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Lord Alli: Given the lateness of the hour, I shall restrict my comments to just a few. I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister for her response. I also thank other Members of the Committee who contributed to the debate, and am grateful for the support that these amendments have received from all parts of the Chamber.

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This is an important debate for the creative community and one which will have a profound effect on its future. No doubt I shall return to my discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in terms of ITV companies pitching for independent quota. That conjures up in my mind the picture of a fox entering a chicken coop and saying, "Don't worry, I'll work with you, my dears".

I shall read carefully what my noble friend had to say and I shall reflect on the way forward on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

National Minimum Wage (Enforcement Notices) Bill [HL]

Returned from the Commons agreed to with a privilege amendment; the amendment was considered and agreed to.

        House adjourned at sixteen minutes past ten o'clock.

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29 Apr 2003 : Column GC115

Official Report of the Grand Committee on the

Water Bill [HL]

Tuesday, 29th April 2003.

(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

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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

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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.

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