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Paddy Tipping: I wish to place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister, his officials and, looking at the complexity of new clause 14, parliamentary counsel. I am delighted that we are making progress on the issue with which the new clause deals and that my hon. Friend has responded to constituency concerns throughout the country. The powers are permissive and enabling, and the next task of my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King), who have campaigned long and hard on this issue, and I will be to put them into practice. The aspect of the W. S. Atkins reportan initiative brought forward by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairsthat struck me most was the scale of the problem. We all knew that there was a problem, but we were astonished at its degree and depth across the country.
As the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) said, there are significant cost implications. We will have to wait and see the outcome of the consultation. I do not want to prejudge that outcome, but the responses received so far suggest that the option of passing ownership of the sewers to water and sewerage undertakers, as set out in the Atkins report, is probably the easiest and most popular way forward. That has clear cost implications. The only meaningful way forward would apply over a period of years. I repeat that pointit is over a period of years that one would want to share the cost with consumers in general. That issue will have to be taken into account in discussions on the next price review period.
I am delighted that we have made so much progress. I know that people in Newark and Sherwood, in a small part of my constituency where 1,441 people are affected, are delighted that we are making progress. We must now ensure that the principles agreed to in the Bill are put into practice, but I accept that that will take time.
Mr. Simon Thomas: I welcome the new measures. We debated them in Committee, where hon. Members from all parties mentioned the various parts of their constituencies that they will affect. I could spend the next 20 minutes listing some wonderful Welsh names in referring to places that are affected by bad sewerage, but I do not think that that is necessary to secure the progress of the measure. What the Minister has said makes new clause 13 redundanta proposal that attempted to achieve the same purpose as new clause 14 in the Welsh context. Government amendment No. 103 will insert into the Water Industry Act 1991 the measures in new clause 14 so that the National Assembly for Wales will be able to make its own scheme.
Those are the important principles to which the Government have agreed. I will not say that they have conceded those points, as that might suggest that some sort of battle has occurred. Instead, there has been a debate, progress has been made and the Government have rightly acknowledged that those issues need to be resolved and have recognised that the new clause is probably the best way of resolving them in the context of the Bill. I am sure that many of us would have liked to see a bit more detail in the provisions and that we could all suggest what the best approach might be. Nevertheless, an important principle has been laid down. There will be schemes and each of them will be considered on its merit, and a proper authority will look at that processthe National Assembly for Wales and the Secretary of State in England.
We now have an opportunity to improve our sewerage system to meet the required needs, as well as to make a huge impact on the environment and on some aspects of public health. Everyone who has had sewage in their garden will be thankful for what has happened in the House tonight.
Mr. Drew: I wish to make a very narrow point. I could have intervened on my hon. Friend the Minister a second time to raise it, but I thought it better to do so in a short speech. We have been reassured about the time scaleI heard what he said and welcome itbut my next point follows from what my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) said and relates to cost implications. When we see the different options and get some clarity about which we prefer and how we might adopt more than one, if that is what is proposed, can the process be dealt with in secondary legislation? Having introduced the enabling powers, we would not want to have to wait until the next water Bill was introduced to carry into action exactly what all of us want to achieve in respect of the adoption of private sewers. If my hon. Friend the Minister clarifies that situation, an awful lot of people will be listening. I am sure that they will welcome the moves that the Government have already made, as well as their intentions.
The Minister and his Department must take enormous credit for allowing the new clause into the Bill. Originally, such provision did not feature in the Bill at all, and many of us were afraid that we would miss a once-in-a-Parliament opportunity to remedy a serious situation. Although the new clause does not go as far as
Mr. Morley: I think that there is an argument for protecting controlled waters, and that may sometimes involve compensation and protection against pollution, so I cannot accept new clause 8, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin).
The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) rightly said that I had dealt with the concerns he raised in new clause 13. Furthermore, I appreciated very much the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew), for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) and for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping).
I repeat that there is obviously a lot of work to be done, and the matter will not be dealt with in the short term. Nevertheless, the powers in the Bill allow us to deal with what we recognise to be a very serious problem throughout the country.
'After section 3 of the WIA there is inserted
"3A Consultation and liability for expenses incurred in implementing environmental protection regulations
(1) Where a regulation that takes effect after the enactment of this section requires a water undertaker or sewerage undertaker to incur costs for works to meet environmental protection requirements, the Secretary of State shall carry out a financial impact assessment.
(2) In making a financial impact assessment for the purposes of this section, the Secretary of State shall report on the balance of the works benefit to local populations and customers of the relevant undertaker as compared with the environmental benefits that are considered to be in the general national interest.
(3) For the purposes of subsections (1) and (2) above the Secretary of State shall consult
(a) the Authority;
(b) the Council;
(c) the Environment Agency;
(d) relevant undertakers;
(e) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to consult; and
(f) where the regulations apply to Wales, the Assembly.
(4) The Secretary of State shall send a copy of the financial impact assessment to all consultees and publish it in such a manner as he considers appropriate.