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Lord Whitty: I am not unsympathetic to the points made in the amendment. The Government have already recognised the need for new legislation on freshwater fisheries. Indeed, just before the recess, we had a fairly lengthy debate on salmon fisheries in which the noble Lord participated. Amendment No. 177 does not sufficiently enhance the agency's responsibilities and powers to enable it to take full responsibility for the development of those fisheries. However, it already has considerable powers.

The Government are already committed to bringing forward new legislation on salmon and freshwater fisheries. That draft legislation is relatively well advanced. Although we could have the usual discussion about parliamentary time, the preparation for that legislation is already well advanced. I think that it would be better to deal with fisheries in that comprehensive manner rather than to tag on to the Bill a rather limited provision which would not deliver everything that I know the noble Lord seeks. I therefore cannot accept the amendment.

Baroness Byford: The Minister said that draft legislation is being drafted. Will it be presented as a statutory instrument or as a Bill?

Lord Whitty: I think that it will probably be in the form of a Bill. However, it will be preceded by consultation.

Earl Peel: When English Nature determines that a river system is sufficiently important to be designated as a site of special scientific interest, presumably it will have responsibility for the fisheries that it contains. So presumably the problem that the noble Lord identifies would occur only outside such designated sites. I would be interested to know whether that is the case.

Lord Whitty: Although the noble Earl is right to draw attention to the role of English Nature, that role is exercised in relation to a fairly limited part of the waterways. I assume that the amendment would apply to the totality of the waterways, and that the noble Lord seeks to include it in this part of the Bill so that it is included with the Environment Agency's other responsibilities. It would therefore become another dimension of the Environment Agency's own

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responsibilities. I think that that is slightly different from a situation in which English Nature is dealing with the totality of the management of a particular site.

English Nature has certain particular powers, including the power of prohibition by means of by-laws which the amendment does not propose giving to the Environment Agency. Nor is it envisaged, at least in our early consideration, to provide that in our general legislation on freshwater fisheries.

Lord Bridges: I have one short observation on the amendment—to which I am not in any sense hostile. We talk quite widely in these debates about the possibility of the Environment Agency taking on new and fresh responsibilities. While I am not opposed to that, I think that the agency's capacity and staff numbers will have to be enlarged if it is to discharge those responsibilities.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: This has been a short and very useful debate. I think that the remarks just made are apposite. It is quite clear that the Environment Agency has not had the resources that it would have liked. The agency's budget has been substantially improved, but it needs to go several quantum leaps further so that the agency can do its job properly. Amendment No. 177 simply asks for the promotion and development of ecologically sustainable freshwater fisheries. Enforcement and perhaps penalties for those who pollute are one aspect of the matter—but we will come to that later.

I am particularly glad to hear the Minister say that there will be a Bill to address these fisheries issues. I most warmly welcome his statement on that. We look forward to seeing that Bill and how it will knit in with certain aspects of this legislation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 68 agreed to.

Clause 69 [Environment Agency to be enforcement authority under the Reservoirs Act 1975]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 178:

    Page 83, line 21, at end insert—

"( ) in subsection (1) of section 1 (ambit of Act and interpretation) after "for navigations" there is inserted "and shall not include any reservoir which it is established poses negligible risk to public safety","

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 178 seeks to explore the interpretation of the Reservoirs Act 1975, which was designed primarily to address the issues surrounding permanent water storage reservoirs, especially safety. We believe that it is beginning to be interpreted to apply to some short-term, temporary storage facilities such as temporary sludge storage lagoons where water may be stored for a matter of days during winter rains. Reservoirs of less than 25,000 square cubic metres are exempt under the Act. Although such an exclusion is reasonable in terms of drinking water storage, in terms of flood storage it is a minute amount of water. If we are seeking to ensure that landowners and particularly farmers are able to store flood water for later use in irrigation—

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which is a very sensible use of that water—I do not think that it would be desirable to create a lot of unnecessary red tape. The amendment explores what is and is not included as a reservoir under the terms of the 1975 Act.

I tabled Amendment No. 179 to explore whether the Secretary of State will make known to other parties that he is serving the written notice. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Earl Peel: I shall speak to Amendment No. 179A, which is grouped with the amendments to which the noble Baroness spoke.

Clause 72 refers to the ability of the Secretary of State to require reservoir undertakers to create flood plans for any reservoir. The implications of that are fairly obvious, in that it may be decided that all reservoirs should have a flood plan in place, regardless of size or the risk that they represent. I appreciate the need for flood plans—I do not think that anyone would dispute it—but I urge the Government to ensure that the details requested in the plan are proportionate to the significance of the risk of a particular reservoir.

The Reservoirs Act 1975 lays down a series of requirements such as registration, construction and enlargement of and inspection for large, raised reservoirs; other reservoirs are not covered by those requirements. It is surely unnecessary for all reservoirs to be covered by the clause, given the distinction between all reservoirs and "large, raised" reservoirs referred to in the 1975 Act.

The amendment would ensure consistency between the Water Bill and the 1975 Act. That Act refers to "large, raised" reservoirs, determined as retaining more than 25,000 cubic metres. I should have thought that it was necessary to provide consistency and clarity in spelling out that Clause 72 is intended for "large, raised" reservoirs. It is clearly unnecessary to create a flood plan when there is no risk of flooding, such as when the reservoir is contained within the water table. It would be inconsistent to require reservoir owners who are not regulated in any other way to undergo unnecessary costs and bureaucracy in producing a flood plan.

Large, raised reservoirs are regulated under the 1975 Act, as they pose a significant risk when built above ground and impound water, and stand the risk of water suddenly escaping, which could create significant damage. However, reservoirs that are not raised do not impound water and are, for all intents and purposes, holes in the ground. They do not have the same risk attached, as the water cannot suddenly gush out because it is not impounded. In other words, it is part of the water table. The only risk accruing would be with a potential overflow of water due to heavy rain; the extra water caused by the heavy rain might overflow into the local surrounding countryside, but the actual water that was originally in the ground-level reservoir would of course remain there.

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I hope that the Minister acknowledges that, as the Bill stands, there is a possibility of unnecessary demands being imposed in the form of flood plans, in cases where such plans are unnecessary. That question needs to be addressed. It is important to encourage the use of reservoirs as a means of collecting water at times when there is a good supply of rain and then using that water wisely. I fear that the additional regulations and costs may discourage users from taking such action, which would be a retrograde step.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I support the amendments, because to my certain knowledge there is one reservoir, which is not so far from where I live, which has a capacity of some 250,000 cubic metres, but the water is all below the existing ground level. It was created as a result of a fortuitous gravel extraction—that does happen—and was subsequently filled. It is well used for irrigation and is a wonderful nature reserve, serving everyone very well. There is a town within three quarters of a mile, but no one in the town is in the least bit worried about it because the water cannot run away. There is nowhere for it to go, as the river is right beside it and the bottom of the reservoir is way below the bottom of the river.

That is one situation that springs to mind. My own reservoir was built with an excavation, after which a ring was put around it with the stuff that was excavated. That is another way of doing it. It is in a flat location and, even though we are above the 25,000 metres, if the bank were to burst I do not believe that it would even flood my neighbour. It would cause me—and him—a great deal of vexation because it would flood our fields, but I do not believe that it would flood our houses. In that sense, it would be all right, and I have no doubt that my insurance company would smile sweetly and bite the bitter bullet and pay the consequential damages to the crops—but that would be the extent of the damage.

Other circumstances are possible, of course. For example, there might be an impounding reservoir in a steep, narrow valley above a small village. That was the background to the original reservoirs legislation, when in unfortunate circumstances—I think in Wales—one or two villages were flooded out by reservoirs that were not perhaps as well built as they might have been or might have lasted longer than they should have done. I do not know the exact circumstances. That is going right back to an Act of the 1930s. In such a situation, a reservoir might be quite small—way below the 25,000 cubic metres capacity—but could still do considerable damage.

One needs to have a slightly empirical approach, because simply proposing that a large reservoir might be a risk and should have a flood plan when a small reservoir should not, might not meet every circumstance. It depends so much on the terrain. A large volume of water in a large flat area is not a big problem, while a small volume of water in a narrow, tightly defined rocky valley can be a huge problem. Care must be taken in this matter.

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My sympathies are with the sentiments behind the amendments. We have discussed on many occasions in debating the Bill the need to encourage water conservation for all sorts of purposes. If we simply add to the administrative burden, the people who might otherwise take steps that would help in conservation will be less inclined to do so.

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