Water Bill [HL] — 12 Jun 2003 at 13:06

Clause 1 [Licences to abstract water]:

moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 2, line 8, at end insert "continuous"

moved Amendment No. 4:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause-
The Secretary of State in England and the First Minister in Wales shall have the power to refer planning applications for the creation of large reservoirs to a public inquiry." The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I thank the Minister for several contributions that he made during the discussion of a similar amendment in Committee. Having taken account of that, I have tabled a simplified version of an amendment that we tabled in Committee. The amendment relates to impounding to create large reservoirs and takes account of the impact that that will have on the social fabric of rural communities in the area of the reservoir and on the rural environment. Often, large reservoirs in the West and the North take up scarce flatland that, in fact, sustains the adjoining uplands. Often, it is the only flatland in the area. It is an important issue in Wales and the North of England, in particular, where such flatland is very precious. The planning process is at the heart of the amendment. In Committee, the Minister was able to allay my fears to a large extent. Applications will go through a proper planning process, using the planning powers of local authorities and national parks, where they are the planning authority. The Minister also said that it would be possible to make appeals to the Secretary of State in England and the First Minister in Wales. As it happens, the Secretary of State and the First Minister often announce the result of appeals made to them, usually through an inspector that they have appointed. I thank the Minister for stressing those points. The amendment takes account of all that, but it would insert a power-I would like it to be a duty-for the Secretary of State in England and the First Minister of the Assembly in Wales to refer planning applications to a public inquiry. That is the one point on which I need some satisfaction from the Minister. The ability to refer planning applications to a public inquiry is important. If there is an enormous reservoir that causes great destruction, there must be participation by the public, who should be able to make representations in a public consultation. That is particularly important for local representation. There has been a series of tragic events, not only in Wales but in parts of England, with reservoirs being foisted on local communities. That does not happen these days, but I want to make sure that it will not happen, and we should have a public inquiry to ensure that. The public inquiry should include not only local representation but expert representation. There should, for example, be consideration of environmental impact assessments and the social impact of the loss of communities. In Wales, there is the question of the loss of the Welsh language, a loss that cannot be made good. There is the impact on farming, on the environment and on the communities themselves. If the Bill provides for a public inquiry, it will provide the necessary safeguards for public and local interests. The public will know that an independent inspector can reach an objective decision on such great disruption to communities and to the environment. In Wales, the creation of large reservoirs has become a political cause celebre. I know that it is not entirely legal to quote in the Welsh language in this place, but I must say that the phrase "Cofiwch Dryweryn"-"Remember Tryweryn"-is plastered over walls throughout central and north Wales as a rallying call against the oppressors. If we could have a public inquiry, there would be no oppressors. Justice will be seen to be done, not to be something that occurs behind closed doors. I beg to move.

moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 2, line 42, at end insert-
"( ) A general consent to impound water in January, February or March will be notified, catchment area by catchment area, by the Environment Agency on those days to which it applies." The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 5, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 6. In Committee, the Government's response to the amendment, as it was then worded, was to support the intention of facilitating the storage of floodwaters without unnecessary bureaucracy. The amendments, as now worded, would exempt small reservoirs filled only in the early part of the year at times and in places notified by the Environment Agency as having sufficient water flow to allow the impoundment. We consider that this will get around the problem of abstraction taking place during a winter drought. At the same time it will reduce both the workload and the cost to the agency, landowners and farmers. We hope that the Government might look more favourably at this improved amendment. The concept of being able to store relatively small quantities of water freely and easily could have a very significant environmental benefit in country areas. I have built a small reservoir myself, and I am reminded that I should have declared an interest at the beginning of the proceedings as the holder of an abstraction licence. These small reservoirs enhance the environment considerably. They are very good for wildlife and they often create small wetland areas. There are trees, shrubs and wild fowl, which otherwise would not be there. The more we can do to encourage small reservoirs, the better. The more we can free the administrative machine so that it can deal with the major issues which really are important and not have to deal with these smaller reservoirs, the better. I was going to say that they are "as nature intended", but of course a reservoir by definition cannot be that. It is an artificial creation. But the more natural it is, the more we should seek to free it from regulatory procedures. I beg to move.

moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 4, line 39, leave out "otherwise" and insert "in relation to England" The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this subject was debated in Committee on an amendment proposed by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose. It is hoped that my noble friend will be able to be with us later in the Report stage. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, felt that at one stage she was getting into deep water and said she would come back on the issue. She stated that she would await enlightenment on cross-border river basins. Perhaps the Minister is able to expand on the matter this time around. Our major concern is that the wording could be used to enforce a different interpretation from "England" without such interpretation having to be debated in this House. If there is no such intention, then the wording appears at the least clumsy and perhaps out of line with normal usage. For instance, Section 91(1) of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 refers to,
"the Secretary of State (as respects England)", but not as respects otherwise. If there is a hidden meaning behind the proposed wording, then the Government's intention should be made clear. It is unusual to see in one Act different words which mean the same thing, while this Bill contains the wording I have already mentioned. That is why we seek to leave out the word "otherwise" and insert instead, "in relation to England". I beg to move.

moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 7, leave out line 38 and insert-
"(i) domestic use on the holding;" The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 10, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 11. In the discussions in Grand Committee on a small group of amendments concerning this subject, we gave the example of the historic situation where water abstracted by a farmer had been used to the general benefit of everyone on a holding. The Minister chose to interpret our concern as being solely with the protection of existing rights. That was not our intention. He assured us that the protection is already there, through the Water Resources Act 1991, for rights which existed prior to the 1963 Act. My interpretation of his interpretation is that he believed our concern was too narrow. The amendments relate to new abstraction rights. Many farms still comprise a farmhouse and one or two agricultural dwellings. Indeed, in some cases, such housing is not used for agricultural dwellings. Agricultural workers still grow their own garden produce and there is no reason to believe that a situation may not arise where such a worker would welcome a share in the water abstracted from a nearby river or stream. Farm buildings are also converted and let to tenants, who may or may not be agricultural workers and who may wish to have a garden and therefore use more water. As we understand the terms of the Bill and the Minister's response in Grand Committee, such usage would be prohibited. In Grand Committee the Minister said that, "any abstraction of up to 20 cubic metres per day for domestic purposes, regardless of whether the occupier uses the water, will be exempt".-[Official Report, 27/3/03; col. GC88.] In fact the Bill states that the exemption applies if the abstraction is carried out by or on behalf of an occupier and, "it is abstracted for use on that holding for either or both of the following purposes- (i) the domestic purposes of the occupier's household; (ii) agricultural purposes other than spray irrigation". My question is a minor one. I am sure the Minister will tell me that this comes under "domestic purposes", but presumably gardening or any other such activity by a member of a family, a tenant or anyone occupying such buildings on an occupied holding would be considered as agricultural purposes. It is only a small point and I am sure that the Minister will be able to clarify it.

moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 8, line 2, after "work" insert "provided that such work will not impinge upon pre-existing licensed abstraction producing potable water" The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I return to an important issue that was raised in Grand Committee. The amendment has been brought forward again in order to seek clarification from the Minister. In Grand Committee he stated:
"I will need to consider the issue raised by the water bottlers because in certain circumstances they have a specific concern. We may be able to deal with that in a different way".-[Official Report, 27/3/03; col. GC89.] For the benefit of noble Lords who did not attend the Grand Committee, perhaps I may raise one or two issues. During the Grand Committee debate there was a query whether the 12-year limit had been specified in writing by the Environment Agency. This time limit and its bureaucratic rationale was set out in detail by the Environment Agency in its policy document, Managing Water Abstraction, which was published in April 2001, and was confirmed again in the written guidance for stakeholders published in March this year. It is the Environment Agency's strength of attachment to the period of 12 years which causes so much concern. During the debate the Minister made some helpful statements about taking investment needs into account. We hope that in the pursuit of these amendments this can be clearly established as a principle. In the Environment Agency's guidance to stakeholders there is no reference to the payback on investment as a criterion for granting longer-term licences and this clearly needs rectification. In Grand Committee I referred to the depreciation accounting practices of the water utilities and it might be helpful to highlight some of the financial commitments there. The first feature is that investment is needed for business expansion, not only in bottling equipment but in new bottling halls, warehouses and connected infrastructure. The payback on such investment, which normally requires bank loans, is usually calculated at 12 years. Obviously, we will be speaking on investment at greater length later. We sought recognition from the Minister that environmental damage could be caused by drilling connected with exempted abstractions. The Minister was opposed to amending the Bill, but our advice from Environment Agency officials is that a legislative requirement to assess the impact of exempt abstractions is essential. I understand that the Government wrote to the Environment Agency on this issue but have not had clarification. Perhaps I can share with the House the technical point that natural mineral waters must be, to quote from the contribution of the British Soft Drinks Association,
"free from pollution at source" and
"have a consistent mineral content". I hope that the Minister can deal with this point in a slightly more sympathetic way than was the case in Committee. I beg to move.

moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 9, leave out lines 13 and 14. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Bill says on page 9:
"The restriction on abstraction shall not apply . . . within the district of an internal drainage board if . . . the water abstracted is transferred to another area of inland water- and,
"the sole or main purpose of the transfer is to augment that other area". On page 10, the Bill states that land drainage does not include,
"transferring water from one source of supply to another . . . solely or mainly in order to augment the latter". That may be interpreted as an exemption granted to a body-namely, an internal drainage board-for an activity that is then ruled out of order. Having read it and considered it again, we feel that that is a contradiction, for which I would be very grateful for a ministerial explanation. I beg to move.

moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 9, line 36, at end insert-
"( ) In the case of any emergency abstraction the Agency, upon receiving notice of the abstraction in question, shall investigate the current position under each of the headings listed in subsection (2A)(a), (b) and (c) above; and only if the danger no longer exists under any of those headings and if there is no perceived threat in the immediate future, may the Agency conclude that the emergency does not exist." The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment arises from a debate surrounding a series of government amendments. It became clear that legislation defines the start of an emergency but not the end of it. The Minister seemed to admit that there is not even guidance on the subject; that is why we are returning to it. The amendment would put into the Bill an instruction to the agency that would make it clear when the agency might declare when an emergency did not exist. For the purposes of the Bill, that might be taken to be both when the emergency was over and when a particular situation did not amount to an emergency. I beg to move.

moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 10, line 8, at end insert-
"( ) In deciding to extend abstraction licensing to irrigation by virtue of subsection (5) above, the Agency shall have regard to the length of time such abstraction has been practised and the purposes to which it has been put."" The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we believe that the amendment is very important. When the subject was debated in Committee, many contributions were made and concerns were expressed by all speakers that the needs of those who use trickle irrigation are not met by the Bill. Trickle irrigation may be used by small enterprises, but there are many examples of businesses with a turnover and wage bills in excess of a million pounds. There is a strong fear that, because they have not had to have a licence in the past, their needs may be put to the bottom of the queue in any consideration of abstraction licences in the area where water is scarce. It is quite possible that a trickle irrigator may contribute more to the economy of the river basin than all the licensed abstractors put together. It is equally possible that a trickle irrigator may have been employing that method for longer than some licensed abstractors in the area. It is necessary that their proper concerns are catered for in the Bill and, at the very least, that those who were involved in trickle irrigation in the past must be consulted at the start of the discussions, when they are required to comply with the legislation. I beg to move.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 15) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 91; Not-Contents, 89.

Debate in Parliament | Historical Hansard | Source |

Public Whip is run as a free not-for-profit service. If you'd like to support us, please consider switching your (UK) electricity and/or gas to Octopus Energy or tip us via Ko-Fi.

Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (Content)Minority (Not-Content)Turnout
Con55 (+2 tell) 026.4%
Crossbench7 14.7%
Green1 0100.0%
Lab0 86 (+2 tell)45.6%
LDem25 038.5%
UUP1 0100.0%
Total:89 8727.8%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

Lords for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible lord who could have voted in this division

Sort by: Name | Party | Vote

Lord Williamson of HortonCrossbench (front bench)no

About the Project

The Public Whip is a not-for-profit, open source website created in 2003 by Francis Irving and Julian Todd and now run by Bairwell Ltd.

The Whip on the Web

Help keep PublicWhip alive