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Lord Northbourne: I support the noble Viscount, Lord Addison. He has presented the issue clearly. The Bill proposes the transfer to the agency of the existing powers to close down agricultural businesses merely by giving notice. Such a notice is likely to destroy the business. It affects no other industry in the same way. I should like here to speak personally. I was responsible for a large vegetable and mainly salad producing business. We were producing about 800 acres of high grade salad during the summer months as well as dealing with major imports and distribution during the winter. That business was dependent entirely upon irrigation.

The quality of product required by the supermarkets could not be produced without irrigation, and fairly regular irrigation. During drought the need for irrigation is maximised and often the fullest possible irrigation is not sufficient to sustain the quality of the product. In the context that I still retain some small partnership interest in that business, I must declare an interest to the Committee.

I want to ask the Minister whether he believes that the efficient agricultural business interests of this country are expendable; and, if so, why?

Lord Crickhowell: There is a dilemma here. It is the kind of dilemma which runs right through environmental protection, because there is always a conflict of interest. It is an odd irony that many of the problems that have been described—I understand them well—relating to spray irrigation have occurred in areas where the environment is under threat during droughts.

One often has the situation that in the area where people are complaining about restrictions on spray irrigation, they are complaining almost equally strongly about the devastating impact of excessive extraction on their local wetland, or whatever it may be. In recent years, a good deal of care has been taken by MAFF and those responsible to ensure that the greatest possible flexibility is introduced into the handling of spray irrigation licences.

There is no doubt that without the ability to have that control there would be real difficulties in dealing with the approach of drought. We should be careful. The original statutory provisions go back to the Water Resources Act 1963 which sought to strike a balance between the provision of water for water supply and the protection of individuals. We must be careful before we overturn an arrangement which for many years has got the balance about right.

The conservation duty has provided and will continue to provide protection from damage to the environment as a result of abstraction. Subject to the guidance from

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Ministers on aims and objectives, and the references which they will include to sustainable development, that provides an alternative route for protection to agricultural businesses and others.

These are a complex set of relationships and I do not believe that they should be overturned by a single amendment passed in this Committee. It is a legitimate subject for further debate and examination and perhaps more work and study needs to be carried out. I should be most nervous of accepting an amendment of this kind without having worked out the consequences.

9 p.m.

Lord Northbourne: Perhaps I may explain to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that we are extremely sympathetic to the impact of extraction on the environment and would not want to extract in a destructive way. However, in my view it is manifestly unjust that the agricultural industry should suffer. For instance, as regards my particular case, just down the road is a chemical industry which, I am told, is using a million gallons per day. There is no restriction on that.

Viscount Mills: Although I understand the anxieties expressed by my noble friend Lord Addison, I wish to add a further point to the debate; namely, the apparent contradiction between Amendments Nos. 376 and 377. Surely, one of the precise reasons for the emergency variation of licences for spray irrigation is to protect the environment. That may also protect the owners of land. Thus abolition of the emergency powers in Amendment No. 377 could, in certain cases, work against the protection of the owners' land as advocated in Amendment No. 376.

Lord Monkswell: I hesitate to intervene because I know that the hour is late and we must get on. On my initial reading of the amendment I was antagonistic towards it and wondered why landowners should have a special interest. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has explained the matter to the Committee but I wish to make two points because we need to recognise the need for fairness.

As regards Amendment No. 75, I should be concerned if we were to concentrate only on the owners of land and not include the interests of other third parties. The noble Viscount mentioned streams and ponds. I can think of some landowners who may say, "I am not interested in that stream or that pond". I can also think of people who like to visit the countryside and who believe that small streams and ponds are very important. We need to have a wider perspective and include those other than landowners in that category.

Secondly, it must be totally unfair that people can wash their cars when water is scarce but farmers are prevented from protecting their crops. That is ludicrous and I hope that it is not the situation. However, if it is, something needs to be done about it.

Lord Marlesford: I have great sympathy with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Obviously, the mistake that was made in the past was to give abstraction licences. However, if people build up

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businesses on the basis of the abstraction licences that they have been given one must think very hard indeed before one starts taking them away. That is retrospective action which I believe will be deplored on all sides of the Committee.

At the same time as there are such shortages, the Government are urging more development, for example, in the south-east. We know that water supplies in the south-east are not adequate for the Government's housing plans in that area. To do serious damage to totally legitimate enterprises—and legitimised by the Government—must be a mistake and unfair.

Viscount Ullswater: My noble friend Lord Crickhowell was correct in saying that the duties under Clause 6(2) effectively carry on the work of managing water resources in England and Wales introduced by the Water Resources Act 1963. I do not think that it needs the qualification that my noble friend Lord Addison proposes in Amendments Nos. 75 and 376. In carrying out this duty, the agency, like the NRA under existing legislation, will be bound by its more general duties under Clause 7(1) to exercise its powers in the water abstraction licensing system in the way that my noble friend seeks. It must take account of the likely effect on, among other things, the amenity of rural areas, plant and animal life and buildings. In that way, the interests of the land are protected and with them the interests of the landowners. In so far as any damage might result from any works undertaken by the agency, it, like the NRA, is bound by the specific works provisions, which provide for compensation. Parallel provisions apply to others who are authorised to carry out work for water resource development.

Amendment No. 377 would repeal Section 57 of the Water Resources Act 1991 and curtail the existing powers of the NRA to manage the effects of spray irrigation during drought conditions.

These powers form part of the armoury available to manage water resources during droughts. Water companies have powers to impose hose-pipe bans. The NRA has these powers in respect of spray irrigation because spray irrigation is a highly consumptive use of water; much of the water is lost through evaporation. Further powers can be conferred on both by drought orders. I understand the dilemma identified by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. The fact that the spray irrigation powers are vested in the NRA does not mean that they should be used first. The aim is to put the decision on the use of powers as close to the area affected as possible, since local knowledge is essential.

I believe that my noble friend's anxieties have been answered by my reply and I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Viscount Addison: I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply and I thank all Members of the Committee for taking part in the debate. I wish to reflect on what has been said and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 76 not moved.]

Clause 6 agreed to.

Lord Moran moved Amendment No. 77:

After Clause 6, insert the following new clause:

("Integrated catchment management

.—(1) It shall be the duty of the Agency—
(a) from time to time prepare a draft catchment management plan in respect of each catchment or such group of catchments as it shall designate;
(b) to consult in relation to such draft plan—
(i) the statutory conservation agencies;
(ii) any abstractor or class of abstractors having the right to abstract water from within the catchment;
(iii) any discharger or class of dischargers having the right to discharge granted in accordance with the pollution control functions of the Agency into the catchment;
(iv) the drainage board for any internal drainage district which lies within or partly within the catchment;
(v) any navigation, harbour or conservancy authority having functions in relation to waters within the catchment;
(vi) any local planning authority exercising functions in relation to land within the catchment;
(vii) such other interested persons as the Agency shall determine;
(c) to adopt the plan modified to such extent if any as it considers appropriate;
(d) thereafter so to exercise its powers and duties to further the objects of the plan.
(2) In this section "catchment" means the area drained by a single surface water system and any associated groundwater together with the adjoining sea as designated by the Agency.").

The noble Lord said. This is essentially a probing amendment. I should like to know what is the Government's attitude towards the concept of catchment management planning.

The National Rivers Authority has been producing, as time goes on, a whole series of catchment management plans which it produces one by one on individual catchments. Those plans are put out to consultation and the advice and views of everyone concerned are sought. Catchment management plans cover everything—water resources, the needs of water for drinking or for irrigation or for other purposes, fisheries, wildlife, navigation and so on. It has been an extremely successful exercise. What I have seen of it has impressed me greatly. Therefore, the object of my amendment is to ask the Government what is their view in relation to catchment management planning. I hope that they will assure us that they favour the concept and that in their guidance, they will encourage the environment agency to pursue it.

I am not anxious to be too prescriptive towards the environment agency. I believe that that is a sensible planning mechanism. The words "from time to time" appear in my amendment. There is no suggestion at all of trying to impose a rigid timetable. That concept enables all the features of a catchment to be looked at from an environmental point of view. It is a great advantage to have integrated planning over the whole of the catchment from the tributaries and the source to the mouth of the river as against piecemeal planning. It

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enables water resources to be used in the best way for environmental standards; for example, in relation to statutory water quality objectives and biodiversity targets. It is a thoroughly good concept and I hope that the Government will agree to pursue it and that they will encourage the environment agency to do so. I beg to move.

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