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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I support the amendment. The quarrying industry is not a consumer of water in the conventional sense. It may have to take water from one place and put it somewhere else. While it is possible that a subterranean source of water downstream is diminished, there is an equivalent increase in a surface source of water as a result of those operations. The idea that the industry, which is the foundation, if I may put it that way—it is almost a horrible pun—of the construction industry in this country, might be vulnerable is not a tolerable one. I have the greatest difficulty in understanding why the Government cannot make a particular exception for this rather significant, indeed vitally important industry.

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10.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I recognise that quarrying is a very important industry. Nevertheless, while it may not be a consumer of water it is a user of water. The Bill attempts to create, so far as possible, a level playing field for all users of water. For that reason, I do not feel inclined to support the amendment. I realise the enormity of the figures that the noble Lord has just given.

Secondly, I still have concerns that this amendment pushes the minerals planning authority into being a kind of de facto extraction licensing authority at the same time. I know from first-hand experience how difficult it is dealing merely with planning permissions and all the associated issues. The planning authority must rightly depend on the advice of the Environment Agency. I believe, therefore, that the responsibility for granting an extraction licence rightly rests with the Environment Agency. For that reason, I cannot support the amendment.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I do not entirely agree with what my noble friend has said. I must declare an interest. There are seven quarries in the area that I used to represent. There are, to my knowledge, 250 jobs involved. That is typical of remote areas where there is no other form of employment.

I sympathise with my noble friend's point that the planning situation is complicated by this water issue. There is obviously a need for contiguous planning and de-watering arrangements to be made. But that ought to be the subject of new minerals planning guidance for planning authorities. A framework for that could be found within this amendment and could be introduced to give guidance to planning authorities to bring about an equitable solution which would meet all the complex needs of the quarrying industry and those of the environment and provide a logical and ordered way of ensuring that the situation is under proper control.

I very much recognise the importance of this industry. I also see a need for straightening out some of the planning laws to ensure that some of the things that do go on—for example, starting up old planning permissions from a very long time ago—are sorted out. If all of that can be done with a new minerals planning guidance, it ought to be possible to satisfy most people on this point.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I apologise to the House. I should like to register my interest as a member of Somerset County Council, which is a minerals planning authority.

Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, we have been over this ground a number of times, both in Grand Committee and on Report. The amendment points to a great weakness in the Bill. As I have said previously, and as was said by the noble Baroness on the Liberal Front Bench, there is a difference between consumers of water and users of water. The underlying strategy of the Bill is to treat them as though they are the same,

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and to apply the same restrictions to them. A consumer of water is one thing; a user of water is something entirely different.

The amendments that we have put forward in relation not only to quarries but also to deep excavations in the construction industry and civil engineering world—a similar kind of activity—have dealt with the idea that, instead of taking the water away, using it and throwing it into the Atlantic Ocean or some such place, it is drained and then is put back more or less where it was before. One can never put it exactly where it was before but fairly close to where it was before.

There is one issue I should draw to the attention of the House. Since we last discussed these matters, the quarry industry has taken a number of officials to view quarries in order to see what happens there, what they are like and how the water is drained—perhaps gathered in a lagoon or a pool of some kind—and then restored. I am not sure whether those officials have ever seen a quarry before. They have now, and I am sure that their eyes have been opened and that they can see the distinction between the use and the consumption of water.

Finally, I want to reinforce the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. I declare an interest in that I am a civil engineer. I worry about these things. I am happy to say that apparently the Government are embarking on a considerable programme of road and housing extensions, all of which are absolutely necessary and all of which are utterly dependent on the quarry industry—whether it be for stone, gravel, sand or lime. It would be a grave error on the part of the Government to place burdens on the quarry industry which would jeopardise the effort that must be made by the construction industry to meet the demands that the Government themselves are making. I support my noble friend wholly and entirely.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I also support the amendment. I shall not repeat what I said on Report. As my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said, the companies which have invested in quarries have probably invested millions of pounds, sometimes as a result of long planning permissions. They make their calculations, do a little work each week and each month and plan in considerable detail. Taking into account the associated costs, they calculate that they can make some money and supply all the aggregates that noble Lords have said are necessary.

The Government may then come along and say, "We're sorry. You will have to pay more or get rid of the water in a different way". However, unless the Government agree to pay compensation, surely that is a kind of retrospective legislation which I thought we did not have in this country. That is obviously acceptable with regard to new permissions and new licences, but such companies obtained permissions five, 10, 15 or 20 years ago in the expectation of carrying on a business in a certain way. If that changes due to subsequent legislation, surely it behoves us to ensure that they receive proper compensation for any

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change that takes place which means incurring additional costs or causes them to close down. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will be able to give some reassurance on that point.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I begin by referring to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, which I believe will be covered in the general sense. I am sure that my noble friend was not asking for a particular part of an industry to be singled out for separate treatment. I understand that the issue of compensation arises under Amendment No. 26.

I am in an unusual position. I understand that whether I say "yes" or "no" I shall manage to agree with the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. It is a pleasant position for me to be in.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, indicated, Amendment No. 22 was introduced on previous occasions, including on Report. I must repeat what I said at that stage. The amendment would, in effect, completely remove from the Environment Agency, and the Secretary of State on appeal, the responsibility for determining a key condition—the time limit—to apply to transfer licences, but only those granted for "dewatering activities".

Concerns were expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, about the process. This duty would, in effect, be transferred to planning authorities, which I believe both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness agreed are not ideally set up to deal with it. Indeed there is no statutory requirement for a planning authority to give effect to the Environment Agency's recommendation on those matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, has referred to figures, assuming a refusal to renew licences. The whole policy is based on a presumption of renewal and the availability of technical solutions to resolve the problems that may arise, provided there is not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, indicated, either damage to the environment or a problem with regard to other users of the water supply.

Of course, the real issue underlying the amendment is that of the initial investment uncertainties if a transfer licence is shorter than the intended life of the quarry. We recognise that important concern, but it is neither insurmountable nor particularly constrained to the quarrying industry, a question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.

Clearly and plainly we do not mean that there will be refusals in all cases. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, raised the issue, as did my noble friend, of the need to use the resources that we receive from the quarrying industry. If the quarrying industry is confident that it can deal adequately with the environmental effects of dewatering, then it has no reason to fear the availability of a licence to enable that to continue. If the problems were insurmountable, it would be right that there should be an opportunity to review the decision with the appropriate rights of appeal.

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The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, raised the issue of the number of quarries involved. The number of quarries that he indicated would be affected only were there to be a presumption of non-renewal. My noble friend Lord Howie of Troon has discussed with me in your Lordships' Chamber, in Grand Committee and, on many occasions socially outside, the issue of dewatering. If dewatering is not damaging the environment, if the water is going back into the same water source, and there is no problem for other users, his fears are groundless.

In those circumstances, and with those repeated assurances, I hope that noble Lords will agree to withdraw the amendment and accept that the industries to which they have referred will have the same open and fair consideration of those issues by the agency and the Secretary of State as any other group. I hope that the noble Lord will feel happy to withdraw his amendment.


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