Water Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Liddell-Grainger: There are four parts to this. The first, which is where the Minister has it wrong, concerns nitrogen deficiency and nitrogen-susceptible land. The directive will cover that. The Minister has been involved in many debates about the fact that the use of nitrogen and fertilisers in sensitive areas causes more trouble than it is worth. The retention of the clause will deal with that.

The second part concerns the Forestry Commission and the massive areas of afforestation. Trees create ecological change, which is covered by the directive. It can be used in the ecological planning of large areas of

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forestation, which has been the policy of successive Governments since the war, and is set to continue.

The third part, which is closer to the Minister's power, is drainage boards, which plan the control of aquatic life a long way ahead. The Minister commented earlier on water levels, and the directive covers those too, which is vital.

The final matter is the vital role of the management committees of the Environment Agency, which my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster mentioned. The Environment Agency does a phenomenal job, and its management committees look after waterways throughout the United Kingdom. The directive gives them protection, not just from the Secretary of State making arbitrary decisions or passing laws, but in the context of the European Parliament. Ecologically, it is a great shame that the Minister is looking to remove that protection; he is missing something vital.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): I decided to take part in the debate because it became so interesting that I had to say something. It is a pleasure, Mr. O'Brien, to serve under your joint chairmanship—

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

—or perhaps I should say the changing chairmanship of yourself and Mr. Amess.

I have little to add to what has been said by my colleagues, but I should like to make a point that was raised in the House of Lords when the clause was inserted in the Bill, against the Government's wishes. The water framework directive is the unmentioned guest at the Committee's banquet. It will have a huge impact on water management. The Government's consultations before drafting the regulations that will give effect to the directive are ongoing—the latest consultation round began only last month.

It is extraordinary, and difficult to comprehend, that a water Bill has been introduced when the Government are consulting on various regulations to introduce a directive. It would have made more sense to wait and see what shape the regulations take after consultation and to ask what else is needed in UK law to improve water management, rather than doing two things at the same time, as several peers said when the Bill was discussed in the House of Lords.

As the Government have decided to introduce the Bill while they are consulting on the directive, they should at least recognise the existence of the directive, which is precisely what the clause does. I do not understand why the Government will not accept it, as they will have to do what it proposes anyway. For example, subsection (1) states:

    ''The Secretary of State shall by regulations ensure the timely establishment of a working framework that furthers the establishment of practices required by Directive''.

Indeed, the Government are under a legal obligation to implement the directive in a timely fashion, so I cannot understand why the Minister does not say, ''Look, this is a good thing to have in the Bill as it recognises the importance of the directive.'' It means that if a layman or woman reading the Bill asked what

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it was all about they would understand that the directive existed, and the Minister would probably avoid a battle in the other place. Why will not the Minister accept the proposal?

Diana Organ: Like my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), I served on the Select Committee that inquired into the water framework directive. The Committee recognised that it is an important measure; possibly the largest and most important of the European directives. It recognised, too, that a water basin management approach was the best model for conservation and for the protection of water and the water supply.

I, too, am anxious that the Government should take note of the need to prepare to enact the water framework directive in its entirety. Why is it necessary to remove the clause now? It would be appropriate to keep it to protect the waterways. I want the Minister to clarify why the clause should be removed.

Mr. Morley: Once again, I welcome you to the chair, Mr. Amess. It is nice to see you here.

I take my hon. Friend's point about the directive. I am concerned about the tenor of some of the discussions that suggest that we cannot implement the directive without a Bill, and that because we do not think a Bill appropriate we are not signed up to the concept of the directive. That is not true, and I am happy to explain why it is not appropriate to include the measure in this Bill.

First, as has rightly been recognised, the timetable is legally binding on the Government. We have signed it, and it has been agreed in the Council of Ministers and scrutinised by the European Parliament. Incidentally, amendments cannot be made in the European Scrutiny Committee; the European structure is the place for amendments—that is the nature of our relationship with the European Parliament and the European Council.

The directive will provide many long-term benefits for this country. It is the largest directive ever to come from the EU—my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood is right to say that it is of fundamental importance—and it will be challenging. I draw the Committee's attention to the fact that it is not due to be implemented fully until 2015. We do not need the Bill to transpose it; we will transpose it at the end of the year, when we are on target with the general framework directive. We are on our third consultation on the framework directive, as hon. Members who serve on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee are aware.

10 am

I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood that there are wider issues related to transposition and the formulation of European directives. One improvement that the EU could make would be to adopt the UK system of regulatory impact assessments of legislation. Sometimes, the EU signs up to what seems to be a good idea, without thinking about the long-term consequences or the time scales and frameworks. I

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fully understand the point that my hon. Friend made about the WEE directive and the end-of-life vehicles directive, and I assure him that I am aware of those issues.

I shall outline the reasons why we do not support the inclusion of the clause in the Bill. First, the comparison with Scotland is incorrect. The Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003, from the Scottish Parliament, does not give full effect to the directive. Much of it will be implemented through secondary legislation. The Scottish Executive acknowledges that further work needs to be done, and it is explicit in the directive that this is the start of a long-term process.

The full water framework directive cannot be implemented in the Bill because there are years of work still to be done in relation to the directive. Moreover, although I do not disagree with much of the text in clause 2—it is appropriate in relation to the objective of the clause, and to the implementation of the directive—there are some specific issues to which I will draw the Committee's attention. For example, the difference between ''excellent'' and ''good'' in relation to water quality has enormous cost implications, because similar benefits may accrue for ''good'' and for ''excellent'' status. Such issues should be properly scrutinised and subjected to proper consultation. They should not be banged into the Bill because that is considered desirable—albeit with worthy objectives—without thinking of the long-term consequences of measures that will take years to implement fully.

Sue Doughty: Reference was made to the Scottish legislation, which incorporated the European framework directive. Did the Minister have a good look at what happened in Scotland and, if so, what view did he take on the fact that the Government of the day implemented it in the 2003 Act?

Mr. Morley: But we have not implemented it into the Act—that is the point that I made. There is a misunderstanding. The 2003 Act does not fully implement the framework directive. It is included because the Scottish Parliament does not have the range of secondary legislation that is available to this Parliament. The Act will not implement the framework directive—the full process must be gone through.

The wording in clause 2 is premature, unnecessary, and has not been subjected to proper scrutiny. We need to examine that wording carefully as part of a proper consultation process—[Interruption.] It may well be said that we should do it now, but the Bill concentrates on a range of important and specific issues concerning resource management. Those issues will be complementary and will form part of the ultimate water framework directive, because the Bill will put in place tools that will be helpful in achieving the outcomes of that directive. The Bill is on the route, but it is not the definitive and conclusive method of implementing the directive, because of the directive's huge implications and the work that still needs to be done on it up to 2015. I cannot understand the reason—it seems almost to be panic—to have the measure in the Bill, when the Bill already fits nicely into the route for full implementation.

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I am pleased to say that we have a pilot scheme. The Environment Agency has much experience in catchment area management, but in my view the pilot scheme goes beyond that. I particularly like the way in which communities are being involved. I have been to the Ribble valley to see the implementation of the catchment plan and to talk to the various stakeholder groups. I am a great enthusiast for that sort of approach.

A great strength of the framework directive, particularly in engaging people to meet the objectives that I believe are desirable, is that it will increase the range of people who have an interest in water. However, that process rightly involves proper public consultation and scrutiny, which I might say goes beyond this place. We have an important role as legislators, but I happen to think that scrutiny goes beyond Parliament. I believe that we should involve community groups, and have proper public involvement and scrutiny. The framework deals with that, and it is premature to start being so definitive as suggested in clause 2. The clause is unnecessary, and its language is confusing.

The Department is taking a joined-up approach. The water framework directive team and the officials who have been working on the Bill are in the same directorate within DEFRA. They are working together, but on different time scales. The time scale of the Bill and that of the directive are different. The Bill is an important and continuing part of implementing the directive.

The Government and I are fully committed to the directive. Perhaps I am being unfair to Opposition Members, but my impression is that they think that if the provisions of clause 2 are not included in the Bill, we shall not have a water framework directive. That is not the case.

 
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