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Lord Dixon-Smith: I want to pursue the point slightly further. We are in the business of strategic planning for real problems. A drought plan is a

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drought plan, and I understand that it is an operational plan. However, an operational plan can work only within existing resources. It is essentially a short-term plan, if I can put it that way, particularly if it runs for only a three-year cycle. Solutions to water supply problems in a period of drought result from long-term strategic investment. We have discussed that sort of thing before.

I find myself wondering who has the responsibility for saying to a water undertaking, "Your drought plan is fine, but if we have a really hard time, you will have some difficulty, even with that plan. The plan can only make use of existing resources, and you ought to do something to take care of things strategically, so that you are not caught out in this way in future". Does the initiative for doing that lie with the water undertaking or, perhaps, with the Environment Agency? That is an important point.

Lord Whitty: If circumstances change so that a drought plan that has been relatively recently revised is no longer appropriate, the undertaker can seek a drought order that may impose restrictions on what would be the abstraction levels under the operational plan. It would be the undertaker's initiative, unless there were a general request that all undertakers operate on that basis. There is the ability to override a plan. In extreme circumstances, compensation can also be paid.

Lord Dixon-Smith: With respect, the Minister has not answered the question, in a sense. I asked about strategic operations to obviate the need to take the short-term measures that are so upsetting for everybody.

Lord Whitty: Clearly, once the strategic plans are set on a reasonable basis, although they will be reviewed every five years, one would not expect them to change hugely, but if a short-term crisis led to the recognition that the existing strategic and operational plans were fine but that circumstances had changed, a drought order would need to be adopted. As for the drought plan itself, it must be checked by the Environment Agency. If what lay behind the question was who will check on the drought plan, the answer is that it will be the Environment Agency.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the Minister for that last point. I think that he has answered my question, which was really: what happens when, despite all the best laid plans, we find that we still have a problem? That is the sort of issue that the Environment Agency should consider and then, presumably, warn the water undertaking that, in difficult circumstances, it would be vulnerable, and ask it what it was doing about that.

Baroness O'Cathain: On a point of clarification, where is DEFRA in all this? If there is catastrophic drought, for example, surely the people who will know how best to handle it are the water undertakers, who live with that all the time. Who says: "You must do ",

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Y or Z"? Is it DEFRA or the Environment Agency, or do the water undertakers carry the burden and get on with it?

Lord Whitty: In circumstances in which we must modify or override existing plans, an order must be sought that is granted or initiated by DEFRA; but strategic management is a matter for the Environment Agency.

The Duke of Montrose: To return to Amendment No. 172ZA, when a drought takes place, let us say that the water undertaker has been told by the licensed water supplier—I always get the terms wrong—"I will give you 10 million gallons per day and I want you to supply it to someone down the road". Then the drought comes along.

Does that mean that the water undertaker has within his drought plans to allow for those 10 million gallons per day to be passed on regardless of anything else—presuming he is still receiving it from the licensed supplier—or, if the drought order is brought into force, is he allowed to reduce the amount that he supplies on behalf of the licensed water supplier in proportion to everyone else? Having to take on someone else's drought plan may prove problematic. Perhaps the Minister can help me with that question.

Lord Whitty: Hopefully, the combination of the strategic and operational plans will in most circumstances deal with that. The operational plans will need to include some contingency provisions. However, in circumstances outside that, a drought order could in certain circumstances impose restrictions on other abstractions, or other users, and allow the source of water to be used by the undertaker in a different way.

In the example given by the noble Duke, the drought order could restrict and redirect the 10,000 gallons, but that would depend very much on the circumstances. As I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, there may be circumstances in which compensation may then be payable. However, those are abnormal circumstances. We hope that the operational plans and the contingencies built into them will deal with most such situations, and the understanding between the undertaker and the abstractor will be clear.

The Duke of Montrose: I thank the Minister for attempting to clear up the matter. It is rather complicated, and I think it would be better if we took the amendment away to reconsider the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 172A:

    Page 77, line 31, at end insert—

"(e) the environmental implementation implications of the supply of the quantities of water required to meet those obligations."

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The noble Lord said: Obviously, a drought plan is an extremely prudent and necessary aspect of the Bill. New Section 39B(4) states:

    "A drought plan shall address, in particular, the following matters—

    (a) what measures the water undertaker might need to take to restrain the demand for water within its area;

    (b) what measures the water undertaker might need to take to obtain extra water from other sources"—

which has just been mentioned—

    "(c) how the water undertaker will monitor the effects of the drought and of the measures taken under the drought plan",


    "(d) such other matters as the Secretary of State may specify in directions".

There is much reference there to the water undertaker, but the actions of the water undertaker may have an adverse effect on the water environment. Supplying water to meet droughts means that other parts of the water system may in certain circumstances have to do without water.

We are extremely fortunate in the United Kingdom. We do not have empty river beds, as do parts of the continent. When I see them, I often wonder what happens in the winter to the ecology of those river systems. We in the United Kingdom clearly have a better system than that, but of course we have more rain than many parts of continental Europe.

However, I am especially concerned because I thought that the Bill was about the environmental sustainability of the river systems from which we obtain our water. We must balance strategic reserves of water to enable river flow, for example. Eventually, we reach almost impossible pluralities between the needs of communities—the population—and the need to sustain the environment. The purpose behind the amendment is to highlight the necessity of maintaining environmental sustainability. In this case, it must surely be the Environment Agency, rather than the water undertaker, that ensures that that occurs. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Again, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, has opened a large can of worms. It may even be better to leave the matter for the Secretary of State to specify. I have some sympathy with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, but that is as far as it goes, because the wording of the amendment will not do.

When one is dealing with a drought, the whole environment is already under stress—otherwise, it would not be a drought. The noble Lord rightly said that this country is more fortunate than many parts of the world. We are: we have a very temperate climate. It is not that we have more rainfall than many other parts of the world; we have much less evaporation. That is a great distinction. One consequence of that is that we make pretty inefficient, poor use of the water resources with which we are blessed. But that is a separate issue that we have discussed on other occasions.

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It has been useful to have this debate and I shall listen to the Minister's reply with great interest, but that is probably as far as the matter should go.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I know that one or two Members of the Committee are concerned because the annunciator screen in the corner is not working at present; the engineer has been called. However, in the event of a Division, we shall all be informed.

Baroness O'Cathain: On a point of clarification, I know that the Bill is all about environmental sustainability, but in a drought, does the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, seriously think that in order to sustain the environment and ensure that the least damage possible is done to it, people should have to go without water?

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: Perhaps I may respond to that. No, it is not that so much as that plans need to be put in place to ensure that we do not get into that situation and are able to sustain the environment. We all know about hosepipe bans and other such measures that occur during droughts. We need a strategic view to avoid the situation that the noble Baroness described. We need to be prudent in these matters.

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