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Lord Stanley of Alderley: I must be the only member of my family for the past 100 years who does not have a degree so perhaps I speak from the other side having seen how the rest of my family behave. I support much of what the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said. I feel quite strongly—if I may say so to my noble friend on the Front Bench—that the worry over this particular Bill as I have followed it is that it has been driven by the academic and the non-practical. Having listened to some of the debates the other night, I was horrified at the impracticality of some of the suggestions coming forward. I am a little worried as regards the idea that we are always listened to on the ground. I take the point that my noble friend made that land managers are different. Thank God they are different, and pray God they will be listened to! However, between now and Report I shall read carefully what my noble friend said because he gave some good answers. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Walpole moved Amendment No. 321A:

Page 88, line 14, at end insert:
("(e) the Forestry Commission;
(f) such bodies or persons which are representative of local government, environmental, business and community interests.").

The noble Lord said: I am not sure that the Minister has completely answered the arguments. I am still firmly of the opinion that the Forestry Commission or the Forestry Authority, or whatever one likes to call it, is highly relevant. Perhaps that is a personal opinion. As regards the other bodies, the Minister said that consultation—in spite of what my noble friend Lord Lytton has just said—is fairly good on the whole. With the possible exception of land managers, I think it is fairly good on the whole but this is what these amendments are designed to ensure. When we discussed the Environmental Protection Bill, things were going quite well; but some people were worried whether they would continue to go well. That is why I feel this amendment is important. I thank the Minister for the suggestion that we could meet with him before the Report stage. I would very much like to take him up on that suggestion. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: First of all, I apologise to the Committee for arriving a little late. I am probably one of a number of people who have been caught out by the timing. If the Minister feels that I am pushing my luck in referring to this point now, I will entirely understand if he tells me so. In supporting this amendment, I wish to relate it to Clause 81(1) which sets out the items on which consultation is to be carried out. I wish to ask the

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Minister about Clause 81(1) (b). I re-read that paragraph last night and it made me gulp a little as it refers to the modification of legislation,

    "in a way which changes the purpose of the legislation in question".

I find that a curious notion. The Minister may say that there are other safeguards which would prevent an inappropriate change to the purpose under this heading; in other words, the mechanisms that have to be carried out. But to have buried within this clause a reference to a change in the purpose of legislation took me a little by surprise when I read the paragraph rather more slowly than clearly I had done the first time. Perhaps I am pushing my luck in raising the matter outside the group of amendments which deal with this topic. If the Minister does not wish to reply now perhaps we can discuss it later.

4.30 p.m.

Earl Howe: As always, I am happy to help the noble Baroness as far as I can. I indicated earlier that the purpose of that clause was to avoid a situation in which we would create bureaucratic consultations for minor modifications in environmental schemes. We do not want to have to consult each and every time a tiny amendment is made for example, to the rates of payment of ESAs or whatever it may be. The point is that only a substantive change in the scheme should trigger the consultation procedure.

In answering the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, I apologise to him because I thought that his amendment was included in the previous group of amendments. That is why I referred to forestry matters when I spoke to that group of amendments. I can only say again that the interest of the Forestry Commission in environmental schemes is of a different order from the interest of the environmental agencies. I reiterate that we frequently consult bodies which are representative of a whole range of interests, including the Forestry Commission where appropriate. We shall continue to do that. There is no intention to do anything differently.

I am sorry to hear the sentiments expressed by some Members of the Committee, particularly the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and that there is dissatisfaction with the way the current arrangements are working and that they have fallen short in some way. We shall continue to listen to—and we greatly value—the views of farmers and landowners in particular, but also the Forestry Commission, whose expertise the Committee will agree is unquestioned. However, that expertise is not required for every scheme.

This is not something that we feel needs to appear on the face of the Bill. I believe that the arrangements work well in practice. I look forward to my discussions with the noble Lord on that point at a later date.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: I should like to associate myself with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in relation to Amendment No. 316A. I had not fully appreciated the point. Changing the

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purpose of legislation is rather more than changing mere rates of pay and so on. That is a serious issue to which we shall have to return at Report stage.

Lord Walpole: The last arguments are slightly beyond this amendment. In the light of what the Minister said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 321B to 326 not moved.]

Clause 81 agreed to.

Clause 82 [Meaning of "drainage" in certain enactments]:

The Earl of Lytton moved Amendment No. 327:

Page 89, line 5, leave out (", other than spray irrigation").

The noble Earl said: I move the amendment at the request of the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, who unfortunately is unable to be present today.

The purpose of the amendment is to add a further aspect to the water level management activities of internal drainage boards. The boards already do excellent work in managing water levels. The amendment would enable the boards to move water around the drainage networks in such a way as specifically to facilitate direct abstraction of water for spray irrigation purposes.

The exercise of such a power would be subject to all the other duties of the boards in relation to the environment and in no way supersedes those. The conditions attached to any specific licence for abstraction of water for spray irrigation purposes would also have to be observed.

The circumstances in which such a power is needed exist in particular in the low-lying fenlands of East Anglia. The dense networks of drainage channels in those areas extend over many square miles. They are managed by a number of internal drainage boards. The land drained by those networks constitutes some of our highest grade and most productive agricultural land. Horticultural crops are widely grown in those areas, often under contract to major supermarket suppliers. Therefore, this is very much the sharp end of commercial horticulture. Because reliable supplies of water are essential, there is widespread use of spray irrigation using water abstracted directly from the drainage channels under licences granted by the National Rivers Authority. Spray irrigation is the predominant method of irrigation in this country.

The aim of the amendment is to enable internal drainage boards to respond to requests from irrigators to ensure that surplus water—and I stress "surplus"—is directed down the channels from which the water is abstracted for irrigation purposes rather than simply being allowed to flow out to sea. I submit that that is a role which is entirely consistent with the efficient augmentation, redistribution and use of water resources.

Ensuring that internal drainage boards are able to manage water resources in that way would bring important benefits to the horticultural industry and no little comfort to its long-term prospects. I repeat that boards would be able to respond to requests from irrigators for water to be managed in this manner.

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This would happen only if the actions were consistent with the other duties of the boards and with any conditions attached to specific abstraction licences. That is vitally important.

I invite the Minister to give an assurance that the Government will look favourably on proposals to allow IDBs to play a fuller role in this area and manage water levels to benefit spray irrigators as well as the other interests already covered by Clause 82. I beg to move.

Lord Crickhowell: I was not sure what the purpose of the amendment was until the noble Earl moved it. It gives me some anxiety, particularly because it seems likely to cause confusion about responsibilities. Drainage is described in the clause. It is essentially the moving of water about in order to maintain the right levels. We are suddenly confusing that with the provision of water for a particular purpose, which, as the noble Earl said, is controlled by abstraction licensing.

I have not had an opportunity to examine the legal implications, but I would be concerned if the effect of the amendment were to undermine the ability of the agency to protect the environment through its licensing arrangements. Extensive spray irrigation, about which we have been told, can have immediate and sometimes extremely damaging consequences for the environment during times of drought. I suspect that that is a subject to which the noble Earl may return later in a debate on the Motion that the clause stand part of the Bill.

My concern at present is to ensure that there is effective protection of the environment and that that is not undermined by this proposed change. It is always open to agricultural interests to obtain abstraction licences. For 30 years or more they have been urged by government and those responsible to provide, as far as possible, reservoirs or other impoundments on farms or coastal farms so that they can take water in times of drought when it may not otherwise be available without damage to the environment.

We are dealing with an important issue and I shall listen with great interest to what the Minister says. I suspect that his advisers and lawyers will have examined the impact of the amendment more carefully than I confess I have.

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