Water Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Morley: I just want to assure the hon. Gentleman that there is currently no cross-subsidy between domestic and non-domestic sectors. Competition could lead to customers not eligible for competition finding themselves worse off. That is the argument. The hon. Gentleman expressed some detailed arguments. I said that Ofwat would be responsible for the final detail, and I am sure that it could consider some of the issues raised.

Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to the Minister for that interesting piece of information, which surprised me. He said that there is no cross-subsidy between the domestic and non-domestic sectors, but he did not answer my point, which was about cross-subsidy with industrial consumers and non-domestic consumers of more than 50 megalitres. However, if he is right, there is no reason why one could not incorporate a cost-based solution without detriment to other consumers. In effect, he is making the argument that we could have a cost-based solution.

However, I will leave the point, because otherwise we will start re-circulating our arguments. I am happy that I have explained my argument at least to the point where the Minister understands that something has to be discussed, and perhaps the time will come to discuss it again in the future. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 297, in

    schedule 4, page 173, line 28, after 'secondary', insert 'water'.[Mr. Morley.]

Mr. Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 128, in

    schedule 4, page 176, line 24, after 'shall', insert 'deliberately'.

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

No. 129, in

    schedule 4, page 177, line 12, after 'shall', insert 'deliberately'.

Mr. Wiggin: It is essential to take these two amendments together because they would both add the word ''deliberately'' to the Bill. The better example is in amendment No. 129. If the Minister can convince us that it is impossible for a person to introduce water into a water undertaker's system accidentally, the word ''deliberately'' will be superfluous, and I will have no problem with withdrawing the amendment. However, I am not sure that the Minister can do that.

The Bill provides that anyone who introduces water to a water undertaker's supply system will be guilty of a serious offence and, on summary conviction, subject to a fine not exceeding 20,000. The addition of the

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word ''deliberately'' will be a necessary safeguard unless we can secure from the Minister a guarantee that no accidents can take place and that anyone who introduces water will automatically be seen to have done it deliberately.

The same is true for a water undertaker's supply system, but the provision in amendment No. 128 is less strong, because the person who is supplying the water has to supply it to a client, and that would be deliberate in itself. Amendment No. 128 is perhaps not quite as crucial, but amendment No. 129 is helpful in seeking to ensure that no one can do something by accident and then face a 20,000 fine.

3.30 pm

Mr. Morley: I find it hard to envisage a circumstance in which it would be possible unintentionally to use an undertaker's water supply. A person would have to be quite deliberate in using the system to supply a customer. It would need the agreement of the undertaker and if they used it without the undertaker's consent, they would be committing the offence of interfering with the undertaker's works, under section 174 of the Water Industry Act 1991, as the hon. Gentleman aptly pointed out. If it is found that an undertaker's supply system was being used in a manner that was prohibited, but not in a way that was considered to require a licence, there is the flexibility in the Bill to make that activity subject to an exception or exemption. As I said, I find it difficult to envisage the particular circumstances, but I hope that that gives the sort of guarantee that the hon. Gentleman sought.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. This sort of amendment is not particularly weighty, but it is important to ensure that we do not leave any gaps or lines that people could accidentally tread on. I am comforted by the Minister's comments. I can see ways in which the use of an undertaker's supply system might accidentally happen, but if the Bill is sufficiently flexible to prevent someone from being prosecuted for that, I should be happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 298, in

    schedule 4, page 177, line 7, leave out 'section 66J' and insert 'sections 66J and 66L'.[Mr. Morley.]

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 8

Minor and consequential amendments:

licensing of water suppliers etc

Amendments made: No. 299, in

    schedule 8, page 202, line 15, after 'licences', insert

    '(within the meanings of Chapter 1A of this Part)'.

No. 300, in

    schedule 8, page 213, line 17, after 'after ''', insert 'by'.[Mr. Morley.]

Mr. Wiggin: On a point of order, Mr. Amess. I am curious as to why schedule 8 was selected at this point in the proceedings and not at a later stage, because it is the final schedule of the Bill. I am sorry that the usual

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Clerk is not here to guide you, but I know that the Clerk who is here today is one of the finest, and I am sure that he will be able to help.

The Chairman: Our regular Clerk will be returning at 4 o'clock, but I am advised that we agreed on 16 October that that should be the order in which these matters should be taken.

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 60

The Chief Inspector of Drinking Water and

the Drinking Water Inspectorate

Mr. Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 105, in

    clause 60, page 75, leave out lines 16 to 24.

This clause deals with the appointment of the drinking water inspectorate, and the amendment concerns the subsection in which the chief inspector of drinking water may or may not be the same for both England and Wales. The purpose is to identify what encouragements the Government have to ensure that the drinking water inspector covers both England and Wales, because there are all sorts of contradictory problems with the job. It is an important job and I welcome its inclusion in the Bill, but it would be sensible to have economies of scale and combine the jobs for one person.

If the Welsh Assembly chose to be difficult and appoint its own drinking water inspector, what financial burden would that place on it? Would there be a cost? Why do we need two people? Why could it not be the same person?

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): Has my hon. Friend considered the logjam that might occur in his own constituency, part of which, as we heard this morning, would come under the Welsh Assembly while the rest would not? Two inspectors who radically disagree might affect neighbours.

Mr. Wiggin: My hon. Friend is right, and my constituency is perhaps more vulnerable than most. However, logjams we do not get; flooding we do. Nevertheless his point was valid.

The amendment is designed to find out more about how the proposal will work, who will pay the penalty if the job is split, and what benefits that will give to consumers.

Mr. Thomas: It was interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman move the amendment. The reason why Wales may require a separate inspector for drinking water is that our water tastes much better. We need somebody with the right capability to check that quality and ensure that we do not export bad quality water to England, because that would be awful.

Mr. Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and valid point, but there is no reason why the English inspector should not be a Welshman.

Mr. Thomas: Absolutely not, and the Bill allows for that. The hon. Gentleman, and the whole Conservative party, must realise that devolution has happened and is going forwards not backwards. The provision moves devolution on and should remain.

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Mr. Morley: The chief inspector of drinking water is currently responsible for both England and Wales. The Bill gives statutory recognition to the chief inspector, which is a good thing. It provides for the continuation of the status quo of having one chief inspector for England and Wales, but also allows the Welsh Assembly to choose their own chief inspector. The costs for that would fall on the Assembly. That is a fair provision, which recognises the efficiency of the present system, but also the fact that, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion pointed out, devolution is a reality, and the devolved authorities should have that choice.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and to the hon. Member for Ceredigion for his speech. As I said at the beginning, this probing amendment was designed to find out how the system would work, and the Minister has explained that. I do not wish to push the issue because the Bill provides for the inspector to be the same person, and I hope that that will happen. The Minister has made it clear that, if the Welsh Assembly felt that it wanted somebody different, it would have to pay for it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 106, in

    clause 60, page 75, line 29, leave out subsection (7).

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

No. 287, in

    clause 63, page 81, line 6, at end insert

    'or such higher amount as the Secretary of State may by order determine.'.

No. 288, in

    clause 64, page 81, line 12, at end insert

    'or such higher amount as the Secretary of State may by order determine.'.

Mr. Wiggin: The amendment would delete subsection (7), which amends section 86(6) of the Water Industry Act 1991 by inserting the phrases

    ''on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding 20,000''

and

    ''on conviction on indictment, to a fine.''

I am curious as to why is it necessary to have both of those paragraphs, and the amendment is designed to find that out.

 
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