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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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—
(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—No. 98, in page 306, leave out lines 23 to 25 and 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—