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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I support the suggestion that we explore further the issue of trickle irrigation. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that we may need to consider options that are more proactive than simply consulting. That point was reinforced for me by a leaflet produced by the National Water Demand Management Centre which includes a very useful map. That map outlines in red the areas where abstraction is unsustainable or unacceptable; in yellow, where no additional water is available; and, in blue, the areas where some additional water is available. As the Committee will not be surprised to hear, the map indicates very few areas in England and Wales where additional water is available. Indeed, vast swathes of the South East are marked in red.
Bearing in mind that no additional water is available in an awful lot of England, it seems that trickle irrigators will be in a difficult position if the Environment Agency is not able to make a value judgment on the needs of agriculture as opposed to those of other forms of industry. I say that advisedly. Noble Lords may say that everyone has a right to their business, and of course I agree. However, I have been impressed by the actual amounts of water required by various businesses. Being a printer's daughter, I was particularly struck by the water usage of the Beacon Press. It now requires absolutely no water in its printing process. That is never likely to be the case for agricultural growers. Horticulturists in particular cannot manage without water. With new technologies, however, some industries that have historically relied on water have been able to change their systems to end their need for water.
I believe that we will have to revisit this issue in one form or another. If the Environment Agency had a duty to consider the efficient use of water, perhaps it could start to make a judgment about the position of businesses that cannot operate at all without water as against those that could operate with much less water or no water at all but have chosen not to invest in the necessary technology.
Finally, I associate myself with the remarks about the importance of the local production of food. I believe that that is extremely important. There is a great demand for, particularly organic, vegetables and fruit that is not being met by British producers. If we make life any more difficult for that sector, that demand will increasingly be filled from abroad.
Lord Whitty: We have had a wide-ranging debate. However, this amendment is about consultation, which I shall try to deal with first. The amendment requires consultation before the introduction of Clause 7. I think that there is a problem with the
However, if the question is whether we are having consultations with bodies representing users and others on how they will be affected by the changes and on the detail of how licensing will be introduced in practice, that is a somewhat different matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked whether they will be consulted. They will be consulted about how the Environment Agency will approach licensing. If we are focusing on that, that is where a commitment to consultation is probably appropriate. However, it would not be appropriate on the face of the Bill itself.
We will no doubt return to the broader issues raised in this short debate. However, we recognise the value of trickle irrigation. We recognise also that it can be an efficient way of using water in horticultural and certain other applications.
The arrangements will operate as follows. All trickle irrigators above a threshold will have two years from enactment of this part of the Bill to apply for a licence. At that point, the agency will either grant an abstraction licence valid until the next review, or refuse a licence because the abstraction is causing environmental damage and try to work with the abstractor to try to find a more suitable alternative. In carrying out the assessment of any licence application, the Environment Agency must have a duty to take into account the costs and benefits of taking that decision, not only on the immediate business but on the rural community as a whole. It will therefore take into account some of the issues raised in this debate.
It is not true that trickle irrigation is always more efficient than spray irrigationit depends on how the trickle irrigator operates his system. It is possible for trickle irrigators to use water inefficiently. One may think that trickle irrigation is always more efficient, but that is not so. Moreover, because of the amount of water involved, it can also have an adverse effect on other licensed use of the water which the Environment Agency would have to take into account. Therefore, the needs of trickle irrigators and the impact of their abstractions need to be considered against those of other abstractors.
This is a new area for licensing, but there is no presumption that trickle irrigators will be treated any less favourably than existing abstractors or other applicants for licences. We expect the Environment Agency to ensure that decisions are fair to all, and it is under a duty to act reasonably in that respect. I have no doubt that we will return to some of these wider issues, as we will to the issue of consultation. As the
Lord Dixon-Smith: As it would not be proper for me to ask the Environment Agency this question, can the Minister tell us how the system currently works? In managing a catchment area, or whatever one calls it, does the agency take into account in its calculations of water usage and capacity whether there is already a large amount of trickle irrigation? It would seem a gross derelictionand I am sure that there is no such thingif a large water user, even one outside the existing licence regime, were outside the calculations of water use for a catchment area. I just do not believe that that is what is happening. If that were taken into account, it would reinforce the case for treating the existing user as the licence holder on his first application for a licence. It would be a roll-over situation rather than a totally new application for a totally new abstraction. We are talking about an existing set-up.
Lord Whitty: I think that the noble Lord has partly made my case. Where there is an existing trickle irrigator, that irrigation has clearly made a contribution to the current balance, excess or shortage of water within that area. It will already have been taken into account in performing the calculations. It is therefore not a new situation. What is new is that, should the situation require, that abstraction will be brought with other abstractions into licensing for future management purposes. That includes a situation in which the overall supply of water and the overall demand on the water system may deteriorate. That means that large trickle irrigators need to be brought into that system.
Part of the consultation has to do with how we apply the arrangements. In practice, most large trickle irrigators would immediately be given a licence. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to various remarks by my colleague Elliot Morley in that respect. However, the whole system, as well as the individual case, will still require the Environment Agency to take into account the effect on the environment and on other abstractors.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I do not think that there is anything between us in principle. I accept entirely that the issue has to be included in the overall calculation of water availability and water use. There is no difficulty with that. We are talking about trickle irrigators being in a rather specific situation because they are being brought into the scheme. For them, the situation is new and they must apply for a licence.
I am happy that when all the licences are reviewed together in 2012, or whatever the date may be, the trickle irrigators will be part of that review. I have no difficulty with that. What concerns me is the possibility that their circumstances will be reviewed with their licence applications. We shall be enacting this Bill and that will not alter their physical circumstances vis-a-vis their water supply, their
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Before the Minister replies, I want to press him on the point about the map from the National Water Demand Management Centre, which states that there is no additional scope for licences in the areas coloured red or yellow and, in particular, in the areas coloured red. If there is no scope for additional demand, how will the trickle irrigators' licences be granted in the face of that advice?
Lord Whitty: Where there is an existing trickle irrigator, the calculations that help to define whether the colour is red, blue or yellow on the map already take account of licensed and unlicensed de facto use. Therefore, the calculations have already been made. However, I believe we all agree that a new threshold abstractor should be judged against any other applicant for a licence. But, in terms of the map, the calculation has already been made.
I also make the commitment that trickle irrigators will be treated no less favourably than any other applicants, whether they have been brought into the system anew or whether they have always required a licence. That will apply from the start of the new system. Therefore, although I understand the concernobviously there is always concern when one is brought into a system for the first timeI believe that no detriment will be suffered by those who use trickle irrigation efficiently. I hope that that gives some assurance and that more assurance is given by the commitment that the way the provision is applied will be subject to further consultation.
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