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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: It may assist the Minister if we read what he said about this regional issue. Perhaps he would like to move on to some of the other points that I and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised in our amendments.

Lord Whitty: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, but we are making a slight meal of what was a relatively simple point. Perhaps that is my fault and I apologise to the Committee.

Amendments Nos. 142 and, consequently, 148, 149, 150, 152 and 154 relate to the council's role in handling complaints and carrying out investigations and the mechanism for changing the threshold within the Bill but not for changing the role of the council—it would change the size of the competitive sector. We have some sympathy with what is being attempted here. However, I would have concerns if the council thereby became involved with the content of supply contracts between customers and the licensees, as those are essentially a private matter between the two parties.

Therefore, we need to give some thought as to whether the council should be allowed to require the information set out in Amendments Nos. 126, 127, 129 and 130. We also need to consider naming the council as a compulsory consultee to the exclusion of others. Of course, that does not mean that the council should not become involved in the consultation process. The mechanisms to ensure that that occurs are already in place in the Bill.

However, if it would be helpful to the Committee, I would be prepared to consider whether we should take further the thoughts behind Amendments Nos. 148, 149, 152 and 154 and the original Amendment No. 142—the batch which deals with complaints handling—and also Amendments Nos. 163 through to 168, which deal primarily with the involvement of the council in the consultation process, and if I consider, without commitment, the issues which lie behind that.

I hope that I have dealt with most of the amendments. I shall certainly take away those two batches and consider them again. As I indicated, for

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practical rather than principled reasons, I am less sympathetic to the first batch of amendments, which deals with the regionalisation of the approach.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank the Minister very much for his reply. If he is to return with the amendments, I am sure that we shall all appreciate them being in smaller groupings. I shall read carefully his reasoning about the regional issue, and I thank him for his remarks on the other amendments. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 77B to 77G not moved.]

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 78:

    Page 37, line 26, at end insert—

"( ) Without prejudice to subsections (2) to (4), before—
(a) making a modification to the conditions of an appointment pursuant to section 13 of this Act;
(b) making a reference to the Competition Commission pursuant to section 14 of this Act;
(c) giving any approval pursuant to section 143(6) of this Act;
(d) making any decision which falls within paragraphs (a), (b) or (e) of section 195A of this Act; or
(e) making any proposal to a relevant undertaker limiting its charges for the supply of water, the provision of sewerage services or the reception, treatment or disposal of trade effluent,
the Authority, the Secretary of State or the Assembly, as the case may be, shall consult the Council, and shall take into account any views expressed by the Council."

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 78 is concerned with the duty of the water authority to consult the council. We believe that it is a matter of good practice for there to be a statutory requirement that the water authority must give reasons for its key decisions. We believe that generally that happens already, but it is important that water customers as well as water companies and other stakeholders should have a statutory right to be informed by the water authority of the reasons for its decisions which may affect their interests.

Therefore, our amendment is designed to widen the scope of decisions that the consumer council for water must be consulted upon before the water authority is able to make decisions upon those areas. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I do not believe that the amendments are necessary. We obviously share the aim that the new consumer council should be able to contribute to water regulation on behalf of consumers in conjunction with the other bodies. However, new Section 27B already contains a requirement for the various bodies to agree to co-operate and, indeed, to record agreement about co-operation in a memorandum. That agreement is more suitable than the wording of these amendments. In the existing memorandum between Ofwat and WaterVoice, there is already an agreement to consult each other on matters involving the exercise of their

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respective functions. I should expect that process to be followed in the new structure, without this form of amendment.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I should also speak to my Amendments Nos. 79 and 80, which are grouped with Amendment No. 78.

Amendment No. 79 deals with a small but very important point. I believe that the power is currently restricted to consumers of water. The amendment seeks to broaden that to include,

    "parties with whom the undertakers enter into a contractual relationship".

An example might help the Committee. If a landowner gave an undertaker permission to lay a pipe across her land, she would have a contractual relationship with the undertaker, but she may not be a consumer of his water. She might, for example, have her own private water supply. The purpose of the amendment is to cover people in those circumstances. I believe that the Bill as drafted may be excluding many such circumstances. It is a probing amendment to discover why only the consumers of the undertaker's product should be included.

Amendment No. 80 goes to the heart of some of the sustainability issues we have discussed. It requires all the authorities, notably the water authority and the consumer council for water,

    "to pay regard to each others' duties of care to society, the environment and the economy".

At this stage in the afternoon, I do not intend to speak to the amendment at length, save to say that we believe that the spirit of the amendment is very important.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I wonder whether I might depart from the admirable shortness of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on Amendment No. 80 and say a few words about the real importance of sustainable development and the equivalent of that for the consumer council for water. If they are to sing from the same hymn sheet, a symmetry needs to be developed between the economic regulator, the environmental regulator and the consumer council. Research done on behalf of the Government, the regulators and the consumer bodies has shown that the public want the consumer council to address not only price and service issues but water companies' environmental performance and what is being delivered on behalf of consumers in terms of environmental impact. I therefore ask the Minister to consider Amendment No. 80.

Baroness Byford: I suspect that the Minister will tell us that the amendment is unnecessary as it is already within the Government's brief. However, I, too, have been particularly taken by the amendment. I think that it is true that members of the general public—all of us—have become much more aware of our environment. Although I am not sure that that needs to be included in the Bill, I should certainly hope that

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the consumer council will have high regard to it. If it does not, I would be happy to support this amendment.

I dissented earlier from the position laid out by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, but she has outlined the information that the companies are required to provide. I would be concerned if the companies thought that that information goes beyond the scope of what they usually provide. Such information should be a basic element of what they should wish to provide to the consumer council. If that is not so, I would associate myself with Amendment No. 80.

Lord Whitty: I think that we are becoming slightly messy with our procedure. I have already given part of my reply on Amendment No. 80, which we are saying is not necessary because the companies already co-operate. In that process, I probably did not deal adequately with Amendment No. 79, which would look after the contractors working for the water company. I do not think that that is right. I think that the consumer council should look after consumers, not the contractors. As for licensed water suppliers, they could of course be the undertakers' competitors. It would not be right for them to benefit from the consumer protection part of the Bill.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: We could argue some of these points at length. For now, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 78A to 80 not moved.]

Clause 34 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [The Consumer Council for Water]:

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 81:

    Page 124, line 14, at end insert "; or

(c) reside in a rural area and have a direct relationship with rural interests"

The noble Lord said: Members of the Committee will note that, regarding appointments to the consumer council, paragraph 1(5) of Schedule 2 provides that one or more person must,

    "have experience of work among, and the special needs of, disabled persons"—

which is very laudable indeed—and,

    "have or have had a disability".

The amendment proposes a specific reference to persons in rural areas. We make that proposal on the strength of new Section 27C under Clause 42, on page 48, which is headed "General functions of the Council". New Section 27C refers specifically to the interests of consumers. It states:

    "In considering the interests of consumers, the Council shall have regard to the interests of . . . individuals who are disabled or chronically sick . . . individuals of pensionable age . . . individuals with low incomes; and . . . individuals residing in rural areas".

The disability issue was certainly addressed in paragraph 1(5) of the schedule that I quoted.

In moving this amendment, I am saying that the consumer council should include at least one person living in a rural area who has a direct relationship with rural interests. We believe that various rural water

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issues need to be taken into account. An adequate and reliable source of water is of course absolutely vital for rural residents. It is important also that the regulator and the consumer council are aware of the needs of rural businesses in that specific context.

The reliable supply of water to small rural housing developments and small rural businesses may require a more extensive infrastructure. In my work in another place, I came across real hardship in rural areas. I know of cases in which proposals to build just three or four more houses could not be agreed because of an inadequate water supply, which was often the result of an inadequate water infrastructure. Furthermore, residents of rural communities were often asked to pay an enormous bill to increase the availability of water. That stultified much rural enterprise and even the viability of rural areas. Younger couples who would have lived and worked in the area did not do so because of inadequate water supplies.

Although that is a special pleading, it needs to be represented on the consumer council. Rural people will appreciate that point. My experience is that consumer councils dominated by people from urban areas have no idea at all of that type of problem in rural areas. We want to ensure that rural interests are reflected in the business of the consumer council. We should therefore like to amend Schedule 2. We believe that the best place to make the change is in the list of special interest groups to be considered for appointment to the national consumer council or the regional consumer committees. We want to ensure that decision making as it effects the interests of rural consumers is done in an informed way. I beg to move.

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