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The Duke of Montrose: If there is concern about the quality of the water, is it not up to the Drinking Water Inspectorate to take a sample of the water? Surely it is not possible for anyone to prevent that happening. That is what will determine whether the water is up to the quality required by the inspectorate. I am not quite sure what other information it is likely to need in pursuing the question.

Lord Whitty: One can conceive of a number of different situations. The Drinking Water Inspectorate has, for example, issued some 3,000 enforcement notices where there has been a breach or suspected breach in terms of water quality and it is attempting to prevent a recurrence. Half of those enforcement notices will require the water company to take measures to ensure that such an instance does not recur. If it asks for information from the water company but is then given inaccurate information as to whether the company has carried out the terms of the enforcement notice, it is not then a question of water sampling but of whether the company is in breach of the enforcement notice. Therefore, it is important that the inspectorate is able to obtain accurate information.

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Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for that explanation. If I understand him correctly, last year some 3,000 notices were issued, but there have been no prosecutions to date.

Lord Whitty: No, there have been no prosecutions for not supplying information. There have been some 30 prosecutions in the past three years against water undertakers but not on the information issue.

Baroness Byford: I do not think I referred to prosecutions. I am slightly making my own point, although I accept that the initial thrust of the provision is that we want a sufficient deterrent. However, whatever the level of fine available, it has not been needed to date. I return to my original question.

We are going round in a circle. At this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 55 agreed to.

Clause 56 [Charges for services provided with the help of an undertaker]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 170B:

    Page 72, line 15, at end insert "only in the circumstances that the person has failed to comply with subsection (2A) above"

The noble Baroness said: We are still dealing with the question of charges and I suspect that we shall be able to do so briefly. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I take this amendment and the clause stand part debates on the following two clauses together, as they are linked.

I return to the issue of supplying information. The proposed new subsection (2B) makes it clear that the imposition of a maximum charge is subject to the service provider failing to supply information specified by an order under proposed new subsection (2A). As the Minister said, no such case has been reported. The revision to subsection (5) does not make it clear that that is the case. In fact, it seems to set up an inherent contradiction within the section.

The debate on whether Clauses 57 and 58 shall stand part also relates to the issue of fines. The uplift to fines associated to the activities that fall within DEFRA's remit has been increasingly noticeable for those who have taken Bills through the House. Again, I ask the Minister to provide evidence for the reason for such large increases. Having heard his response to my previous amendment, I do not think that that will be forthcoming.

For example, what has been the instance over the past five years of the imposition of the current maximum fines? I suspect none, because there have been none. What has been the record over the same period of other fines; and what has been the trend, say, over the past decade relating to abstraction and impounding of water and to supplying water unfit for human consumption? Will the Minister tell us in what circumstances water undertakers would be blamed for supplying unfit water—for example, were terrorists to attack and put unacceptable substances into the water?

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These amendments are not meant to be flippant. I have been increasingly concerned about the upgrading of fines, particularly when the previous one related to information. That is the reason why we tabled Amendment No. 107B and why we gave notice of our intention to oppose the Questions that Clauses 57 and 58 stand part. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: The noble Baroness has kindly linked the two Questions that the clauses stand part because they deal with the same issue—the £20,000 as against the £5,000 maximum fine. The amendment deals with issues on water resale; for example, if an owner of a caravan site paid his undertaker for a single water supply and charged the caravan owners for their water, the director has powers to fix maximum charges.

The improvements to the existing system are that the director's order can specify that interest is due on any excess paid. It can also require the person selling the water on to supply information and impose a different level of maximum charge if the information is not forthcoming.

I readily accept the principle that no one should be penalised under the clause except where he or she has failed to comply with the initial order. That principle is already applied in new subsection (2B). The power for the director to set a default basis of charges can be used only where the information prescribed in the order is not provided. The entitlement to repayment of past overpayments is a different matter. It already exists in the Water Industry Act 1991.

Those comments relate to the amendment itself. On the issue of the overall level of fines, it is true that in DEFRA legislation, as in some other legislation, the maximum level of fines has been raised principally for deterrent purposes. Where enforcement is dependent upon information, the level of fine has been raised for the failure to provide information as well as the substantive offence. That will give magistrates' courts adequate flexibility to deal with serious offences or repeat offences. Clearly the magistrates' courts will, as usual, use their discretion in relation to any particular case. To raise the status of environmental offences is important.

Clearly if a situation arose in which an offence of providing unfit water were caused by a terrorist incident or some other third party interfering with the water supply, it would not be appropriate that the water company should suffer anything like that level of fine and maybe no penalty at all, unless there was a compounding offence. In normal circumstances, it is important that the provision of unfit water is seen as a serious offence and that anything that undermines the ability of the enforcement authorities to ensure fit water is also seen as a serious offence. That is why we moved to the maximum of £20,000.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I support what the Minister has just said. There have been a number of cases in which it was obvious that the fines have not been

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adequate and the public have reacted with dismay because the regulations were not effective enough in this regard. His comments were very important indeed.

Baroness Byford: I have no difficulty responding to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, with regard to the need for adequate fines when something has been done to make water unfit. I accept that and take his point.

The question behind this amendment and the preceding amendment involves information. We tried to clarify the differences during the passage of the then Animal Health Bill, when sweeping powers were brought in; that involved the ability to find someone guilty of a criminal offence by not providing information. The balance is about which provision is right. If water is not up to the right standard, I, like others, would want there to be an appropriate fine; I have no difficulty with that. We have been round these issues in relation to two or three amendments. I am grateful to the noble Lord for responding in the way in which he did. I still have slight concerns but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 56 agreed to.

Clauses 57 and 58 agreed to.

Clause 59 [Water resources management plans]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 171:

    Page 73, line 10, after "measures;" insert—

"( ) the recreational purposes to which areas of open water, within the undertaker's control, may be used to the benefit of the public;"

The noble Baroness said: The amendment is designed to probe where the Government have got to with regard to their stated commitment to find ways in which to increase access to water for sport and informal recreation. That commitment was restated in Directing the Flow in November 2002. I am sure that the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, remember our debate during the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act on that issue. That is why my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie attached his name to the amendment. Along with us, he has continued to be concerned about what is happening in this context.

We propose to insert the provision at this point because we are not sure what "resources management plans" are intended to cover. Water resources management plans cover various points that are specified at the top of page 73 of the Bill. However, subsection (3)(d) states that they cover,

    Xsuch other matters as the Secretary of State may specify in directions".

The Minister may say that recreational purposes, for example, to which the amendment refers, are covered by the phrase, "such other matters". If so, I should be very pleased.

I place on record the fact that the public appreciate the efforts made by various water companies to develop their reservoirs for recreational purposes. For example, I believe that South West Water established

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a trust for that purpose. Other water companies with which I am less familiar may do the same. However, some companies still do not allow access and some allow very restricted access—just for fishing, for example, but for no other purposes.

The amendment is intended to explore the Government's views about the fact that open water represents one of the most attractive facilities available to the public in the countryside, whether for more active sports such as sailing, canoeing or fishing, or for activities as quiet as having a picnic or simply sitting and enjoying the view, which includes the water. I hope that the Government have considered ways of moving on with regard to their worthy ambition in Directing the Flow. I beg to move.

3 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose: The amendment seeks to define more closely what is meant by "water resources", not "water resources management plans". The noble Baroness's definition seems to extend it to that. One might think that "water resources" simply means the quantity and quality of water, but the noble Baroness is viewing it in a wider sense. In general, water is good for recreation, but reservoirs are specialist areas of water. Are we here looking at reservoir management plans rather than water management plans?

I know that there are many fears and worries about reservoirs and about what will detract from the quality of drinking water. In a case local to me—this will not worry the Minister as it is in Scotland—a large reservoir supplying Glasgow has removed 5,000 sheep and sacked five shepherds because it is believed that small pollutant animals, called cryptosporidia—which are almost impossible to remove—are getting into the water. However, we have noticed that having got rid of the sheep the numbers of deer have increased. I am not sure whether that information will help in this case.

One has to be careful when dealing with the quality of water for drinking and for human consumption. Perhaps the Minister can tell the Committee whether the "water resources" element relates to traditional use.

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