Further duty to provide sewers

Provision of public sewers otherwise than by requisition – in the House of Commons at 11:45 pm on 28th June 1995.

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  1. 101A.—(1) Without prejudice to section 98 above, it shall be the duty of a sewerage undertaker to provide a public sewer to be used for the drainage for domestic sewerage purposes of premises in a particular locality in its area if the conditions specified in subsection (2) below are satisfied.
  2. (2) The conditions mentioned in subsection (1) above are—
    1. (a) that the premises in question, or any of those premises, are premises on which there are buildings each of which, with the exception of any shed, glasshouse or other outbuilding appurtenant to a dwelling and not designed or occupied as living accommodation, is a building erected before, or whose erection was substantially completed by, 20th June 1995;
    2. (b) that the drains or sewers used for the drainage for domestic sewerage purposes of the premises in question do not, either directly or through an intermediate drain or sewer, connect with a public sewer; and
    3. (c) that the drainage of any of the premises in question in respect of which the condition specified in paragraph (a) above is satisfied is giving, or is likely to give, rise to such adverse effects to the environment or amenity that it is appropriate, having regard to any guidance issued under this section by the Secretary of State and all other relevant considerations, to provide a public sewer for the drainage for domestic sewerage purposes of the premises in question.
  3. (3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (2)(c) above, regard shall be had to the following considerations, so far as relevant, in determining whether it is appropriate for any sewer to be provided by virtue of this section—
    1. (a) the geology of the locality in question or of any other locality;
    2. (b) the number of premises, being premises on which there are buildings, which might reasonably be expected to be drained by means of that sewer;
    3. (c) the costs of providing that sewer;
    4. (d) the nature and extent of any adverse effects to the environment or amenity arising, or likely to arise, as a result of the premises or, as the case may be, the locality in question not being drained by means of a public sewer; and
    5. (e) the extent to which it is practicable for those effects to be overcome otherwise than by the provision (whether by virtue of this section or otherwise) of public sewers, and the costs of so overcoming those effects.
  4. (4) Guidance issued by the Secretary of State under this section may—
    1. (a) relate to how regard is to be had to the considerations mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (e) of subsection (3) above;
    2. (b) relate to any other matter which the Secretary of State considers may be a relevant consideration in any case and to how regard is to be had to any such matter;
    3. (c) set out considerations, other than those mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (e) of subsection (3) above, to which (so far as relevant) regard shall be had in determining whether it is appropriate for any sewer to be provided by virtue of this section;
    4. (d) relate to how regard is to be had to any such consideration as is mentioned in paragraph (c) above;
    5. (e) without prejudice to paragraphs (a) to (d) above, relate to how a sewerage undertaker is to discharge its functions under this section.
  5. (5) Before issuing guidance under this section the Secretary of State shall consult—
    1. (a) the Environment Agency;
    2. (b) the Director; and
    3. (c) such other bodies or persons as he considers appropriate;
    and the Secretary of State shall arrange for any guidance issued by him under this section to be published in such manner as he considers appropriate.
  6. (6) Subject to the following provisions of this section, the duty of a sewerage undertaker by virtue of subsection (1) above shall be enforceable under section 18 above—
    1. (a) by the Secretary of State; or
    2. (b) with the consent of or in accordance with a general authorisation given by the Secretary of State, by the Director.
  7. (7) Any dispute between a sewerage undertaker and an owner or occupier of any premises in its area as to—
    1. (a) whether the undertaker is under a duty by virtue of subsection (1) above to provide a public sewer to be used for any such drainage of those premises as is mentioned in that subsection;
    2. (b) the domestic sewerage purposes for which any such sewer should be provided; or
    3. (c) the time by which any such duty of the undertaker should be performed,
    shall be determined by the Environment Agency, and may be referred to the Environment Agency for determination by either of the parties to the dispute.
  8. (8) The Environment Agency—
    1. (a) shall notify the parties of the reasons for its decision on any dispute referred to it under subsection (7) above; and
    2. (b) may make any such recommendations, or give any such guidance, relating to or in connection with the drainage of the premises or locality in question as it considers appropriate.
  9. (9) The decision of the Environment Agency on any dispute referred to it under subsection (7) above shall be final.
  10. (10) A sewerage undertaker shall only be taken to be in breach of its duty under subsection (I) above where, and to the extent that, it has accepted, or the Environment Agency has determined under this section, that it is under such a duty and where any time accepted by it, or determined by the Environment Agency under this section, as the time by which the duty is to that extent to be performed has passed.".'.—[Mr. Atkins.]

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 266, in page 303, line 26, at end insert— '94A. In section 94 of that Act (general duty to provide sewerage system) at the end of subsection 1 shall be added——"; (c) to make provision for the reception, treatment and disposal of the contents of cesspools and septic tanks (whether inside its area or elsewhere).".'. Government amendments Nos. 97, 105 and 108.

Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson , Sheffield, Hillsborough

Will the amendment make it easier or more difficult for my constituents and those of many other hon. Members on both sides of the House who live in rural areas to gain access to the wherewithal to be connected to mains sewerage? A minority of householders are not connected to mains water supplies, but many of my constituents and those of other hon. Members are not connected to mains sewerage systems. The amendment is designed to get rid of the Government grant regime that has been used to help meet the connection costs of new sewerage services.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

The hon. Lady is right. The purpose of the amendment is to make easier the provision of first-time connection to mains sewerage of existing premises.

Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson , Sheffield, Hillsborough

I am grateful to the Minister, but I am not clear how the loss of the Government grant regime will make it easier for customers and water undertakers to finance the connections.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

The amendment puts a new requirement on sewerage undertakers to provide the public sewers to be used for domestic purposes by premises in any locality in their area, in particular where the existing system has had adverse effects on the environment or an amenity.

Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson , Sheffield, Hillsborough

What about the costs? I am sure that we all recognise that water and sewerage undertakers have a duty, in this day and age, to provide mains sewerage to all residents, but at a cost. Who is to bear that cost? That question must be answered before the Opposition will allow the amendment to be passed.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

I want to speak to amendment No. 266, which has been grouped with Government amendment No. 96. I am conscious of the hour, so I shall not speak at great length, although the subject is of considerable importance.

Amendment No. 266 is virtually the last amendment to this large Bill, so I feel like the man at the end of the lord mayor's show. As I am dealing with the contents of cesspools and septic tanks, that is probably an appropriate reference.

I was asked to table the amendment by the Kent Association of District Councils because a serious problem in my constituency, as well as in other parts of Kent and the south-east, and probably nationally, affects thousands of people with cesspools or septic tanks. I have 1,400 such households in my constituency, and I expect that there are thousands across the country. I do not suppose that there is an national association of septic tank or cesspool owners, but if there were, it would deluge other hon. Members with its complaints.

The problem is that in recent years the costs have risen, in many cases by between 300 and 400 per cent. I assure the House that that increase poses a serious problem to the householders affected. All other charges levied by sewerage undertakers are regulated by the Government watchdog, Ofwat. The reception of the contents of septic tanks and cesspits is not so regulated. The problem has affected the south-east in particular, but I suspect that it is experienced nationwide.

The amendment would enable Ofwat to regulate prices charged by the privatised water companies for the reception of such contents at their waste water treatment plants. At the moment, I understand that no power exists to regulate those prices. Ofwat has attempted to do that, but its jurisdiction has been successfully disputed by the water companies.

The amendment would resolve the problem and spell it out that the treatment of the contents of cesspools and septic tanks should come within the power and control of the regulator. That is its purpose.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can accept the amendment. It is sensible and simple. If he cannot accept it, will he at least tell us that efforts are being made to resolve the problem and to extend the power of Ofwat? If he cannot even do that, will he at least try to do something to solve that serious problem?

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

I shall leave it to the Opposition to look into the cesspits.

If I may answer the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) first, amendment No. 97 inserts a new subsection (3A) into section 142 of the Water Industry Act 1991 and a new subsection (3A) into section 143 of the 1991 Act, which would provide that the costs of complying with the new requirement by the sewerage undertaker will be recoverable by a charges scheme only and spread across customers generally within the area of that undertaker. That acknowledges that there will be wider benefits to the local environment beyond those enjoyed by the household connected to the mains sewers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) is correct that it is a problem that is being looked into by the Director General of Water Services. He does not have a jurisdiction and he is considering whether he should suggest that that should happen. However, he has to take into account the fact that in some areas—obviously not in my hon. Friend's area—there is competition in the form of the private sector, so he has to reflect whether, by inhibiting or setting charges, he ruins the effect of competition. I am sure that, of the Members of the House, my hon. Friend would be one who would not wish that to happen.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 97, in page 306, line 5, at end insert—

  1. ' —(1) Section 142 of that Act (powers of undertakers to charge) shall be amended in accordance with the following provisions of this paragraph.
  2. (2) In subsection (2) (manner in which charging powers to be exercised) for the words "subsection (3)" there shall be substituted the words "subsections (3) and (3A)".
  3. (3) After subsection (3) (restriction on charging by agreement for trade effluent functions) there shall be inserted—
(3A) The power of a sewerage undertaker to charge, by virtue of subsection (1) above, for any services provided in the course of carrying out its duty under section 101A(1) above shall be exercisable only by or in accordance with a charges scheme under section 143 below.. In section 143 of that Act (charges schemes) after subsection (3) (charges which may be imposed in certain cases) there shall be inserted—(3A) A sewerage undertaker is under a duty to ensure that any charges scheme made by the undertaker, so far as having effect to recover the undertaker's costs of providing a sewer by virtue of its duty under section 101A(1) above, causes those costs to be borne by the undertaker's customers generally; and a sewerage undertaker's duty under this subsection shall be enforceable under section 18 above—
  1. (a) by the Secretary of State; or
  2. (b) with the consent of or in accordance with a general authorisation given by the Secretary of State, by the Director."
. Section 151 of that Act shall cease to have effect.'.
No. 98, in page 306, leave out lines 23 to 25 and insert—
  1. '(2) In subsection (3)(a) of that section (exception for disclosure of information for purposes of functions under certain enactments)—
    1. (a) for the words "the NRA" there shall be substituted the words "the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency"; and
    2. (b) for the words "or the Water Act 1989" there shall be substituted the words ", the Water Act 1989, Part I or IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or the Environment Act 1995".
  2. (3) In subsection (4), in paragraph (a) (which provides that nothing in subsection (1) shall limit the matters which may be included in reports made by specified bodies under specified enactments)—
    1. (a) for the words "the NRA" there shall be substituted the words "the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency"; and
    2. (b) for the words "or of the Water Resources Act 1991" there shall be substituted the words ", Part I or IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Water Resources Act 1991 or the Environment Act 1995".
No. 207, in page 316, leave out lines 42 and 43 and insert—
  1. '(aa) requirements for consultation, before the service of a works notice, with persons other than the person on whom that notice is to be served;
  2. (b) steps to be taken for the purposes of any consultation required under subsection (4) above or regulations made by virtue of paragraph (aa) above;'.
No. 208, in page 316, line 46, at end insert— '(5A) A works notice shall not be regarded as invalid, or as invalidly served, by reason only of any failure to comply with the requirements of subsection (4) above or of regulations made by virtue of paragraph (aa) of subsection (5) above.'. No. 192, in page 317, line 4, at end insert 'former'.

No. 209, in page 317, line 25, at end insert—