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9.52 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): This has been a good, short Third Reading, so I shall be brief. The Minister for the Environment was right that the Bill was one of those of which it was well worth serving on the Committee. However, we shall have to return to several matters. I look forward to returning to the water framework directive, abstraction and Crown immunity. I look forward to addressing the price of water, which must be determined by metering in the future. I look forward to tackling sewerage systems that flood into clear and clean waterways and the price that we pay for that. I would like to examine Ofwat's role in future investment in the water industry because I believe that it is obstructive. I would like much more attention to be paid to planning consent linked to sustainability when considering water and sewerage. My message tonight is that the Bill has surely taught us to stop wasting water, if nothing else.

There is a lavatory in the No Lobby. Cold water was dripping from its tap on the evening of the Second Reading debate on 8 September. I reported that but the tap is still dripping. The House of Commons has wasted thousands of litres of water from one tap for want of a washer. It is time that we put our own house in order.

9.54 pm

Mr. Drew: I shall try to be as commendably brief as the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who, for the purposes of our deliberations in Committee, I considered an hon. Friend because we worked together to make the Bill better. Although some of us will campaign outside this place to ensure that fluoride does not get added to our drinking water, that was the one sore point in an otherwise consensual piece of legislation.

I want to emphasise the role of flood relief. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take that forward because it is as important as sewerage. Some of us are pleased that it is in the Bill, but other legislation also needs to be introduced. The cohesion in Committee and the importance of flood relief deserve to be mentioned.

10 Nov 2003 : Column 139

As hon. Members said, we will return to other issues, but let us not underestimate the importance of flooding as a key consideration.

9.55 pm

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I want to say a few brief words about the Bill's effects on the horticultural sector. The Minister is aware that I have one of the few constituencies in England where fruit farming is the predominant agricultural type. Many of my constituents are deeply worried about the effect of the Bill on trickle irrigation. Their concerns centre on two things: the cost of trickle irrigation schemes and the regulatory impact of such schemes. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) dealt with many of those concerns in Committee, for which I thank him. I am sure the Minister will agree that fruit farming should be supported.

Mr. Morley: Perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman some reassurances on trickle irrigation. When it comes to abstraction licences and costing, the Environment Agency will be structured in a way that recognises trickle irrigation as a much more efficient use of water.

As I will not contribute to the debate further so that others may speak, I take this chance to thank Committee members. In addition, I will miss the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), who is leaving his post as shadow spokesman on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to become shadow spokesman on Wales. He is obviously the nearest thing the Conservatives have to a Welsh MP. I also thank the excellent officials who worked so hard in supporting the Bill and drafting amendments.

Hugh Robertson: In which case, I simply thank the Minister for that assurance.

9.57 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas: I want to refer to one thing that has not been mentioned. Changes have been made to the Bill's measures, whether they be on fluoridation or private sewers, at all its parliamentary stages. I have been here four years and it is rare for that to happen. So that is a positive event to acknowledge.

One thing that we did tonight, which we did not have an opportunity to debate but should be noted in passing, was to provide a better definition of sustainable development. We debated that in Committee. I am glad the Minister saw sense on the nonsensical initial definition of sustainable development. What is in the Bill now is far better for consumers and whatever authority is involved. That will be more important in the long term than anything else in the Bill because it sets down the principles, which are more vital than the details. If we get the mindset right, the details will follow. The Bill is important for getting the mindset right.

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9.58 pm

Mr. Redwood: I remain disappointed by the Bill. It will not tackle the problem of rising water tables under many of our big cities. If more competition were introduced, more companies would come forward to tap into those resources and solve two problems at once. The Bill will not solve water shortages. Indeed, it seems animated by a wish to ration and control water use rather than to tackle shortage. Again, if competition were strengthened that would go a long way to dealing with water shortages without damaging the environment. There is nothing damaging about using the water cycle more often as water makes its way from the mountains to the sea.

I am disappointed by the flooding provisions. Many of us have had flooding problems in our constituencies and we often find that we do not get an answer because of the conflicts between the Environment Agency, the local council and the water companies. Although I understand that the Minister has worked through the Bill to tackle those issues, the solution will not be perfect. Conflicting powers remain and we will find that the three different bodies involved will deny responsibility and make it difficult for us to get the solutions that our constituents want.

I am worried about price—

Norman Baker: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Redwood: There is hardly enough time.

We have very expensive water. Again, competition would tackle that. There is nothing in the Bill to deal with the absence of a national water grid, yet we have an embryo national water grid between the various main pipes in the regions and with the canal network. It would be good if more work were done, through the industry, to find a way to get a national water grid so that we can transfer more water more readily from the wet areas of the country to the drier areas where there are more people and rising water demand.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.




10 Nov 2003 : Column 141

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order No. 18(1)(a) (Consideration of draft deregulation, etc., orders),

Question agreed to.

Mr. Speaker: It may be convenient for the House to take motions 5, 6 and 7 together.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Investigatory Powers

Question agreed to.

10 Nov 2003 : Column 142

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Sea Fisheries

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

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