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Column 1354but members would be wholly misleading themselves if they assumed that there was scope for the wholesale disposal of water industry land assets.
The fact is that it is now, and will in future be, properly protected land in the public interest. Proper protection is essential. After privatisation the new water companies, like the authorities now, will be subject to the important duties in respect of conservation, providing for public access and putting their rights to land and water to the best use for recreation.
On conservation, the Bill provides that after privatisation the companies will continue to be under a duty of further conservation in the performance of their functions. Indeed, in our water Bill the duties are strengthened by enforcement powers given to the Secretary of State, and by the code of practice which we published in draft recently.
On recreation, the Bill provides that both the private companies and the NRA will inherit the duty of the water authorities to put the water and lands to best use for recreation. That will be particularly important in relation to the companies which will inherit most of the reservoirs and land assets. But it will nevertheless apply to the NRA in respect of locks, weirs, stretches of river beds or other assets it may acquire.
In addition, the Bill places a general duty on the NRA to provide recreation on inland waters. Under this power it could for instance enter arrangements with riparian owners to facilitate recreational use of rivers ; or to sponsor and support local bodies which help to manage recreational use of particular stretches of water. In conclusion, I would like to emphasise three points. First, as I have said, there is no evidence that any great proportion of water authority land is in fact surplus to operational requirements. Secondly, the very fact that the land is released from water uses will mean that the special protective measures related to the effect of water industry operations will no longer be required. Thirdly, and most importantly, ordinary planning and environmental controls will, as I have emphasised, continue to protect the land.
All those are important factors. I have every confidence that they will be considered in detail not just by the House, in Committee on the Water Bill, but in the future, too. I undertake to consider in yet further detail the points made by the hon. Lady and if I can come back with any positive suggestions--while recognising the sensitive position I am in with regard to the Secretary of State's role on planning matters--I will do so.
Question put and agreed to .
Adjourned accordingly at five minutes past Three o'clock .
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