Scottish Executive to introduce two water bills to parliament

First Minister for Scotland Henry McLeish has announced the Scottish Executive’s legislative programme for this coming year, which includes two new water bills designed to improve the protection of water and reform the water industry.

Much of the contents of the Water Industry Bill and the Water Environment and Water Services Bill were originally announced in March this year in the form of the Water Services Bill, but have now been divided into two separate pieces of proposed legislation.

The Water Industry Bill is intended to restructure the water industry in Scotland, transferring the functions of the three existing water and sewerage authorities to a single new public authority, which will also have a wider range of powers than the current organisations. The proposed water authority will be named Scottish Water, and is intended to produce efficiency savings of £100 million per year by 2005-06, better enabling it to compete successfully in a rapidly developing market. The Bill will also provide for the appointment of a Drinking water Quality Regulator in order to ensure compliance with drinking water legislation, and to enforce the legislation in relation to private water suppliers.

The Water Environment and Water Services Bill proposes a new approach to the management of Scotland’s inland and coastal waters, and the creation of a regulatory framework for the water industry that takes account the possibility of competition. The Bill will also contain the provisions published in Rivers, Lochs, Coasts: The Future for Scotland’s Waters, published in June (see related story), which included a new river basin planning system.

“We propose two bills to reform the water industry and improve the way we protect our natural water environment – our rivers, lochs, and coastal waters,” said Henry McLeish. “Our vision is for a publicly-owned, all-Scotland water authority that will provide a high-quality service that is efficient and can succeed in an increasingly competitive market,” he said, announcing the Water Industry Bill.

With regard to the Water Environment and Water Services Bill, McLeish announced that it is designed to “promote the sustainable management of the water environment in Scotland – a vital resource that we have a duty to protect for future generations”, he said. “The bill will also update the framework regulating the provision of water and sewerage to take account of the possibility of competition on the public networks.”

Rivers, lochs, estuaries and coastal waters in Scotland are key to the country’s image of having a naturally clean and healthy environment, which is a crucial selling point for the food and drink industry as well as being the lifeblood of many other Scottish businesses, Minister for Environment and Rural Development Ross Finnie pointed out. The Water Environment and Water Services Bill “will establish a transparent and accountable system for planning the management of our inland and coastal waters and a co-ordinated approach to tackling all harmful impacts on them”, he said. “It provides for a licensing regime to ensure that only fit and proper operators can gain access to the public networks and that ‘cherry picking’ the most attractive customers is not an option,” he added.

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