Water Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Wiggin: Once again, we are examining the gist of the Bill. We are considering the huge amount in pensions, gratuities and other funding that the Secretary of State may determine, and suggesting replacing that with the benefits of the disclosure. Quite a large body of text would be replaced with the wording in amendment No. 63. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how detrimental that may or may not be to his Bill.

7 pm

Mr. Morley: The amendments are concerned with the CCW's powers to publish information and raise two key issues—the protection for the individual or body and the extent to which the CCW can act on its own.

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's concern about the restriction on the publication of information that might seriously and prejudicially affect the interests of water companies or individuals—unless they agree to publication—but I want to assure him that the clause is not intended to protect poorly performing water companies.

Column Number: 206

The Bill aims to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. When we legislate, we have a duty to find the right balance between an individual's rights and the public's need for information, and the Bill strikes the right balance between the two concerns. Under the amendments, however, the individual would not even have to be consulted, and they would have no knowledge that they might be named in public until it was too late. The individual would then have no redress or right of appeal. The balance of the amendments is wrong.

I note the hon. Gentleman's concerns about the need for the CCW to be independent from the authority, but in this case it is right for it to have regard to the authority's opinion. Assessing whether publishing information may have serious or prejudicial effects on a company is bound to mean the examination of technical issues involving the financial markets. It would therefore be better for the CCW to make use of the greater expertise of the regulator in those matters and to have regard to their opinion. It is worth noting that it will still be up to the CCW to take the final decision. In taking account of those concerns, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Sue Doughty: I am not entirely happy with the Minister's response. The provision favours the water companies and fails to emphasise transparency of information. Sometimes we need to know what is going wrong. The amendment states:

    '''publishing the information would, in the opinion of the Council,''—

that would give the CCW the opportunity to moderate what is done—

    ''be greater than any prejudicial effect to the interests of the individual or body.''

Sometimes companies get things wrong, at which point the CCW must represent consumers. The CCW must be able to ask questions, to get answers and to publish those answers. There are times at which it will be inappropriate to publish such answers, but the balance of the Bill favours companies and is prejudicial to the consumer getting a straight answer.

Sometimes it is difficult enough for consumers to get straight answers, and all of us know that from our constituency surgeries. The Bill gives companies lots of opportunities to hide behind it. It will encourage the CCW to say, ''Well, we are not going to tell you much about this, but it will all come out later with the regulator.'' The CCW's purpose is to defend and to pursue the rights of the consumer, and to publish the results of those activities.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 will become law in January 2005. It contains a presumption that a body can publish rather than not publish. That is a less restrictive test of publication, which balances the public interest in disclosure against the public interest in non-disclosure. The Bill should be amended to align the provisions on the publication of information by the CCW with the 2000 Act.

Mr. Wiggin: The hon. Lady makes good points. I would be grateful if the Minister answered them, but at this stage I intend to withdraw the amendment.

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Mr. Morley: We are back to the balance argument. There is a human rights legislation issue, which must be taken into account. A balance must be struck between the rights of the individual and the importance of making information available for scrutiny. The Bill attempts to get that balance right.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to the Minister. The matter is difficult. I agree with the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) that this is a wording issue, and I am grateful to her. I do not think that it is worth pressing the amendment to a vote. We may need to talk about the matter again on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clause 40

Conditions relating to costs

of water regulation

Mr. Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 103, in

    clause 40, page 42, line 28, at beginning insert—

    'Subject to subsection (2A) below,'.

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

Amendment No. 104, in

    clause 40, page 42, line 31, at end insert—

    '(2A) The total payment that may be required of any company pursuant to section 11(1)(c) of the WIA and under this section shall not be increased by more than the amount by which that company is permitted to increase its regulated prices under its appointment.'.

New clause 5—Regulatory methodology—

    'After section 2 of the WIA there is inserted—

    ''2B. Regulatory methodology

    (1) The Authority shall prepare and publish a statement of policy with respect to its determination of charges in periodic reviews and interim determinations under all or any of the instruments of appointment of companies as relevant undertakers made by virtue of Part II of this Act.

    (2) The Authority's statement of policy under this section shall include a statement of its policy with regard to the following matters—

    (a) the carrying out of its duties under this Act insofar as they relate to its determination of charges;

    (b) the matters to be taken into account and the methodologies to be applied in its determination of charges; and

    (c) the extent to which the performance of functions by persons with powers and duties conferred or imposed by or under this Act or any other enactment are relevant to its determination of charges.

    (3) The Authority shall determine charges in periodic reviews and interim determinations under a company's instrument of appointment as a relevant undertaker on the basis of the most recently published statement of policy.

    (4) The Authority may revise its statement of policy and where it does so shall publish the revised statement.

    (5) Publication under this section shall be in such manner as the Authority considers appropriate for the purpose of bringing the matters contained in the statement of policy to the attention of persons likely to be affected by them and shall not be made less than twelve months before a periodic review.

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    (6) When preparing or revising its statement of policy under this section, the Authority shall consult relevant undertakers and such other persons as it considers appropriate, subject to the requirements of subsection (7) below.

    (7) For the purposes of subsection (6) above—

    (a) consultation shall be by way of written notice given by the Authority not less than six months prior to the publication of the statement of policy which it is preparing or revising;

    (b) such notice shall state—

    (i) the matters which the Authority proposes to publish in its statement of policy and its reasons for including them in the statement; and

    (ii) a period of not less than three months within which that person may give written notice of objection with respect to the matters referred to in the notice; and

    (c) the Authority shall give each person a reasonable opportunity to make oral representations to it on the matters referred to in the notice.

    (8) The Authority shall not issue or publish a statement of policy unless—

    (a) no notice of objection to the policy is given to the Authority within the time period specified in its notice under subsection (7); or

    (b) if one or more relevant undertakers gives notice of objection to the Authority within that time—

    (i) the proportion (expressed as a percentage) of the relevant undertakers who have given notice of objection is less than such percentage as may be prescribed; and

    (ii) the percentage given by subsection (9) is less than such percentage as may be prescribed.

    (9) The percentage given by this subsection is the proportion (expressed as a percentage) of the relevant undertakers who have given notice of objection, weighted according to their market share in such manner as may be prescribed.

    (10) If the conditions referred to in subsection (8) are not met, the Authority shall (within three months of its receipt of the first or only notice of objection) refer the policy to the Competition Commission for review.

    (11) Where a reference is made to the Competition Commission under this section, it shall be the duty of the Competition Commission to determine whether the policy which is the subject of the reference operates in a manner best calculated to fulfil the duties of the Authority arising under this Act.

    (12) Where a reference is made to the Competition Commission under this section, the Authority shall not prepare or revise its statement of policy other than on the basis of the determinations of the Competition Commission.

    (13) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision as he considers appropriate for regulating the procedure to be followed with respect to any reference to the Competition Commission under this section.

    (14) Without prejudice to the generality of the power conferred by subsection (13) above, regulations under that subsection may, in relation to any such reference, apply (with or without modifications) the provisions of any enactment relating to the references to the Competition Commission under the provisions of this Act, the Fair Trading Act 1973 (c.41) or the Competition Act 1998 (c.41).''.'.

 
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