this matter, and found discussions with the all-party group helpful.

The new clause was tabled to demonstrate that we are serious about tackling the problems faced by householders, and I am pleased to commend it to the House. I should also like to commend Government amendments Nos. 100, 101 and 121, which are minor, consequential amendments.

Mr. Wiggin: I shall speak to new clause 8, which seeks to ensure that sewerage industries can discharge water into any watercourse that will not flood or damage any of those covered by subsections (2)(a) and (b) of proposed new section 165 of the Water Industry Act 1991. Sewerage undertakers' former power to effect discharges from public sewers and their other pipes needs to be restored, subject to certain safeguards for affected landowners, riparian owners and public bodies. No damage or interference must be caused to the property or operations of railway undertakers, navigation authorities, riparian owners or highway authorities; all necessary consents to discharge to watercourses must be obtained from the Environment Agency in accordance with the Water Resources Act 1991 for the avoidance of pollution; and full compensation must be paid to those adversely affected by such discharges, in accordance with paragraph 6 of schedule 12 to the Water Industry Act.

Sewerage undertakers should have the right to discharge the contents of public sewers and other pipes into watercourses and canals because, without that right, they currently have to obtain a compulsory purchase order, which can take up to two years. This is what proposed new section 165A of the Water Industry Act seeks to achieve, reflecting the principles of section 165 of that Act, which authorises the discharge by water undertakers of water to watercourses for the purpose of facilitating the carrying-out of works.

New clause 14, which the Minister introduced, is obviously welcomed by people who are discharging into private sewers, and I am delighted that he listened to comments by Committee members from all parties.

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Strong feelings were expressed, especially by Members representing areas where large numbers of people were discharging into, or taking their water from, a single source. Members on all sides of the House believe that the issue needs to be addressed positively, for the benefit of both water companies and customers. Obviously, there are significant cost implications for water companies, and the Minister recognises how important they are.

I shall not say any more as I know that we need to cover a great deal more business.

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