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Lord Moran: I have a good deal of sympathy with the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Greenway. It is important that the agency should take proper account of recreational and navigational responsibilities. I imagine that it will take over the waterways for which the National Rivers Authority is now responsible.

The only point I wish to make is that if anything like this amendment is acceptable to the Government, it should be borne in mind that there are one or two waterways where the interests of boaters and navigators and the interests of fishermen may conflict. It will be necessary for the agency, as it is for the National Rivers Authority, to balance the interests of those two groups. Unfortunately they do occasionally conflict and I am thinking particularly of the River Wye. The lower Wye

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is a navigation. The National Rivers Authority is not at present the navigation authority, but it may become so. If it does, it would need to take full account of the fishing interests on one of the most important salmon rivers in England and Wales. Therefore, if wording of this kind were included in the Bill, there would need to be a few extra words indicating that those two interests must be balanced.

Viscount Ullswater: The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, asked the Committee to consider including in Clause 6 a specific duty on the agency in respect of recreational and navigational use of other waterways for which it is responsible. The Bill before the Committee transfers to the agency without change the NRA's existing responsibilities in respect of waterways.

As I said when replying to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, on Tuesday 17th January, we shall shortly be issuing a consultation paper seeking views from interested parties on the future organisation of the waterways which are currently the responsibility of British Waterways and the NRA. That will provide the opportunity for waterways' interests to advise government of their visions for the future of those waterways. It would be premature to seek to change the nature or disposition of those responsibilities as suggested by the amendment without taking heed of the outcome of that consultation.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, pointed out that, as drafted, the amendment has the potential to conflict with the fisheries duties in Clause 6(6) and we would need to be extremely careful about whether there was a connection between them. We would want to avoid any tension between the two. Having said that, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Greenway: I thank the noble Viscount for that reply. I am of course aware of the navigation review proposed by the Government and we hope that it is on the way to coming forward. It has been a long time in the pipeline. I take his point therefore that in many ways it would be premature to do anything until we had the result of the review.

As I said when I moved the amendment, I am merely trying to achieve parity for the boating interests with the fishing interests. I accept the point made by my noble friend Lord Moran in regard to the lower reaches of the River Wye, where a possible conflict may exist. However, I do not believe that it would be beyond the bounds of the new agency—if the wording is slightly altered—to cope satisfactorily with the situation.

I accept that the drafting may be faulty and may lead to conflict. In view of that I reserve my judgment on the matter and will think about it further. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 73:


Page 7, line 14, at end insert:

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("(c) of promoting the efficient use of water in industry, agriculture and the home;").

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of Amendments Nos. 73 and 206 is to extend the water resource management duties of the agency, the water undertakers and the Office of Water Services to include promoting the efficient use of water. I am glad to see that the third amendment in the group, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hilton and the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, addresses the same point. These are probing amendments. They are both supported by the RSPB, which believes that the Bill is an opportunity for Parliament to promote the efficient use of water.

As background, I understand that the NRA has been extremely worried about the increasing use of water. The demand for public water supply has increased by 50 per cent. over the past 30 years. That has resulted in serious environmental problems, quite apart from the problems for the NRA. It has caused problems for wetland birds and habitats of national and international importance, many of which we have an international obligation to protect. For example, English Nature identified over 100 sites of special scientific interest which are being adversely affected by over-abstraction.

The demand for water is likely to continue to rise—the NRA suggests that it may rise by as much as 27 per cent. over the next 30 years. That is the worst case scenario. That would mean large investment in new resources and consequential environmental damage. However, the NRA estimates that with efficient use of water that increased demand could be kept as low as 4 per cent. over the next 30 years.

The environmental agency will be in a unique position to influence demand for water through its water resource functions and the amendments will ensure that the agency has a duty actively to promote demand of management measures. I beg to move.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I intervene briefly to say that earlier this evening I tabled a new clause to come later in the Bill which will appear in the Marshalled List tomorrow. It places on the water undertakings, the companies and on the regulator—Ofwat—a duty to conserve water and provide for sustainable development. In a sense it is the counterpart of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol.

I believe that this matter is something that the Committee will need to address on more than one occasion; it is something which certainly the regulator feels is lacking in the present legislation. As the noble Baroness rightly said, if water is used extravagantly, it inevitably leads to the need to increase resources and build reservoirs when perhaps they may not have been necessary if people had been encouraged to be more economical. There have been various discussions in the Chamber on the metering of water. I have made speeches when I have said that metering is one of the ways to bring home to people that there is a cost in that the more water they use the more they will have to pay.

The idea of putting a duty on the agency, the regulator and the companies to promote water conservation is something to which even in our watery island—and today in this part of the country it has been very watery

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indeed—we should give careful consideration. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to make sympathetic noises not only as regards the noble Baroness's amendment but also in relation to my new clause which I have tabled in my own name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Bancroft and Lord Dainton.

Lord Monkswell: We are at a little disadvantage, in that we do not yet have before us the text of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I support it. I have mentioned this matter in the House before—that is to say, that the efficient utilisation of water cannot be left to the market mechanism which apparently the Government espouse so warmly. In the long run the efficient utilisation of water cannot be determined by just increasing the price. That is one of the arguments for metering. I am attempting to summarise the argument, as I understand it, which is that the metering of water will enable consumers to identify the price of the water they are paying for and therefore that they will take steps to reduce their expenditure.

The fundamentals of water consumption relate to the technology which we use in our day-to-day lives. Only a change in that technology—which, unfortunately, will not come about through the operation of the market mechanism—will enable people to maintain or improve their standard of living by the utilisation of new mechanisms of water efficiency.

For that reason, I wholeheartedly support this amendment. If the environment agency has that duty and responsibility, it can look at the whole situation without the constraint of what I describe as the "market mechanism". I am sure that this amendment will introduce a new dimension to the debate about the utilisation of water. I am also sure that it will be very beneficial to the future of this country.

Baroness Hamwee: I associate these Benches with the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness. It is an important point. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, referred to "our watery island". Perhaps that is one of the problems; namely, that the public do not understand that, despite the amount of water that falls upon us from the skies, nevertheless there are difficulties in the provision of water. It is a matter of confusion that, in periods of bans and drought orders, people feel that there should be enough water to supply the need.

Viscount Ullswater: Amendment No. 73 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, would add to the existing duties for conserving, redistributing and augmenting water resources and securing the proper use of water that the agency will inherit from the NRA a new duty to promote efficient use of water. Amendments Nos. 206 and 373 would supplement this by imposing similar duties on the director general of water services and on the water undertakers.

The Department of the Environment considered, among other things, whether additional duties and powers were required to promote the efficient use of water in a consultation paper about the sustainable use of water, Using Water Wisely, which was published in 1992. We intend to publish shortly the comprehensive

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action plan arising from that consultation and in the intervening period we have been considering the comments that we received. We have, where appropriate, taken action.

The combined effect of the noble Baroness's proposals may seem to produce rather a large number of people trying to do the same thing. Clause 6 of the Bill already imposes a duty on the agency, similar to that currently enjoyed by the NRA, to take all such action as it considers necessary to conserve water resources and to secure their proper use. What action the agency takes will be for it to decide in the light of any guidance that it is given, but it will clearly be bound by that duty in advising those considering applying for water abstraction licences and in considering applications. In appropriate circumstances it will be able to go further, as the NRA already does—for example, in its publications advising farmers on good irrigation practice. I suggest, therefore, that no change is needed in respect of the agency. But most water used in the home, and much of that used in industry and agriculture—I note water used in commercial property seems to be excluded from the proposed amendment—will be obtained from a water undertaker rather than under licence directly from the agency. In these circumstances a specific duty on the agency to promote the efficient use of water among certain users therefore would not be effective.

Turning to the director general of water services, and dealing with him in isolation, we do not believe that he should be given a duty directly to promote the efficient use of water. That would require him, for example, to mount public education campaigns and issue publicity material about water use. That, in our view, is not the role of the director general. His major responsibility is the economic regulation of the water undertakers and the supervision of their quality of service. Rather, the determination and publication of standards which in his opinion water companies should achieve might be more in keeping and in line with the responsibilities of the electricity and gas regulators. He needs no new powers for that.

However, the third string to the bow is Amendment No. 373, in the name of my noble friend Lord Marlesford and spoken to enthusiastically by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. It puts water undertakers under a similar duty. This seems to us a more promising approach. Coupled with the setting of standards by the director general, it could offer helpful possibilities. The amendment is, however, defective, in that it would remove the primary duty of water undertakers to develop and maintain an efficient and economical water supply system within their area, something on which the whole of the public water supply system depends. I therefore could not accept it.

While I am sympathetic to the good intentions behind this amendment, and I accept that water undertakers should do what they can to conserve water, it is also important that any measures they implement should properly consider the costs as well as the benefits of those measures. The issues of promoting the economic and efficient use of water have been considered in Using Water Wisely and will be dealt with further in our

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comprehensive action plan. I am therefore happy to undertake that we will consider, during the passage of the Bill through Parliament, whether it should be amended to introduce now a duty on water undertakers to promote water conservation. With arrows directed at three targets, I believe that one may find its proper home. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.


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