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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The Drinking Water Inspectorate, headed by the chief inspector, currently acts on behalf of both the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to enforce standards of public drinking water in England and Wales. Clause 55 raises the profile of the inspectorate by providing statutory recognition to the existence of a chief inspector.
As the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said, at present there is a single inspectorate for England and Wales headed by a chief inspector. The clause as proposed preserves that situation but leaves open the possibility to set up a separate inspectorate, headed by a chief inspector, for Wales, should the National Assembly wish to do so.
Amendment No. 170ZA would have the effect of imposing a mandatory obligation on the Assembly to designate a chief inspector of drinking water for Wales. Amendment No. 170ZB would omit the provision which envisages a single inspectorate with one chief inspector where the Assembly and Secretary of State are in agreement over the appointment. Such a person would be the chief inspector of drinking water, so it makes sense for him to be known as such.
I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will be surprised that the consequence of these amendments would be to oblige the Assembly to designate a chief inspector of drinking water for Wales. That would suggest a separate inspectorate for Wales, which is a route that the National Assembly has so far not chosen. It has chosen not to establish such an inspectorate because it believes
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: As I was saying, there are currently 26 laboratories accredited to drinking water test specification that can provide independent facilities for water quality testing. The scheme ensures that analysis undertaken meets the appropriate regulatory requirements. I hope with that clarification that the noble Lord will understand why the Government are unable to accept the amendments.
Much work is being done by the Drinking Water Inspectorate in Wales, with much publicity and the launch of the chief inspector's report. A children's competition is running in Wales at the moment, with leaflets and reportsbilingual, of courseavailable. Media opportunities are also available to discuss quality issues. As a matter of fact, the inspector responsible for Wales is Welsh and liaises with the National Assembly regularly. Local authorities have lists of laboratories that can undertake testing, and there is a duty to keep informed about water quality. If they agree that there is a case to investigate, there is no charge.
I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, will wish on reflection to allow the National Assembly to exercise its right to make the choice. I am equally sure that, between now and 1st May, he will have an opportunity to speak to candidates for the Welsh Assembly and press on them how he would like them to exercise that choice.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I thank the noble Baroness for responding to the amendment. I have no doubt that I will be able to speak to multiple numbers of candidates before 1st May, as I am sure will other Members of the Committee.
I shall first address Amendments Nos. 170ZA and 170ZB in relation to what the Minister said. I accept that the provisions give the Assembly a choice as to whether it has its own inspector. I also realise that the world has moved on since devolution, and that there is better communication between the Administration in Cardiff and consumers in Wales. None the less, I think that the Assembly should seriously consider doing as I suggest in the interest of consumers in Wales. We have plenty of water coming down from the heavens, but the infrastructure does not always deliver it in the condition or quantity that we require. The Government will no doubt draw the attention, as will I, of the Assembly to the matter.
Given the Minister's response on Amendment No. 170ZC, I should say that it was certainly not known until very recently that the laboratory facilities were accredited, available and could produce the results of samples for free. There needs to be wider distribution of that information. Local authorities may have it, but our local authority covers an area 132 miles long by 50 miles wide, so it is not always easy to access such information. It is important that community councils in particular in Wales get that information, so that they can plug into the facilities of that independent analysis, because water can be a problem in certain remote areas. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Under the Water Industry Act, the fine for water undertakers that fail to provide assistance or informationwe are not talking about water itselfto one or more technical assessors, given
Will the Minister explain the decision to increase the fine so much? Have cases been brought in which the fines were felt to be inadequate? Why is it necessary? Obviously, none of us wants to give people the slightest opportunity not to provide assistance in the normally expected way. However, the Bill seems to contain an automatic and very acute rise, as did the Animal Health Act and other Bills. Is it simply because that is what normally happens when a new Bill comes in?
I am really seeking guidance because my understanding is that, if someone is indicted and the case goes against them, there is no upper limit on the fine which the High Court could impose if a conviction were made. I seek clarification on the issue. I beg to move.
Lord Whitty: The £20,000 maximum fine is in line with fines for a wide range of environmental offences, including some in recent legislation. It is important to ensure a sufficient deterrent to protect the quality of drinking water supplies adequately. That applies to a range of offences in this Bill as well. It is the deterrent effect of a £20,000 fine, as against the lower limit, that is important.
The fine also gives magistrates' courts sufficient powers to deal with serious water incidents where their local knowledge of circumstances will be valuable. Magistrates will be able to decide what appropriate penalties up to that limit can be imposed on a case-by-case basis. That remains the situation. Also relevant is the question of the Crown Court having unlimited fines.
The maximum fine and the ability to refer the case to the Crown Court are consistent with the proposed penalty in magistrates' courts for Section 70 offences of supplying water that is unfit for human consumption. Increasing the maximum level of fine will remove any incentive to commit the information-related offence as a means of avoiding prosecution for the serious offence of supplying water unfit for human consumption.
The investigation of serious water quality incidents is always a difficult task. Water undertakers hold key information. If the inspectors are frustrated by not being able to supply information or receiving the wrong information, it is important that there is a suitable penalty to prevent assistance or information being withheld. With that explanation, I hope that the Committee will accept that an increase in the maximum fine is appropriate.
Baroness Byford: I hear what the Minister has to say. Obviously we accept that one needs a sufficient deterrent, but we are not actually talking at this stage about water being of poor quality. We are talking about information or assistance. The Minister did not answer my questions. I asked whether cases had
The Minister says that magistrates will have local knowledge. Obviously they will. But at the moment we are not talking about local knowledge; we are talking about information. That is very different from a default having occurred in terms of water quality. Perhaps the Minister will explain the point further.
Lord Whitty: I am not sure that I can explain any further than I already have. In terms of its enforcement functions, the inspectorate needs information. If it does not have accurate information, or receives false information, there is a problem in enforcing the standards that make the water fit to use. In a sense, that could have wider implications than a single incident.
It is therefore appropriate that the same level of fine is there as a deterrent. That is its prime purpose. It is true that, on the information side, there have been no prosecutions because the water companies have co-operated with the inspectorate in relation to this matter. However, one can conceive of a situation where a lack of information, or false information, could prevent the water companies from effectively prosecuting or effectively issuing an appropriately worded enforcement notice.
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