Water Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Morley: This proposal, too, deals with sewer flooding, who should be consulted and what should be taken into account in relation to connection.

I take the opportunity to correct the hon. Gentleman about the previous debate on the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood. The Government have not conceded that private sewers are to be taken over by the sewerage companies. What we said is that we are willing to consider an enabling measure in the Bill if after the consultation, discussion and consideration it is thought to be the best way forward. That is what we were discussing earlier. I make it absolutely clear that no decision has been taken.

An authority may wish to refuse connection for a variety of reasons and the amendment would put the matter into the category on which there would have to be an automatic consultation on every connection, which is unnecessary. For example, the debate might be about the suitability of a particular type of fitting. We would not expect Ofwat to have a formal consultation with the Environment Agency or riparian owners on such a minor change.

The amendment also does not list other important potential consultees such as local authorities or the Consumer Council for Water. It could not be justified to single out the Environment Agency and riparian owners, because there are other interested people. There is no need to prescribe as rigidly as the amendment; there will be wide consultation, which is the reason for the working parties. All interested stakeholders will have the opportunity to make their case and to have it taken into account.

Mr. Wiggin: The water companies, who have every reason to want the matter clarified, will have heard what the Minister said. The wording in my proposal may be too prescriptive. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 100 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 101

Devolution: Wales

Mr. Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 117, in

    clause 101, page 125, line 42, leave out 'or mainly'.

The Chairman: With this we may take amendment No. 118, in

    clause 101, page 126, line 26, leave out 'or mainly'.

Mr. Wiggin: The amendment is very similar to an earlier amendment. It would deal with water or sewerage undertakers whose area is wholly or mainly in Wales. I intended the measure to deal with undertakers who are wholly, rather than mainly, in

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Wales but in a previous reply the Minister explained that because of the way in which the areas are divided up there are few that are wholly in Wales. Nearly all the companies on the borders have a small area that goes over the border and thus would be precluded. Unless the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) wants to dive in, we do not need to pursue the matter. I hope that the Minister will confirm that I am right.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): As the hon. Gentleman has conceded his ground, I will not discuss the amendment, which is as ill conceived this time as it was the first time around. However, I take the opportunity to question the Minister. My reading of the clause, whether it is amended or not, as the hon. Gentleman half suggested, is that it will enable the National Assembly for Wales to decide on the construction of new reservoirs in Wales, whether the reservoirs provide water wholly or mainly for Wales or for England. Can the Minister confirm that my interpretation is correct? I hope that it is, because it is important that the construction of reservoirs in Wales, which directly affects the Welsh communities, landscape and environment, is decided as a planning matter by the National Assembly and not a Westminster Department.

Mr. Morley: As I mentioned earlier, the construction of reservoirs in Wales is primarily a planning issue and would come under the power of the National Assembly for Wales.

Amendments Nos. 117 and 118 would restrict some of the National Assembly's water regulation functions to undertakers that operate entirely in Wales. We have already debated amendment No. 78 under clause 43, and we established that no undertaker serves an area wholly in Wales. The amendments would therefore exclude the Assembly, and the Secretary of State would have to exercise his powers throughout England and Wales. That is not the Bill's intention. We have dealt with areas that fall wholly in England, and those points were properly examined and the provisions are there. However, we would not want to undermine the Welsh Assembly's powers, as the amendments would.

Mr. Wiggin: Oh yes we would.

Mr. Morley: I thought that that was not the hon. Gentleman's intention, but apparently it is.

Mr. Wiggin: The Minister is absolutely right that it is not my intention to undermine the powers of the Assembly. Offa's dyke is in my constituency and I am nervous that it might soon be Offa's dam.

We have had a clear debate, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 101 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 102

Minor and consequential amendments and repeals

Amendment made: No. 302, in

    clause 102, page 128, line 15, after first 'amendments', insert

    '(including the repeal of certain spent enactments)'.—[Mr. Morley.]

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Clause 102, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 7

Minor and consequential amendments

Mr. Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 130, in

    schedule 7, page 185, line 35, leave out paragraph 4.

On my notes is written, ''Why not convert?'' and that is the question that I seek to raise with the amendment.

Mr. Morley: I thought that might be political.

Mr. Wiggin: No, we are certainly having none of that—I had enough of that from my predecessor.

Schedule 7(4) concerns changing licences from one type to another. I ask the question, ''Why not convert?'' because why should someone not be able to convert one type of abstraction licence to another? It is not a contentious question. I understand that three types of licence are included in the Bill, and if someone should want to convert or prolong a licence, I do not see why that should not be possible.

Mr. Morley: Section 51 of the Water Resources Act 1991 allows a licence holder to apply to vary the terms of an existing licence. Paragraph (4) of schedule 7 expressly prevents the use of section 51 to change the type of licence, so, for example, a full licence cannot be converted to a transfer licence. The holder would need to apply to the agency to surrender the old licence and be issued with a new one to go through the proper procedures.

Amendment No. 130 would remove that restriction and allow a change in licence type to be a variation on an existing licence. However, changing the type of licence is not a change in terms. A new licence would then be required. I am talking about a transfer licence, a time-limited licence or the existing unlimited one. If a holder wants to change his type of licence, he can do so as I have indicated, but he must go through that process, rather than a variation.

3 pm

Mr. Wiggin: Is there not a real danger that people will be tempted to take up abstraction licences, to go through the process and then use them on a one-off basis, simply to continue their ownership of them as a safeguard, perhaps in case of a water shortage in the near future? Because they cannot move from, say, a transfer licence to a full licence or vice versa, there is a possibility that a water company that needed to be able to abstract and had a licence to do so, but did not really need it, would simply hog the licence to prevent anyone else from having it. Otherwise, when there was a water shortage, it would have to go through the whole process again, and it would very likely be turned down. That is why we need a certain flexibility in the Bill and why I seek to clarify the point.

Mr. Morley: The Bill deals with that. Let us say that someone applies to obtain a licence. One of the conditions for getting a licence is that the applicant has to show a requirement for a licence. If someone is surrendering an old licence and applying for a new one, the same conditions would apply. They would

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have to demonstrate a need for the licence. In addition, if they did not use it for four years, it could be withdrawn.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply—well, in fact I am not that grateful because the Minister has not addressed the problem. Yes, every four years someone would have to use their licence, but a company could do that. The shame of this is that people will apply for licences unnecessarily, on the basis that they may need them at some unknown future date. They will take action to continue to roll over those licences.

That means that many people who would like a licence will not be able to get one, because they will not be able to justify it environmentally. Because this part of the Bill rules out flexibility, that is more, rather than less, likely to happen. I am prepared to concede that it is not guaranteed to happen, but I imagine that a bit of flexibility would be constructive. [Interruption.] I see that the Minister has received a little note; perhaps there will be something interesting in it for me.

Mr. Morley: The situation is not very different from the one that I described to the hon. Gentleman. The licences as they are issued now can be very different. They will have conditions attached to them. Some will have protected rights conditions; some will specify volumes. There are abstraction licences and transfer licences, which can be very different things. If a licence holder wants to change a licence to which conditions apply, the best way will be to surrender it and make a fresh application, rather than a variation, so that it can be evaluated properly, whatever the new licence is; otherwise, control over the management of licences will be lost. That is why I argue strongly against the amendment.

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