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Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for that reply. I am slightly puzzled as to why an independent water company is not allowed to prosecute. In the normal world outside, companies can take other companies to court if they have a grievance. If a decision was left to the Secretary of State, for example, it may well be that he would decide that a certain case did not warrant being taken to court. I find it unusual that water companies should be denied this legal right.

If the Minister is again going to tell me that this is a utilities Bill and that the provision is already in other Bills and has been transcribed across, I shall have to sit down graciously. But it is unusual.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I am becoming increasingly uneasy listening to the debate. I am not a lawyer—which is unhelpful when we are faced with technical amendments about whether or not people have the right to take legal action—and I would welcome the Minister's assurance that he will put in writing where in the Bill the legal right to take action is removed from companies and individuals. The Bill concerns water and I am surprised that it seems to remove the legal rights of companies and individuals.

Lord Whitty: We are talking about criminal prosecutions. It is rare for a party to a dispute to be able to prosecute the other party under the criminal law. We are not denying people their civil rights. It would perhaps be better if I set out the position in writing, as the noble Baroness suggests.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister. I presume that the option of pursuing a case through the civil courts will remain, but that is not quite the same thing. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, for her contribution. I cannot understand why that provision is in the Bill. Human rights issues, legal responsibilities and accessibility are key concerns of the Committee. I look forward to receiving the letter from the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 168FB and 168FC not moved.]

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 8 [Minor and consequential amendments: licensing of water supplies etc.]:

[Amendment No. 168FD not moved.]

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Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 168G to 168L:

    Page 183, line 21, after "introduction" insert "or introductions"

    Page 183, line 30, after "introduction" insert "or introductions"

    Page 183, line 42, after "below" insert "or the introductions of water by it which are so permitted are designated as a collective strategic supply under section 66GG below"

    Page 184, line 42, at end insert—

"( ) Section 27 (general duty of Authority to keep matters under review) is amended as follows.
( ) In subsection (1), for the words from "water" to the end there is substituted— "(a) water undertakers or sewerage undertakers carry out functions; and
(b) licensed water suppliers carry on activities authorised by their licences."
( ) In subsection (2)—
(a) after paragraph (a) there is inserted— "(aa) the carrying on by companies holding licences under Chapter 1A of this Part of the activities authorised by their licences; or"; and.
(b) in paragraph (b), for "such company" there is substituted "company mentioned in paragraph (a) or (aa) above".
( ) In subsection (4), at the end of paragraph (b) there is inserted "or
(c) the activities authorised by retail licences or combined licences; or
(d) the carrying on of any such activities by a company holding any such licence.""
Page 184, line 42, at end insert—

"( ) Section 39A (information to be given to customers about overall performance) is amended as follows.
( ) In subsection (1), after "customers" there is inserted ", and, if the direction so specifies, licensed water suppliers using the undertaker's supply system for the purpose of supplying water to the premises of customers or those customers,".
( ) After subsection (2) there is inserted— "(2A) The licensed water suppliers referred to in subsection (1) above shall, if the Authority so directs, pass on the information about the matters mentioned in that subsection to their customers.
(2B) In subsection (1) above, the reference to the water undertaker's supply system shall be construed in accordance with section 17B(5) above."
( ) In subsection (3), after "undertaker" there is inserted "or licensed water supplier"."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Duke of Montrose moved Amendment No. 168LA:

    Page 185, line 43, leave out sub-paragraph (2).

The noble Duke said: The Bill amends Section 55 of the Water Industry Act, which basically states that if anyone in a water undertaker's area requests a non-domestic supply, the undertaker, with a few caveats, is obliged to comply.

The subsection to which the amendment refers would extend the obligation to requests that come from outside the water undertaker's area. It is a bald statement which does not encompass how the consequences will be handled. For example, will the Minister explain whether the undertaker in question will have to lay new pipes, or can he apply to the water undertaker whose area it is for an automatic right to

10 Apr 2003 : Column GC82

use the latter's delivery system? How does the subsection impinge on the new rights of licensed water suppliers? I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: At present, undertakers have a duty to supply customers outside their areas for domestic purposes but not for non-domestic purposes. We have sought to simplify the situation and provide clarity by removing this distinction.

The Bill also restricts this duty to supply customers outside the undertaker's area to those who are not eligible for supply by a licensed water supplier. This ensures that undertakers will compete only outside their areas through their associated companies and not directly. If the noble Duke is seeking to ensure that non-domestic customers eligible for competition can be supplied out of area by the undertaker, the amendment would not achieve it.

In such circumstances, the undertaker will have to build new pipes but, as we discussed in an earlier amendment, he will be able to charge for this. There is an existing duty to supply water outside the area for domestic purposes; it is a new duty only in regard to non-domestic supply. The change will not have any direct effect on licensed water suppliers because it relates only to ineligible customers, not to those who are eligible elsewhere.

The Duke of Montrose: I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. She has a great grasp of the subject but I am afraid I am a little lost. It will be well worth our while to read what the noble Baroness said and attempt to follow the logic in that way. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Duke of Montrose moved Amendment No. 168LB:

    Page 186, line 11, after "premises" insert "which meet the threshold requirement laid down in section 17D"

The noble Duke said: As it stands, the wording in the Bill implies that anyone may apply to a licensed water supplier for a domestic supply. Is this intended to be the case? Section 17A on the granting of licences lays down quite clearly that a retail authorisation does not allow a licensed water supplier to supply household premises. However, the section title refers to "Domestic Supply". Is this to be interpreted as the adjective "domestic" describing the noun "supply", or is it a shorthand for "the supply of domestic standard water"?

Are the words used deliberate? Does this piece of legislation tucked away in a schedule of minor and consequential amendments open the door to licensed water suppliers supplying domestic quality water to all classes of customer? I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I do not know. The amendment would appear to add a requirement that only customers of eligible premises may notify undertakers that they no longer wish to receive a supply of water. Given our

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earlier discussion in this context, I shall have to seek clarification of the definition of "domestic" and write to the noble Duke.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister. I smiled when my noble friend moved the amendment. I thought that it would be one on which the Minister would have to come back to us. It is an acceptable course of action.

The Duke of Montrose: I shall await clarification. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 168LC:

    Page 187, line 3, leave out "not"

The noble Lord said: This is a group of linked probing amendments. We are curious as to why the Bill is drafted this way round. It requires a water undertaker to be prescient if it is to fulfil its duties.

We are dealing with supply. The proposed new Section states:

    "This section applies where . . . a licensed water supplier ceases to supply any premises with water; and . . . the owner or occupier of the premises has not notified the water undertaker . . . that he has made arrangements for the continuation of the supply of water to the premises"—

and so on. That appears to imply that a big business customer—we are talking about 50 megalitres of water—which is eligible in the competition arena would not be sufficiently au fait and on top of its business to know that its water supplier was going to collapse and go bust.

Or are we talking about an unpredictable temporary breakdown? Are we talking about imposing on the major water undertaker an obligation to provide a stand-in supplier because the water supply system has broken down for 48 hours?

In normal circumstances, as this would concern a business with a very high water use, the business would be aware in advance that it had problems with its water supply and would notify the water undertaker of the situation. We believe that it should be the customer's duty to notify the water undertaker that it had difficulties with its water supply. That would enable the water undertaker to respond properly. To require the water undertaker to respond automatically at zero notice would place a heavy burden on it. That may not be what the Bill intends to happen but, from the way in which it is written, that certainly appears to be the case.

The water undertakers, water suppliers and customers will all be substantial businesses. I do not follow the logic of the Bill and the way in which it is written. The amendments seek to turn the logic around so that the obligation is on the customer to notify the water authority.

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