During its passage through the Lords the bill spent three days in committee, the chance for line by line scrutiny. It spent two days in report, a further opportunity for peers to examine the bill and make changes. It then went though third reading, the final amending stage, where potential loopholes can be plugged.
Water Bill third reading: Tuesday 8 April
The government announced a series of amendments covering exit regulations for non-household supplies. They were agreed without a vote. Members also discussed the Flood Reinsurance Scheme, specifically scheme funding and reserves, together with the need for an annual review.
Water Bill report stage day two: Monday 31March
Members discussed an amendment relating to the effect of onshore oil and gas activities on the water environment and whether operators should provide financial security so that funds are available to deal with water pollution incidents. The amendment was withdrawn following government assurances that there are wider regulatory frameworks in place, not just relating to water or the onshore oil and gas industry, and that it is committed to addressing regulations for the fracking industry.
Discussion on the Flood Reinsurance Scheme included two proposed changes that went to a vote: the first set out for the Committee on Climate Change to provide projected estimates on properties affected by the scheme, with 175 members voting for and 223 against, so the change was not made. The second proposed the government report on leasehold and tenanted properties in the scheme, with 190 voting for and 209 against, so the change was not made.
Water Bill report stage day one: Tuesday 25 March
Members of the Lords discussed water supply, sewerage services and sustainability. A proposal to allign the timetables for upstream competition and abstraction reform was taken to a vote. Members voted 192 in favour and 271 against, so the change was not made.
A second vote took place on the introduction of a National Affordability Scheme to address the problem of growing water bills, particularly for low income families. Members voted 181 in favour and 261 against, so the scheme will not form part of the bill.
Water Bill committee stage day three: Tuesday 11 February
Members of the Lords began by discussing an amendment covering the relationship between fracking and water supplies, and the question of whether a new regulatory framework would be needed as the shale gas industry develops.
There was a series of suggested changes to the new Flood Reinsurance Scheme, including the proposal that the remit of the scheme be extended to incorporate flood risk management, as well as covering households in areas currently at high-risk of flooding.
Members also highlighted the need for affordable flood insurance in high-risk areas for those not covered by the new Reinsurance Scheme for residential properties, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.
Water Bill committee stage day two: Thursday 6 February
Lords began by discussing the powers of Ofwat, and whether its environmental and social sustainability duties should be extended in order to help protect consumers in the long term. They also asked how water companies could be better prepared for flooding or droughts, and what could be done to promote ‘water efficiency’ – to help reduce water usage by consumers and businesses.
Peers also spoke about water meters and whether the government should have the power to introduce water metering in areas where the water supply is placed under stress.
Water bill committee stage day one: Tuesday 4 February
Members of the Lords began by discussing water supply licences, looking at how greater competition in the water industry could cause affect consumers. Peers highlighted concerns that those in rural areas could end up paying more for their water than people in cities, and the important role of industry regulator Ofwat in protecting consumers.
They also considered the new rules of entry for the water industry, asking how the process can be made clear and simple, promoting choice and competition.
Water Bill second reading: Monday 27 January
Lords discussed the key aims of the bill - to build the resilience of water supplies without damaging the environment, to encourage economic growth and to give customers greater choice when selecting their water provider. They outlined the reasons behind the bill, highlighting the growing population in the UK and the impact of climate change, which could pose a risk to water resources and the ecosystems they support. They also spoke about the ways the bill could help consumers, by enabling new firms to compete in the water industry, and making it easier to switch suppliers.
Peers raised concerns over how poorly performing water companies would be regulated, the financial structure of the water industry and the management and regulation of the physical water system in the UK.
Water Bill summary
The Water Bill proposes to introduce greater competition in the water sector by allowing non-household customers to switch their water and sewerage supplier (retail competition) and by allowing new entrants to the water market to provide new sources of water or sewerage treatment services (upstream competition).
Reforms would be made to the regulation of the water industry, including giving Ofwat a duty to secure the long-term resilience of water supplies and sewerage. The bill also seeks to address the availability and affordability of insurance for households in high flood risk areas.
Other measures include provisions enabling water-related legislation to be brought under the environmental permitting framework at a later date, and changing the regulation of Internal Drainage Boards.