Water Bill [Lords]

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Miss Johnson: I beg to move amendment No. 321, in

    clause 61, page 77, line 10, leave out

    'The terms may, for example,'

    and insert 'Those terms shall'.

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

Column Number: 475

Amendment No. 215, in

    clause 61, page 77, line 10, leave out 'may, for example' and insert 'shall'.

Amendment No. 216, in

    clause 61, page 77, leave out lines 11 and 12 and insert—

    '(a) requiring reimbursement by the relevant authority to the water undertaker of all the undertaker's capital and operational costs of or in any way related to the fluoridation of the water supply;'.

Government amendment No. 322.

Amendment No. 217, in

    clause 61, page 77, line 17, at beginning insert

    'Before making a request under subsection (1) above,'.

Government amendment No. 324.

Amendment No. 218, in

    clause 61, page 77, line 27, at end insert—

    '87AA Fluoridation arrangements: technical guidance

    (1) Without prejudice to Chapter III of this Part and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, the Secretary of State and the Assembly shall jointly prepare and issue a code of practice containing guidance on the technical standards that must be met by water undertakers in relation to the fluoridation of water supplies.

    (2) Such code of practice shall—

    (a) include such provisions, and

    (b) be prepared and made in such manner,

    as shall be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.'.

Government amendment No. 327.

Amendment No. 219, in

    clause 61, page 78, leave out lines 20 to 34 and insert—

    '(3) Subject to such safeguards as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State, where a water undertaker is required by any such arrangements to add fluoride to water which it supplies to any area, the undertaker may, to such extent and for such time as may be reasonably necessary to accommodate any operational exigency—

    (a) not supply such fluoridated water to the area required to be fluoridated; or

    (b) reduce the concentration of fluoride in the water required to be fluoridated to below the required concentration.

    (4) In this section, ''operational exigency'' means—

    (a) any serious deficiency in supply;

    (b) any accident or unforeseen circumstance;

    (c) the carrying out of any works (including cleaning and maintenance) by the undertaker concerned or, as the case may be, by the undertakers concerned, or by a licensed water supplier supplying water using its or their supply system;

    (d) any contractual obligation on the undertaker concerned or, as the case may be, on any of the undertakers concerned, or on a licensed water supplier supplying water using its or their supply system, to supply water of a particular quality; or

    (e) any other operational circumstance which involves the undertaker concerned or, as the case may, any of the undertakers concerned, or a licensed water supplier supplying water using its or their supply system, varying the source or sources of the supply of water to the area in question.'.

Amendment No. 223, in

    clause 61, page 80, line 15, at end insert—

    '90A Fluoridation arrangements: precondition

Column Number: 476

    A water undertaker shall not be obliged to enter into any arrangements under section 87 above until the Secretary of State has made regulations under sections 87AA and 89 above.'.

Miss Johnson: Amendments Nos. 321 and 322 respond to requests from the water industry, which asked us to clarify the arrangements that strategic health authorities may make with water undertakers to fluoridate their water. Amendment No. 321 ensures that all arrangements provide for payments to the undertaker for adding fluoride, the circumstances in which the fluoridation can be temporarily suspended and for variations to be made in the arrangement.

Amendment No. 322 enlarges on the costs that the water undertaker will be able to recover from a strategic health authority under arrangements to fluoridate. It also specifies that both the capital cost of setting up the scheme and the recurring running costs would be recoverable. The Government amendments also cover the intentions behind amendments Nos. 215 and 216.

In light of Government amendment No. 324, amendment No. 217 seems excessive. Strategic health authorities will discuss proposals with the water undertaker in advance of any public consultation, so it will be alerted to any issues that need to be raised with the Water Services Regulation Authority in advance of consultation. Otherwise, the regulation authority can be brought in at the time of the public consultation.

Amendment No. 324 was also suggested by the water industry. It requires strategic health authorities to consult water undertakers about the boundaries of the distribution system and technical constraints before commencing public consultations on a proposal to fluoridate. They will also need to undertake prior consultation if they propose to terminate a scheme. The intention is to ensure that strategic health authorities appreciate at an early stage whether the water distribution system serves the area of more than one strategic health authority and whether they need to collaborate on public consultations. It will also avoid raising public expectations about proposals that are not technically feasible. Water undertakers have a key role at every stage of the development of a fluoridation scheme, and I am grateful to the water industry for its sensible suggestions.

On amendment No. 218, we recognise the importance that the water industry attaches to observance of a technical code of practice. We are already working on a new, updated version of the code, which contains guidance that may need to be updated in light of technical developments. Prescribing guidance in regulations could cause delays in updating the code.

I hope that I have reassured hon. Members that we are already updating the code and intend that it will inform all arrangements. I therefore trust that they will not press their amendments to a Division.

4.45 pm

Amendment No. 327 amends new section 87A, which provides for the determination of any disputes between strategic health authorities and water

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undertakers on making arrangements to fluoridate. As drafted, the section provides for the determination of disputes that arise over the making of new arrangements, and the amendment includes any disputes that might occur when a strategic health authority wants to vary the arrangements that are already in place.

For example, a strategic health authority might decide that it wanted a variation if the oral health of the population had improved so much in one part of its area that it no longer needed to be fluoridated. The strategic health authority would ask the water undertaker for a variation to switch off part of the area fluoridated. We are not expecting many discussions or disputes between the strategic health authorities and the water undertakers, but we have provided for arbitration to avoid the possibility of legal actions.

On amendment No. 219, we accept the need to give water undertakers the discretion to cope with unforeseen circumstances such as droughts, floods and plant breakdowns, which have been provided for in new section 87B. We have also extended the provisions in section 87(7)(a), (b) and (c) in the existing Act, which, in the circumstances in which the requirement for fluoridation may be temporarily suspended, allows them to be specified within the terms of the arrangements. Section 87(6) provides for a local agreement of those arrangements. I would need more persuading to go further than that and, given the above assurance, I hope that hon. Members will not press amendment No. 219 to a Division.

With regard to amendment No. 233, there is no question of our expecting water companies to fluoridate without indemnities or before regulations on consultation, and I hope that hon. Members will not therefore divide the Committee on that.

Mr. Wiggin: It would be extremely churlish of me to challenge the Government on the amendment, as it is almost identical to mine. The Minister is right to concede that, and to have heaped praise on Water UK, which should be congratulated on having worked so hard to get the best possible legislation for water companies. The parallels happily continue until amendment No. 219, on which the Minister said that she would need further persuasion, and we will seek to do that.

I am grateful for the progress that we have made. It is nice to have a wry smile, rather than the Minister pulling my leg.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 322, in

    clause 61, page 77, line 11, leave out from 'requiring' to end of line 12 and insert

    'the relevant authority to meet the reasonable capital and operating costs incurred by the water undertaker in giving effect to the arrangements;'.—[Miss Melanie Johnson.]

Miss Johnson: I beg to move amendment No. 323, in

    clause 61, page 77, line 20, at end insert—

    '(8A) If two or more relevant authorities request a particular water undertaker to enter into arrangements in respect of adjoining areas—

Column Number: 478

    (a) the authorities shall cooperate with each other so as to secure that the arrangements (taken together) are operable and efficient; and

    (b) if suitable terms are not agreed for all the arrangements, a combined reference may be made by the relevant authorities under section 87A below to enable the terms of each set of arrangements to be determined so that they are consistent.

    (8B) If a relevant authority requests a water undertaker to vary arrangements, the authority shall cooperate with any relevant authority for an adjoining area which has entered into arrangements with the same water undertaker so as to secure that following the variation the arrangements (taken together) will be operable and efficient.

    (8C) If suitable terms are not agreed for a variation mentioned in subsection (8B), a combined reference may be made by the relevant authorities under section 87A below to enable the terms of the variation to be determined so that (following the variation) both sets of arrangements are consistent.'.

 
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