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Written Statement - The Water Bill – Supplementary statement

Alun Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food

In my written statement dated 16 October 2013, I gave notification of provisions in the Water Bill at introduction that will modify the functions of the Welsh Ministers. On 12 December 2013,  the UK Government tabled an amendment to the Bill that will also modify the functions of Welsh Ministers and which is the subject of this supplementary statement.  

This written statement is laid under Standing Order 30 – Notification in relation to UK Parliament Bills. It relates to an amendment proposed to the Bill which modifies Welsh Ministers’ functions, but which does not fall for consideration under Standing Order 29 so that a Legislative Consent Motion is not required.

The UK Government has stated that its policy objectives are to reform the water industry to make it more innovative and responsive to customers and to increase its resilience to natural hazards such as droughts or floods. The Bill will also include measures to deal with the availability and affordability of flood insurance, following a public consultation on the proposed approach

The relevant amendment tabled on 12 December :

  • Removes the statutory duty for determining disputes under section 101A(7) of the Water Industry Act 1991 (“the Act”) from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and places it with the Welsh Minsters;
  • Confers on the Welsh Ministers power to appoint a person or body to determine disputes on their behalf; and
  • Imposes a duty upon NRW to advise, when requested, sewerage undertakers, owners/occupiers and those determining disputes under section 101(7) in relation to premises in Wales.

There are properties in England and Wales that are served by private sewerage treatment systems that are not connected to a public sewer. A sewerage undertaker has a duty to provide a public sewer for domestic sewerage purposes where the conditions prescribed by section 101A(2) of the Act) are satisfied.

Owners or occupiers of properties served by private sewerage treatment systems that are not connected to a public sewer, may apply to the licensed sewerage  undertaker for the area where the premises is located for connection to a public sewer under the conditions prescribed by section 101A of the Act

The undertaker must assess the situation and decide whether it believes it has a duty to provide a public sewer.  If the parties (i.e the sewerage undertaker and owner or occupier) cannot reach agreement as to, inter alia, whether a duty exists or the time by which any such duty should be performed (where a duty is accepted or determined to exist), section 101A provides a framework for the determination of disputes and enforcement of the decision. In Wales, the dispute determination role currently rests with Natural Resources Body for Wales (’NRW’).

This amendment will streamline the determination process. This will free-up NRW, who are environmental experts, so that they can be called upon, by an owner/occupier, undertaker, or the Welsh Ministers or the person or body appointed on their behalf to assist in determining whether a duty under section 101A exists, by provision of independent expert advice. This should increase the number of applications made under section 101A being determined by agreement between the parties earlier in the process, without referral to the Welsh Ministers as a dispute for determination.  

The National Assembly for Wales has limited legislative competence in relation to sewerage, and it is considered appropriate for this provision to be included in the Water Bill  because it could not be made by Assembly Act. This amendment, which applies only in respect of Wales, was tabled at my request.