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Lord Crickhowell: I had not intended to delay the Committee over the amendment, but I have been sufficiently aroused by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, who I thought was urging us to build reservoirs—perhaps one in or near the village of Marlesford, suitably landscaped. But of course he meant a bigger or grander one to deal with the whole of East Anglia. Then it became clear that he was advancing the classic NIMBY argument; that he would like adequate reservoirs for storing water so long as they were not in his back yard.

There is equal opposition to the long-established proposal for a reservoir on the back door of the family home of the Government Chief Whip in another place. There is considerable excitement about the proposals there.

There is some support for a reservoir proposal in a spot in East Anglia—it is being studied by one of the water companies at the moment—which is a curious gap in the map. It is a sparsely populated part of East Anglia, with few roads, and no one seems to object. The only difficulty is that the cost of constructing it there will be a good deal higher than constructing it near the family home of the Government Chief Whip in another place. But that issue may be resolved.

While of course there is a need for reservoirs, my noble friend must not advance the case that there is something inherently good in the reservoir solution as against other means of dealing with the matter. The NRA has shown that the powers that exist in the legislation are capable of having a very strong influence on the decisions taken. There is at present one water company in the south east of England which is complaining fairly strongly that we are taking a particularly austere and restricted view about its plans for building a reservoir and that we are being altogether too tough about it. Particularly in Kent, we are insisting on the need for conservation—for cutting waste and other conservation measures—before approval will be given for the construction of reservoirs.

The difficulty does not lie in anything that might be resolved by my noble friend's amendment; the real difficulties that will hang over the agency are the existing abstraction rights presently held by companies. The environmental regulator's problem is that if those abstraction rights are damaging the rivers in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, then the possibility has to be faced that very considerable compensation will have to be paid.

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The problem can sometimes be solved. There was a notable case with the Darent in Kent whereby, as a result of careful negotiation with Thames Water, a contribution through the NRA—from the other licence holders effectively—and a contribution by Thames Water covered by the pastoral arrangements in the system regulated by the financial regulator, the Darent is to be rescued. A river that was dry for two or three years during the summer may now be restored.

The problem at the heart of achieving effective control of the system and protecting the environment lies more with the existence of substantial abstraction rights already held—whether needed or not, they are not lightly surrendered—rather than anything that I suspect will be dealt with here. In cases where reservoirs are needed I hope my noble friend will encourage them to be built, but he should not offer them as a total solution. If he is impatient with the Government over producing their document, he should at least acknowledge that the NRA has produced a strategy for water resources which has suggested that, with sensible economy measures and a drive to reduce waste, it should not be necessary to have any new, large scale transfer schemes or reservoir schemes for about 20 years. The drive for economy and efficiency is already producing a beneficial result.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Howie of Troon: The Committee will be aware that a few weeks ago—I think in November, although I am not quite sure—we celebrated the centenary of the Thirlmere Reservoir in the Lake District, which supplies water to the great conurbation of Manchester.

The proposal for that reservoir—when it was a proposal and before it became a project—was greeted with the lack of enthusiasm with which projects of that kind are met nowadays. People decried it; they said how wrong it was and that it would destroy the Lake District—the kind of argument that we get nowadays.

We have had Thirlmere for 100 years. It is a large reservoir, it has been wholly beneficial to Manchester, and it is now regarded as an addition to the Lake District and not a subtraction from it. I am inclined to look at reservoirs with great and increasing sympathy, and I hope many more are built.

Viscount Ullswater: I think my noble friend Lord Marlesford misunderstood me. I was speaking to Amendment No. 373, which was grouped with the previous amendments, to which he did not speak. It was in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, and it was to that amendment I was speaking not to the current one.

Again in my previous answer I indicated that the Government would publish shortly the comprehensive action plan which follows Using Water Wisely. I understand that shortly means shortly in this instance. I can go no further than that.

Amendment No. 74 would widen the proviso which says that the duties of the agency under Clause 6(2) shall not affect the obligation of water undertakers to develop water resources to meet their water supply obligation

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under Section 37 of the Water Industry Act 1991, so that the proviso would cover all their obligations flowing from that section.

I share the aim of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that the agency's duties should not become a substitute for those of the water undertakers. We believe that the present drafting of Clause 6(2), which follows that of the existing provisions, achieves this aim.

I am quite tempted to enter into the discussion about reservoirs. As everybody will know, my name is resonant of a reservoir. I remember when I was at Cambridge there was a headline in the paper which said, "Ullswater will become sterile." That, I must say, was before I got married.

Joking apart, I should like to examine carefully what my noble friends and other Members of the Committee have said about the matter to see whether there is something we can bring forward.

Amendment No. 76 seeks to make it clear that the extension of the flood defence functions of the agency to parts of the territorial sea is without prejudice to the general environmental duties of the agency. There is no difference between me and the noble Lord on this point. We believe it is clear that the general environmental duty under Clause 6(1) extends, as the subsection says, to coastal waters, and the general environmental duty under Clause 7 extends, in one way or another, to all the agency's functions. The risk of putting in a special reference of the kind proposed by the noble Lord is that of unexpected effects elsewhere where the presence of the special reference here, and the absence of anything comparable somewhere else, might lead to some restriction being implied where it is not intended. There may be some confusion. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will not wish to press the amendment.

Lord Marlesford: I am grateful to my noble friend. I accept his offer to examine the way in which he might accommodate my amendment. On that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Addison moved Amendment No. 75:

Page 7, line 18, at end insert:
("( ) In exercising its powers under subsection (2) above the Agency shall at all times endeavour to protect and safeguard the interests of any owners of land insofar as those may be adversely affected by its actions.").

The noble Viscount said: The Committee will be aware that Amendments Nos. 376 and 377, which involve changes to Schedule 18, and thus to enabling legislation, are included in this group of amendments. Therefore I should like to speak to those amendments on the basis that they are all related to the abstraction of water.

Amendments Nos. 75 and 376—the first of the Schedule 18 amendments—concern the predicament of people, including landowners and farmers, whose interests are affected adversely by the operation of abstraction licences held by others in the vicinity.

Clause 6(2), as currently drafted, sets out the agency's duties in relation to the provision of water. I consider that those duties should not be exercised so as to damage

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third parties in any way; in particular, I am concerned that the interests of landowners who may suffer adverse effects where water is abstracted by others under a licence granted by the agency, but who have no opportunity to secure compensation under current legislation because of the narrow definition of "protected rights", are safeguarded.

The costs faced by those landowners should be taken fully into account whenever the agency considers an application for a licence to abstract water. Under Section 39 of the Water Resources Act 1991, the agency may not issue an abstraction licence which derogates from protected rights. If such a licence is issued, the person whose rights are affected may claim damages from the agency by virtue of Section 60 of the Act. Conversely, the holder of an abstraction licence is protected by Section 48 of the Act from any action which may be brought against him in respect of the abstraction of water.

"Protected rights" are defined in Section 39(3) as either the rights prescribed in an abstraction licence or the right to abstract small quantities of water without a licence under Section 27(6). No protection is currently provided for landowners who enjoy the use of a small stream or a pond which may be affected adversely by water abstraction. Similarly, there is no protection against the lowering of the water table, leading to a loss of crops or trees or to the subsistence of land or any other private property, including buildings. Indeed, Section 48 of the Act denies landowners thus affected the rights which they otherwise might have had under common law to take action against the abstractor. There have been several cases in recent years where landowners have suffered in that way without any remedy in law, and that is grossly unfair.

The third of my amendments (Amendment No. 377) to line 14 of Schedule 18 deals with a related problem. Under current legislation, the NRA has the power to make emergency variations to licences for spray irrigation to curtail irrigation in times of dry weather before the authority resorts to a formal drought order which would control the use of water much more widely for purposes such as golf courses or car washes. The Bill as drafted will transfer those same powers to the new agency.

That power places an unjustified additional burden on the users of spray irrigation at the time they most need to irrigate, particularly for the high value salad and vegetable producers. Their products compete with imports, thus benefiting our balance of payments. Generally they receive no CAP support payments. Those users are being obliged to "take the first hit" on limiting water in the hope that other users will not, as a result, need to make sacrifices themselves.

What is the objective justification for singling out one user of water in that way? I see none, as the arrangements jeopardise the livelihoods of efficient British rural businesses. The argument is inequitable, illogical and unnecessary.

Amendment No. 377 would remove that inequality by removing the power to make emergency variations to irrigation licences. The amendment would not remove the agency's powers to curtail water use when

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necessary. It would merely put agriculture on an equal footing with other users of water, as agriculture's use of water would be limited at the same time as everyone else's, through a formal drought order.

I am sure that the Government are as anxious as I am to encourage efficient, consumer-oriented agriculture, especially production which does not make a call on taxpayers through CAP subsidy. So I hope that I can look forward to a favourable reply from my noble friend the Minister. I beg to move.

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