Draft Water Bill - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1.  The Draft Water Bill,[1] published in July 2012, sets out legislative provisions to take forward the Coalition Government's plans for the water sector particularly as they relate to increasing competition.[2] The Draft Bill builds on proposals set out in the Water White Paper, Water for Life, published in December 2011.[3] Water for Life considered how water resources should be managed in the face of the twin challenges of climate change and population growth and on the previous Government's reviews of the water sector carried out by Professor Martin Cave[4] and Anna Walker.[5]

2.  The Government's intention is that the Water Bill will be introduced in the next Session, which starts in May 2013. It is therefore likely that a new Water Act will not be enacted until the Autumn at the earliest. The Draft Water Bill document comprises 207 pages, 130 of which consist of the draft legislative provisions. The remainder of the document provides an explanation of the draft clauses and schedules and sets out the Government's intentions behind the provisions. In this report we have indicated where we consider amendments to the provisions are necessary but have not set out the text of amendments.

3.  In July 2012 we invited written submissions on pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Bill. We received 45 written submissions and held four oral evidence sessions in October and November 2012, hearing from incumbent water companies, potential new entrants, consumers, the industry regulator Ofwat, Moody's Investors Service, Blueprint for Water, and Richard Benyon MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Natural Environment, Water, and Rural Affairs, Defra.[6] We are grateful to all who provided written and oral evidence to our inquiry.

Previous work by the Committee

4.  In the previous Parliament our predecessor Committee conducted several inquiries into flood and water management issues, including a report on the summer 2007 floods; the 2009 Ofwat price review and pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Flood and Water Management Bill.[7] In this Parliament we have published two reports on water policy: Future Flood and Water Management Legislation,[8] and The Water White Paper.[9]

5.  In this report we have made a number of recommendations relating to issues that were included in the White Paper but are not covered by the Draft Bill, including: reform of the abstraction regime, water metering and water affordability. We have also raised a number of issues which have concerned us for several years. In Flooding, published in May 2008, our predecessor Committee urged the Government to implement the Pitt Review's recommendations in full and to bring forward the appropriate legislation. We continued to press for the action in our pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Flood and Water Management Bill and in Future Flood and Water Management Legislation, published in December 2010, we highlighted the importance of the Government implementing the outstanding Pitt Review recommendations. Now, in 2013, several of those recommendations, such as those relating to risk-based standards for public sewerage systems and unifying flooding legislation in a single Act remain unimplemented.

6.  Some recommendations made in the Pitt Review have not yet been fully implemented.[10] For example, several of the Shoreline Management Plans, which contribute to the Environment Agency's national overview of flood risk, and local authority local flood Risk Management Strategies have not yet been signed off. We are also concerned that local government and the Environment Agency do not pay sufficient attention to dredging and maintenance of water courses, which can have a significant impact on the risk of flooding. We will explore these issues in more detail when we take evidence of flood funding later this year. Our colleagues on the Science and Technology Committee reported in February 2012 that: "It is of great concern to us that scientific advances in weather forecasting and the associated public benefits (particular in regard to severe weather warnings) are ready and waiting but are being held back by insufficient supercomputing capacity";[11] another Pitt recommendation that has not been fully implemented. Similarly, we have pressed the Government on its failure to commence provisions in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. Several of those provisions are still not in force, including those related to the automatic right to connect to the public sewerage system, dam and reservoir safety and Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDs). We discuss issues relating to reservoir safety and in SuDs later in this report. We find it frustrating that successive Governments have lacked the tenacity and resolution to implement important recommendations outstanding from the Pitt Review and provisions in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. That frustration is made more acute as legislative time is a scarce resource. We recommend that Defra set out in its response a full list of the outstanding issues from the Pitt Review and Flood and Water Management Act together with a clear timetable for their full implementation.

1   Department for Environment, food and Rural Affairs, Draft Water Bill, Cm 8375, July 2012 Back

2   One specific proposal in the White Paper, a reduction in bills for customers in the South West, has already been taken forward by the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Act 2012. Back

3   Department for Environment, food and Rural Affairs, Water for Life, Cm 8230, December 2011 Back

4   Professor Martin Cave, Independent Review of Competition and Innovation in Water Markets; Final Report, April 2009 Back

5   Anna Walker, The Independent Review of Charging for Household Water and Sewerage Services: Final Report, December 2009 Back

6   A full list of those individuals and organisations who provided oral evidence to the inquiry is appended to this report. Back

7   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, Flooding, HC 49-I; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee,Fifth Report of Session 2008-09, Ofwat Price Review 2009, HC 554-I; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2008-09, The Draft Flood and Water Management Bill, HC 555-I Back

8   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2010-12, Future flood and water management legislation, HC 522-I Back

9   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2012-13, The Water White Paper, HC 374 Back

10   See The Government's Response to Sir Michael Pitt's Review of the summer 2007 Floods: Final Progress Report, 27 January 2012; http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/2012-01-31-pb13705-pitt-review-progress.pdf and Flood & Water Management Act 2010, Progress Report on Implementation, December 2012; http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/pb13844-fwma-progress-report201212.pdf Back

11   Science and Technology Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2010-12, Science in the Met Office, HC 1538 Back

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Prepared 1 February 2013