Water Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Morley: It is the law.

Mr. Wiggin: It is not the law but the Bill that we are debating.

The Chairman: Is the hon. Gentleman seeking the Committee's leave to withdraw the amendment?

Mr. Wiggin: I did not say that, Mr. Amess. I should like to know—I hope that the Minister takes this on board—the problems that accepting the amendment might cause. It would have been helpful, and we should not dismiss co-operation so lightly. Although I accept that he feels that the matter is not in his remit because the Bill concerns only England and Wales, I believe that the co-operation could have been cross-border. If I am to withdraw my amendment, I hope that he will accept that I seek to amend the Bill in a constructive way, and that if it is possible to include provision for some sort of cross-border co-operation, he will consider that.

Mr. Morley: The one area of cross-border co-operation—an important area—would be in water transfer, and that is dealt with in the Bill. We consult the Scottish Executive on water resource management, because that issue is of interest to all of us. However, the hon. Gentleman must remember that the legislation gives powers that apply only to England and Wales. If he wants an assurance that we will talk to the Scottish Parliament on general water issues and that there will be exchange of information and co-operation on such issues, I can give him that assurance.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful for that assurance, and if I wish to fight this battle any further, I shall do so when we discuss the next amendment. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 38, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2

The Consumer Council for Water

Mr. Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 122, in

    schedule 2, page 136, leave out lines 10 to 12 and insert 'understands disability'.

On page 136, the Government have sought to include disability as one of the criteria that would be constructive. Although I am in favour of taking all factors into consideration when appointing people, I am concerned that there is the potential for positive discrimination to creep into this provision. I therefore seek clarification by suggesting that the subsection should be omitted.

I hope that the Secretary of State would appoint the best person, and would consider that if they were disabled, that could be advantageous in terms of their viewpoint and experiences. However, I do not believe that it is helpful to include a provision regarding disability in the Bill. During much of the debate that we have had this evening, we have trusted that the Secretary of State would do the right thing and, in this case, that is the right way to proceed. The matter

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should be addressed through a code of conduct, rather than by requiring a person to have a disability.

Most importantly, we are expecting the person in question to contribute in terms of their abilities and knowledge, but that contribution will not necessarily relate only to their ability, but to their experience on water. I therefore feel that this may be an inappropriate use of positive discrimination, and seek to clarify it with this amendment.

Mr. Morley: The Bill recognises that disabled people have special needs in relation to water supply. They are a special group, and need to have a reliable supply of water—an example of that would be people who are on dialysis. There are technical factors that must be understood, in addition to the problem of affordability, which is universal.

The issue of disability and water supply is important. I know from my experience as a constituency Member that when there was a debate about compulsory water metering in my area, affordability and water cost were raised as key issues for people who were chronically sick and disabled.

The problem with the amendment is that it is vague. It could make it more difficult for the Secretary of State and the Assembly to ensure that the candidates under consideration had a sufficient depth of knowledge fully to promote the needs of people with disabilities within the consumer council. In the Bill as currently drafted, the Secretary of State will ''have regard to'' the matter—it is not compulsory. However, if there is a good candidate, who has a great deal of experience of consumer issues and a great deal of credibility in relation to their own background, and also has experience of disability, it is not unreasonable to take that into account when making the appointment.

Mr. Thomas: I must confess that I tend to the Minister's view rather than to that of the hon. Member for Leominster; but does the Minister not think that that is an excellent reason to have at least five members on any such board, because about 20 per cent. of the population suffer from a disability?

Mr. Morley: That was a really good attempt. Of course that would reflect the issues, and there is an argument for having a reasonably sized board to include a cross-section of opinions, experience and skills. I take that point, and I fully expect the board to reflect that. I hope that the hon. Member for Leominster will accept my explanation, which, I think, demonstrates that the Bill's drafting gives much more emphasis to the needs of the disabled than his amendment, which is a bit on the baseline.

Mr. Wiggin: I accept everything that the Minister has said, but there is one thing that I should like him to do as well. I recognise that in drafting the Bill the Government felt that it would be particularly important to give extra emphasis to disabled people, and I welcome that. However, the purpose of my amendment is to ensure that should an appropriate person not be available or not wish to serve, that would not in any way slow down or prohibit the

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appointments taking place. It is not compulsory in the wording, but I want to ensure that we are not insisting on something that might not be possible.

I take the point that the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) made, but I do not necessarily feel that this wording is the most appropriate for what the Government seek to do. With that in mind, providing that I have the assurance that the measure will never be held against the appointments procedure, I will have no problem withdrawing the amendment.

Mr. Morley: I can confirm that, as the Bill is drafted, there is no compulsion. The measure ensures that the needs of disabled people are fully taken into account in the appointments and that where there is an opportunity to reflect those needs through appointments to the board, that should be done.

Sue Doughty: I, too, thought that I would listen to the argument first and examine the schedule. The more I read it, the more I think that it deserves its place in the Bill as it stands. It is important that there are people to champion the cause of the disabled. It may be very difficult to recruit for the post from among the disabled, but this measure puts rights some of the problems of the past when the needs of disabled people have been considered by those who have very little personal experience or understanding. The schedule says ''shall have regard to''. It may not be possible to appoint such a person, but it says that the requirements of people with disabilities must be considered. If someone with deep knowledge cannot be appointed, it is still a useful reminder not to consider matters that may have an impact on disabled people without at least seeking advice and, for preference, having someone there with the knowledge. We would certainly not support the amendment.

Mr. Wiggin: As I said, I have no problem withdrawing the amendment now that the Minister has duly given me the assurance that I sought. I am grateful for the debate that we have had, because it is easy to misinterpret an amendment of this sort. In no way did I wish to do anything that would disadvantage people with disabilities; on the other hand, it is important to use our scrutiny to ensure that we do not have the wrong sort of discrimination. My probing amendment has succeeded there, and I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 63, in

    schedule 2, page 137, line 29, leave out from 'Council' to end of line 7 on page 138 and insert

    'may include any information which relates to the affairs of any particular individual or body of persons (corporate or incorporate) if—

    (a) the individual or body has consented to the disclosure; or

    (b) the benefit to the interests of consumers from publishing the information would, in the opinion of the Council, be greater than any prejudicial effect to the interests of the individual or body.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

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No. 58, in

    clause 46, page 52, line 44, leave out from 'unincorporate' to end of line 20 on page 53 and insert

    'may be disclosed in the exercise of the Council's function under this section if—

    (a) the individual or body has consented to the disclosure; or

    (b) the benefit to the interests of consumers from publishing the information would, in the opinion of the Council, be greater than any prejudicial effect to the interests of the individual or body.'.

No. 59, in

    clause 46, page 53, line 30, leave out 'to' and insert 'and'.

No. 60, in

    clause 46, page 54, line 13, leave from 'unincorporate)' to end of line 24 and insert

    'may be published in the exercise of the Council's function under this section if—

    (a) the individual or body has consented to the disclosure; or

    (b) the benefit to the interests of consumers from publishing the information would, in the opinion of the Council, be greater than any prejudicial effect to the interests of the individual or body.'.

No. 61, in

    clause 47, page 55, line 42, leave out from 'unincorporate)' to end of line 20 on page 56 and insert

    'may be published in the exercise of the Council's function under this section if—

    (a) the individual or body has consented to the disclosure; or

    (b) the benefit to the interests of consumers from publishing the information would, in the opinion of the Council, be greater than any prejudicial effect to the interests of the individual or body.'.

No. 62, in

    clause 50, page 60, leave out from beginning of line 25 to end of line 3 on page 61 and insert

    'may be in a report under subsection (4) if—

    (a) the individual or body has consented to the disclosure; or

    (b) the benefit to the interests of consumers from publishing the information would, in the opinion of the Council, be greater than any prejudicial effect to the interests of the individual or body.'.

 
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