Water Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Wiggin: I am distraught by that, Mr. O'Brien, because my constituents in Leominster are trying to build a swimming pool to replace the one that has just been closed.

It is important that we find out exactly what dimensions the Minister requires, and I look forward to hearing his illuminating response.

Mr. Morley: I repeat the point that I made earlier: even a small impounding can have detrimental consequences downstream, so I cannot support a threshold for exemption. Any small works could have an impact and must be considered carefully, so those involved must apply to the Environment Agency for advice about the necessary licence.

Mr. Wiggin: Is the Minister talking about the damming of a stream rather than the construction of a reservoir that fills only in the winter?

11.15 am

Mr. Morley: Yes, because impounding takes place where there is water flow. If a person digs a hole, that is somewhat different, unless they are affecting the water table.

People might want to impound for ornamental purposes, and the Bill does not prevent them from doing so, but they must apply for a licence. We need to consider the potential effects on the ecology of even very small streams, which must be protected. The measure would not generally apply to swimming pools, which come under separate planning controls; in some cases, water authorities insist on compulsory metering for swimming pools. There are cases of swimming pools that are designed by impounding to have a flow through them. I saw a design for a swimming pond that cost £20,000—one could buy a house in certain parts of the country for that kind of money, so I am not so sure that that is a good use of resources.

Clause 5 provides the agency with a new power to serve notice to require that an impounding licence be obtained. Such licensing is generally for impounding works that never had a licence, because they happened before the current legislation took effect, but may now be causing a problem. Failure to comply with such a notice will be an offence. Clause 6 provides the agency with the power to serve a works notice.

Mr. Key: Can the Minister tell us how much one of those licences will cost?

Mr. Morley: Not just at the moment, but I am sure that I can provide that information for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Wiggin: An obscure example has sprung to mind. Will the few people who live in castles with moats need a licence? We need to consider all the

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implications for ancient monuments. Am I right in saying that anyone who has impounded any sort of water in the past will now have to buy a licence without knowing what the price will be?

Mr. Morley: The licence will cost about £100. As far as ancient monuments are concerned, I draw to the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that some ancient earthworks that impound water for defence purposes come under the Reservoirs Act 1975. We have to ensure that earthworks are maintained because of the risks that they pose to people. In some cases, regulations on impounding are needed.

Mr. Wiggin: I am slightly bemused by this exchange. The implication of my amendment was that anything smaller than an Olympic-sized swimming pool should be exempt. I accept the Minister's argument that if one dams a stream, there are consequences downstream. However, there is a difference between people who save water, say for farmland use, and those who do damage by damming streams. We have all been to the countryside and seen people who have dammed streams while children have been playing—

Mr. Morley: Not with a cement mixer, they haven't.

Mr. Wiggin: The Minister is right. They have not dammed streams with the intention of causing long-term environmental damage.

Kevin Brennan: Would not a more topical and appropriate example than castle moats be the American fashion of impounding water for golf courses? That has caused a lot of damage and created ponds and pools smaller than Olympic-sized swimming pools. The amendment would allow that to continue.

Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful for that intervention. We are considering how the clause will make a difference. If the hon. Gentleman is right to say that golf courses are causing damage, I do not have a problem with his point. However, I have had difficulty in getting a feeling for size. My probing amendment was designed to tease out from the Minister the volume of water that we are talking about.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Wiggin: Lots of hon. Members want to intervene. I shall start with my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury.Mr. Key: Does my hon. Friend know whether slurry pits on farms will need a licence? If not, perhaps he could ask the Minister.

Mr. Wiggin: I cannot think of a better time for the Minister to take an intervention.

Mr. Morley: I can assure the hon. Member for Salisbury that slurry pits will not require a licence under the Bill.

I also wanted to give some clarification on the powers to require a licence for impounding. The agency will not necessarily seek a licence for every impounding works. The power will be discretionary, and it is intended to deal only with problem sites. The agency will not require applications for all unlicensed works, as no benefit would be had from that; it will do so only where there is a problem.

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Mr. Wiggin: I am extremely grateful to the Minister.

Mr. Simon: Is not the hon. Gentleman missing a trick as regards the golf course element? He has been such a valiant spokesman for ordinary people with swimming pools and those who live in castles with moats, but what about ordinary people with golf courses?

Mr. Wiggin: That is amusing, but it is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman said that, because all the factors that I mentioned are important in the abstraction and retention of water. I was probing the Government for the answers that, funnily enough, I have just had from the Minister. I suspect that more people play golf than swim—

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne): Maybe in the Tory party.

Mr. Wiggin: It is certainly true in my constituency, because the swimming pool has just shut.

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth): You should have used it more often.

Mr. Wiggin: It was shut for health and safety reasons.

The important thing is that we are, at least, teasing out what the Government mean. Whether we are talking about a golf course or any other scenario, what we seek from the Government is the assurance that people who are not causing environmental damage but are storing water will not be penalised, and that people who are storing water, for whatever reason, are doing so in such a small way that their actions are highly unlikely to have an environmental impact. I have had an assurance from the Minister that the Environment Agency will show discretion and that it will not require licences from such people.

Norman Baker: Can the hon. Gentleman enlighten me on whether, if the Environment Agency invites a person to apply for a licence and that person chooses to appeal, he or she is entitled to continue impounding while the appeal is heard? It would be useful to get that on record.

Mr. Wiggin: That is an extremely useful request. My understanding of the Bill is that the clause applies to existing, not potential, impounding works, so I think that the person must have already done some impounding to have caught the agency's attention. However, I am happy to stand corrected by the Minister if that is not the case.

Mr. Morley indicated assent.

Mr. Wiggin: In that case, I think that we have exhausted all the questions apart from that of the hon. Member for Lewes, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6

Existing impounding works: works notices

Mr. Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 7, in

    clause 6, page 6, line 10, leave out subsection (2).

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The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 8, in

    clause 6, page 6, line 15, at end insert

    'within a specified time limit'.

Mr. Wiggin: I know that we do not have a great deal of time left. I am again probing the Government. I ask them to leave out subsection (2) because, again, it does not seem to make a great difference to existing legislation. One of the difficulties with the Bill is that a lot of it amends existing legislation, and a lot of it is about fine detail. That makes it quite a difficult Bill for people to follow. When I was going through it, I tried as best I could to see why the Government were amending legislation, because in some cases the

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amendments were very small. The purpose of amendment No. 7 is to find that out, although it is coupled with amendment No. 8.

I shall pause here, because others may wish to speak, and because I am not absolutely sure which part of the clause I want explained. [Laughter.] I will keep going.

The Chairman: Order.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Amess, Mr. David (Chairman)
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Atherton, Ms
Baker, Norman
Brennan, Kevin
Burden, Richard
Cunningham, Tony
Dobbin, Jim
Doughty, Sue
Drew, Mr.
Iddon, Dr.
Key, Mr.
King, Andy
Knight, Jim
Liddell-Grainger, Mr.
Morley, Mr.
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Mr. George
Palmer, Dr.
Simon, Mr.
Tipping, Paddy
Wiggin, Mr.

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