Clause 85 - Water conservation by public authorities

Water Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 21 October 2003.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:00, 21 October 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 211, in

clause 85, page 98, line 22, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

'(1) It is the duty of each public authority, in carrying out his or its functions, to have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of furthering the conservation of water.'.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 231, in

clause 85, page 98, leave out lines 23 and 24 and insert

'have a duty to promote water conservation'.

Amendment No. 166, in

clause 85, page 98, line 23, leave out from beginning to 'water' and insert 'further the conservation of'.

Amendment No. 289, in

clause 85, page 98, line 23, leave out from beginning to 'water' and insert

'have a duty to further the conservation of'.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The position of the clause is useful because we dealt with the bulk of the argument at the beginning of the Bill. We revisit it now, and it is helpful to have read Government new clause 16, which would amend the Bill to take into consideration the views expressed in another place.

This is an important part of the Bill because it is incumbent on everyone in authority, not just members of the Committee, to conserve water. New clause 16 provides for that, but does not go into the same detail or place the same emphasis on duty as amendment No. 211, which will be popular with hon. Members, as similar amendments have been tabled by Members on both sides of the Committee.

It is extremely important that we get this part of the Bill right. When speaking to clause 80, the Minister was keen to emphasise that there must be

improvements in terms of leakage and water efficiency. In that way, we could avoid the need to build new reservoirs—with all the costs and awkwardness involved—for as long as possible. We are trying again to tackle the same problem, but this time I seek to tighten up the wording so that we put a duty on each public authority.

The alternatives are the named authorities such as the Welsh Assembly or the various authorities named throughout the Bill. The difference is that the duty would apply not just to the authority, but to its members, who would have to further water conservation so far as they could while carrying out their functions and where it was consistent with the exercise of those functions.

The structure of the amendment is different from the Bill, although at first glance they appear similar, because the amendment implies that it is the duty of everybody to conserve water in the way in which they carry out their job. It is a useful amendment and, although I accept that the Government have captured the spirit of it in their new clause, it would do no harm to add this wording. It would shift the emphasis enough to satisfy those of us who want proper conservation to take place at every opportunity, and it would facilitate that process.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

My hon. Friend's clear explanation of the reason for his amendment is reinforced by amendment No. 166 in my name.

It would be very difficult for us to justify not placing a duty on the Secretary of State—that is the point—but we need to be tougher about that. The time has come when this country must take the issue seriously; either we are serious about it or we are not. For once, rather than listening to the cautions of officials and lawyers, we should have the courage of our convictions to say that water conservation shall be a duty—as simple as that—not ''if and when it might, possibly, one day be desirable, if the sun is shining on alternate Thursdays'', which seems to be the attitude with which we are saddled. I strongly support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend, and I hope that the Committee will also support amendment No. 166.

Photo of Ms Candy Atherton Ms Candy Atherton Labour, Falmouth and Camborne

I speak to amendment No. 231 in my name. As hon. Members will see from the number of amendments to the clause, there is a desire to push the Government on the level of responsibility that public authorities should have in promoting better management of water. I take pride in saying that mine is the shortest amendment and less of a mouthful than that tabled by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin).

Amendment No. 231 goes a little further than the duty to further water conservation by making it a

''duty to promote water conservation''.

I do not need to tell the Committee that the need is there. The amendment would put an onus on public authorities to promote water conservation. I will not rehearse all the arguments that we have been through, but I hope that the Minister will look kindly on the amendment.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

As we have just heard, there is a good deal of cross-party consensus on the need to deal with the matter in a more robust way than is suggested in the Bill. Two amendments have been tabled by Conservative Members, one by a Liberal Democrat and one by a Labour Back Bencher. All point in the same direction; they stem from a belief that the Bill's wording is inadequate and suggest that the Minister should strengthen it. I hope that that gives him pause for thought.

There is a rather unfortunate phrase in line 23 of the clause: ''where relevant''. What does that mean?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

It means that somebody can say, ''Well, water conservation is not very relevant here, so I shall ignore it.'' In other words, it completely destroys the purpose of the provision. It should always be desirable to conserve water supplied to premises. It may not always be possible and there may be other demands that occasionally act against it for some reason that we cannot specify, but it is always desirable, so why does the phrase ''where relevant'' qualify that?

As has been implied, those seem to be weasel words, producing a clause that is motherhood and apple pie without apples or mothers anywhere being near it. The Minister has admitted to this sort of thing. He should consider the words carefully and make a bold statement, instead of coming up with phrases that can be disowned. In five years, someone could say, ''Well, water conservation wasn't relevant'', or we could have a meaningless discussion in Committee or on the Floor of the House about why no action was taken because someone had decided that it was not relevant. I do not want to have that discussion in five years, so I ask the Minister to act now.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9:15, 21 October 2003

There is no disagreement about the principle of the proposal relating to the duty to promote the wider consideration of water conservation throughout the public sector. However, I remind the Committee that new clause 16 imposes a duty on central Government to encourage water conservation, so the duty is at the heart of Government. Clause 85 imposes a duty on all public authorities to take water conservation into account. It is worded as it is because there is an issue of legal interpretation and the way in which Bills must be drafted. For example, local authorities do not have the primary duty when it comes to furthering water conservation. That cuts across the water companies, for example. It is not the local authorities' primary duty, although we do not disagree that they should have a duty to consider water conservation across their sector.

The legislation is drafted in this way because it takes into account the fact that local authorities have other duties, such as firefighting. I cannot ever imagine a local authority in court, accused of not furthering water conservation by using large quantities of water to fight fires, but those are the legal considerations that must be taken into account when drafting a Bill so that its meaning is clear. What the clause means in respect of promoting water conservation is very clear. It is

drafted in such a way that it meets legal demands, including those of parliamentary counsel.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am afraid that the Minister has failed to convince me. The idea that firefighters would be sued for emptying the village pond when putting out a fire at the local pub is a nice idea, and I am sure that his advisers are doing their best to come up with more innovative ideas as to how the proposal could go wrong, but the principle is that people in any sort of authority should turn the taps off themselves and do their best to ensure that that takes place whenever possible.

The Minister touched on the duty in new clause 16, which, unfortunately, we are not allowed to debate now. The important point is that the duty is there, but not as we have expressed it in the amendments. Having heard the Minister's response, I am not convinced that the Bill's wording is sufficient, and clearly all the people who read the Bill and made the effort to table amendments agree. Although as usual the Minister means well, his explanation is not satisfying the Committee that the duty really is there.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Having spoken to my amendment, I listened carefully to the Minister, who said that the meaning of the clause was absolutely clear. Indeed it is; it is absolutely clear in its indecisiveness. In practical terms, it means nothing at all, so I shall press my amendment to a vote.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can only repeat that the Bill adds to the duty to further water conservation in carrying out the functions of local authorities and central Government, and places a new water conservation duty on the Secretary of State. That is important. The Environment Agency, too, has a duty to secure the proper use of water resources. Those are all in the Bill and are very clear. I do not disagree with the intention behind the proposal, but I do not see how someone could argue that the clauses undermine it.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Is it not already incumbent on the Secretary of State to conserve water? Why does the Secretary of State need to be given this particular power in this way?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It recognises the strength of feeling expressed in the other place and in this Committee that water is an important resource and that we should take steps to conserve it across the public sector, and in the way in which the agency and the water undertakers carry out their duties. That duty is clearly written into the Bill. One might argue about the ifs, buts and maybes, but we are back to the issue of balance. That duty is not the primary function of local authorities, but we recognise that they have a role to play. That role, with regard to the balance of their duties, is reflected in the clause in a rational, responsible and legal way.

Photo of Ms Candy Atherton Ms Candy Atherton Labour, Falmouth and Camborne

I sought to explore the views of the Government and the Minister, and I am satisfied that the duty to promote is in the Bill.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 14.

Division number 10 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 85 - Water conservation by public authorities

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 14 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 166, in

clause 85, page 98, line 23, leave out from beginning to 'water' and insert 'further the conservation of'.—[Mr. Key.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 14.

Division number 11 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 85 - Water conservation by public authorities

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 14 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I beg to move amendment No. 290, in

clause 85, page 98, line 40, at end insert—

'(3) To assist public authorities in the pursuance of the duty specified in subsection (1) a Water Savings Trust will be established which shall have duties to—

(a) achieve the sustainable and efficient use of water; and

(b) work with public authorities, water undertakers, water supply licence holders, and abstraction licence holders in pursuance of the duty in paragraph (a) above.'.

Several amendments in the last group sought to include in the Bill a duty to promote the conservation of water. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) sought to include a duty to promote water conservation. I can help her out with this amendment, which aims to promote water conservation by establishing a water savings trust.

As Members know, we have had a good summer as we have not had many hosepipe bans or other restrictions. That is partly due to good management and partly to the heavy rainfall last winter, which replenished reservoirs and ground waters. However, we will not always be so lucky, and we need to take measures to avoid future droughts and water shortages. The Government have recognised that,

but they have included only half-hearted measures on conservation in the Bill.

Conservation needs to be taken more seriously throughout society, in particular by the general public. Evidence from surveys and water company research suggests that water customers are increasingly less likely to follow water company requests to curtail their usage during drought periods. A recent technical report by the Environment Agency on Thames Water, on the effectiveness of marketing campaigns for achieving water efficiency savings, highlighted a difficulty of changing customer behaviour when water resources are not considered an environmental priority and are of little public recognition. The establishment of a water savings trust could provide the public marketing, profile raising, impartial guidance and advice needed to drive us towards a water-efficient future.

The Liberal Democrats have been in discussions with several water companies about water conservation. One company said:

''We have a very high profile programme of customer education representing best practice in the industry. However, it would be better if, rather like energy, all companies contributed their water efficiency budgets into a central fund so there was a National initiative, rather like the Energy Efficiency Office. This would enable a central means of giving advice, perhaps grants to replace cisterns with low or dual flush units with a National and co-ordinated campaign.''

There is pressure not only from the Liberal Democrats, but from the water industry to examine water conservation more holistically and in a more joined-up fashion. Why should one part of the country have a water company that is switched on and has measures in place while in other parts the water company is less forward-looking and no such measures are available to customers? That cannot be right. It is up to the Government to give a lead, and the Committee can today push them in that direction.

The amendment would establish a water savings trust. Further guidance would be needed to establish its aims, duties and funding, so we are debating the principle rather than the nitty-gritty of its operation. I would suggest that its aims and priorities should follow the model of the Energy Saving Trust, which I mentioned earlier. That was established after Rio in 1992. A water savings trust's goals could be to achieve sustainable and efficient use of water, work with a range of partners and deliver practical solutions to households, small firms and the agricultural sector. Such a trust could undertake regular high-profile marketing campaigns to raise the profile of water resources and the need for the public and public bodies to adopt water efficient measures, techniques and technologies. That work is not being done sufficiently at the moment.

We are not talking simply about conservation. If we encourage businesses to save water, we will find that they save huge amounts of money and become more productive and profitable as a consequence. When I was chair of economic development on the county council in my area some years ago, we started a pilot scheme in which businesses were given free advice on environmental practice. We found that those businesses saved lots of money through simple

techniques such as turning the toilets off over the weekend. They saved between £20,000 and £40,000 a year through a combination of simple measures.

We are not talking simply about the energy and water sectors helping the environment; such moves will also make businesses more profitable and save consumers money. If such a trust were introduced with the objectives that I set out, it would be a win-win situation. It could also provide water efficiency information for local authority partners, developers and the public in a co-ordinated way throughout the country.

Water efficiency, and the promotion of water efficiency, will benefit everybody. Nobody would lose by such a trust being set up; everyone would gain. It could be funded by a small levy on extraction licence-holders, or the water companies could simply pool their budgets, as I suggested in my earlier example. In either case, in the grand scheme of things, it would not cost a great deal of money.

The cost of the energy savings trust in 2002–03 was £90.7 million. That trust does a great deal of work, as those who are familiar with it will recognise. However, such a sum of money, or even less, could perform equally well for water savings.

On 16 September, the Minister questioned whether a water savings trust would achieve very much. I hope that I have demonstrated that it would, and that a trust with the aims and duties that I outlined would achieve more than the ineffective, piecemeal, multi-body approach that currently represents what we call water-efficiency measures.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:30, 21 October 2003

It is difficult for me to say anything nice about the Liberal Democrats, in case it appears in a ''Focus'' leaflet in my constituency. However, in these circumstances, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The amendment is constructive. My only issue with it is that it is perhaps a little compulsory; there is no opportunity for a water savings trust that is successful to stop. However, apart from that small criticism, it is a useful amendment.

The amendment touches on the need for better education and for a parallel to the energy savings trust, which has achieved a great deal. The Minister has already spoken this morning about leaks and waste; he obviously believes that more can be done to save water, despite the fact that Government Members voted against those helpful amendments in the last group.

We should also consider that if the Bill received Royal Assent, the possibility of fluoride leaking into the soil and contaminating it would be a real worry. If we can cut the levels of any of the various types of waste that is produced, a water savings trust would have a second, environmentally supportive role.

I shall not speak for much longer. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) covered almost every point in his long speech. However, I reiterate that the amendment is constructive, and we will support it.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As I said before, I have an open mind to those sorts of approaches. The hon. Member for Lewes said that he was discussing the principle and not the detail. I am sure that he would not want to be accused of making worthy suggestions that sound good without any idea of how they would be implemented, their cost or who would pay for or implement them. It would be very unworthy of me to make such an accusation, and I would not wish to do so—[Interruption.] However, the principle is serious; there may be a case for a water savings trust, but that case must be examined. We will have to work out the costs, the benefits and the effectiveness or otherwise of such a trust.

We have discussed a range of new duties and measures to promote water conservation at every level of government; in local government, in central Government and the agencies, and in the Environment Agency. We are already doing many of the things outlined by the hon. Gentleman as being the role of the water savings trust. For example, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Trade and Industry jointly provide funding for Envirowise to promote awareness of water efficiency and other environmental issues.

Similarly, Ofwat already has a duty to ensure that all water companies take seriously their statutory duty to promote the efficient use of water. Ofwat reports annually on companies' performance, so there is an evaluation of what water companies do, along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Lewes. If a water company is not pulling its weight, Ofwat has the responsibility and the powers to get it to pull its socks up.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Is that not the same as with energy companies? Does not Ofgem also have a duty to conserve energy?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is absolutely right, although there are differences with regard to energy. For example, it is a lot easier to retrofit loft insulation or draught excluders than it is to retrofit certain water-saving devices.

I return to the fact that I do not want to say ''never'' to the idea of a water savings trust; there may be an argument for it in the future. However, the battery of new measures in the Bill show how seriously we take water resource management, and there are new duties and responsibilities. Ofwat and the Secretary of State have new powers, and the Environment Agency, for example, can stipulate on abstraction licences that water must be used efficiently and take action if that is not the case.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

Is it not the case that Ofwat, as the regulator, can bring about real changes? By looking at the performance of water companies on leakages, Ofwat has made real progress, but we must continue to work on Thames Water, which has the worst leakage rate in the country. Ofwat's naming and shaming strategy, rather than a trust, will bring changes.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Water leakage is one of the top priorities for the efficient use of water. The measures taken by Ofwat have brought about a 30 per cent.

reduction in water leakage in the UK, which is probably equivalent to the total daily water consumption of London. That is significant and, as my hon. Friend rightly said, as a result of Ofwat's actions, we know the performance of different water companies on water leakage. Poor performers are open to pressure from Ofwat and have a responsibility to adhere to the demands set by Ofwat on the reduction of leakage.

I do not want to be dogmatic, but I suggest that we need to give the Bill a chance to operate, see how the duties work in practice and see what difference it makes. If we still feel that there is a role for a water savings trust, it can be introduced later. I think that the hon. Member for Lewes accepts, as shown in his opening remarks, that work on justifying the trust—what it would cost, what it would do and its cost-benefit analysis—needs to be done. The idea has been around for a while, but it has not been advocated in the necessary detail for us to discuss it seriously.

My answer to him is that the trust is a possibility, but that we should give the Bill a chance and see how its measures work. If it is felt that there is still a role for an organisation such as a water savings trust, we can consider it in the future.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

As a matter of fact, the amendment does not specify a date for a water savings trust to be introduced. It is possible for the Minister to incorporate the amendment into the Bill and introduce the trust at a later date, once he has analysed how the Bill is working. My amendment is consistent with the Minister's line; on that basis, he should support it.

It is slightly disingenuous for the Minister, as he has done more than once in Committee, to accuse Opposition amendments of having no detail when we are raising points of principle. Then, when detail is provided, he picks away at unimportant parts of the amendment, saying, ''This doesn't work; that doesn't work'', and trying to rubbish the amendment on that basis. We see through the Minister's technique. He should address the principle, although to be fair to him, he did in some of his comments. However, I ask him not to go down that line, because it is slightly disingenuous and not entirely fair, although it is par for the course for Ministers of whatever party to adopt that approach when an amendment is difficult to resist.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leominster for his support, and promise that he will not appear in a ''Focus'' leaflet, so long as I do not appear in ''In Touch''; that is a mutual promise. The Minister discussed the steps being taken, but failed to explain why what is good for energy is bad for water. None of that came through in his answers, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman's intervention, which was absolutely spot-on. The Minister spoke about measures here, there and everywhere—a piecemeal approach—and about the fact that Ofwat is dealing with the water companies. It is doing that to some extent, but that is not the whole story. The amendment refers to

''public authorities, water undertakers, water supply licence holders,''

and ''abstraction licence holders''. We need to take into account more than just the water companies; of course they are important, but they are not the be-all and end-all.

In this debate, and in the discussion on the last group of amendments, the Minister has resisted many opportunities to bolster water conservation and efficiency and relied on mealy-mouthed words that could mean one thing or another. He has asked the Committee to accept that all is hunky-dory in the garden when it is not.

The Minister glided over my quotes from the water company, which is not alone in its view. Water companies are strongly in favour of a water savings trust and I do not know why the Minister does not talk to them more frequently. He ignored their views in his response.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Labour, South Dorset

If the water companies want to set up a trust, why do they not get on and do it? Why do we need to leave an open-ended commitment in the Bill in favour of forming such a trust, which is a presumption in favour of regulation and red tape? Is not it best to remove that presumption? If it becomes necessary in the future to force the water companies to form such a trust, we can do it.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

If the proposal were incorporated in the Bill without having an introductory time limit, there would be extra pressure on water companies to come up with a voluntary scheme, which would reduce bureaucracy and obviate the need for such a proposal in due course. What the hon. Gentleman said does not hold true.

Although a number of water companies approach the matter in a sensible manner and understand the need for a joined-up, formulated approach throughout the industry, sadly, some water companies do not. I do not see why one area should benefit from water efficiency and conservation measures and another should not. My amendment would get round that; it is a jolly good amendment, if I may say so, modestly, and I shall press it to a Division.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister's argument was well below his usual best. We accept that the purpose of the Bill is to bring in a large number of new duties, but it is nonsense to bring in something as contentious as fluoride, yet not properly debate a water savings trust. The Government set the timetable for the Bill, so the argument that a water savings trust needs its own time for debate is complete nonsense.

The Committee's purpose is to improve the Bill. This is a clear example of the Government having missed an opportunity.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Does my hon. Friend agree that Conservative members of the Committee are happy for the Committee sittings to be extended to provide adequate time to debate the matter?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend is my Whip, and no one is in a better position to interfere—I am sorry; I mean to guide me—with the timetable.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Labour, South Dorset

We have ample time to debate the principle of a trust and that is what we have been

doing. The issue is that no detail has been given about the basis of the trust and what its aims, objectives and specification would be. That is what is missing from the debate.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but fortunately we have a model in the Energy Saving Trust. There is a fixed way of funding water companies through the agreement that they make with Ofwat; deliberately so, because they are in a monopolistic position. The funding structure is very rigid and the water companies complain that every penny is most carefully accounted for. There is a duty on the Committee to ensure that if we want all the advantages that the Energy Saving Trust provides for the energy sector, we should promote a trust in that way in the Bill.

I raised the matter on Second Reading. The amendment is not very detailed but it is positive and sensible, but I accept the Minister's criticisms. It is not the most perfect wording, but we have a chance to revisit the argument. I urge the Minister to take note of the Committee's wishes, give the matter the thought that he says it requires and return with a better version, with which he is satisfied, on Report.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9:45, 21 October 2003

The hon. Gentleman is mixing two issues. There is the principle of including the proposal in the Bill, which we could do, and the issue that concerns me, which is that the case for doing so has not been made. I do not know at this stage whether a water savings trust would be beneficial, or whether the costs of such a trust would be worth the benefits. I repeat that there are a range of measures in the Bill to promote water efficiency and water saving. The hon. Member for Lewes did not seem to listen to me about the role of Ofwat. Ofwat has the power to ensure that if a water company does not meet the standards of the best in promoting water efficiency, it can take steps to deal with that matter. A range of such powers is in the Bill.

I genuinely do not know whether a water savings trust would be any better, or would give any advantages. We have not had that debate and cannot do so in Committee or by Third Reading. When the measures to promote water conservation and efficiency are implemented, it may be considered that, in relation to costs and benefits, there is a case for a water savings trust. I am not rubbishing the idea, or saying that it has no merit. However, at this stage, the case has not been made, the work has not been done, there are a lot of unknowns and, most importantly, we do not know whether it would do any good or have any benefit to the Bill's range of measures. I can take a reasonable position on that and I do not close the door to a water savings trust. It is an interesting idea; I am always interested in interesting ideas. I am always interested in others' cases for change and different ways of promoting water efficiency, but I have not heard the technical arguments for such a structure.

All the measures to promote water efficiency are in the Bill. Let us apply them and see how it goes; let us see the answers and conclusions to which Ofwat and consumer bodies come. In future, there may be more

detailed arguments about a water savings trust—what it would cost, what it would do and what advantages it might have over the Bill—and if that case is made, we must consider it. However, that case has not yet been made.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Is the Minister saying that he would be prepared to let his Department work on the idea and perhaps, at some future point, write to members of the Committee after considering whether it was a good idea, how it could be made to work or what would be the arguments against it?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am prepared to give that undertaking. We have asked the Environment Agency to review what further steps could be taken to promote and secure water efficiency, and I do not think that it would be unreasonable to ask it to consider the concept of a water savings trust. I can give that serious consideration.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

We are in danger of talking and never meeting. The Minister puts a point, which I rebut; he makes the same point, having not heard the rebuttal. He may accuse me of doing the same thing. He does not explain the difference between energy and water and does not pick up the point that Ofwat deals only with companies, not with any other range of people in the water industry. He said that he is prepared to have some work done on the matter. If he would be prepared to do that seriously within a specific time scale, I would be prepared to sit on the issue for a while. Frankly, I hope that the Government have done some work already, given the pressure that exists for the concept. Can he say something about the detail and the time scale involved, and how he intends to report to either the Committee or the House? That would influence whether I seek to divide the Committee.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that work is under way. We work on a range of issues. I do not object to asking the Environment Agency to consider the issue. I understand that it will take about six months for the work to be done. As with all our research and analysis, the results will be put in the public domain.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I am grateful to the Minister, who has moved slightly from rubbishing the amendment to seeing the merits of a water-saving strategy.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

He has indeed. On the basis of the assurance that the Minister has given, I propose to withdraw the amendment. But in the spirit of co-operation, I ask him first to supply members of the Committee with details of the terms of Environment Agency's reference, in loose terms and, secondly, to draw our attention to the work when it is completed in six months' time. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 85 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 86 ordered to stand part of the Bill.