Mr. Morley—[Laughter.] Sorry, I meant to say "Mr. Speaker". I have not quite got there yet.
W.S. Atkins has been appointed by the Department to carry out an 18-month research contract to identify and examine the problems arising from the current arrangements for existing private sewers, especially with regard to their ownership and maintenance. A consultation paper seeking views on possible options for overcoming the problems will be issued in the spring.
Does my hon. Friend accept that, given the scale and long-standing nature of the problem, the research will be welcomed? When he is preparing the forthcoming water Bill, will he look closely at trying to address this issue?
I understand that this is an important matter in many hon. Members' constituencies, and my hon. Friend has been active in raising the problems of private sewers with the Government. The W.S. Atkins study is designed to ascertain the scale of the problem, and it will report in the spring. After consultation on the report, costed solutions will be prepared for consultation in the autumn. The water Bill will acknowledge some of the problems, and it will deal with sewer connections outside the curtilage. However, it is not designed to address in detail the problem that my hon. Friend has described.
I acknowledge that many unadopted private sewers are in very poor condition and would almost certainly benefit from substantial upgrading and investment, and that there is an argument for an industry-wide protocol. However, does the Minister accept that there is almost no problem known to human kind that would not be worsened by nationalisation?
It is not a matter of nationalisation. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Government have agreed a protocol with developers and builders to ensure that the standard of sewers is consistent. That helps in relation to adoption, but I accept that there are problems. Many of them are the result of the failure of private companies to install sewers properly. In some cases, they expect the taxpayer to pick up the bill. We must look at that carefully, because it is no consolation to the many people who are suffering as a result.
It is all too easy for private sewers to be out of sight and out of mind. It is important that the Atkins research is used to best effect. Will my hon. Friend undertake to make sure that the research's recommendations are included in the Ofwat review of water prices, with a view to adopting private sewers?
The review that is currently under way is looking at the regulator's role in matters such as sewer flooding. As I said to my hon. Friend Paddy Tipping, this is a big issue. I know that my hon. Friend has also been active in the matter, and that she has particular problems in her constituency. The W.S. Atkins study is the right way to proceed. We need to understand the scale of the problem, which may be quite large. We also need to understand the costs involved, the implications, and how best to address the problem.