HL Deb 29 April 2003 vol 647 cc115-84GC

(Sixth Day)

The Committee met at half past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill) in the Chair.]

Clause 60 [Drought plans]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 172: Page 77, line 11, at end insert— ( ) It shall be the duty of each abstractor to produce a drought plan.

The noble Baroness said: I hope that this small but necessary probing amendment will kick off what I expect will be the last day of Committee well.

The Bill lays a duty on each water undertaker to prepare and maintain a drought plan. Given that the Bill takes small users—with a few exceptions—out of the licensing regime, I wonder why each abstractor is not required to produce a drought plan. In the Bill, we are dealing with a time of climate change and the greater likelihood of drought, so each person with a licence to abstract water should be under a duty to think about times of drought and produce a plan to reduce the panic effect at such times. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I must admit to a certain fascination with the amendment. Most small abstractors will abstract water for their own use and will have limited alternative sources of supply. The reality for someone involved in irrigation is that, if the water genuinely is not there, all that they need to do is stop irrigating. That is the drought plan.

I am not sure that we should accept the amendment. I understand the sentiment, but I am not sure that, in practice, the amendment would do anything other than place a considerable administrative burden on small abstractors.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

I tend to agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, than with the noble Baroness on the matter. It is true that many small abstractors are excluded by the Bill, but there are still 48,000 abstraction licences likely to be issued under the Bill, and, in most cases, there is no need for a drought plan of any dimensions.

It is right that there should be scrutiny of the drought plans of water companies, so that, as far as possible, difficult decisions can be discussed on the basis of the information in the plans. However, for the vast majority of abstractors, the drought plan will be fairly straightforward—in some cases, it will be as simple as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, suggested. There will be no need to scrutinise those drought plans in the way that there would be for the plans of the water companies.

Some abstractors would need drought plans for their own purposes, but it would not be sensible to set them down in legislation. It would require quite a bureaucracy to enforce and scrutinise the plans, and it seems to me that the vast majority of cases would not merit such a legislative requirement.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

The Minister's reply suggests that the Government are content to leave the Bill as it is. I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, about small abstractors, but here we are talking about quite large ones. The time may come when we will wish to reconsider the question of whether people should bear drought in mind more than they do at the moment. We have not arrived at that position yet, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Duke of Montrose moved Amendment No. 172ZA: Page 77, line 25, leave out from "sources" to end of line 27.

The noble Duke said: In moving Amendment No. 172ZA, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 172B.

Amendment No. 172ZA is a probing amendment. We would like to know whether the words in parentheses imply that, in times of drought or other shortage, a water undertaker who has to handle a quantity of water on behalf of a licensed water supplier in a time of drought may—I searched for the right word, and "purloin" did not seem quite right—appropriate some of that water to alleviate his own drought shortage. Is that the sense that the Government wish to be taken from the sentence?

In Amendment No. 172B, we suggest that, rather than having a three-yearly revision of a drought plan, we should go back to having a five-year period, the timescale used for so many other things. Why will it be necessary to produce a revised drought plan every three years, when a revision of the water resource management plan must be done only every five years?

I was puzzling about that and about another point that goes along with it. Is the provision an effort further to reduce the timescale envisaged, along with the other rather frightening ruling that any licence that has not been used for four years can be withdrawn? Can the Minister tell the Committee whether the inclusion of a licence in a drought plan would qualify as use, even if it had not physically been used? Is the agency reserving to itself the final right to tear up an undertaken drought plan after four years and determine a drought plan of its choosing? I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I shall start with the first amendment. It must be clear that, in the event of a drought, the undertaker will be responsible for ensuring that the needs of customers are met. It is important that the undertaker has sufficient information on which to plan. The noble Duke's amendment would allow the undertaker to prepare a drought plan that did not necessarily cover the sources of supply that belonged to licensed water suppliers. The ensuing drought plan would not provide sufficient information to demonstrate that all customers had adequate security of supply during a drought. Making the deletion suggested by the noble Duke would mean that we did not have a comprehensive drought plan.

I turn to Amendment No. 172B. No causal relationship to the withdrawal of licences is implied by the provision. Drought plans explain the operational management action that water companies must take in the event of a drought. Several events—drought or other changes in water supply and demand—could lead to a change in the contents of a drought plan or in the structure of the companies. Leaving the revision of drought plans aside for five years could mean that they become out of date. The three-yearly review period means that the plans will always be reasonably current. That is a continuation of the present—albeit non-statutory—system of having a three-yearly cycle for plans, under ministerial guidance. That three-year timetable has worked well, and we wish now to include it in legislation.

We need to provide for a material change and to ensure that a review can be triggered. There are none of the sinister implications that the noble Duke suggested with regard to other parts of the Bill.

Baroness Byford

I ask the Minister to clarify what he said. I understood from what he said that, normally, it is current practice to have a three-yearly review. Is he not concerned that the management plan will be reviewed every five years and the drought plan every three years? In fact, the plans will not overlap, in the truest sense of the word. Would it not be more sensible if they did? Although I am hesitant to ask for the extra work to be done, if we made it a three-year rule, the management would be doing the same.

Presumably, if there are emergencies, emergency proposals are in hand anyway. To follow up the question that my noble friend posed with regard to Amendment No. 172B, I ask the Minister to be more specific than the slightly general answer that he gave.

Lord Whitty

The water resource plans are the strategic framework within which we operate, whereas the drought plans are the operational plans by which the companies run their day-to-day, week-to-week operations. As I said, the plans are already, in practice, on a three-yearly cycle. For some time, we have operated the guidance on the basis of a three-yearly cycle. The only change that this part of the Bill suggests is that that guidance cycle should be written into the Bill.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I want to pursue the point slightly further. We are in the business of strategic planning for real problems. A drought plan is a drought plan, and I understand that it is an operational plan. However, an operational plan can work only within existing resources. It is essentially a short-term plan, if I can put it that way, particularly if it runs for only a three-year cycle. Solutions to water supply problems in a period of drought result from long-term strategic investment. We have discussed that sort of thing before.

I find myself wondering who has the responsibility for saying to a water undertaking, "Your drought plan is fine, but if we have a really hard time, you will have some difficulty, even with that plan. The plan can only make use of existing resources, and you ought to do something to take care of things strategically, so that you are not caught out in this way in future". Does the initiative for doing that lie with the water undertaking or, perhaps, with the Environment Agency? That is an important point.

Lord Whitty

If circumstances change so that a drought plan that has been relatively recently revised is no longer appropriate, the undertaker can seek a drought order that may impose restrictions on what would be the abstraction levels under the operational plan. It would be the undertaker's initiative, unless there were a general request that all undertakers operate on that basis. There is the ability to override a plan. In extreme circumstances, compensation can also be paid.

Lord Dixon-Smith

With respect, the Minister has not answered the question, in a sense. I asked about strategic operations to obviate the need to take the short-term measures that are so upsetting for everybody.

Lord Whitty

Clearly, once the strategic plans are set on a reasonable basis, although they will be reviewed every five years, one would not expect them to change hugely, but if a short-term crisis led to the recognition that the existing strategic and operational plans were fine but that circumstances had changed, a drought order would need to be adopted. As for the drought plan itself, it must be checked by the Environment Agency. If what lay behind the question was who will check on the drought plan, the answer is that it will be the Environment Agency.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful to the Minister for that last point. I think that he has answered my question, which was really: what happens when, despite all the best laid plans, we find that we still have a problem? That is the sort of issue that the Environment Agency should consider and then, presumably, warn the water undertaking that, in difficult circumstances, it would be vulnerable, and ask it what it was doing about that.

Baroness O'Cathain

On a point of clarification, where is DEFRA in all this? If there is catastrophic drought, for example, surely the people who will know how best to handle it are the water undertakers, who live with that all the time. Who says: "You must do X, Y or Z"? Is it DEFRA or the Environment Agency, or do the water undertakers carry the burden and get on with it?

Lord Whitty

In circumstances in which we must modify or override existing plans, an order must be sought that is granted or initiated by DEFRA; but strategic management is a matter for the Environment Agency.

The Duke of Montrose

To return to Amendment No. 172ZA, when a drought takes place, let us say that the water undertaker has been told by the licensed water supplier—I always get the terms wrong—"I will give you 10 million gallons per day and I want you to supply it to someone down the road". Then the drought comes along.

Does that mean that the water undertaker has within his drought plans to allow for those 10 million gallons per day to be passed on regardless of anything else—presuming he is still receiving it from the licensed supplier—or, if the drought order is brought into force, is he allowed to reduce the amount that he supplies on behalf of the licensed water supplier in proportion to everyone else? Having to take on someone else's drought plan may prove problematic. Perhaps the Minister can help me with that question.

Lord Whitty

Hopefully, the combination of the strategic and operational plans will in most circumstances deal with that. The operational plans will need to include some contingency provisions. However, in circumstances outside that, a drought order could in certain circumstances impose restrictions on other abstractions, or other users, and allow the source of water to be used by the undertaker in a different way.

In the example given by the noble Duke, the drought order could restrict and redirect the 10,000 gallons, but that would depend very much on the circumstances. As I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, there may be circumstances in which compensation may then be payable. However, those are abnormal circumstances. We hope that the operational plans and the contingencies built into them will deal with most such situations, and the understanding between the undertaker and the abstractor will be clear.

The Duke of Montrose

I thank the Minister for attempting to clear up the matter. It is rather complicated, and I think it would be better if we took the amendment away to reconsider the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 172A: Page 77, line 31, at end insert— (e) the environmental implementation implications of the supply of the quantities of water required to meet those obligations.

The noble Lord said: Obviously, a drought plan is an extremely prudent and necessary aspect of the Bill. New Section 39B(4) states: A drought plan shall address, in particular, the following matters—

  1. (a) what measures the water undertaker might need to take to restrain the demand for water within its area;
  2. (b) what measures the water undertaker might need to take to obtain extra water from other sources"—
which has just been mentioned— (c) how the water undertaker will monitor the effects of the drought and of the measures taken under the drought plan". and, (d) such other matters as the Secretary of State may specify in directions".

There is much reference there to the water undertaker, but the actions of the water undertaker may have an adverse effect on the water environment. Supplying water to meet droughts means that other parts of the water system may in certain circumstances have to do without water.

We are extremely fortunate in the United Kingdom. We do not have empty river beds, as do parts of the continent. When I see them, I often wonder what happens in the winter to the ecology of those river systems. We in the United Kingdom clearly have a better system than that, but of course we have more rain than many parts of continental Europe.

However, I am especially concerned because thought that the Bill was about the environmental sustainability of the river systems from which we obtain our water. We must balance strategic reserves of water to enable river flow, for example. Eventually, we reach almost impossible pluralities between the needs of communities—the population—and the need to sustain the environment. The purpose behind the amendment is to highlight the necessity of maintaining environmental sustainability. In this case, it must surely be the Environment Agency, rather than the water undertaker, that ensures that that occurs. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Again, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, has opened a large can of worms. It may even be better to leave the matter for the Secretary of State to specify. I have some sympathy with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, but that is as far as it goes, because the wording of the amendment will not do.

When one is dealing with a drought, the whole environment is already under stress—otherwise, it would not be a drought. The noble Lord rightly said, that this country is more fortunate than many parts of the world. We are: we have a very temperate climate. It is not that we have more rainfall than many other parts of the world; we have much less evaporation. That is a great distinction. One consequence of that is that we make pretty inefficient, poor use of the water resources with which we are blessed. But that is a separate issue that we have discussed on other occasions.

It has been useful to have this debate and I shall listen to the Minister's reply with great interest, but that is probably as far as the matter should go.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I know that one or two Members of the Committee are concerned because the annunciator screen in the corner is not working at present; the engineer has been called. However, in the event of a Division, we shall all be informed.

Baroness O'Cathain

On a point of clarification, I know that the Bill is all about environmental sustainability, but in a drought, does the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, seriously think that in order to sustain the environment and ensure that the least damage possible is done to it, people should have to go without water?

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

Perhaps I may respond to that. No, it is not that so much as that plans need to be put in place to ensure that we do not get into that situation and are able to sustain the environment. We all know about hosepipe bans and other such measures that occur during droughts. We need a strategic view to avoid the situation that the noble Baroness described. We need to be prudent in these matters.

Lord Bridges

Perhaps I may add a comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said, as one who lives in a part of England—East Anglia—where water resources are scarce. The kind of catastrophic situation that he described must be addressed in the context of planning. In our part of the world, we feel that there is a pressure for housing that existing water supplies could not meet.

Not long ago, I attended a public meeting at which the water company was asked that question, to which its answer was, "Well, we are not short of water in this country; we have just to transport it from where it is to where we need it"—which is, of course, a very large question. To avoid catastrophic droughts, if we had more consideration of water needs in the planning system, that would help to fend off that moment.

Earl Peel

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, has raised a terribly important point. If, as has happened in the past, water companies are abstracting water where the flows in the rivers are perilously low, that can have quite an impact on the sustainable management of the whole water system, and certainly has a major impact on the environment.

I am sure that my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith is right when he says that the amendment is inappropriate to deal with that point, but the issue is hugely important. As the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said, it comes down to the need to have plans to deal with problems when they arise. The amendment may be inappropriate, but the noble Lord has raised a most important point.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I strongly support the amendment moved by my noble friend—perhaps more so given the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. The environment has always been at the bottom of the heap in consideration of water supply. In the event of a drought, of course, if there were a choice between water for people to drink and maintaining even a minimal river flow, water for people to drink would come first. However, if the drought plan concerned maintaining a balance under which people could have a shower only once a week, not twice, in an attempt to maintain some sort of river flow, the environment should have a recognised place, rather than falling off the bottom of the list of priorities, as has been the case.

Lord Whitty

We have strayed somewhat wide of the amendment into the whole planning system and ablution arrangements. Although I do not dissent that some of those wider issues are important, they are not appropriate to the amendment. The point of the amendment and of this part of the Bill is to set out the nature of the drought plans.

As we discussed under the previous amendment, drought plans are currently produced and presented by the water companies and include information on their environmental impacts, because of their obligations and duties with respect to water supply in times of drought. So there is already a requirement for water companies' drought plans to cover environmental issues.

Plans currently produced under the guidance address possible environmental impacts such as the effect of drought orders on river flows, river quality or aquatic life, and they contain monitoring plans. We expect this to continue when plans are produced on a statutory basis, so we will use direction powers to ensure that that happens. In addition, Section 3 of the Water Industry Act 1991 already ensures that nature conservation obligations are taken into account by the undertakers in the discharge of their functions.

There is already substantial coverage of the environmental impact. The Environment Agency monitors the effect of any drought action taken by water companies, which includes the wider environmental impacts. So the amendment would not enhance anything that is not already in the existing system, which we are now placing on the statute book.

4 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

I thank the Minister for his comments. We have had a very constructive debate, which was the purpose of tabling the amendment in the first place. Paragraph (d) refers to, such other matters as the Secretary of State may specify in directions". That seems to be a catch-all. I was trying to point out that the environmental implications were of particular importance for aquatic sustainability.

I thank all the Members of the Committee who have contributed to this debate. Particular points were made about planning in relation to water resources. Indeed, many things will be coming before us soon in the Palace of Westminster about creating new towns in places where there is already an acute water shortage. These are all issues which need much fuller consideration than has been given to them up to now. I trust that this debate will assist in pointing up these issues in the interests of the populations which may be moved to these places as well as the environmental effects that might occur. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 172B not moved.]

Clause 60 agreed to.

Clauses 61 and 62 agreed to.

Clause 63 [Revocation of local flood defence schemes]:

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 173: Page 80, line 18, leave out from "State" to end of line 19 and insert "shall continue to consult local flood defence committees in conjunction with regional flood defence committees before any statutory instrument is laid before Parliament or the Assembly to revoke a local flood defence scheme

The noble Lord said: In proposing Amendment No. 173, I am concerned that, as I read the Bill—I am sure the Minister will put me right if I am wrong—under Clause 63 local flood defence committees will apparently not exist in their current form. I shall refer to that when we debate Amendment No. 175.

Amendment No. 173 addresses the question of consultation. It would provide that local flood defence committees are consulted, in conjunction with regional flood defence committees before any statutory instrument is laid before Parliament or the Assembly"— that is, the Welsh Assembly— to revoke a local flood defence scheme".

Page 11 of the Water Resources Act 1991 lays out the functions of regional as well as local flood defence committees. The 1991 Act seems to me pretty soundly based in terms of ensuring that local issues are properly consulted before decisions are made. I will not make other points now—I will make them when I address Amendment No. 175, which is to be debated separately. However, I am concerned that consultation will no longer be as specific as it is under the Water Resources Act 1991.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I would be very grateful for some clarification from the Lord Chairman. We understand that there is a grouping, and that the amendment referred to but not spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, is within the group.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My apologies to the Lord Chairman. I misread my note. May I address my other amendment?

Amendment No. 175 would insert paragraph (e) in page 81 stating that we wish to, retain local flood defence committees for river systems to operate in conjunction with regional flood defence committees". The section of the Water Resources Act to which I have just referred is well drafted regarding its relationship between regional committees and local flood defence committees. Local knowledge is crucial for flood defences. For example, the River Severn is the longest river in England and Wales; I believe that it is about 221 miles long. That river system in its own right deserves more than one local defence committee. It clearly has an upper section, a middle section—which floods in Shrewsbury and places nearby—and a lower section, which floods very badly in the Gloucester area. The situations differ in the different sections of that river. The water undertaker is the Severn Trent authority, which covers two separate, completely different, river basins. It will be extremely difficult to be able to take objective, informed decisions in these situations if we do not have local flood defence committees, with all the local knowledge that is necessary to apply to get correct solutions.

When organisations and bodies are reorganised these days, staff are often made redundant or redeployed. In that process, the corporate memory of a business or a government department is often fractured. Decisions are then made which should not be made—the knowledge was there before, but it is not there now. Local knowledge is crucial in this respect.

There may be a problem for flood defence where sufficient capital investment is not available to smaller local flood defence committee areas. I see no reason why an aspect of strategy propounded by a reasonable flood defence committee cannot be fed into by the local flood defence committees and which would appropriate the correct sums of capital investment to address flood problems in certain places. Obviously that must be equitable; drainage and matters of that kind are extremely important. In addition, investment priorities are acute at times.

The present system is not over-bureaucratic—in fact, it is very practical. It works, and it makes informed decisions, but grass-roots knowledge is essential in order for good decisions to be made. Indeed, it should be possible to ensure that that continues rather than losing a vital section of knowledge. Members of local flood defence committees are often members of county councils; they often have personal knowledge of problems in communities where houses and flood plains have been flooded. They can cite what has happened and show people. I have seen that happen, when people said that a flood went to such and such a point 20 years ago. Nobody else knows that except perhaps a few people who were directly affected.

That is very important. There are local communities, local householders, farmers, Landowners, fisheries and drainage interests. All of those are vital, and the amendment would maintain the situation.

Amendment No. 176 is also in my name. I shall try to go through it fairly quickly, but it is a vexed question. I speak here from personal experience rather than in theory. In my experience, the Environment Agency does not have responsibility for non-main river streams, while local authorities do. The amendment asks that the Environment Agency take over those responsibilities. From my experience as a constituency MP, I know that in reality, a huge amount of buck-passing goes on, and nothing gets done as a result. When people are up in arms about something that needs doing in the non-main river system, and the local authority does not have the resources or the money to apply, it says that it is the riparian owners who must ensure that a stream does not get blocked up, or whatever.

The town of Talgarth, after which I took my title, was acutely flooded about eight years ago—a lot of citizens were flooded out of their homes. The reason was that the local authority would not take responsibility for the river that runs through the place and the riparian owners could not do so either. The local authority did not have the resources to do the job and the riparian owners did not have the labour. The river became blocked with branches and trees, there was huge rainfall of about six inches, a lake was created, and the dam burst and flooded the whole town. That was the result of neglecting a serious matter; it caused great hardship and still has not been properly resolved. The county is still in discussion with the Environment Agency and is still telling the riparian owners to do something about it. We need something much better than this system, otherwise global warming will mean that we see many more such instances. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I have two amendments in this group, and I shall speak to those first. Amendment No. 174 would go a long way towards relieving the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, about his concern if the change to regional flood defence committees takes place. The change would require the Minister to have regard to the need to involve all those who have local knowledge in the new set-up. If the change is to take place, we need an assurance from the Minister, which I am sure he would be happy to give, that as far as possible he will seek to involve people of knowledge and experience in the flood defence set-up that is to be established. I find it inconceivable that the Government would not already have that in the back of their mind.

The other amendment in this group—Amendment No. 176A—is somewhat different. It would remove a small subsection from Clause 65. We tabled the amendment because there is slight concern as to exactly what the new situation will be. Clause 65(1) states: Sections 147 to 149 of the [Water Resources Act] (which relate to grants for drainage works and flood warning systems) shall cease to have effect". That is fine. The Bill then goes on to establish a new regime. But, for the life of me, I could not work out who was responsible for funding what in the new regime and whether responsibility for flood defence work would finish up with the riparian owners or the property owners. However, we all know that successful flood defence work must often be undertaken in a location quite remote from the place that will flood.

Because I cannot interpret the new financial arrangements, we tabled this amendment in the hope that the Minister's exposition on it would be sufficiently plain so that we could understand the matter and could then decide what we wished to do about it. That deals with Amendment No. 176A.

I return to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. He is right to want to keep a great deal of local experience involved. I sympathise with him very much on the question of flood defences being tightly located in catchment areas, if that can be done. I suppose that ultimately it will come down to the working procedures of the new flood defence committees, when they are established. I find it inconceivable that someone in a remote township in the centre of a region would try to work in detail without the assistance of people who were involved fairly closely on the ground.

However, I also accept that because, as the noble Lord said in his introduction, there have been divided responsibilities with regard to some waterways and a lack of clarity, it may be desirable to put all the responsibility in one place. At least people would then know who to kick if there was a problem.

There are two distinct issues here. One is where the responsibility lies. That must be absolutely plain. Preferably, it should lie in one place. The question then is how those who hold that responsibility choose to do their job. If they have any sensitivity and sense, they will do it in a far more intimate way than would be the case if they sat in their ivory tower in their remote town and thought they knew what was going on in Little Tolpuddle-on-the-Marsh 70, 80 or even 100 miles away. That could well be the case.

I therefore sympathise with what the noble Lord seeks to achieve through his amendment. When he spoke about the fracturing of responsibilities in reorganisation, I said to my noble friend Lady Byford that it was beginning to sound awfully like local government. That is not really a helpful comment but I am sure the Minister will recognise the sentiment. I believe that this group of amendments has some serious substance behind it, and I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

The reason that my name is not attached to any of these amendments is that, when we tabled them, I was not sure what kind of interest I should declare, if any. Since then, that has become plain. Therefore, I declare an interest in that my husband chairs a local flood defence committee and will be doing so when the reorganisation takes place, if it happens.

However, the Bill as drafted and, to some extent, these amendments, are concerned with reorganising the deckchairs when the Water Framework Directive requires a fundamental rethink as to what kind of management committees we have. The Environment Agency's guidance on the Water Framework Directive's guiding principles—in particular, where the timetable is helpfully laid out—shows that a work programme for the production of the first river basin management plans must be published in 2006. The first river basin management plans must be published for consultation in 2008. It is therefore inadequate for flood defence committees, whether local or regional, to deal simply with flooding issues when the Water Framework Directive clearly takes us in the direction of a far wider set of issues with regard to river basins.

Rightly, the Water Framework Directive will require us to involve a whole new range of stakeholders—landowners, NGOs and planning authorities—in a quite different way. All those stakeholders will need to have a place in preparing the river basin management plans. Of course, the Environment Agency will simply be able to consult them. But if we had a model of a management committee along the lines of what a flood defence committee now does for flooding but that dealt with all the issues expected of river basin management plans by the Water Framework Directive, we would be in a far better position to deal with river basin issues.

As it is, if we simply reorganise the flood defence committees as the Bill proposes, I fear that we shall again be trailing the requirements of the Water Framework Directive rather than being ahead of them and implementing them in a way that advantages everyone. They certainly could be implemented so that they advantaged the whole range of stakeholders. I regret that the Government have not come up with a forward-looking committee arrangement. This one seems to be rather retrospective.

Baroness Byford

The comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, bring me to my feet. As she knows, I have tabled an amendment towards the end of the Bill which again deals with the Water Framework Directive. Throughout our debates on the Bill over several days I have said that I believe we are foolish not to have taken in the implications of the Water Framework Directive. Although I shall perhaps repeat myself later, I do not apologise for that because it is a matter on which Members of the Committee feel strongly. When we pass the Bill and it goes to another place, it is not likely to come into effect until the summer months. Indeed, as the noble Baroness suggested, we shall then have to make all these arrangements before December.

As the Minister knows well, I object to the fact that I suspect he will turn round and say, "Well, that is fine but it will be done through statutory instruments". Again, I voice my anger—perhaps that is too strong a word and I should say "crossness"—that that will be the case. When statutory instruments come before the House, we do not have a chance to debate them in the way that we are able to debate business in this Committee now. Therefore, although our lead spokesman on this group of amendments is my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, I felt strongly that I should say again that I believe the Government have it wrong.

Having said that, I know that the Minister will look at me and think "Animal Health Bill". I am not suggesting that we should return to what was done originally, although that is not a bad idea. However, I believe that the Committee should be aware of the seriousness of the matter and of the reasons why so many amendments have been tabled in the way that they have. We shall be including something that will be in place for perhaps only six months and we shall then have to return to the drawing board again. But next time the issue returns to the drawing board, we shall have no control over it whatever.

We on this side of the Committee and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, have reflected that in our comments and I believe that other colleagues will feel the same. It is very difficult to talk about one part of a river, one flood defence or whatever when the Water Framework Directive refers to river basins and the implications which arise for everyone from the original river basin. Therefore, I support the comments made by my noble friend and wish to add weight to what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said. I am very concerned that we are not allowing time properly to debate the Water Framework Directive, which is hugely important.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

I wish to address Amendments Nos. 175, 176 and 176A and the "non-amendments" which I believe we debated concerning the Water Framework Directive raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer.

Perhaps I may reassure the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, on his concern about the Severn. The Severn Trent is currently a single-tier flood defence committee and it appears to work rather well. It is one of the largest committees and can therefore use its money very effectively. Certainly the consultation that takes place on individual flood defence schemes within the context of a committee, large or small, provides an effective way of hearing the local public voice, and that effectiveness is not necessarily dependent on the size of the committee or the number of people on it. There are many stakeholders in individual flood defence schemes and they all need to be heard.

Two-tier committees are very confusing for the public. What has become abundantly clear during times of flooding is how confused the public are about who is responsible for what. I believe that a two-tier committee system lends confusion to the public. It also adds duplication and cost to a system in which, quite frankly, the most important thing is to spend the money on protecting people and property rather than on elaborate superstructures of bureaucratic machinery. Therefore, I believe that Amendments Nos. 175 and 176, which suggest that two-tier committees should be retained, present a problem.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

Before the noble Baroness leaves the matter of flood defence committees—I believe she is intending to move on to the issue of main rivers—perhaps she will comment on whether she would or would not welcome river basin management committees.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

I thank the noble Baroness for reminding me to put that into context. I was intending to do so and am happy to do it now. I believe there is a real dilemma in relation to river basin management committees or river basin management in the context of the Water Framework Directive and the issue of "localness". The reality is that river basin management under the Water Framework Directive will be at a far larger scale than the current regional flood defence committees. The river catchments will be substantial.

As a result, I believe that issues arise as to how best local people, the public, stakeholders and all other interests will put together their resources in order to deliver satisfactory management of a river basin. That will not be done easily through any committee structure. It will have far more to do with how stakeholders are brought together to develop joint plans and how they are jointly tasked.

If people are worried about single-tier flood defence committees being too large and too remote from local interests, then river basins will be even more so. Therefore, I believe that the Water Framework Directive mechanisms are best taken forward in the way that is currently planned—that is, through piloting to see what the most effective mechanisms might be.

I want to touch on the issue of Amendment No. 176A and the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, to understand how the system would work. Basically, the amendment would remove the ability to take a block-grant approach to the funding of flood defence. Some real inefficiencies and difficulties are associated with that.

At present, some of the local flood defence committees have such tiny budgets that they are almost imperceptible to the naked eye. Indeed, they are so small that the committees must save for a number of years before they can afford to build any type of flood defence scheme worthy of the name. A flood defence committee in Wales had to build a £10 million scheme in £1 million slices. It was only in year 10 that the scheme provided any defence to the public. What can go wrong in a 10-year phased programme is infinite. It certainly cost more than would have been the case had it been built as a single scheme in an efficient and effective way.

Therefore, the idea of block grants, which allow money to be used flexibly both in terms of geography and the split between capital and maintenance spending, is fundamental if flood defences are to be provided in this country. I give an example: seven local flood defence committees have an annual budget of less than £5 million. To be honest, £5 million does not buy a lot of flood defence these days.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty

We have touched on the point about the Water Framework Directive on many occasions. No doubt, we shall do so again. The directive is fairly wide-ranging and will require major changes over a long period of time. I have indicated what are the boundaries of the Bill. I know that some noble Lords retain the view that we should be transposing the whole Water Framework Directive via the Bill. That is not practical. We should not delay making sensible modernising changes to the flood defence committees until we consider a structure for the delivery of the requirements of the Water Framework Directive and the river basin management plans. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, they can be substantial. The idea is wrong that they are more local than the current structure or any structure that we envisage.

Therefore, we should separate the argument about the Water Framework Directive from the argument here. When the directive and the river basin management plans come into effect, clearly the flood defence committees will be among the bodies that need to be involved, but involvement will need to be significantly wider than that. In this discussion there has been some misapprehension as to the current structure. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, and picking up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, the Severn Trent area is a single-tier operation. It is for historic reasons, which are not entirely clear to me, that different water board areas have different structures.

The Wessex Water area, with which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, may be familiar, is a two-tier structure. I think that it has three local flood defence communities. That is a much smaller area than that of Severn Trent, so there is no specific reason why it should be two tier and the Severn Trent single tier. Indeed, of the 10 regional committees only four have a secondary tier. We are trying to tidy up this approach and to provide for a single tier generally. That does not necessarily mean that the single tier is the regional tier; the Bill gives power to subdivide the regional structure, but in a single tier, not a double one. That is the point of Clauses 63 and 64. That gives a greater clarity as to who is responsible; at present there is a certain duality of responsibility, as has been said; and the Bill allows us to create new single-tier committees and to remove the current double-tier structure.

Amendments Nos. 173 and 175 deal with the transition. I can assure the Committee that the existing local flood defence committees will remain in place until such time as they are revoked. The power to create local committees will also remain in the Environment Act 1995. Local committees will obviously be consulted on the new committee structures, so the transition will involve them. The aim of the change in structure is to provide more comprehensive and clear lines of accountability while not losing the ability to include local representation on the committee, as already happens in areas such as Severn Trent.

On Amendment No. 174, the Secretary of State is already required to have due regard to the desirability of appointing members who have experience of, and have shown capacity in, matters relevant to the functions of the committee. We also limit the appointments to persons resident in the area covered by the committee. So there is a restriction in terms of local input, which is bolstered by appointees from local councils who must make up the majority of the committee. Therefore, much of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, already applies.

Regarding minor streams, Amendment No. 176 would make the Environment Agency responsible for every current local authority's ditch, stream and river. The reason for giving the Environment Agency the overall function is that it is responsible for those rivers and waterways which create the greatest flood risk. To give it responsibility for every minor watercourse in the country would divert attention and resources away from the real flood risks. That is not acceptable. While there will be occasions when local authorities have not carried out their functions effectively, most local authorities are able to take action to address local problems. The relationship between them and the Environment Agency needs to allow for that.

Amendment No. 176 in a sense deals with the broadening of the issues. Flood defence committees will definitely he consulted on the wider issues which arise both under the Bill and the Water Framework Directive. Some of these issues are covered by other statutory advisory committees and there is also cross-membership of the respective chairmen. The amendment would blur existing responsibilities.

Amendment No. 176A, tabled by the noble Lord, Dixon-Smith, deals with money. As has been explained, the new system will move from the existing system to a flexible block grant system under Section 47 of the Environment Act 1995. We cannot do that with the co-existence of the 1991 Act provisions, so the Bill will revoke them. The current 1991 provisions require individual schemes to be approved by DEFRA. That is inflexible. The new approach to funding provides for greater flexibility. Block grants represent a major opportunity to streamline existing arrangements and to provide more certainty of funding for the agency in the medium term. Generally speaking, that shift was widely welcomed during the consultation. The formulation of the clauses perhaps does not make that clear, but that is the intention and the reason why we need to revoke those sections in the 1991 Act. I hope that that clarifies to the noble Lord what lies behind that part of the Bill.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful for that. I infer from what the Minister said about Amendment No. 174 that the membership of the flood defence committees remains as established under the existing Environment Act which deals with the composition of regional flood defence committees. That is therefore staying in place.

I am grateful for the Minister's comments on Amendment No. 176A. I am glad to hear that DEFRA will make a block grant to the Environment Agency; that that will become a block grant to the flood defence committee; and that hopefully everyone will be able to get on with the process without future interference.

There was a subset to my question which I did not really go into, which I should perhaps pursue. Under Clause 65(2)(4) there appears to be a possibility that expenditure might be shifted unreasonably down to the individual. It states: The Agency may by agreement with any person carry out, improve or maintain, at that person's expense, any drainage works which that person is entitled to carry out, improve or maintain". That is fine. However, if one happens to be a riparian owner upstream of a town that is liable to flood, of course there is much that one could do, but what might be required to be done may actually be rather more than one could possibly do as an individual. But it could be argued that because someone is a riparian owner or a group of riparian owners upstream that the liability was properly theirs. I wondered whether there was a possible attempt to transfer a liability, which up until now had been accepted by the taxpayer, back to the individuals—because of the circumstances in which they find themselves.

It may be that I have a nasty suspicious mind, but I should be grateful if the Minister would address that specific issue.

Lord Whitty

I hate to say that the noble Lord has a nasty suspicious mind—

Baroness Byford

An inquiring mind.

Lord Whitty

"An inquiring mind" is perhaps a better reference. No liability is shifted as a result of that. Of course, there is already some responsibility on the upstream riparian owner. However, Clause 65 requires agreement, so there is no way in which it could be imposed in the circumstances described by the noble Lord.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

I shall sum up with regard to Amendments No. 173, 175 and 176 and comment on Amendment No. 174. Although I have sympathy with Amendment No. 174, it is not strong enough. It states: the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability". I think that it is absolutely essential and not only desirable that, persons who have knowledge and experience of flood defence in the local areas of those committees", are appointed. It is essential; that is very important.

I understand what the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, have said about local flood defence committees. I merely make the point that perhaps some of the local flood defence committees' problems may relate to centralised financial control and limits imposed on them. That is why it takes them 10 years to implement a flood defence scheme. I think that the jury is out on the question as to whether the position will be any better under the Bill and the reorganisation that will take place. I hope and trust that the new committees will not spend their money, especially initially, on grandiose buildings and neglect the essential flood defences that must be provided.

I turn to the Severn Trent situation and the remark of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I know that the Environment Agency has done a great deal of good work up and down the country and I do not want to criticise it and take it too much to task. However, if one talks to the residents of Shrewsbury, parts of Worcestershire and the City of Gloucester, they might not necessarily agree that the Severn Trent body has been entirely successful, although I know that it has spent a huge amount of money on trying to do something about the situation.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. In defence of the Severn Trent committee, I must say that many of the problems described by the noble Lord in Shrewsbury are a product of national policy on what is and what is not fundable for flood defence rather than the local actions of the committee.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

That is an interesting remark. Why that matter is not addressed in the Bill in more detail raises many questions.

Baroness Byford

The response from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, highlights some of the problems we face. There is never enough money to do what we want to do. We are discussing flood defences. At present we are discussing rivers, but if we consider what is happening in East Anglia, which my noble friend mentioned earlier today—I was in Suffolk last week—it appears likely that the sea may encroach around Southwold and make it an island. The Government's decision is not to put in money to defend that at the moment; we are undertaking natural retreat because there is not enough money. So the amendments have raised issues that need to be debated. I return to what I said before: if we do not take the chance with a Bill such as this to raise these issues, we do not get another chance. The noble Baroness has touched on something that is highly pertinent.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

The Minister has referred to some other issues. In particular, he said that the Environment Agency is not able to take over responsibility for the minor streams that feed into rivers. However, it is those minor streams that swell the rivers and cause much of the flooding. When a main river is in full flood, those streams are very often blocked up into the countryside and consequently flood much of the land. I do not believe that local authorities have the finance, the workforce or sometimes the equipment to deal with such situations. I therefore fear that the problem will continue in those areas. I sincerely hope that this Bill is not another exercise in megalomania whereby responsibilities are brought to the centre while services deteriorate at the grass roots. That is my fear. As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 63 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 174 not moved.]

Clause 64 [Regional flood defence committees]:

[Amendments Nos. 175 and 176 not moved.]

Clause 64 agreed to.

Clause 65 [Grants for drainage works and flood warning systems]:

[Amendment No. 176A not moved.]

Clause 65 agreed to.

Clause 66 [Information]:

[Amendment No. 176B not moved.]

Clause 66 agreed to.

Clauses 67 and 68 agreed to.

Clause 68 [Border rivers]:

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 177: After Clause 68, insert the following new clause— "FRESHWATER FISHERIES The Agency shall have the power to promote the development of ecologically sustainable fresh water fisheries.

The noble Lord said: I shall try to be brief. I declare an interest as a lifelong fisherman, having started at the age of five. I know from experience that despite the very good work which has been done, the quality of water is still not as good as it might be. Although the Environment Agency already has powers in this respect, I seek in this amendment to ensure that it has, the power to promote … ecologically sustainable fresh water fisheries".

Those are the crucial words.

As we know, there are more than 3 million anglers in this country. I believe that many of them serve as an early warning system for the environment. They are the first to see things happening and are the pathfinders in identifying environmental deterioration. They are, for example, often the first to see fish killed by pollution in the water.

I shall give one example to demonstrate the importance of these issues. As I say in a later amendment, water-quality monitoring is crucial. In the area where I was brought up, there was a magical mayfly hatch every year, lasting for a fortnight in May. In May 1956, while I was doing my national service, I came home but saw not one mayfly. The reason was that Aldrin and Dieldrin sheep dips had been introduced and found their way into the river, which has never been the same since. Those pesticides were replaced by organophosphates and have now been replaced by pyrethroids, which are absolutely fatal to river ecology. This problem has to be sorted out.

Long ago, I worked in the agrichemical industry. There is sufficient research and development to produce products that will not wreak such havoc on our aquatic environment. That needs to be pushed further. Regardless of whether they come from industry or elsewhere, some of the chemicals are an ecological disaster for some streams. Fish cannot live in them. Life cannot survive in some streams because of the chemicals. In fact, some drinking water is contaminated by them.

All I wish to do is strengthen further the Environment Agency's powers and functions in promoting and developing sustainable and ecologically sound freshwater fisheries. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford

I rise briefly to support the thoughts behind Amendment No. 177. Although I suspect that the Minister will tell us that the amendment is not necessary, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, has raised an important issue. He has highlighted the fact that fishermen are often the first to detect that the water quality of streams and rivers is failing. Regardless of whether the amendment is necessary, it has been worth while for the Committee to hear those comments. I await the Minister's response with interest.

Lord Whitty

I am not unsympathetic to the points made in the amendment. The Government have already recognised the need for new legislation on freshwater fisheries. Indeed, just before the recess, we had a fairly lengthy debate on salmon fisheries in which the noble Lord participated. Amendment No. 177 does not sufficiently enhance the agency's responsibilities and powers to enable it to take full responsibility for the development of those fisheries. However, it already has considerable powers.

The Government are already committed to bringing forward new legislation on salmon and freshwater fisheries. That draft legislation is relatively well advanced. Although we could have the usual discussion about parliamentary time, the preparation for that legislation is already well advanced. I think that it would be better to deal with fisheries in that comprehensive manner rather than to tag on to the Bill a rather limited provision which would not deliver everything that I know the noble Lord seeks. I therefore cannot accept the amendment.

Baroness Byford

The Minister said that draft legislation is being drafted. Will it be presented as a statutory instrument or as a Bill?

Lord Whitty

I think that it will probably be in the form of a Bill. However, it will be preceded by consultation.

Earl Peel

When English Nature determines that a river system is sufficiently important to be designated as a site of special scientific interest, presumably it will have responsibility for the fisheries that it contains. So presumably the problem that the noble Lord identifies would occur only outside such designated sites. I would be interested to know whether that is the case.

Lord Whitty

Although the noble Earl is right to draw attention to the role of English Nature, that role is exercised in relation to a fairly limited part of the waterways. I assume that the amendment would apply to the totality of the waterways, and that the noble Lord seeks to include it in this part of the Bill so that it is included with the Environment Agency's other responsibilities. It would therefore become another dimension of the Environment Agency's own responsibilities. I think that that is slightly different from a situation in which English Nature is dealing with the totality of the management of a particular site.

English Nature has certain particular powers, including the power of prohibition by means of bylaws which the amendment does not propose giving to the Environment Agency. Nor is it envisaged, at least in our early consideration, to provide that in our general legislation on freshwater fisheries.

Lord Bridges

I have one short observation on the amendment—to which I am not in any sense hostile. We talk quite widely in these debates about the possibility of the Environment Agency taking on new and fresh responsibilities. While I am not opposed to that, I think that the agency's capacity and staff numbers will have to be enlarged if it is to discharge those responsibilities.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

This has been a short and very useful debate. I think that the remarks just made are apposite. It is quite clear that the Environment Agency has not had the resources that it would have liked. The agency's budget has been substantially improved, but it needs to go several quantum leaps further so that the agency can do its job properly. Amendment No. 177 simply asks for the promotion and development of ecologically sustainable freshwater fisheries. Enforcement and perhaps penalties for those who pollute are one aspect of the matter—but we will come to that later.

I am particularly glad to hear the Minister say that there will be a Bill to address these fisheries issues. I most warmly welcome his statement on that. We look forward to seeing that Bill and how it will knit in with certain aspects of this legislation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 68 agreed to.

Clause 69 [Environment Agency to be enforcement authority under the Reservoirs Act 1975]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 178: Page 83, line 21, at end insert— ( ) in subsection (1) of section 1 (ambit of Act and interpretation) after "for navigations" there is inserted "and shall not include any reservoir which it is established poses negligible risk to public safety",

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 178 seeks to explore the interpretation of the Reservoirs Act 1975, which was designed primarily to address the issues surrounding permanent water storage reservoirs, especially safety. We believe that it is beginning to be interpreted to apply to some short-term, temporary storage facilities such as temporary sludge storage lagoons where water may be stored for a matter of days during winter rains. Reservoirs of less than 25,000 square cubic metres are exempt under the Act. Although such an exclusion is reasonable in terms of drinking water storage, in terms of flood storage it is a minute amount of water. If we are seeking to ensure that landowners and particularly farmers are able to store flood water for later use in irrigation— which is a very sensible use of that water—I do not think that it would be desirable to create a lot of unnecessary red tape. The amendment explores what is and is not included as a reservoir under the terms of the 1975 Act.

I tabled Amendment No. 179 to explore whether the Secretary of State will make known to other parties that he is serving the written notice. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Earl Peel

I shall speak to Amendment No. 179A, which is grouped with the amendments to which the noble Baroness spoke.

Clause 72 refers to the ability of the Secretary of State to require reservoir undertakers to create flood plans for any reservoir. The implications of that are fairly obvious, in that it may be decided that all reservoirs should have a flood plan in place, regardless of size or the risk that they represent. I appreciate the need for flood plans—I do not think that anyone would dispute it—but I urge the Government to ensure that the details requested in the plan are proportionate to the significance of the risk of a particular reservoir.

The Reservoirs Act 1975 lays down a series of requirements such as registration, construction and enlargement of and inspection for large, raised reservoirs; other reservoirs are not covered by those requirements. It is surely unnecessary for all reservoirs to be covered by the clause, given the distinction between all reservoirs and "large, raised" reservoirs referred to in the 1975 Act.

The amendment would ensure consistency between the Water Bill and the 1975 Act. That Act refers to "large, raised" reservoirs, determined as retaining more than 25,000 cubic metres. I should have thought that it was necessary to provide consistency and clarity in spelling out that Clause 72 is intended for "large, raised" reservoirs. It is clearly unnecessary to create a flood plan when there is no risk of flooding, such as when the reservoir is contained within the water table. It would be inconsistent to require reservoir owners who are not regulated in any other way to undergo unnecessary costs and bureaucracy in producing a flood plan.

Large, raised reservoirs are regulated under the 1975 Act, as they pose a significant risk when built above ground and impound water, and stand the risk of water suddenly escaping, which could create significant damage. However, reservoirs that are not raised do not impound water and are, for all intents and purposes, holes in the ground. They do not have the same risk attached, as the water cannot suddenly gush out because it is not impounded. In other words, it is part of the water table. The only risk accruing would be with a potential overflow of water due to heavy rain; the extra water caused by the heavy rain might overflow into the local surrounding countryside, but the actual water that was originally in the ground-level reservoir would of course remain there.

I hope that the Minister acknowledges that, as the Bill stands, there is a possibility of unnecessary demands being imposed in the form of flood plans, in cases where such plans are unnecessary. That question needs to be addressed. It is important to encourage the use of reservoirs as a means of collecting water at times when there is a good supply of rain and then using that water wisely. I fear that the additional regulations and costs may discourage users from taking such action, which would be a retrograde step.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I support the amendments, because to my certain knowledge there is one reservoir, which is not so far from where I live, which has a capacity of some 250,000 cubic metres, but the water is all below the existing ground level. It was created as a result of a fortuitous gravel extraction—that does happen—and was subsequently filled. It is well used for irrigation and is a wonderful nature reserve, serving everyone very well. There is a town within three quarters of a mile, but no one in the town is in the least bit worried about it because the water cannot run away. There is nowhere for it to go, as the river is right beside it and the bottom of the reservoir is way below the bottom of the river.

That is one situation that springs to mind. My own reservoir was built with an excavation, after which a ring was put around it with the stuff that was excavated. That is another way of doing it. It is in a flat location and, even though we are above the 25,000 metres, if the bank were to burst I do not believe that it would even flood my neighbour. It would cause me—and him—a great deal of vexation because it would flood our fields, but I do not believe that it would flood our houses. In that sense, it would be all right, and I have no doubt that my insurance company would smile sweetly and bite the bitter bullet and pay the consequential damages to the crops—but that would be the extent of the damage.

Other circumstances are possible, of course. For example, there might be an impounding reservoir in a steep, narrow valley above a small village. That was the background to the original reservoirs legislation, when in unfortunate circumstances—I think in Wales—one or two villages were flooded out by reservoirs that were not perhaps as well built as they might have been or might have lasted longer than they should have done. I do not know the exact circumstances. That is going right back to an Act of the 1930s. In such a situation, a reservoir might be quite small—way below the 25,000 cubic metres capacity—but could still do considerable damage.

One needs to have a slightly empirical approach, because simply proposing that a large reservoir might be a risk and should have a flood plan when a small reservoir should not, might not meet every circumstance. It depends so much on the terrain. A large volume of water in a large flat area is not a big problem, while a small volume of water in a narrow, tightly defined rocky valley can be a huge problem. Care must be taken in this matter.

My sympathies are with the sentiments behind the amendments. We have discussed on many occasions in debating the Bill the need to encourage water conservation for all sorts of purposes. If we simply add to the administrative burden, the people who might otherwise take steps that would help in conservation will be less inclined to do so.

Lord Whitty

The bulk of the amendments and the clause to which they refer relate to the disapplication of the Reservoirs Act 1975. That Act applies to reservoirs that hold or are capable of holding 25,000 cubic metres above the natural water level, so it would not apply to reservoirs below the water level and the question of disapplication would not arise. For flood prevention and water management purposes, some of the other provisions of the Act apply to all the other reservoirs, but they do not apply in this respect.

It is also true that some of the reservoirs above the water line may not be capable of carrying the level of water for which they were designed, owing to various changes such as siltation, or may not present a serious safety risk. The current provision means that reservoir panel engineers operate a system that considers the sites on the basis of quantified risk assessment. That would meet the purposes of Amendment No. 178, as reservoirs could be classified according to risk assessment rather than size. However, we are some way off the possibility of doing that across the board at present, so exceptions should be on an ad hoc basis rather than total disapplication. Although we understand some of the arguments behind that amendment, it would not be appropriate in the Bill.

Amendment No. 179 deals with consultation in relation to the part of the Reservoirs Act that relates to national security. In all other respects, any action to constrain the applications of the Act would be subject to consultation, but when we are dealing with an issue of national security, the clause would mean that consultation would necessarily have to take place. We do not have to spell out why we are more concerned about national security in relation to water supplies than we were when the previous legislation was made. In those circumstances, it would be inappropriate to insert a reference to consultation.

I have some sympathy with Amendment No. 179A, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. He said that we should make it clear that the new section applied only to large, raised reservoirs. That requires some consultation, and I shall take it away for further consideration.

The Duke of Montrose

I declare an interest as someone who owns a reservoir. The Minister referred to the panel of engineers being able to quantify the risk element. Was he saying that the risk should be codified, and that it is not sufficiently codified at the moment to form a basis for considering which reservoirs are risky?

Lord Whitty

Yes, that is what I am saying. The distinction is currently made on the basis of size—by the cut-off point of 25,000 cubic metres—whereas it would be more logical to make a risk assessment of every large, raised reservoir. However, that takes time and we have not yet developed a system by which we can categorise reservoirs in that way. The intention is to move down that road, but it would be premature to put a reference in that respect in the Bill because we lack the technique to do it.

The Duke of Montrose

Under the Reservoirs Act, there is a requirement to have an engineers' inspection of reservoirs at regular intervals. In the inspection, the engineer codifies the risk, so presumably that is available under the inspection of each reservoir that currently exists.

Lord Whitty

The assessment of the risk is done in the traditional sense, in that engineers consider whether there is any problem with a particular reservoir. There is no national scale of risk assessment, whereby one could say that anything below a certain level can be excluded from this part of the Bill. We are working on a prototype approach of risk assessment, and we hope to produce something similar to what is envisaged by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, but we are not yet at that stage.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I should like—

Earl Peel

I thank the Minister for his helpful comments.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I am glad that I waited for that.

I thank the Minister for clarifying why there would be no consultation or publicity, as proposed in Amendment No. 179.

In the Minister's comments on Amendment No. 178, I understand him to be saying, "Yes, that is a good idea, but not just yet". The Minister looks doubtful as to whether he agrees, but I believe that he does. I am still surprised by that response, given that under many circumstances common sense alone would allow it to be said that a reservoir posed a very negligible risk. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, described some of those circumstances. That is why I phrased my amendment as I did. A large but very shallow body of water, for the purposes that I outlined In my introduction, is unlikely to pose the sort of risk envisaged by the Reservoirs Act. I shall read his reply with interest and, perhaps, press him a little further on Report on what timescale the Government will need to arrive at a conclusion. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 69 agreed to.

Clauses 70 and 71 agreed to.

Clause 72 [Flood plans]:

[Amendments Nos. 179 and 179A not moved.]

Clause 72 agreed to.

Clause 73 agreed to.

5.15 p.m.

Clause 74 [Offences]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 179B: Page 87, line 8, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 179B, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 179C. The purpose of the amendments is to get from the Minister some information on exactly the sort of person who, he feels, will have created an offence.

The subsection creates an offence, by now commonplace, the penalty for which is often topped up with a fine or imprisonment for two years or both. The offence is the publication of a reservoir plan or giving an unauthorised person access to it, after the Secretary of State has decided that publication is a national security matter. I accept what the Minister said in response to an earlier amendment, but will he tell us which employee of the water undertaker would be confined? Would it be, for example, the chairman or the chief executive? Who would be affected by this section. If a fine is imposed, it could be imposed on the body concerned, but if the penalty is imprisonment, who is likely to be taken to prison?

There are only 17 water undertakers, of which five are responsible for more than 80 per cent of our water resources management. National security is vital and should be maintained. However, if anyone publishes when they should not, it could be due to human error or deliberate intent. The former does not merit huge fines or imprisonment, while the latter deserves more than two years. I seek clarification of that issue.

Amendment No. 179C is a probing amendment. Where does the certificate mentioned in line 30 originate from? Is it something that already exists—for example in a health and safety risk assessment that the Secretary of State is about to overrule—or is it, as the section seems to imply, something produced in order to ensure that the power specified in the certificate cannot be used? The section should have a little more explanation in it, or it will make little sense. Perhaps, we are just getting tired at the end of the Committee stage. As so often with the Bill, the Explanatory Notes are not particularly helpful on the issue. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

Clause 74(3) makes it an offence for an undertaker to fail to comply with a notice under new Section 12B. That has to do with national security, as the noble Baroness recognised. Constraints on publication or failure to publish could create a national security risk, and failure to comply with a notice under the provision could be a serious offence.

Who commits the offence? The companies and their employees commit the offence, as with other offences under health and safety legislation and so forth. It would be appropriate that an individual could be subject to a fine or, on indictment for a more serious matter, to imprisonment. The company could be subject to a fine. It is important to recognise that that applies only to the circumstances relating to national security, as set out in the clause. We must ensure that we have the powers.

In speaking to Amendment No. 179C, the noble Baroness asked who issued the certificate. The certificate referred to is issued by the Secretary of State. The provision will enable the enforcement authority to check, for example, whether a reservoir should be subject to the requirements of the Act, whether safety recommendations have been put into effect or whether any emergency action is necessary. As part of that process, reference to the certificate may be necessary. I hope that that is sufficient clarification.

Baroness Byford

I thank the Minister, although I do not know whether it is sufficient. I will read what he said on the second amendment.

With regard to the first amendment, I did say that the provisions related to national security. I accept the Minister's response on that. I also accept that, if a fine were imposed, it would be paid by the company. I did not discover who would be sent to prison. Unless I missed it, the Minister did not answer that question to my satisfaction. The Minister may want to come back to me on it at a later stage, and I would be happy with that. A company can be fined, but how do we decide which individual is the person likely to be sent to prison? It is beyond my comprehension.

Lord Whitty

It is no different from other circumstances: it is whoever took the decision. Either the decision was in line with a decision of the directors, in which case the board is responsible, or it was taken outwith any instructions from the board by an individual employee, in which case it would be that individual employee.

The second amendment relates to the issue of Crown exemptions. The provision relates to how, given the peculiar circumstances of the Crown and the possible very peculiar circumstances of Crown property in a national security context, such property can, in most circumstances, be made to comply with the rest of the regulations. The certification is to cover a situation in which there might be an exception.

Baroness Byford

I thank the Minister again, but I am still not entirely happy with his response on who would be likely to go to prison. It could be an individual who has failed to do whatever they should have done or done something that they should not. If something is done at the direction of, say, the board, does the whole board go to prison?

I have raised the issue, and I would be grateful if it could be given a little more thought. Perhaps, the Minister could write to me and we could consider the matter a little further. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 74 agreed to.

Clause 75 [Crown application]:

[Amendment No. 179C not moved.]

Clause 75 agreed to.

Clause 76 [Water conservation]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 180: Page 88, line 20, at end insert— ( ) The Secretary of State shall require appliances using water to be labelled so as to be clear to the purchaser the volume of water they may expect the appliance to require in order to fulfil the purpose for which it is purchased.

The noble Baroness said: The amendment is aimed at exploring what the Government expect to be done with regard to the labelling of water use by appliances. I was pleased at the steps that they took recently with regard to the labelling of electrical appliances and cars. I remind the Government that, in Directing the Flow, they said: We are putting more weight on improving product information on water consumption for consumers". I would have hoped that the Government might have considered a clear labelling scheme of the sort brought forward—albeit with a lot of encouragement from Europe, as the move did not start nationally—for the labelling of electrical appliances.

I am sure that I need not remind the Minister of the useful statement that he made. He said: What is needed is to make it easier for consumers and citizens to make the positive choices they now know they should make. That includes issues such as product specification, low energy household products and better labelling of all consumer goods, so that we can make the minimal energy use choice". We are discussing water. Water use choices are equally important, and it often takes a lot of energy to produce clean drinking water.

My amendment is necessary to highlight the fact that water appliances have been left out of the considerations on labelling of water use. Recently, there has been an increase in the use of products such as power hoses. They may make washing the car easier, but I suspect that whereas people used to use a bucket or two, with a power hose they will use—I guess, for I do not own one—about 20 to 40 buckets full. I must declare that I own a power shower. The Minister is right to shake his head; it is reprehensible. I must take it out and get a dribbling shower back in. We should know what sort of water consumption choices we are making. I have not heard the Government mention that, so this probing amendment seeks to explore what action they are taking. I beg to move.

Baroness O'Cathain

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, spoke about power showers during our previous day in Committee, before the Easter recess. I was appalled, as I use a power shower daily. This morning, I thought to myself that would do an experiment, so I put the stopper in the bath, while I used the power shower, to see how much water it used. I washed my hair and had a good shower, and there was no more than two inches of water in the bath. Power shower may be a misnomer.

Someone using a dribble shower will have it on for about 20 minutes, whereas a power shower need be on for only three or four minutes. We should not exaggerate to make the point.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am fascinated by these ablutionary details, but I shall not get into the subject. The matter is not covered in any other legislation, and there is a serious point that is worth supporting

What we might call the "white goods industry"—those who produce washing machines, dishwashers and so on—are used, nowadays, to having to put on the label the energy requirement. This is a minor extension of that principle and would be worthwhile. A machine that uses five gallons of water, as opposed to six, to do the washing-up or to do a batch of washing is to be commended, provided it still gives things a good clean. Having to put that information on the label of the machine would be a considerable incentive to people to use water more responsibly. We support the proposal in principle, and I hope that the Minister will do so too.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I have some sympathy for the amendment, which would introduce the labelling of products to indicate water efficiency. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, said, product labelling policy is well established in the energy sector as one element of the integrated product policy approach. As a matter of fact, there is a marked correlation in many cases—most cases, but not all—between the energy efficiency and the water consumption. There is a compatibility issue there.

Since 1992, the regulations, which noble Lords welcomed, have resulted in the appearance of the A to G appliance labels in shops. The labels offer details about washing machines and dishwashers. Of course, the most effective way of conserving water is not to have a dishwasher. I confess to being absolutely marvellous, as I do not clean my car. I had never thought of it as a good reason.

In 2001, the market transformation programme was extended to include domestic water-using products. The programme is consulting on a range of policy options, including product labelling, that could achieve and help to deliver the resource efficiency that the noble Baroness seeks. However, the cost/benefit and technical and legal feasibility of introducing a mandatory labelling scheme for water-using projects have yet to be established. I know that the noble Baroness will understand that, because of the implications for trade, it may be necessary to pursue that through the EU, as opposed to in one country. There is clear potential for environmental product information in general and labelling in particular, and we shall actively encourage the development and provision of reliable consumer information on the water efficiency of products, including labelling, via voluntary schemes in the first instance. As I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, could confirm, in areas where water is metered, customers will demand that information from producers.

When we have undergone that process, it will enable us to establish the need for mandatory measures and put us in a good position to press for, not respond to, action by the EU, if necessary. I hope that that reassurance will encourage the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain

Perhaps I may ask the Minister about water-efficient products. I understood her to say that details about them would be collected and made available.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The idea would be to encourage manufacturers to provide the information through a voluntary scheme and see how effective that was. Running alongside that would be the cost/benefit and technical feasibility study. After that, we should be in a better position, if it was felt necessary at that point, to press for the EU to take up the issue, because of its trade implications.

Baroness O'Cathain

Perhaps I can help the noble Baroness. Instead of not washing her car, she could have it Teflon-ed. Then, she needs only to put two buckets of water on it a week. That is what I have done. I used to use a hose on my car. One can now get one's car Teflon-ed—it costs about £400, but it saves all that water.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I have a cheaper option. When I sell the car, I wash it.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I thank the Members of the Committee who took part in the debate, whether to discuss showering habits or Ministers' ability to use Teflon to good effect. It was a useful debate and I thank the Minister for her encouraging words. I hope that manufacturers will be encouraged to take further steps themselves in labelling goods. I certainly undertake to test both my consumption and that of teenagers, which is much more relevant to showering in my household, by comparing a power shower with one when the power is switched off. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 76 agreed to.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 180A: After Clause 76, insert the following new clause— "GENERAL INTERPRETATION: DISCRETE WATERS In subsection (1) (discrete waters) of section 221 of the WRA (general interpretation) for paragraph (b) there is substituted— (b) any which are constructed for the sole purpose of water storage;".

The noble Baroness said: This is a quick amendment to probe the Government on the meaning of "discrete waters". An occasional body of water, such as a dew pond, has neither an obvious way of feeding in or feeding out. Would it fall within the definition of "discrete water"? I would welcome the Minister's comments. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

In using the term "discrete waters" in this context, we are not trying to exempt all discrete waters by including all waters that do not flow into a wider system. We are not necessarily seeking to exempt all of those. Discrete waters are either single reservoirs or ponds and lakes that have no outlet or are a series of interconnected lakes that have outlets to each other but not to any other inland waterways separate from that group of lakes. There may be scope under the Water Framework Directive and so on to exclude them not only from the abstraction controls but from other controls.

The noble Baroness's amendment, which would bring them into abstraction regimes and provide an exception that way, would not necessarily provide the kind of desired outcomes for the particular ecological systems that might develop in such discrete waters. However, DEFRA and the Environment Agency are considering the way in which we treat such ponds and lakes and how we might exempt them from some of the other controls under this Bill and other legislation.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I thank the Minister for his explanation. It was useful, and, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 78 [Control of water from coal mines]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 181: Page 90, leave out lines 39 to 42.

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 181, I shall speak to the other amendments in the group.

Amendment No. 181 is a purely technical amendment. Early drafts of the Bill reserve the ability of the Secretary of State to determine by regulation additional powers for the Coal Authority in relation to entry onto premises affected by or at risk of being affected by mine water discharges.

Prior to introduction, we took the view that the range of powers explicitly set out in the Bill was sufficient, and the power to confer others was excised. The provisions relating to the manner in which the regulation-making powers may be exercised has been rendered obsolete, and the amendment would clarify that.

Amendment No. 185B is a substantial amendment. It will revise Schedule 6 to the Water Resources Act 1991 to account for the fact that only the Environment Agency would be able to apply for orders to change thresholds under new Section 27A and to establish registers of protected rights. The amendment, which is quite lengthy, will replace the previous Schedule 6 to the Water Resources Act.

Amendment No. 185A makes it clear that, when the Secretary of State intervenes because the exercise of some functions by the National Assembly for Wales might have serious environmental effects in England, that intervention must be made in order to make changes to the small exemption threshold but must not relate to orders relating to registers of protected rights in the wider sense. It is a clarification, rather than a substantive issue.

Amendments Nos. 189, 190 and 191 give effect to the recommendations of the report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform on the Bill. The committee recommended that a statutory instrument that amended or repealed primary legislation should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, rather than the negative. We signalled, at Second Reading, that we accepted the committee's recommendations. The amendments give effect to the recommendations. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Perhaps I may ask a question on Amendment No. 185B, which produces new Schedule 6. Paragraph (4) states: Not later than the date on which the notice is first published in pursuance of sub-paragraph (2) above"— we must bear in mind that this is a notice about abstraction of small quantities of water and compulsory registration of protected rights— the Agency shall serve a copy of the notice on— almost everyone who has an interest in water. However, a significant category is left out; that is, any person holding an abstraction licence. I found myself wondering why that was and whether it should be included. Will the Minister be very kind and undertake to do so?

Lord Whitty

As far as I am aware, while this part of the amendment limits the requirement to the Environment Agency, it does not alter the timetable for having to serve notice or the number of people to whom notice is served. It does, of course, require the Environment Agency, in so doing, effectively to publish the notice, and therefore anyone who was affected by it would have access to it. I can confirm that we are using the existing schedule formulations on this. Whether the noble Lord will find that a satisfactory answer, I am not entirely sure. But we are not changing anything in that part of the amendment, and there is access to the information.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am slightly pleased to hear that the amendment is not changing anything, but the fact remains that there seems to be a significant omission. If we are not changing anything, this at the very least gives us an opportunity to change something if it ought to be changed. I have not really heard the Minister give a reason why holders of abstraction licences should be excluded. Let us look at who is included—every local authority, joint planning board, national park authority, any relevant water undertaker, internal drainage board and navigation authority. These are all bodies that have interests in water. The other classification of people who have interests in water are those who hold abstraction licences, yet they are specifically excluded.

Baroness Byford

Water suppliers.

Baroness O'Cathain

Water suppliers.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Water suppliers are also excluded. They may have been excluded in the past for historical reasons—I do not know why. But here, at the very least, we have an opportunity to do something about it. My noble friends beside me are both screaming "water suppliers" at me; they, equally, have a distinct interest. Therefore, I again press the Minister to consider whether there is not an issue that we should address.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The noble Lord ought to retract that statement—neither noble Baroness screamed.

Lord Bridges

There is a grammatical point in paragraph (4)(e) of Schedule 7, which refers to, a relevant source of supply". Ought not the words, the Secretary of State for Transport to come first? It would read more clearly, but it is only a grammatical point.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I think we should welcome the first of the government amendments giving up the power to make regulations. We often complain that they take too many powers to make regulations, so I welcome their voluntary relinquishing of that one.

I see that our old friend the London Gazette appears copiously in the Government's next amendment, and the horrible thought occurs to me that there must be many people whose job is simply to read the London Gazette and see what happens in it. I sympathise with them.

My serious point about that amendment is that Bills are helpfully accompanied by Explanatory Notes. However, when the Government table amendments such as this later, we do not get Explanatory Notes at the same time, and it might help if we did.

Lord Whitty

We quite frequently try and explain why we are tabling amendments and notify at least the spokespeople. But in this respect we are simply replacing the existing schedule in another Bill with effectively the same words. I think the distinction is that there is a two-stage consultation process in that the bodies specified here, which have statutory duties in relation to water, are consulted on the draft. The proposal is then published and there is wider engagement at that point. However, rather than simply taking my word for it that we were not changing anything and that the old recommendations including the almost exclusive use of the London Gazette remain appropriate, as they were in 1991, I had better write to noble Lords and explain how we envisage this process operating. If some changes to the amendment would be appropriate, I will include those and bring them forward at a later stage. We need to take account of what people have said in the last few minutes.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am very grateful to the Minister for that last remark. I look forward to hearing from him in due course.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 181A: Page 91, leave out lines 18 to 24.

The noble Lord said: The Explanatory Notes state that Clause 78 provides powers to prevent or treat water pollution from abandoned coal mines. Subsection (8), which the amendment would remove, does not appear to have anything to do with preventing water pollution or treating water so as to prevent that pollution; it has to do with land ownership. In fact, it is even more peculiar than that. It gives the Coal Authority the power compulsorily to purchase private land to replace common land which might be so used and even open space. The provision even mentions, fuel or field garden allotment".

I have tried to understand why the word "fuel" has been included in the provision but I cannot. Its inclusion is sufficient reason to move this amendment; and the same applies to garden allotments.

I am not sure that we are not in danger of establishing almost a new principle—that common land and open space are sacrosanct to the extent that they are superior and have rights over private land. It would be exceedingly dangerous if that were accepted. At the very least, that particular subsection should not be in the Bill.

The Question on clause stand part is grouped with this amendment. As I understand it, the clause provides new powers for the Coal Authority to operate its programme of works to rectify actual or potential environmental damage caused by coal mine waters. Those powers include the ability to enter land, to carry out investigations into pollution, and also to be able compulsorily to acquire land where pollution from an abandoned coal mine exists. We do not really understand why the compulsory powers are needed.

At present, as we understand it, there is a memorandum of understanding between the Coal Authority and the Environment Agency covering the management of such matters. To the best of our knowledge, that works. It may be interesting to hear whether it has not worked—we may have that opportunity. To the best of our knowledge, however, the arrangements have worked satisfactorily. We are therefore unconvinced of the need for this statutory framework.

I should be interested to hear from the Minister why it has been suddenly decided that these additional powers for the Coal Authority are deemed necessary. We were not aware that there was a particular problem in relation to this matter. That is why we have suggested that the whole clause should cease to be part of the Bill.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

I should like briefly to speak against the amendment and support the Coal Authority having these additional powers. The Coal Authority is an excellent organisation which is doing an extremely important environmental job in preventing pollution breaking out from abandoned mines. I know that it works because its work is well known. It works primarily on a voluntary basis with landowners and often acquires land at full commercial rates, which is the preferable way forward.

Sometimes, however, those negotiations can be lengthy—when the water is rising and threatening to break out of the mine. Sometimes there is only one spot on which the requisite borehole or treatment facility can be placed but the landowner is unwilling to sell. It is vital that the Coal Authority can move quickly. I should therefore be loath to see the provision lost from the Bill.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, mine water is one of the major polluters of rivers in coal field areas. An estimated 400 kilometres of rivers in England and Wales are affected by it. Persons who knowingly permit discharges from mines abandoned prior to January 2000 are exempt from statutory liability under the Water Resources Act 1991. It is almost invariably in respect of mines abandoned before that date that the Coal Authority acts to prevent or treat discharges. It does so on the basis of assurances given during the passage of the Coal Industry Act 1994 to the effect that the Authority would be expected, to go beyond the minimum standards of environmental responsibility which are set by its legal duties in these areas". The authority has subsequently implemented 19 mine water treatment schemes in England and Wales, saving over 50 kilometres of waterways from mine water pollution.

The authority already has power to acquire land by agreement. In most cases that is sufficient but, regrettably, not always. It has in the past met with intransigent landowners who have demanded exorbitant prices for their land. Either it has reluctantly paid or it has been forced to abandon its plans or consider less effective ways to control or treat a discharge. It is not desirable to be in that position, whether in terms of efficient use of public resources or effective pollution control.

In the absence of the authority, were the Environment Agency to step in to treat such discharges, it would have been able to employ powers of entry or compulsory purchase were that necessary to achieve efficient and cost-effective treatment. The clause recognises that the Coal Authority is simply doing what the agency would otherwise be obliged to do. The powers are based closely upon those already available to the agency, but every effort has been made to limit them to reflect the authority's more restricted role.

The deletion of one aspect of those powers would not be acceptable. As drafted, Clause 78 would allow the authority compulsorily to purchase land not for mine water treatment but for the purpose of subsequently trading that land for other land that has special protected status under the Acquisition of Land Act 1981. The Act requires that special parliamentary procedures must be followed unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is appropriate to authorise and certify the purchase of such special land, which includes common land and open spaces. One ground for certification is a demonstration that there will be given, in exchange for special land, other land equally advantageous to those who enjoy rights. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to that point. However, the whole certification process sets the bar for successful exchange very high indeed, as the Secretary of State must be satisfied that a number of stringent conditions have been met.

We understand the concerns that have been expressed but believe that it is proper for the provisions that are the subject of this amendment to remain in place. However, I can give a categorical assurance that the authority, as a responsible public body, would seek to utilise any of these powers only as a matter of last resort and would do so only to the limited extent necessary to secure sufficient land or access for its environmental purposes.

I am sorry to have gone on at length, but it was important to have those points on the record. I hope that with those assurances, the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to press his opposition to the clause standing part.

Lord Bridges

Before the noble Lord replies, it surprises me a little to see that common land and allotments are covered. Allotments are normally owned by public authorities; in the case of common land, there is always grave difficulty over taking it away from those who use it. Are there actually cases in which common land and private allotments have not been available, making these schemes impossible? It would be interesting to know if there were any examples.

Baroness Byford

Before the noble Baroness responds, I want to ask her a question on a specific point. She said that there had been difficulties with landowners not agreeing and, therefore, voluntary agreements not being activated in that way. Might I ask her how many cases there have been of that sort?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I believe that I would be wise to write to Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate or listened to it to give details about particular cases. All I can say to the noble Lord with regard to allotments is that, in my experience in local government, there is nothing more difficult than trying to deprive people of allotments. It may be that the process is lengthy, but I speak purely from memory of my time in local government and will write with greater detail.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful to the Minister for her response, which has done a great deal to set out the background. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has also set out her position.

As we are already in letter-writing mode, it would help if the stringent conditions that must be met before one can jump the compulsory purchase hurdle for a land swap could be included as well. That might obviate future problems. We will have to study what has been said carefully, and we may need to come back to it.

As for allotments, I know that field allotments are a problem. They are a statutory creation and, like all statutory creations, they are regarded as almost inviolate and almost impossible to do away with, although it happens on occasion.

One question that I raised that was not answered was how the word "fuel" was included in the category. The Minister might put that in the explanatory letter. The penultimate line of subsection (3) of proposed new Section 4C refers to, part of a common, open space or a fuel or field garden allotment". I do not understand that.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

In the clause, "common" includes any land subject to be enclosed under the enclosure Acts from 1845 to 1882, in any town or village green.

The phrase, fuel or field garden allotment", means any allotment set out as a fuel allotment or a field garden allotment under an enclosure Act. That may refer to peat, or the noble Lord. Lord Palmer, may be about to come in and talk about biomass—I know not. That is the answer that I can give the noble Lord. He may need further elucidation, as will I.

Lord Dixon-Smith

As we are already in letter-writing mode, perhaps a little archival research may satisfy me. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedules 5 and 6 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 182 not moved.]

Clauses 79 and 80 agreed to.

6 p.m.

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 183: After Clause 80, insert the following new clause— "DISCHARGE CONSENTS: REMOVING RESTRICTIONS ON REVIEW (1) Schedule 10 to the WRA is amended as follows. (2) In paragraph 7(2), the words "Subject to such restrictions on the exercise of the power conferred by this sub-paragraph as are imposed under paragraph 8 below," are omitted. (3) In paragraph 7(4), the words ", subject to such restrictions on the exercise of the power conferred by virtue of paragraph (c) above as are imposed under paragraph 8 below," arc omitted. (4) Paragraphs 7(5) and (6) are omitted. (5) Paragraph 8 is omitted. (6) After paragraph 7(1) there is inserted— (1A) Where any consent given under paragraph 3 or 6 above authorises a discharge—

  1. (a) of any substances defined as a priority substance by Directive 2000/60/EC; or
  2. (b) into any controlled waters which do not meet the definition of "good surface water status" set out in Directive 2000/60/EC, the Agency shall review such consent and the conditions (if any) to which the consent is subject at least once in every period of four years beginning with the day on which the consent takes effect or, if applicable, the day on which any previous review under this paragraph was concluded.".
(7) In paragraph 7(3) after "a review under sub-paragraph (1)", there is inserted "or (1A)".

The noble Lord said: I apologise to the Committee for not speaking on Second Reading, but unfortunately I was abroad at the time. Had I been here, I should have welcomed the Bill and, like many others, encouraged the Government to speed up implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive. I am aware that my noble friend the Minister explained that the directive is being implemented in stages. He made that point in response to an earlier amendment that would have introduced a general purpose clause for the implementation of the directive, on the grounds that he did not like general purpose clauses.

The purpose of my amendment is to speed up the implementation of the directive for economic as well as environmental reasons. Here, I must declare an interest as honorary president of the Environmental Industries Commission, which represents about 225 companies who supply environmental technology and other services, including companies providing water pollution control technologies and services.

In moving my amendment, I remind the Government of the economic advantages of the higher environmental standards that the Water Framework Directive will bring. These include: increased recreational use of the rivers and related amenities; increased satisfaction—and, indeed, house prices—for those living near cleaner water bodies; and benefits to industries such as tourism. Indeed the Government's own assessment of the directive concluded that the benefits from higher water quality in the UK could be valued at up to £4.4 billion. In addition, industry itself can make considerable savings by cutting pollution and being more efficient, as the Government's own Enviro Wise Programme has demonstrated.

Then there are the advantages that would accrue to our environmental technology and services industry. My noble friend the Minister will be aware of the major effort being made to encourage innovation in British industry, and that an important element in encouraging innovation is how best to design and implement standards and regulations. That can influence innovation in business. Setting high environmental standards will encourage innovation in the environmental technology and services sector, because science and technology can achieve those higher standards as well as environmental management. Innovative science and technology will be required to control and prevent pollution.

At present, 28 per cent of the UK's rivers are classified as of fair quality or below. Although the definition of good status has yet to be finalised, it is likely that most of these 28 per cent will have to be upgraded. Some of the rivers classified as good may also need to be upgraded to meet the new standard. Although good progress has been made in achieving higher water quality in Britain's rivers in recent years, that improvement will have to continue and accelerate to meet the challenge set by the directive. My argument for getting on with the work of cleaning up our rivers is not only environmental, but economic, because of the benefits to innovation that cleaner rivers will bring.

The Minister will understand that technology providers and laboratories will not invest in innovative environmental technologies if they are unsure of the standards and regulations that have to be met. To enable that investment, the timescales have to be financially viable. So it is important to have clear targets and timescales so that technology providers and laboratories have the time and incentive to develop and implement new solutions.

However, our environmental industry does not exist in isolation. It has many competitors overseas, so it is important that the standards set by the Water Framework Directive are implemented at least in line with our major competitors. If the implementation is later than our competitors, their innovative technology will be used to provide our environmental solutions. That happened with fridges. The Germans moved first to put in place new rules to reprocess old fridges without releasing ozone-depleting chemicals. When our turn came, we had to buy their technology.

If the timing is at least in line with our major competitors, our environmental technology and services industry will be given every opportunity and encouragement to succeed in the rapidly growing world market for environmental technology—a world market currently valued at over 500 billion dollars, which is comparable to the aerospace industry. The UK has only 4 per cent of that market compared with France's 7 per cent and Germany's 11 per cent. So there is absolutely no reason why we should not increase our share of the world market, while at the same time enjoying higher environmental standards. Those are the economic and business arguments for my amendment.

A simple way to achieve good status for rivers is to give the Environment Agency the power and responsibility to review and tighten the consents held by industry to discharge trade effluent into rivers. Currently, the Environment Agency is held back by a legal restriction on reviewing those consents more frequently than every four years, unless specifically asked to review a discharge by the Secretary of State. My amendment therefore proposes that the agency be given the power to review discharge consents as and when necessary. In addition, it requires the agency to review discharge consents at least every four years where those discharges are to rivers that are failing to achieve good status, or where the discharge consent includes priority substances as defined under the Water Framework Directive.

The amendment fairly balances the very real interest and benefit to the public of having clean rivers with the need to encourage innovation in industry. It is not more red tape that stifles innovation, it is a proportionate and measured attempt to balance three things: the public interest in and benefit from a cleaner environment; the needs of our environmental industry; and the fact that we will eventually have to implement the directive. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I warmly support the noble Lord's amendment. It is really music to our ears. I am especially grateful that he explained so eloquently that it is a question not of the environmental demands of the Water Framework Directive being in conflict with economic demands but, as he put it, that the two go hand in hand. As I touched on when speaking to my first amendment, the Government's piecemeal approach to implementing the directive still tends to adopt the attitude that those demands are in conflict.

I fear that not only will the directive be implemented in a piecemeal fashion but we will seek derogration after derogation because, instead of following the path laid out by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, of innovation both creating economic goods and enabling environmental standards to be met, we shall simply not meet the environmental standards. We will then apply for a derogation; we will lag behind the timescale; the incentive will be lost for innovation to be made; and the economic benefit will not be gained. That is the sort of vicious circle in which we are at present.

So I warmly support the amendment and hope that the Government can see the sense of what the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said.

Lord Dixon-Smith

There can be no dissent from the principle of the amendment, but I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response. One cannot quarrel with the idea of carrying out a review as and when necessary, at least every four years and where a river is unsatisfactory or contains listed substances. "As and when necessary", presumably implies. "when circumstances are perceived to have changed'', which could be a greater interval than four years, but that does not matter. The principle behind the amendment is unexceptional, but perhaps the Minister can tell us how the Bill fits with the framework directive and the amendment. I look forward to hearing his response.

Lord Whitty

I agree with much of what my noble friend Lord Haskel said, but not with his amendment. It is important to recognise how we are implementing the Water Framework Directive and the importance of doing so in a way that encourages rather than discourages innovation. I pay tribute to the Environmental Industries Commission for the work that it is undertaking in that respect. It is important that we view the environmental, economic and competitive advantages of compliance together.

However, I am not sure that I can agree with the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, because I do not know on what basis she said that we are seeking derogation after derogation. The Water Framework Directive has already been subject to substantial consultation and will be subject to more that is in the pipeline. That certainly does not give the impression that we are seeking derogation after derogation.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

Perhaps I can help the Minister. I was thinking of the daughter directive about groundwater quality. On the Government's timetable, we are unlikely to meet those standards and, I expect, will be asking for derogations.

Lord Whitty

On the timetable for the Water Framework Directive, we are not yet at the point of transposing it; we are still consulting about its proper implementation and how it can be delivered through our system in this country. It would therefore be at best premature to say that we will seek derogations all over the place. There may be the odd area in which we cannot meet the exact timetable of the directive, but our support for the framework directive's objectives runs clearly through the consultation.

I think that the primary concern behind the amendment moved by my noble friend is industrial discharges of trade effluents into controlled waters, which is touched on by the Water Framework Directive and has a major effect on the quality of water in the rivers to which he refers. In fact, however, the amendment would disapply the four-year intervention period—if I may put it that way—for all types of discharge consents, not simply those of an industrial nature.

In its work to implement the Water Framework Directive, the Environment Agency is already well versed in the operation of a discharge consent regime and the priorities that it requires under the 1991 Act. We intend the regime to continue to include the four-year non-intervention period, as that allows consent holders, including those with trade effluent consents, greater certainty in investment planning.

Power already exists to allow the Secretary of State to direct the agency to review consents, including those within the four-year period, so an override provision already exists. We do not believe that that needs to be supplemented by any additional, more generalised relaxation of the four-year rule. All these aspects of the implementation of the Water Framework Directive are, have been, and will further be, the subject of widespread consultation. Meanwhile, the existing provisions in the Water Resources Act are sufficient for the implementation of the directive. We do not, therefore, need an amendment to the primary legislation in that respect.

We need to achieve a balance between meeting the objectives of the Water Framework Directive while at the same time encouraging industry to do so in an innovative way. We need to do so in a way that does not create greater uncertainty for industry as a whole. By and large, the four-year period has worked reasonably well and should, in our view, continue to be the norm.

6.15 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose

Presumably when a business has a discharge consent, it discharges whatever it is into the river or the catchment. If it discharges something that is doing damage, presumably it can be required to cease discharging immediately, and we do not need to revise the four-year consents. If it is not discharging something that does damage, what reason would there be for reviewing the consent within four years?

Lord Whitty

The degree to which the discharge is doing damage depends on the circumstances of the river as a whole. What might have been an appropriate level of allowable discharge at the beginning of the period of consent may change because the nature of the river has changed with regard to flow or other depredation of the river. This would be pretty unusual, which is why it is for the Secretary of State to direct the agency rather than having it as a normal part of the four-year consenting process which we think is, by and large, an adequate and sensible period.

Lord Haskel

I thank the Minister for his detailed and rather thoughtful response. My amendment is not about derogations, it is about regulation. One of the purposes of the amendment is to explore ways in which water regulation can be a bit more positive.

More regulation is a fact of life, especially as we build a fairer society. Indeed, noble Lords may know that Professor Porter recently reported that deregulation is beginning to show diminishing returns. So a more modern attitude to regulation is needed. The simple mantra of "more regulation bad, less regulation good" is not getting us anywhere, so I hope that this will be part of the consultation.

I will read what the Minister has said very carefully. It appeared to me that he was reluctant to give more responsibility to the Environment Agency because the Secretary of State already has certain powers. Getting the Secretary of State to use these powers is usually a pretty cumbersome and long-winded affair, so we will have to give that some thought.

I agree with the Minister that four-yearly reviews give industry an opportunity to plan and invest. But equally, a lot of damage can be done to the environment in four years, and it can take an awful lot longer to clear it up.

Baroness Byford

I have listened carefully to the noble Lord's response to the Minister's comments. Do I gather that the noble Lord is in favour of more regulation, and that this would prevent it from happening in the first place? I got a little confused as the noble Lord spoke, and I am seeking some clarification. Obviously, once we have more regulation, we have more costs, and I thought that we were in favour of deregulation. I thought that that was what the noble Lord, Lord Haskins—rather than the noble Lord, Lord Haskel—is currently looking at, and that the Environment Agency, in particular, was one of the agencies whose role was being considered. If the noble Lord could clarify this point, I would be grateful.

Lord Haskel

I am certainly not asking for more regulation. I am saying that it is inevitable that we will have some regulation because of the EU directive, and I am asking that it should be used in a more creative way.

I thank all those who have spoken in this short debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 81 agreed to.

Clause 82 [Trade effluent consents: conditions of consent]:

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 184: Page 96, line 2, at end insert— (ab) after subsection (1) there is inserted— ( ) The Agency shall continue to monitor water quality and chemical and bacterial pollution, through water sampling, and is empowered to act to enforce compliance at the source and advise alternatives where chemical processes impact upon discharges."

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 184 is related to Amendment No. 183 and what was spelled out in that amendment, which we have just finished debating. However, I would like in this amendment to stress that the agency, which does a good job in monitoring water quality, continues to monitor water quality and chemical and bacterial pollution through sampling, and is empowered to enforce compliance at the source and advise alternatives where chemical processes impact upon discharge. The purpose is to be proactive in tackling industrial and other sources of pollution.

This is an exploratory amendment; we need reassurances that the monitoring process is continuous where discharges take place and that the agency will be given the tools to do the job. There have been some serious incidents—I can think of a number on the Welsh Dee—from chemical plant which caused an enormous amount of damage to the rivers there. There have been other examples of rivers where quite serious incidents have taken place.

The amendment would ensure that the agency will be proactive and will continue to be diligent in carrying out these tasks. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

The amendment relates to the part of the Bill which deals with sewers and drains. Therefore, the regulation structure is somewhat different from that for rivers and waterways.

The regulators who can grant trade effluent consents are, in this instance, the water and sewerage undertakers, rather than the Environment Agency. As a matter of course, undertakers monitor incoming effluent at treatment plants. They may also require effluent to be monitored by those who make the discharge.

As part of the consent application process, reference must already be made to the Environment Agency by the sewerage undertaker before entering into any agreement relating to the reception or disposal of special category effluent. Special category effluent is effluent containing various prescribed hazardous substances.

Where special category effluent is involved, the Environment Agency can prohibit the proposed operation or impose conditions. In other cases where the effluent is of a more general nature, the sewerage undertakers have the responsibility; they may consult the Environment Agency, but are not required to do so.

In all cases, the sewerage undertakers will wish to ensure that the trade effluent discharges they accept do not compromise their own ability to meet the conditions on discharges to controlled waters from the sewage treatment works. These conditions are set out by the Environment Agency under the Water Resources Act 1991.

I hope that noble Lords will therefore recognise that the 1991 Act already contains sufficient powers for the water undertakers to regulate efficiently and effectively the discharge of trade effluent in this context. Likewise, the Environment Agency has its own appropriate controls at the stage that most concerns it. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, recognises that the powers are already there.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

I thank the Minister for that reply. I realised at the time I drafted the amendment that it referred to sewerage, but I am afraid that a little time has gone by since then. The powers in the Water Resources Act are effective although I could name once or two incidents where, although sewage appears to be treated effectively, and discharges are going on, there has been a deterioration. However, some undertakers have done immense work in this respect and have greatly improved the situation.

I merely put the amendment down to ensure that vigilance would continue and that matters would continue to improve as these tasks are carried out. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 82 agreed to.

Clauses 83 to 85 agreed to.

Clause 86 [Requisition and adoption of sewers]:

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 185: Page 105, line 33, at end insert— (8) The Agency shall ensure that private and public housing developers and building contractors be subject to planning consent conditions specific to the water and sewerage undertaker adopting a new sewage scheme. (9) The Agency shall prepare plans for all non-adopted sewage schemes to be adopted by water and sewerage undertakers by the end of the year 2015.

The noble Lord said: This amendment is best described as the cowboy builders' amendment. In carrying out various work in the past, I have had a lot of adverse experiences of the consequences of this. In particular, residents can become stranded as a result of builders carrying out inadequate work in connecting to a sewage infrastructure and leaving the job half finished.

In the first part of the amendment, we hope that, private and public housing developers and building contractors be subject to planning consent conditions specific to the water and sewerage undertaker adopting a new sewage scheme".

This is highly desirable, but it has not always been the case. I can point to a number of instances of dissatisfaction. What amazes me is that the planning authority has very often laid down what needs to be done to complete a scheme but supervising carrying out the edict of the planning authority in having a proper scheme at the start does not always come about. I would have thought it obvious that new schemes in particular ought to be in place in a building housing development in a state that can be adopted immediately, and not left incomplete. I am looking for planning compliance by the developers on site so that they leave the site in a state which is workable and up to speed.

The second part of the amendment requires that the agency, shall prepare plans for all non-adopted sewage schemes to be adopted by water and sewerage undertakers".

I have suggested 2015 as a fair length of time for compliance. I believe from my experience that there are a lot of non-adopted sewage schemes around the country and it will take a very long time for them to get up to speed.

I can quote several examples of what tends to happen. In a town on the England-Wales border, the sewerage undertaker refused point-blank to adopt the scheme because the developers kept on building half a dozen houses and extending the estate to the point where the sewage facilities could not cope with the extension of the building work. Very often it is the fault of the planning authority but there is a stalemate. Three or four bodies are involved, none of which will take responsibility.

The other thing that happens, particularly with cowboy builder outfits, is that they start to build an estate and then go bankrupt. I have seen this happen several times. In fact, I can think of one instance in which the same company went bankrupt twice. The system is never adopted properly. The estate is sometimes left in a chaotic state as far as the sewage system is concerned. Even after 15 years, residents are still having most unpleasant experiences—I will not go into detail—because of inadequate sewage provision, and they suddenly ask for vast sums of money to put the matter right.

It seems to me that in that type of situation there should be some process whereby sewage schemes can be adopted and brought fully up to standard without the residents in some estates having to take matters in hand, as has been the case in some instances. I believe that the amendment presents a real opportunity to sort out this matter and to stop the nonsense that occurs. It causes many grievous problems and creates expense for innocent people who perhaps do not realise, when purchasing their houses, that they have entered a den of iniquity so far as concerns the sewage. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty

I believe we all recognise the type of situation to which the noble Lord refers in relation to cowboy builders and existing unadopted sewers. Indeed, the Government are seized of this matter and we have taken some action on both aspects of his amendment.

With regard to the first aspect, we looked at the issue of new sewers in order to try to stop the perpetuation of problems relating to private sewers. As a result of consultation in 2000, we established a protocol which sets out the key elements of design and construction of sewers for all new developments. That should enable wider adoption of those provisions. I believe that some of the wider elements relating to cowboy builders may not be dealt with entirely but largely the new developments are now dealt with under that system.

Obviously the situation is far more complicated with regard to existing private sewers. We shall shortly issue a consultation paper seeking views on possible solutions to deal with the problems. Until the outcome of that consultation is known, I do not believe that it would be appropriate for me to adopt the second part of the noble Lord's amendment. That would insert into the Bill a subsection which effectively would lead to the partial transfer of ownership of unadopted sewers to the relevant local sewerage undertaker without a clear indication of how that would impose costs and responsibilities on the undertaker which would then no doubt have to be levied on the rest of the customers.

Therefore, as the noble Lord will see, we have already taken some action on the first part of his amendment, resulting in the protocol, and we are beginning to take action on the second. It is hoped that we can achieve an acceptable solution to the second issue of unadopted private sewers. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue the amendment but will recognise that the Government are fully appraised of and concerned about the problem.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

Before my noble friend replies, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question, based on my experience as a district councillor, with regard to the second part of the amendment. Huge amounts of time and effort, staff time and resources are put in by district councils, particularly into first-time sewerage schemes but also into trying to solve the problems of non-adopted sewers for the good of the environment of their districts. I believe that this is another example of a great deal of work which is entirely unrecognised in the Audit Commission's measurement of local authority work.

Again, I ask the Minister to return to this matter because it is part of a local authority's work which is simply not recognised. If it is to progress in the way that it should, it needs better recognition. I believe that current environmental measures are limited to the problems of litter. That is obviously important because litter is very visible, but this type of work is equally important and incredibly unsupported by government through the Audit Commission mechanism.

Lord Whitty

The noble Baroness makes a valid point, although it goes somewhat wider than many of the other activities of district and other councils. However, I take her point.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

I thank the Minister very much for his response. I am particularly pleased that in relation to proposed new subsection (8) in my amendment a protocol is being established for new developments. He has referred to a very important matter there.

The second part of my amendment concerning non-adopted sewage schemes relates to a very difficult problem. If the Minister's consultation is taking place, I can certainly give a couple of horrendous examples which may assist him. The worst example that I know of is that a builder deliberately went bust when the local authority was being reorganised. I am aware that that is not the only example of that. Therefore, I hope that a fairly tight solution can be found. It will help an enormous number of people in the country—very often innocent householders—and I look forward to the proposals following the consultation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 86 agreed to.

Clauses 87 to 90 agreed to.

Clause 91 [Communication with public sewers]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 185AZA: Page 113, line 44, at end insert— (2A) In subsection (2)(b), leave out "where separate public sewers are provided for foul water and for surface water.".

The noble Baroness said: This group of amendments deals with the current situation whereby the owners and occupiers of premises and the owners of private sewers have a more or less unrestricted right to connect their drains and sewers to public sewers. While I never like to restrict the rights of individuals, I believe that such action needs to be undertaken in a more planned way because it creates unacceptable problems. The fact that sewerage undertakers have no control over the right to connect contributes to the overloading of sewers and the surcharging and resulting sewer flooding, the details of which we shall not go into.

Surface water can also enter the sewers, but I believe that that should happen as infrequently as possible, particularly where the sewers suffer such an overload. The flowing of relatively clean surface water into the sewers does not constitute good use of them.

Amendment No. 185AZA—the first in this group—ensures in particular that, where a foul public sewer has been provided and there is no surface water public sewer, surface water may not be drained into the foul public sewer. It seems to me that the two things are separate and should be treated separately. Indeed, we shall come to view water in different categories. I believe that surface water is known as "grey water" and it is inappropriate that it should enter the public sewer.

Where notice is given of an intention to drain surface water into a public sewer, Amendment No. 185AZB seeks to enable sewerage undertakers to refuse permission for that connection or to grant permission subject to the condition that if an alternative means of drainage is feasible, cost-effective and will alleviate sewer flooding, then that would be preferable.

Amendment No. 185AZC seeks to extend Ofwat's appellate jurisdiction to the reasonableness of sewerage undertakers' decisions. The final two amendments—Amendments Nos. 185AZD and 185AZE—are technical and are based on the first three. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I recognise the problems to which the noble Baroness refers. She may not be aware that sustainable surface water drainage systems are currently being considered by a working group of all interested parties under the chairmanship of the Environment Agency. If we can develop such systems, they can significantly reduce pressure on the sewerage system by collecting, treating and disposing of surface water locally into the ground. That depends on suitable conditions and therefore it may not suit all areas. We also need to establish the responsibilities and the costs of building and maintaining such systems.

The working group will produce a consultation paper in the spring on the design standards for such systems. Until that work is completed and decisions have been taken on it later in the year, I believe that it would be premature to accept the amendment as it stands and to see whether, as the noble Baroness suggests, we should amend Section 106 of the 1991 Act.

Ofwat has said that it will consider additional investment by sewerage undertakers to deal with the most serious cases of susceptibility to sewerage flooding. It will do so before the next periodic review of water charges in 2005. There needs to be an increase in the rate at which companies rectify sewer flooding problems if they are to get on top of the problem. That has also been made clear to Ofwat by the department. Therefore, we need to proceed on the basis of the current consultation and of ensuring that in its approach to the next periodic review, and prior to that, Ofwat takes account of the need to take action in this respect.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I note that in his remarks the Minister has added yet another burden to the poor long-serving and all-serving Environment Agency. It would be useful if, following the Committee stage, we could have a tabulated list of the functions that have been spelt out. They are not always immediately apparent on the face of the Bill and it would be useful if we could have that so that we know exactly where we stand as a result of this Committee stage, which now goes back over rather a long period.

Lord Whitty

I am not sure of the feasibility of doing that. I was referring here to an operational consultation conducted by the Environment Agency. The regulatory responsibility will probably be largely on Ofwat. However, I recognise what the noble Lord seeks and I shall see what we can do.

Baroness Byford

Before the noble Lord sits down, I thank him for his last response to my noble friend. Throughout our discussions during the Committee stage of the Bill, we have continually heard references to a consultation on this or something else on that. We are told that this consultation will not take place until the spring, but we are dealing with the problems now.

Therefore, it would be enormously helpful if, in addition to agreeing to the request just put to him, the Minister could provide before Report stage a full list of all the items that are in hand or on which consultation is being sought. The number of such items is becoming vast. I have read the report of the Committee stage as we have proceeded but I believe that such a list would be helpful for the guidance of the Committee and it may well save time at Report stage.

Lord Whitty

I believe that I can undertake to consider providing such a list where the Bill states that there are additional responsibilities on regulators or others. That is one thing, but it would be rather more difficult to consider the totality of what is going on and to produce anything comprehensive or helpful. My comments during the course of the Committee stage have related to particular amendments and particular consultations which may in part be relevant. However, I do not believe that I can undertake to do quite what the noble Baroness is suggesting.

Baroness Byford

I still want to encourage the Minister to do so, if he is able. The size of the task might be reduced if it related only to anything that has come within the confines of the amendments moved. Many issues within the water industry and the Water Framework Directive will come up very shortly. Therefore, at present much is in the air. We have the opportunity—probably the only one in 20 years—to get the matter correct on the face of the Bill. Therefore, if it were possible and did not cause too much expense, I should be most grateful.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I thank the Minister for his helpful reply to the amendment. If the name of the working group is the acronym SUDS, then I was aware of it, but I was not aware that it would report quite so soon. I have sympathy for the request for at least a list of the major working groups and consultations that are taking place. A quick brainstorming session in the Minister's team would produce probably two sides of A4 of items that are directly related to the Water Bill. I, too, would find that helpful. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 185 AZB to 185AZE not moved.]

Clause 91 agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain moved Amendment No. 185ZA: After Clause 91, insert the following new clause— "LIABILITY OF OWNERS ETC. FOR CHARGES IN PRESCRIBED CASES (1) In section 144 of the WIA (liability of occupiers etc. for charges) in subsection (1), after "of this section" insert "and of section 144AA below". (2) After section 144 of the WIA there is inserted— "144AA LIABILITY OF OWNERS ETC. FOR CHARGES IN PRESCRIBED CASES (1) In respect of any premises of a class prescribed for the purposes of this section, section 144 above shall take effect as if for the references throughout that section to the occupier, or the occupation of premises there, were substituted references to the owner or the ownership of such premises. (2) Regulations made for the purposes of subsection (1) above may provide—

  1. (a) that in relation to any premises of such a prescribed class as may be specified, subsection (1) above shall have effect as if for the references to owners and ownership of such premises there were substituted a reference to such persons and such rights as may be prescribed;
  2. (b) that persons of such a class as may be specified shall be excluded from the application of such regulations notwithstanding that they are in relation to premises of a prescribed class the owner or such other person specified under paragraph (a) above;
  3. (c) that the owner or occupier of any premises of a class prescribed pursuant to subsection (1) above which are supplied with water or provided with sewerage services by a relevant undertaker in the course of carrying out its functions shall, when requested in writing to do so by the undertaker, provide the undertaker with such information as may be prescribed concerning the ownership or occupation of those premises;
  4. (d) that such statutory undertakers or public bodies as may be specified shall, when requested in writing to do so by the undertaker, provide the undertaker with such information as may be prescribed concerning the current or former ownership or occupation of any premises of a class prescribed pursuant to subsection (1) above which are or have been supplied with water or provided with sewerage services by a relevant undertaker in the course of carrying out its functions.""

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 185ZA standing in my name refers back to my Second Reading speech on 6th March, recorded at cols. 988 and 989 in the Official Report, in which I made the point about the huge amount of debt which is outstanding in the water industry. The Water Industry Act 1999 makes it illegal for water companies to disconnect customers who have not paid their water bills. However, companies remain under a statutory duty to supply water to customers, even when customers decide not to pay. That surely makes water companies unique. For example, council tax and services may be the only other example. They are of course not private companies.

According to Ofwat, in the year 2001–02, 19 per cent of households—that is almost one in five—did not pay their water bills. That represents 4.4 million households with revenue outstanding. That in turn is an increase of 11 per cent since 1998–99, which was the last year that disconnection was possible. As I said on 6th March, outstanding debt is now running at £717 million per annum, which is an increase of 10 per cent or 11 per cent. The increased collection costs for recovering debt adds between £1 to £3 to every water bill. Unrecovered debts add a further £6. That is nearly £10 per household to support debtors. In other words, this is a charge on all paying customers.

There is a growing concern that the burdens imposed by "won't" payers on those who do pay can only increase. As I said in my Second Reading speech, this has nothing to do with the inability, in terms of being on benefit, to pay for water. In that regard the most awful people are those who can well afford to pay for water, but, knowing that they will not be disconnected, do not bother to pay.

Anecdotal evidence—again as I said at Second Reading—shows that citizens advice bureaux, money advice centres and customers themselves have dropped the payment of water bills below catalogue and satellite TV payments. Currently, water payments have the lowest priority in deductions from benefit. There is no structure to cover these costs, for example by extending housing benefits to cover water charges. Is that not a contradiction?

The industry is working with the Government to address the issue, but small changes in legislation could help to bring debt under control. I believe that the Water Bill provides an ideal opportunity to address the considerable problem of rising debt in the water industry.

The amendment would help to define the occupier to whom a water service is provided and who is responsible for paying the water bill. At the moment, the Water Industry Act 1999 does not define "occupier" in cases of multiple occupancy—for example, flat sharing, holiday lets, bedsits, lodgings, bed and breakfast and so on—which causes confusion as to who should be charged by water companies. Residents of short lettings may move on before the annual water bill arrives. Finally, it is almost impossible in practical terms for a water company to levy charges on each of the multiple occupants.

The amendment adopts a similar approach to council tax legislation—the Local Government Finance Act 1992—that has successfully dealt with the same issue. That imposes liability to pay council tax in respect of a "chargeable dwelling" upon an ordered list of categories of persons.

The amendment would impose liability to pay water and sewerage charges upon an ordered list of categories or persons for dwellings of a class prescribed by regulations; that is, essentially those houses in multiple occupation. It would require the owner or occupier of a class of dwellings prescribed by regulations to provide the water company with information concerning the ownership and occupation of those dwellings. Finally, it would require public bodies to provide water companies with information concerning the current or former ownership of occupation of dwellings of a class prescribed by regulation. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford

At Second Reading, my noble friend made a very passionate plea that we should consider ways to help stop the ever-rising burdens created by non-payment of water bills that have such an effect on us all. Again today my noble friend has said that it amounts to £10 for every paying customer. That is a lot of money. Unfortunately, it falls on families who can ill afford it. That is one of the big problems. My noble friend said that, on the whole, the people who do not pay these bills are not those who cannot pay but those who will not pay. I hope therefore that the Minister will deal with the issue sympathetically and that he can take it on board. Should the Minister find that perhaps the wording in the amendment is too long, too cumbersome or something like that, which often is the case when one tries to table an amendment to deal with a specific issue, I certainly should be very happy if the Government are willing to take the matter on board and to return with an amendment. It is important to note that, as I said earlier, it is bad enough that the payment for non-payments is recouped from people who can afford to pay. However, I am particularly concerned about those good people on low incomes who struggle very hard and yet must find an extra £10 which really they should not. So I support strongly my noble friend's amendment.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

In the intervening two or three weeks since we last discussed the matter, I hope that the Minister has had to time to reflect on the issue of separating the people who cannot pay from the "won't" pay people that I tried to explore in my amendment which aimed to define "water poverty".

Lord Whitty

Occupiers use water. Therefore, the logical charge is on the occupiers. It is not the same as council tax. Water is supplied for the particular use of those people in those premises, whereas council tax is a general tax that is applied for all kinds of services whether or not the person who pays it enjoys that particular service. So I do not think that there is a read-across there.

I recognise the problem of debt. But, to adopt this proposal would raise other issues of principle. It is not so much the detailed wording, but that there are other issues of principle which must be answered before one can shift the burden of responsibility. For example, as regards metered premises, if the owners rather than the occupiers were responsible for the bills, there is absolutely no constraint whatever on the occupier using huge amounts of water because they will not have to meet the charge.

If we are talking about water conservation and efficient use of water, to shift the burden might not actually meet that objective. There are also detailed complications, in the sense that the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness allows us to prescribe classes of property and classes of owner. I think she has helpfully explained that that relates principally to houses in multiple occupation. But it means that the relationship between the owner and the occupier will be affected by this legislation in a significant way. In other words, if owners think that they will end up being responsible, it is probable that in certain circumstances the supply of private housing might actually reduce if they feel they are potentially subject to an undefinable bill over which they had little control.

Alternatively, that amount will be built into the rent in such a way that it might mean that certain families could not afford those premises. This raises wider issues in the relationship between the landlord and the tenant. Effectively, the proposal gives landlords the responsibility for the debts of their tenants. One way or another the land owner will try reasonably to avoid that responsibility.

So I recognise the problem and the cogency of some of the arguments that seek to shift the burden, but I think that also there are a lot of objections. Therefore, I am not minded in this context to move in that direction. Of course, there is the separate issue as to how we collect the debt and whether we can effectively, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, distinguish between those who will not pay and those who cannot pay. Administrative and guidance notes may help on that. However, I do not think that a wholesale shifting of the burden on to the owner would necessarily be beneficial for the other objectives of the Bill and that it raises bigger issues in the tenant-landlord relationship.

I have not commented on the information dimensions because I assume that they are supportive of the general intention. I am torn on the matter, but my view is that on balance the arguments against more than counter the arguments for making the change suggested by the noble Baroness.

Baroness O'Cathain

I thank the Minister—not profusely I have to say, but he did not really expect that. Perhaps I may put him right on one matter. He said that there would be a profligate—although he did not use that word—use of water by the people using the water. The fact is that they are not paying for it at the moment. There is probably a profligate use of it anyway by these people in multiple occupations.

The issue is a very serious one and it is getting worse. It is not as if the issue had just reached the stage of £10 per customer. However, it is a rum thing for a government to say that it does not really matter, "We shall not go after the 'won't payers'" and, "It does not matter. The rest of you will have to pay £10 a year more for your water". The problem is that more and more people are climbing on this bandwagon. They are aware that this is happening and are saying, "We don't have to bother because no matter what we do, they can do as they like and we still will have the water", because there is no disconnection charge and it is something quite different.

The industry as a whole is dealing with—it must be—DEFRA in trying to reach some solution to the problem. But I hope that the Minister will bear in mind just how serious this situation is and how much more serious it is likely to become. I am disappointed, but I can assure him that the issue will not go away. I just hope that the Government, together with the industry, can reach a solution that alleviates the problem for those that my noble friend so rightly says really cannot pay but who have to pay. They feel they have a moral obligation and take the idea that they have to pay their debts and they are still overpaying for a commodity for which they really should not be. I am disappointed, but I thank the Minister for his reply. I shall read what he says in Hansard, but I cannot promise not to return to the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 92 [Devolution: Wales]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 185A: Page 116, line 31, after "and" insert "(so far as it relates to section 27A)

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 92, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 93 agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 185B: Page 173, leave out lines 29 to 44 and insert— For Schedule 6 (which relates to the making of orders providing for exemption from restrictions on abstraction) there is substituted—

"SCHEDULE 6 Sections 27A and 39B


Notice of draft order

1 (1) An application to the Secretary of State for an order under section 27A(1) or 39B(3) of this Act (an "order") shall be accompanied by a draft of the proposed order.

(2) Before submitting a draft order to the Secretary of State, the Agency shall publish a notice—

  1. (a) stating the general effect of the draft order;
  2. (b) specifying the place where a copy of the draft order, and of any relevant map or plan, may be inspected by any person free of charge at all reasonable times during the period of twenty-eight days beginning with the date of first publication of the date; and
  3. (c) stating that any person may within that period, by notice to the Secretary of State, object to the making of the order.

(3) A notice under this paragraph shall be published either—

  1. (a) at least once in each of two successive weeks, in one or more newspapers circulating in the area to which the draft order relates; or
  2. (b) in any other manner which, in any particular case, may be certified by the Secretary of State to be expedient in that case.

(4) Not later than the date on which the notice is first published in pursuance of sub-paragraph (2) above, the Agency shall serve a copy of the notice on—

  1. (a) every local authority (in its capacity as the local planning authority), joint planning board or National Park authority whose area consists of, includes or is included in the area to which the draft order relates;
  2. (b) any relevant water undertaker;
  3. (c) any internal drainage board—
    1. (i) whose district consists of, includes or is included in the area to which the draft order relates;
    2. (ii) from whose district water is discharged into any relevant source of supply; or
    3. (iii) into whose district water is discharged from any relevant source of supply;
    GC 170
  4. (d) any navigation authority, harbour authority or conservancy authority having functions in relation to—
    1. (i) any relevant source of supply; or
    2. (ii) any related inland waters;
  5. (e) if a relevant source of supply or related inland waters are tidal waters in relation to which there is no such navigation authority, harbour authority or conservancy authority, the Secretary of State for Transport;
  6. (f) any person authorised by a licence under Part I of the Electricity Act 1989 to generate electricity who is (in that capacity) the holder of a licence to abstract water under Chapter 2 of Part 2 of this Act from—
    1. (i) any relevant source of supply; or
    2. (ii) any related inland waters;
  7. (g) English Nature, if the area to which the order relates is or includes England, or part of it;
  8. (h) the Countryside Council for Wales, if the area to which the order relates is or includes Wales, or part of it; and
  9. (i) the Broads Authority (established under the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988), if the area to which the order relates is or includes the Broads (as defined in that Act), or part of it.

(5) Where an application for an order is made, the Agency shall also publish a notice in the London Gazette—

  1. (a) stating that the draft order has been submitted to the Secretary of State;
  2. (b) naming the areas of each of the authorities or boards in respect of which a copy of the notice is required to be served under sub-paragraph (4)(a) above;
  3. (c) specifying a place where a copy of the draft order and of any relevant map or plan may be inspected; and
  4. (d) where the notice required by sub-paragraph (2) above is published in a newspaper, giving the name of the newspaper and the date of an issue containing the notice.

(6) In this paragraph—

  1. (a) where a draft order makes provision generally (rather than for a specified geographical area), references to the area to which the order relates are to the whole area (whether England, Wales or both of them) in relation to which the order is applied;
  2. (b) references to a National Park authority are to a National Park authority established under Part 3 of the 1995 Act;
  3. (c) a "relevant source of supply", in relation to a draft order, means—
    1. (i) if the draft order relates only to particular sources of supply (or a class of them) in an area, any of those sources of supply (or any source of supply in that class) in that area;
    2. (ii) otherwise, any source of supply in the area to which the draft order relates;
  4. (d) a "relevant water undertaker", in relation to a draft order, means a water undertaker which is the holder of a licence to abstract water under Chapter 2 of Part 2 of this Act from—
    1. (i) a relevant source of supply; or
    2. (ii) a source of supply which is related to a relevant source of supply;
  5. (e) for the purposes of paragraph (d) above, a source of supply (the "related source") is related to a relevant source of supply if it appears to the Agency that, having regard to the extent to which the level or flow of water in the related source depends on the level or flow of the waters in the relevant source of supply, the ability of the water undertaker to abstract water from the related source in accordance with its licence may be substantially affected as a result of the draft order;
  6. GC 171
  7. (f) "related inland waters" are inland waters the level or flow of which may, in the Agency's opinion, be affected by changes in the level or flow of the waters in a relevant source of supply.

Duty to provide copy of draft order

2 Where an application for an order is made, the Agency shall, at the request of any person, furnish him with a copy of the draft order on payment of such charge as the Agency thinks reasonable.

Making of order

3 (1) Where an application for an order is made, the Secretary of State may make the order either in the form of the draft or in that form as altered in such manner as he thinks fit.

(2) Where the Secretary of State—

  1. (a) proposes to make any alteration of an order before making it; and
  2. (b) considers that any persons are likely to be adversely affected by it, the Agency shall give and publish such additional notices, in such manner, as the Secretary of State may require.

(3) Sub-paragraph (4) below shall apply if before the end of—

  1. (a) the period of twenty-eight days referred to in subparagraph (2)(b) of paragraph 1 above;
  2. (b) the period of twenty-five days from the publication in the London Gazette of the notice under sub-paragraph (5) of that paragraph; or
  3. (c) any period specified in notices under sub-paragraph (2) above, notice of an objection is received by the Secretary of State from any person on whom a notice is required by this Schedule to be served, from any other person appearing to the Secretary of State to be affected by the order (either as prepared in draft or as proposed to be altered) or, in a case where the Secretary of State directed the Agency to apply for the order, from the Agency.

(4) Where this sub-paragraph applies and the objection in question is not withdrawn, the Secretary of State, before making the order, may take such steps as he sees fit and, in particular, may—

  1. (a) cause a local inquiry to be held; or
  2. (b) afford to the objector and to the Agency an opportunity of appearing before, and being heard by, a person appointed by the Secretary of State for the purpose.

(5) Where—

  1. (a) the order (whether as prepared in draft or as proposed to be altered) relates to any tidal water situated in Wales (or in area of the sea adjoining either the coast of Wales or an area of sea forming part of Wales); and
  2. (b) no navigation authority, harbour authority or conservancy authority has functions in relation to that tidal water, the Secretary of State shall not make the order except with the approval of the Secretary of State for Transport.

Notice and inspection of final order

4 (1) Where an order is made under section 27A(l) or 39B(3) of this Act, whether in the form of the draft proposed by the Agency or with alterations, the Secretary of State shall give notice to the Agency—

  1. (a) stating that the order has been made, either without alteration or with alterations specified in the notice; and
  2. (b) specifying the date (not being earlier than twenty-eight days after the date of the notice under this paragraph) on which the order shall have effect; and the Agency shall forthwith publish the notice.

(2) The Agency shall keep a copy of every order made under section 27A(1) or 39B(3) of this Act available at its offices for inspection by the public, free of charge, at all reasonable times."."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 9 agreed to.

7 p.m.

Clause 94 [Specific transitional and transitory provisions]:

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood moved Amendment No. 186: Page 118, line 7, at end insert— ( ) Upon the coming into force of section 7 of this Act, section 24 of the WRA shall not apply to abstraction of water to prevent interference with any mining, quarrying or engineering operations (whether underground or surface) or to prevent interference or damage to works resulting from any such operations for a period of 12 months or if later final and lawful determination of an application for a licence.

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 186 and 186A share quite a number of words. In fact, I accept that Amendment No. 186A, tabled by my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon, has the advantage of being five words shorter. At this stage in the proceedings, that is perhaps a merit. I should like to comment on the spirit which certainly informs my amendment and which I see reflected in Amendment No. 186A. The intention is to seek reassurance that, during the process of implementation of any legislation that follows from the Bill, companies already in business that are required to apply for a water licence will be able to continue in business until a determination has been made on the application for that licence. In other words, there will not be a hiatus in mining until the determination has finally been settled. However, having made that general point, I should be quite content to withdraw my amendment and leave it to my noble friend to place his before the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Howie of Troon

We return to the question of the relationship between the Bill, the quarrying industry and the construction industry. When we last debated this, my noble friend Lady Farrington asked the Quarry Products Association to write to her, which it did. I had no part in the writing of that excellent document which I am sure that Ministers have given an adequate and I hope a sympathetic reading.

I should like to remind the Committee about the distinction we are making here. In general terms, the Bill is about extracting water mostly for domestic or industrial purposes. It also deals with certain forms of industrial and domestic drainage. To include the quarrying and construction industries' activities in this is quite mistaken. What we are dealing with here is draining either a quarry or a deep excavation so that one can continue a technological process. It is in fact a part of a technology and a technological process. As the Committee will remember, what happens is that the water is drained from one part of a water system and then put back into the same water system. It is shifted from one place to another, but it is still in the same general vicinity. It has not been taken away and drunk or made into whisky or anything nice like that. It remains in the water system.

Quite frankly, the matter should not be dealt with in this Bill at all. It should be in another Bill which deals with construction or quarrying. But here it is, due to some malfunction in Whitehall. It is awfully difficult to deal with it if we do not make the distinction between these two processes.

Several hours ago, the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, raised the issue of sustainability. Various other Members of the Committee have mentioned sustainability. Nothing could be more sustainable than this method of drainage and replacement. I often have difficulty with the definition of sustainability, but this seems to be just about as perfect an example of sustainability as you could get. We have therefore tabled Amendment No. 186A to deal with the transition from a period when a company does not require a licence to a period when it does. A substantial period might pass in the course of negotiating the licence. Meanwhile, the quarrying, or indeed the deep excavation at a construction site, would have to continue, or alternatively would have to stop. I am not quite sure what would happen. However, the Bill must recognise that that transition period must be dealt with.

Our amendment proposes how that should be done. My noble friend had one set of words and I had another set. He has said that one is a little shorter. However, both say that the section of the WRA, shall not apply … to prevent interference with any mining, quarrying or engineering operations … or to prevent damage to works resulting from any such operations", until the end of the period for determination of the licence has been reached. "Reached" is a better word than "set", which is in my amendment. This seems to be a fairly sensible and desirable amendment.

Baroness Byford

When the issue was raised earlier I was supportive about the difficulties expressed by the noble Lord. I think that we would all support his concern that there would be very damaging effects, perhaps mostly environmental, if the business were not allowed to continue. That is, of course, subject to establishing that the quarrying business is not damaging water or the environment, but I think that we are currently taking that as read. If that is so, the provision makes great sense. The noble Lords, Lord Sutherland and Lord Howie, have clearly explained how that water is used, drained, reused and returned to the same system. I am therefore happy to support the amendments.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

As I indicated in earlier debates, we, too, support this amendment. Clearly, quarrying is a continuing process. Any interruption to the process will cause great disruption to the business concerned. Such businesses are very often located in fairly remote areas and require support. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, as long as there is no serious environmental damage and water is merely being extracted, we would be perfectly satisfied with the amendment and support it.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

The Minister will no doubt give assurances on the transition arrangements which I hope will satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. Before she does so, I should like—for perhaps the third or fourth time during our consideration of the Bill, in our customary exchange—to raise the issue of what is and is not sustainable in terms of water extraction in the quarrying industry. Even in the process which the noble Lord described as drawing water out and then replacing it, quarries can have quite substantial impacts on the environment. To say that it is automatically a sustainable process to remove very large quantities of water and then to return them is perhaps to over-egg the sustainability of the quarrying industry.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, and my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon—although my noble friend Lord Howie seems to think that there could even be some malfunction in Whitehall. I am happy to assure him that on this occasion, as I assume on all other occasions, I can give him the reassurance that he seeks.

These amendments, seeking special transitional arrangements for existing quarrying, mining and engineering operations, would be more restrictive than the published policy for transitional applications in paragraph 3.16 of Taking Water Responsibly. That proposed a period of up to two years for any transitional licence applications to be made, and a period of up to five years for them to be determined by the Environment Agency. Abstractions for existing operations would continue to be lawful during these periods. Clause 95(1) of the Bill already provides for the Secretary of State to make transitional regulations that will deal consistently with all such arrangements, including the validity of existing operations pending determination of applications and the granting of licences.

I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon and that they will not feel the need to press the amendments at further stages of the Bill.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood

I am content to withdraw the amendment at this stage and I beg leave to do so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 186A not moved.]

Clause 94 agreed to.

Clause 95 [Powers to make further supplementary, consequential and transitional provision, etc]:

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood moved Amendment No. 187: Page 118, line 37, at end insert— ( ) at the coming into force of section 7 was carrying out the abstraction of water to prevent interference with any mining, quarrying or engineering operations (whether underground or surface) or to prevent damage to works resulting from any such operations or was contemplating carrying out such abstraction in pursuance of planning permission for the winning and working of minerals extant at that date,

The noble Lord said: This amendment has two elements to it. When it was originally drafted it referred to one particular context, but there is a second to which I shall refer in a moment. The context in question is clearly the eligibility for compensation should there be real and significant loss to the relevant industry. The issue is that as quarries and quarry owners develop a project, considerable advance investment takes place. In Amendment No. 187, the key words are, or was contemplating carrying out such abstraction in pursuance of", and so on.

The issue here is that as a quarry owner plans the future, he will have a time horizon within which a certain level of investment seems reasonable. It is a danger to such a time horizon if one simply restricts compensation to actual operations in place at the moment. The intent of the amendment is again to seek reassurance that in the event of any compensation being relevant, the level of investment and the policy and strategy documents of the company will be taken into account. I think that that is a perfectly reasonable request to make.

Since then—and this may be simply a point on which I need to be corrected—I have been led to believe that the Environment Agency will in fact issue licences on a first-come, first-served basis. If that turns out to be the case, there will be a very significant question for those who own quarries and those who operate them in the way specified whether they can apply in advance for licences that refer to work which they contemplate undertaking, as part of the policy or which has been the basis of investment for that company. In that case, I should seek reassurances that they could do so and that these licences will be allowed to lie unimplemented for some considerable period compatible with the investment horizon which led the companies to make the proposals. I beg to move.

Lord Howie of Troon

I support the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, in Amendment No. 187. I shall also give an example of how it might be important. In quarrying, one sometimes quarries up on a cliff, and sometimes underground. Drainage becomes important, of course, when one is quarrying underground. However, one might be contemplating quarrying up on a cliff and then to move down. One would have to apply for a de-watering licence at the beginning. It might be years before de-watering is necessary. The licence will by then have expired, and it will be necessary to apply to my noble friend Baroness Young for a kindly consideration of a renewal or extension, which may be given. However, the licence may not be renewed, although substantial capital may have been invested in developing the quarry. That is why Amendment No. 187 is necessary.

Amendment No. 187A is much shorter. Clause 95(4) allows the Secretary of State to pay compensation to anyone who, before 31st July 2002 was carrying on any activities", as a result of which they have to apply for a licence, when either no licence has been granted or it has been granted subject to restrictive conditions. There is no help in the Government press release of 19th February about what the phrase "supply of water" means in that regard. If it does not include the drainage of a quarry, my amendment is relevant. Amendment No. 187A would ensure that the de-watering of the quarry was included in the provisions.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Where any previously exempt activity is unable to continue as a result of the introduction of any new controls by the Bill, Clause 95 already provides that regulations can deal with the payment of compensation. Amendments Nos. 187 and 187A seek to ensure that the mining, quarrying and engineering construction industries are included in the arrangements. However, all such cases will be provided for by the regulations.

Payment of compensation to any person in those circumstances would apply, in line with the principles for compensation set out in Section 61 of the Water Resources Act 1991. That would take due account of abortive expenditure incurred and any loss or damage sustained by reason of the inability to continue the abstraction. Expenditure abortively incurred may also include the preparation of plans for the purposes of any work, and any similar matters preparatory to that work. I hope that that reassures noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood.

The principles on which compensation may be claimed are already established in legislation. I would expect future regulations governing the payment of compensation in transitional cases to be broadly consistent with Section 61 of the Water Resources Act 1991. With that reassurance, I hope that the noble Lords will feel that they do not need to press the amendments.

My noble friend Lord Howie of Troon raised a further issue. We recognise that in some instances existing quarrying operations will not require an abstraction licence for de-watering until after the coming into force of the provisions of the Bill. There is a possibility that such a licence will not be granted, or be granted on a restrictive basis, and that would not benefit from the currently proposed compensation arrangements. We are considering how to address that potential gap and hope to complete that consideration between now and later stages of the Bill.

It is not possible for anyone to apply in advance of the Act. The Environment Agency will consider all applications during the transitional period, so the issue of first-come-first-served does not really arise. I hope that I have covered all the genuine concerns raised by the noble Lords, Lord Sutherland and Lord Howie. I should stress that the withholding of licences would not happen for some perverse reason; it would happen because there were severe grounds for concern about the impact. Much as I enjoy, respect and understand the knowledge of quarrying possessed by my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon, I also understand the points made by noble Baroness, Lady Young. However, I am sure that I have satisfied his concerns.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood

I thank the Minister for those words of comfort and reassurance and I shall certainly reread the wording of the 1991 Act to see how it applies—or how we would regard it as applying—in this situation.

The issue of first-come-first-served is not simply transitional, however. There may be a good reason to introduce quotas in a particular area or catchment, as the availability of water and the sustainability of that catchment area unrolls over the years to come. One question from the industry, which is not formally raised by the amendment but which I should like to leave with the Minister for consideration, is to what extent the industry's long-term plans will be part of the horizon that settles the question of quotas and, in due course, the allocation of licences within a particular catchment area.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, will not be surprised by my response, which is that it is impossible to answer a totally hypothetical question as to what could happen at some date in the future in circumstances that I do not know about. I would never do that without advice. If I can write to him on that, I shall do so.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood

I would not say that it was at least worth trying to ask the question, as clearly it was not. On the other hand, I am voicing a legitimate concern about what might happen to the long-term plans to which investment has been committed if a particular form of dispensing licences comes into play. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 187A not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 188: Page 119, line 14, at end insert— ( ) Within 12 months of Royal Assent, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report on the state of the water legislation, together with a timetable for a consolidation programme covering the water legislation and a draft consolidation bill covering this Act and previous related Acts.

The noble Baroness said: The amendment speaks for itself. As we have debated the Bill in Committee, we have gone from frustration to greater frustration and greater difficulty, as we have had to look back through so many different Acts, then look at Butterworths to see if it has been updated, then table amendments to ensure that our interpretation was correct. The Water Industry Act ran to some 400-plus pages and the Water Resources Act to 600-plus pages. There have also been various changes made over the years. We believe that it is time to consolidate some of the various water Acts.

If we who have parliamentary support to back us up have difficulties, one can only imagine what it is like for the ordinary person outside trying to gain the sort of information he needs. I hope that the Government will say that the amendment is very sensible, as this is something that needs to be done. Earlier, I slightly goaded the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, who is no longer in his place, about extra regulations being introduced. We could do with a whole Session of Parliament to deregulate and get rid of some regulations, or at least consolidate them.

I understand that ignorance of the law is no excuse for not complying with the law, but owing to the way that the law is presented at the moment, ignorance may become mandatory. I say that slightly jestingly, of course, but I am concerned that it is increasingly difficult for people to know what their responsibilities are or where they can find out the information that they need. The time has come to say, "Enough is enough". It is time to address this topic, especially with regard to the Water Framework Directive that will be introduced after the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

The Minister will not be surprised that I support the spirit of the amendment, although it might have been strengthened if the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, had mentioned the Water Framework Directive in it.

In the course of the Committee stage, I have made a few notes of the aspects on which the Water Framework Directive may require primary legislation that are not contained in the Bill. The Minister will probably tell me that they can all be done by secondary legislation, but I press the point that this is a missed opportunity.

I shall give the Committee some brief examples. First, the river basin management plan, which has been much quoted and is much needed, will have no force in statute. The planning Bill that we shall debate shortly in this House could be a mechanism for the statutory changes that would be needed to give the appropriate powers or duties to planning authorities that the Water Framework Directive would need. However, this Bill would have been a more appropriate place, as the changes have to do with water.

Secondly, this Bill gives no legal powers to adapt the water charging regime, which might be required by the Water Framework Directive. I accept that that is a bit in advance of its time, but it is certainly something that we need to consider.

Thirdly, the Bill makes no alteration of the definitions in the Water Resources Act 1991. That is mundane, but it is very important. For example, there is "polluting matter" and "pollution", "coastal waters" and "transitional waters-. The first definitions are from the Water Resources Act and the second from the Water Framework Directive. That will cause considerable confusion. Defining what is meant in legislation is important. If we have altered the Water Resources Act in this Bill, we should have altered it in a way that anticipates a directive that we will bring into force by the end of the year.

I support the spirit of the amendment, and look forward to the discussions on Report about how we shall take this further.

Lord Howie of Troon

I have found myself in substantial agreement with many of the comments made by those on the Opposition Benches. I agree with the idea lying behind the amendment, especially insofar as it asks for a consolidation Bill.

As we often do in the House of Lords, I shall speak from personal experience. One great virtue of this House is that there are people here with experience of a wide variety of matters, and when they speak they frequently know what they are talking about.

My experience in this matter goes back to the period of my life when I was a publisher of engineering magazines, one of which was called World Water—although that is not apposite to this discussion. This was the period when the then Government, starting with Jim Prior, were reforming industrial relations. Part of my activities in those days was to negotiate on matters such as salaries and conditions of work with the NUJ and SOGAT. That was always interesting and sometimes amusing.

As Members of the Committee will remember, during that period there was a succession of Acts reforming industrial relations, each of which meant that one had to go back to the previous Act, cut out bits of it and paste it in. By the end of that period, when there were four or perhaps even five successive Acts, the NUJ was bamboozling me and I was bamboozling it. That was not quite the best way of going about business, and I am perfectly sure that that is true here. The Bill that we are now discussing amends other parts of existing legislation. I merely put in a mild plea to gather it together and make a consolidated Bill—if not now then at some time in the reasonably near future.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty

I can tell noble Lords present—the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and I dealt with the Greater London Bill, as did my noble friend Lady Farrington—that this is a straightforward, completely comprehensible Bill. I do not know what people are complaining about.

However, clearly there is a principle here which goes rather wider than the Water Bill—that is, whether, when a number of pieces of legislation relate to one subject, Parliament as a whole should provide time for making consolidation. Frankly, I do not believe that we can deal with that matter on the basis of one amendment to one Bill. Indeed, the convention is that the priority for consolidation Acts is determined by the Law Commission rather than by a government department.

I can certainly give noble Lords the assurance that we shall draw attention to the views expressed here in relation to the consolidation of water legislation, both existing and prospective, in relation to the Water Framework Directive and the secondary legislation that we are proposing in that respect. However, I do not believe that we can carry that on the basis of an amendment to one Bill. It rather goes to the heart of the unsatisfactory nature of our proceedings and the complete incomprehension of them outside, and we shall not solve that tonight.

Baroness Byford

"Shame", says my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith. I believe that we all accept the thrust behind the amendment and I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Howie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. The noble Lord tempts me to sit in on every Bill and each time to seek to insert one of these clauses at the end. If enough pressure were exerted on all the Bills every time, perhaps something might be done. However, I digress.

I have to say to the Minister that this is an issue to which I believe we shall return and, indeed, we shall probably tie it up with some stronger wording on the Water Framework Directive. I do not believe that just because the directive is not included, that is an excuse for it not to be considered. I believe that it is something worth doing. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 95 agreed to.

Clause 96 [Regulations and orders]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 189 to 191: Page 119, line 17, at end insert— ( ) A statutory instrument containing an order or regulations—

  1. (a) made by the Secretary of State under any provision of this Act except section 10 (but including section 97), and
  2. (b) which contains (or contain) provision amending or repealing any enactment, shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament."
Page 119, line 18, at beginning insert "Otherwise,". Page 119, line 22, leave out subsection (3).

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 96, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 97 [Interpretation, commencement, short title, and extent]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 192: Page 120, line 11, at end insert— ( ) Before bringing any Part of this Act into force, the Secretary of State shall make a statement declaring that its provisions are compatible with those of Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23rd October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy.

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 192, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 193. Having just heard the response to my previous two amendments from the Minister, I do not believe that he will like these any better. Nevertheless, I believe that they are important and should be moved.

We know that the Water Framework Directive, or parts of it, must be implemented by the end of this year. We feel that much of it would have been dealt with more appropriately within the Committee stage and within the handling of this Bill. Indeed, that sentiment has been reflected by other noble Lords at various stages and on various days.

We have just spent our sixth day—I believe that we shall just about finish tonight—of the Committee stage on a Bill which I suspect the Government originally thought was small and would go through on the nod. I believe that its complexity has been highlighted by the many amendments put forward by noble Lords from all sides of the Committee.

As I said in debate on an earlier amendment, I believe that it will be the summer before the Bill goes through both Houses. Therefore, we feel very strongly that the implications of the directive should have been considered and that we should have had a chance to debate them fully.

As I said earlier, statutory instruments are all very well, but we do not get a chance to debate them in the way that we have been able to do in relation to this Bill. So far as we are concerned as legislators, they are frustrating and they are even more frustrating for those with businesses and interests outside the House who find the way that we do our business even more confusing.

In addition, I believe that not using the Bill in the way that we should have done will place extra time demands and resource demands not only on the Government themselves but also on all the businesses which employ people. They must go through the statutory instruments to ensure that they are up to date and running with them. I do not believe that that helps to keep costs down; I believe that it puts costs up. Therefore, that is my reason for tabling these two amendments.

As I said earlier, we are very disappointed. From the speeches from all sides of the House at Second Reading, it was clear that it was decided to push ahead without implementing the Water Framework Directive with the Bill. I believe that I have said enough because so much has been said on this issue. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I do not believe that at this stage the length of my speech will indicate the depth of my feeling about this matter. Therefore, I say simply that I look forward to returning on Report to the issue of the Water Framework Directive and its inclusion in the Bill. We end the Committee stage as we started it—by discussing the directive.

Lord Whitty

With the promise of returning to this matter, I suspect that noble Lords will not accept the fact that we have not included the Water Framework Directive within the Bill. However, clearly we have already started on the process of its transposition, and that should be completed by the end of this year. As I said earlier, that is the normal way of proceeding with European directives.

What I object to in this amendment is that, given that we have discussed the subject and do not see eye-to-eye on it, nevertheless, even if noble Lords are completely happy with the rest of the Bill, they want to delay it. That is not appropriate and I do not believe that I could ever accept a delay in commencement issued in those terms. I believe that it would also establish a difficult precedent on future occasions. Therefore, I am afraid that I cannot accept the amendment.

Baroness Byford

The Minister will not be surprised that I am not surprised by his answer, nor that I am disappointed. The Minister has just said that this is the way that we would normally proceed with Bills. I accept that but, as I said previously, we have an opportunity—perhaps once in 20 years—to get everything together but we cannot do so. I believe that my words, as reflected by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, indicate great disappointment. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 193 not moved.]

Clause 97 agreed to.

In the Title:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 194: Line 1, at beginning insert "To make further provision for, or in connection with, the protection of the water environment,

The noble Baroness said: I tabled this change to the Title of the Bill in optimistic anticipation that the Government would accept my Amendment No. 1 on the Water Framework Directive. This amendment seeks to reflect that change. However, at this stage the Government have not chosen to accept the amendment. I believe that this small amendment gives a flavour of what we have lost by not including a wider consideration of everything that makes up the water environment, and that is a disappointment to me. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford

Again, I support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. We have spoken about the whole question of water use, its resource, its quality and also the role that it has in protecting the environment. That is something that we very much share. I am not sure whether the Minister will be able to accept the amendment but it is certainly something that is very dear to all our hearts. We want efficient use of water and we want to conserve water. However, at the same time, we also have a responsibility for the environment. I support the amendment.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

I want to support my noble friend because I have spoken for most of the afternoon about this very topic. Its importance cannot be underestimated.

Lord Whitty

I note the consistent views of noble Lords on this issue. No doubt noble Lords will attempt to amend the Bill in this respect at some stage, in which case a review of the wording of the Title may be appropriate. As the Bill now stands, it is not appropriate. If noble Lords regard that as a challenge, no doubt we shall have interesting Report and Third Reading stages of the Bill.

Baroness Byford

If the noble Lord suggests that it may be a challenge, I believe that it is one that we shall gladly accept. While the Bill has gone through its six days in Committee, many good ideas have come together. I want to record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, to others and, in particular, to the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, for the way that the Bill has been handled.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

As I rise to withdraw the amendment, I want to associate myself with the thanks both to the Ministers who have taken part and to my colleagues and other noble Lords who have spoken. I feel a little depressed by the apparent lack of interest from the rest of the House in a Bill that concerns water. It is an extremely important and essential Bill. Perhaps noble Lords did not take on board the breadth of possibilities within the Bill and perhaps it has suffered from not being dealt with on the Floor of the House. But I hope that on Report noble Lords, besides those of us here, will take a wider interest in it. I believe that the subject merits it. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments.

The Committee adjourned at nineteen minutes before eight o'clock.