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The Earl of Balfour: I refer the Committee to subsection (8) of Amendment No. 155. The last line refers to "section 7". However, it should be "section 30" because Section 7 is an English provision and Section 30 is the Scottish equivalent. For that reason, the proposed new clause is slightly defective.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, referred to "underground strata" in Amendment No. 157. I am anxious about my personal position because the 42 households on the estate—by no means all of which belong to me—draw water from a spring maintained by the estate. We have never paid water rates and I should object most strongly to being charged for water, which

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is purely for household and farm purposes, when for many years it has been privately maintained and so forth. That is by no means an exception.

Furthermore, many of the distilleries in the Highlands have abstracted water from springs entirely maintained by them. In some cases, they have been used for more than 100 years and it would be unfair for them now to pay a fee to obtain a licence for that purpose.

Amendment No. 158B refers to water abstraction licences and I wish to add the abstraction of water from rivers. If too much water is taken out and the river is not clean and contains raw sewage, the suspended solids and the raw sewage extract the air from the water and cause the fish to suffocate. Raw sewage does not do much harm to animals and humans but it can be extremely detrimental to fish. Where people are abstracting vast quantities of water for, say, irrigation, perhaps licences should be applied for and paid for.

The Earl of Lindsay: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfour for his sharp eyes. I shall pass on the correction that he suggests to those who are best placed to make it.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, made his points well, as he did those proposed by his noble friend Lord Ewing. I hope that his noble friend is grateful for his tireless efforts. He will be glad to note that many of their anxieties relating to water abstraction are shared by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Amendments Nos. 155 to 158 enable SEPA to license abstractions in certain areas and adopt, in broad terms, the kind of selective approach that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced in another place in November. Unfortunately, the amendments are incomplete and include other features that I must resist.

First, I cannot regard it as acceptable to apply the licensing regime retrospectively to statutory permissions already granted by the Secretary of State under other legislation for the use of water for hydro-electric generation or water supply purposes. It would be wrong to take away statutory rights already legally obtained by abstractors.

Secondly, the powers for charging, set out in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, are designed to defray the costs of works undertaken to ensure the better use of water. The construction of such works is not a matter for SEPA, which will not have powers for this purpose. On the other hand, the proposed charging powers would not enable SEPA to recover the costs of administering a licensing scheme, a feature which the Government would regard as essential.

An ability to review any licence at intervals of not less than two years would be inappropriate. In many cases, abstractors will need—and will be entitled to—the assurance that a licence will enable them to use water on a long-term basis. Those are, however, matters which can be resolved.

On the general point, we are at one on the principle of selective abstraction controls contained in the noble Lord's proposals. As the Secretary of State announced in November, the Government will bring forward their

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own legislation to introduce such a scheme in the light of the European Commission's action programme on groundwater, on which proposals are due by mid-1995.

Because of the timing of those, it is not practical to include provisions in this Bill. I also envisage further public consultation on the proposed charging arrangements before any scheme is introduced. I believe that that answers one of the specific questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, as to why SEPA is not being given the power proposed by his amendments.

Broadly similar considerations apply to Amendment No. 158B tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. However, that amendment seeks to introduce a comprehensive system of controls with SEPA having powers to exempt abstractions below a threshold which it would set.

The pressures on the Scottish water environment do not justify a comprehensive system of control even if, in specific locations—and the noble Lord mentioned one in the south west of Scotland—at specific times there are temporary pressures. Where there are potential problems, those can be dealt with through a selective approach. That approach is flexible enough to enable preventive action to be taken. The problem does not need to have first occurred. I cannot accept also that it is proper for SEPA to set exemptions. That is a matter which should be prescribed in regulations, which would enable there to be Parliamentary scrutiny.

In view of the fact that the Government will introduce their own legislation in relation to water abstraction controls in Scotland, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: We shall need to look at the proposed legislation but, in view of that, it would be wrong for me to pursue this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 156 to 158B not moved.]

Clause 25 [Power of SEPA to purchase land compulsorily]:

The Earl of Balfour moved Amendment No. 158C:

Page 23, line 43, at end insert:
(", but only—
(a) after SEPA has taken all reasonable steps to reach agreement for purchase of the land and has been unable to do so on terms which the Secretary of State considers reasonable;
(b) where it is necessary for SEPA in the proper exercise of its functions to acquire the land; and
(c) it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the land be purchased compulsorily.").

The noble Earl said: The noble Earl, Lord Kintore, and I have no objection to SEPA having compulsory purchase powers but they should be available only as a last resort and only after consultation with the owner has broken down.

We feel that without proper consultation compulsory purchase powers sometimes may be abused. I heard a tragic story of a water or sewerage authority acquiring

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a piece of very good agricultural land—something like 20 acres out of 100—on which to build a sewerage works. Those works were never built. The land was offered back to the original owner at a grossly inflated price because it was discovered that there was gravel underneath. The original owner could not afford to buy back the land. The authority abstracted a great deal of gravel, making a lovely profit. It then offered the land back to the original owner, by which time, he had lost what might have been his mineral rights. I believe that we need to be very careful in such circumstances.

I am very grateful to the Scottish Landowners' Federation for its help in drafting the amendment. That organisation is in favour of the Bill but it feels that the landowner must be protected, wherever possible, from an abuse of compulsory purchase powers. I beg to move.

The Earl of Kintore: Clause 25(1) reads rather like mid-20th century confiscatory legislation rather than rapidly approaching 21st century legislation. The Minister may tell me that I am talking rot but I feel that landowners today are far more co-operative towards public bodies. I accept that SEPA must have compulsory purchase powers but I hope that those powers will be used only as a very last resort.

Lord Elton: I hesitate to intervene on what is a technical matter but I sympathise with the position which my noble friend Lord Balfour has put before the Committee. I wonder whether the same purpose would be achieved more simply if the requirement for which the land was to be bought were to be stated in the order made for its purchase and thus became a covenant on the purchaser. I put that forward as an alternative because I know that the Government like to consider all options in relation to matters that they have not thought of doing themselves.

The Earl of Balfour: I am afraid that I do not know enough about land law to comment on that.

The Earl of Lindsay: I am grateful on behalf of the Government for those helpful suggestions, especially from my noble friends, Lord Elton and Lord Balfour and the noble Earl, Lord Kintore. The noble Earl, Lord Kintore, described the extent to which landowners now co-operate with various bodies and authorities. I believe that is true not only in relation to that aspect but across the whole environmental spectrum. Over the past three or four years there has been tremendous co-operation between those who use land or admit to land and those who seek to regulate how it is used and admitted. There is much greater co-operation in that regard now.

I believe that the spirit of the amendment is borne out in practice. The provisions of the Bill as regards compulsory purchase reflect an identical arrangement which has operated satisfactorily for river purification boards since 1951. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will feel that what has worked successfully in the past will continue to work successfully in the future.

I should point out that the clause as drafted already requires the Secretary of State to authorise SEPA to purchase land compulsorily. The noble Earl referred to that as dated, confiscatory prose but the involvement of the Secretary of State should reassure both my noble

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friend and the noble Earl because the Secretary of State will act as a safety net against any such unreasonable use of such powers. In a sense, he acts to protect against the abuse of those powers.

Perhaps I may respond to my noble friend Lord Elton by saying that the Secretary of State is unlikely to authorise the necessary consent to SEPA without sufficient reason being given for the use of that compulsory purchase power. Therefore, I ask my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.

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