Water Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): My hon. Friend makes a passionate defence of the Government's position. I am less concerned about the water framework directive; it is a worthy approach. However, it is long on words and relatively short on how it is to be implemented. I look for reassurance from my hon. Friend on what greater protection can be given to estuaries. We know about the Ribble pilot scheme, but one of the great threats to the Severn is that there is no consistency in water management, especially in relation to flooding, the use of the river, buildings and so on. What assurance can my hon. Friend give me that we will take estuaries much more seriously and put management policies into place that will stop some of the daft things that were done in the past?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend will know that, as part of our approach to flood planning, we are moving to entire catchment studies. We have committed a lot of money to them, and he will know that the Severn is one of the areas where they will be implemented. The effects of planning on the estuary will be studied. We are also moving towards better coastal planning and shoreline management plans, and how to integrate plans in order to protect estuaries, of which the Severn is an important one. Some important issues are arising in relation to shoreline management plans and potential management on the Severn that will result

Column Number: 023

in better environmental and coastal defence. I know that my hon. Friend is aware of these exciting proposals, and there will be an opportunity for an ongoing discussion on the topic.

I feel strongly about the water framework directive, to which I am committed. It is exactly the right way to go. We should take a holistic approach to biological quality as well as to chemical quality. I sometimes feel that people are unnecessarily distracted. The Bill contains many important measures. The directive will continue to be subject to the consultation to which we are committed and to the scrutiny of a European Standing Committee, which I would not underestimate, speaking as someone who is often at the end of it. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee also provides detailed scrutiny, and it has already done a good job on the water framework directive. As I mentioned, it said that it is the implementation of the directive, rather than the mechanism of implementation, that is important.

I am saying only that we do not need to include the provisions in the Bill. I am surprised that Opposition Members, who often complain about bureaucracy and excessive legislation, are asking for unnecessary legislation. Considering the wider public consultation and involvement, it would be far better to proceed along the time scales and mechanisms to which we have committed ourselves, rather than distract the issue in a Bill that cannot possibly implement the directive. We would risk going off half cocked if we tried to rush it through in that way. A directive of such fundamental importance deserves better scrutiny than that.

Mr. Wiggin: I am impressed by the Minister's reply—I wish I could do indignation as well as that.

Diana Organ: Such righteousness.

Mr. Wiggin: Indeed, it was a most righteous, indignant and passionate defence of what is clearly indefensible. The Minister made a fundamental mistake in suggesting that clause 2 would implement the water framework directive, but we all heard him say, time and again, that leaving clause 2 in the Bill would not, by itself, implement the directive. The Minister is right, and it is not the intention behind the Bill to implement the water framework directive, which we know is rolling forward like a juggernaut. We merely want to ensure that the principles that everyone, including the Minister, has accepted remain in the Bill, which is not the same as asking the Government to implement the directive in the Bill. We want the principles that we all admire to be implemented at our speed rather than by 2015. If we agree that the principles are good, we must include them in the Bill. We do not need to wait until we have completed third consultations or for the water framework directive to be introduced. We can do it now and lead the way.

Mr. Osborne: Did my hon. Friend listen with as much interest as I did to the contributions from Government Members? They again questioned whether the Government have an overall strategic

Column Number: 024

approach to water management. Would not clause 2 and the amendments help the Government with their own supporters by setting out in the Bill their overall strategic approach for water management?

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, although I suspect that his opposite number has other ways of dealing with Labour Members. I was also grateful to all the interventions and speeches from all my colleagues on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, because they were right. There are many problems with the water framework directive, but no one has a difficulty with the principles currently in the Bill. My constituency is not a million miles from the River Severn—the River Wye flows into it—and when we are legislating about water, it is important to take such principles on board.

Mr. Morley: That is the point that I was trying to make. The principles will become law if they remain in the Bill, but they may or may not be relevant to the principles in the way that we transpose the water framework directive. Members realise that the Bill cannot implement the framework because the time scales are wrong. The phrases deserve proper scrutiny, and it would be a serious mistake to start including bits of implementation in one Bill when they apply to another.

Mr. Wiggin: The Minister is right, but his comments highlight the difference between us. We want not to take a bite out of the water framework directive and sellotape it to the Bill, but to take the parts with which we all agree and ensure that that they are included. The Minister may say that that would mean that the water framework directive would not work, but we disagree. I believe that it would. The principles are worthy, so if there is a problem with the wording in the Bill, we must amend that rather than abandoning the principles altogether.

10.15 am

Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington): I am impressed by the hon. Gentleman's persuasive arguments, but which of his arguments for including the framework directive in the Bill would not also apply to the ten commandments and to the Magna Carta, with which we all agree? Shall we also put those in the Bill?

Mr. Wiggin: I am not certain that I have completely understood the hon. Gentleman's intervention. If we were legislating on mediaeval history or biblical matters, we might choose to include the ten commandments or even the wording from the Magna Carta. We are, however, debating water, so there is nothing wrong with including some of the best principles from the water framework directive in the Bill. That would have two advantages. First, it would ensure that the Government are kept on the environmental straight and narrow. Secondly, it might ensure that the legislation is enacted before 2015.

Mr. Osborne: I understood the Minister to say that he disagrees with parts of the clause, or that they were ill thought-out, or that we had not examined their implications. My reading of the clause is that it contains only good things. Does my hon. Friend agree

Column Number: 025

that it would help the Committee if the Minister could set out—now, or by writing to Committee members—where he disagrees, or where the Government disagree, with the objectives in the clause?

Mr. Wiggin: The Minister will have to reply to that intervention.

Mr. Morley: I have already done so. One example springs to mind: the definitions of ''good'' and ''excellent'' and their implications. We have to think about the implications in relation to how the definitions are applied, cost-benefit analysis and the likely results. I want the best water quality, but those wordings have implications that must be properly scrutinised. The public should also be properly consulted. The Bill is not appropriate for that.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful for the Minister's reply. If the consultation on the water framework directive is at its third stage, and if the wording of the clause has come straight from the water framework directive, I do not understand why that consultation was not done properly.

I agree with the Minister's comments about having the proper wording so that the difference between ''good'' and ''excellent'' is clarified. The correct way to deal with the problem is not to abandon the clause. It would reassure me if the Minister were to choose which words he would like edited, amended or even removed. To remove the whole clause is to abandon the principle, which would be a great mistake.

Sue Doughty: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that whether or not the European framework directive is implemented, the clause needs to be in place to address all the environmental issues that we have been discussing?

Mr. Wiggin: The hon. Lady is right. We must stick to our guns on this matter because the clause is right. The Minister knows that it is right, as do the Government, otherwise they should not have signed up to the water framework directive. We have to be firm with our principles.

Mr. Osborne: Does my hon. Friend agree that a possible exit strategy from this mess may be for the Government to hold their fire at this stage and not remove the clause? The Minister could then reconsider the wording to see whether there is anything that he particularly wants to amend, and we could discuss it again on Report. The Government can then remove the clause if they believe that it should not be in the Bill.

Mr. Wiggin: I thought that that was a helpful intervention until I saw the Minister shaking his head in a most unhelpful manner.

It is apparent from this debate that there is a desire throughout the Committee to do good with the Bill. There is a desire to see proper environmental and water resources protected. We are failing if we remove this provision lock, stock and barrel, without saving at least some of the principles. The Minister looks as if he is going to say something helpful, so I shall conclude.

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 16 September 2003