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The Duke of Montrose: At the risk of being accused of being a little boring about the amendment spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, Scottish legislation has introduced the concept of a water use licence that allows for both abstraction and discharge activities. Bringing everything together under a single licence might be a step towards simplification.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I support these amendments in principle, although I have some hesitation about parts of them. Again, this is a question of what should be on the face of the Bill.

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I should like to speak first to the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and then come back to Amendment No. 7, which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, spoke to afterwards. Amendments Nos. 6 and 8 refer specifically to issues relating to very large reservoirs. While I may sympathise with the number of inundated Welsh valleys, it sounded as though an awful lot of that inundation was for the benefit of the people of Wales. However, I have some sympathy about Birmingham.

The noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, but with regard to Amendment No. 6 it would be quite remarkable if an environmental impact assessment were not already required in planning a really large reservoir, so I think that point would be covered. So, indeed, would the planning issues: one simply could not build one of these reservoirs nowadays without planning coming into it. The planners would have their say and demand their fee. It is slightly different for the very small reservoirs, but planning, as well as planning inquiries, can already be authorised.

I am sure that no responsible water service provider would undertake work without having made a social impact assessment. However, when making such an assessment, it is difficult to know where to draw the boundaries? Do we draw them within the confines of the reservoir or at the limits of the wider community that might benefit? If there is to be a proper social impact assessment, one needs to look at the wider issue rather than the narrow one. Ultimately, it would come down to proper compensation. Very often in this country, proper compensation is restricted by the current compensation law, a separate issue which is nothing to do with the Bill.

If we had more flexible and easier compensation laws so that people were better and more fully compensated for the very real loss and disruption that they might suffer if a valley in which they were resident were flooded, many of the difficulties in the planning process would disappear. We do not have such a system, unfortunately, but perhaps it is as well to mention that point yet again. I think we will find, when the Minister replies, that the points proposed in Amendment No. 6 are largely covered.

Amendment No. 8 proposes a new use for reservoirs—I am sure that it is being considered—slightly stronger than the current practice. Reservoirs are used largely for storage and, to a certain extent, to maintain flow, but not as the primary purpose of constructing a reservoir.

If the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, is serious about his amendment, the almost certain consequence will be that reservoirs will need to be somewhat larger than they are at present. If we are going to use reservoirs as a proper part of water management to maintain flow during periods when it would otherwise be low, and to reduce flow when it is high, larger reservoirs will be needed than are provided at present. The principle of good water management is inherent in the amendment and it merits serious consideration.

I support Amendment No. 7. We should keep reservoirs of the size referred to in the amendment as much out of the regulatory process as possible. We

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should bear in mind that we will be impounding what would otherwise be surplus water that is running down rivers and out to sea. It might be necessary to be slightly more flexible about the dates suggested in the amendment, but that problem is covered to a degree by the words "in time of flood".

For the benefit of those Members of the Committee who are not immediately literate in metric measures of water, 25,000 cubic metres is about 5.5 million gallons. It is 25 megalitres, which is half the volume of water eligible for competitive supply under the competition rules suggested in the Bill. It is a large amount of water, but it is not massive. Expressed another way, it represents 50 acre inches. If you wish to put 4 acre inches on a crop from sowing to maturity—which is about average—you can work out how many acres can be irrigated throughout the season.

This is very important for farm storage, horticultural storage and irrigators. It is a part of water management to the extent that it is using water which would otherwise run out to sea. It is something that should be encouraged in every way. We may need to look at the exact wording of the amendment but it definitely deserves strong support. We should do everything we can to support the principle of the amendment.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, took us so far around Wales that perhaps I should declare a family interest. Llyn Brianne I know; some of the other reservoirs I do not know. So, if I do have an interest in any of the valleys the noble Lord seeks to protect, I declare it now. I wish that during this beautiful week we had all been able to meet at Llyn Brianne reservoir.

I can reassure the Committee with regard to Amendment No. 6. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, the proposed development of any large reservoir is subject to planning consent under town and country planning law. The developer of a large reservoir must apply for planning consent from the local planning authority and, in the same way that the planning law refers to the ability of the Secretary of State to call-in a planning issue and to call for an inquiry, in Wales that role will be undertaken by the Welsh Assembly. There is also an appeal mechanism.

An impoundment to store in excess of 10 million cubic metres of water—for a horrible moment I thought the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was going to set the Committee mental arithmetic tests—would require mandatory environmental impact assessment under the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment (England and Wales)) Regulations 1999. Smaller impoundments are subject to environmental impact assessment if they are likely to have a significant environmental effect by reason of factors such as size, nature and location.

Where a project is subject to environmental impact assessment, an environmental statement has to be produced to inform the planning decision. The statement must address a range of issues, including the

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effect of the development on the local population. Noble Lords have raised an important point. Although we appreciate their concerns, I hope that when they have had an opportunity to read my response in detail they will agree that the amendment is not necessary in the light of current planning controls.

Amendment No. 7 does not achieve what is sought and could give rise to some practical problems. However, to some extent we support the intention behind the proposal to facilitate the storage of floodwaters without unnecessary bureaucracy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, this would help reduce flooding and provide stored water for other purposes during drier periods.

We should bear in mind that the controls that are the subject of the clause deal only with impounding works that are constructed across a natural watercourse. By their very nature, such works are usually permanent and can cause significant disruption to flows passing on downstream to neighbouring owners and beyond, with the potential environmental disbenefits that could follow.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Perhaps I can help the Minister in a practical sense. When a stream is in full flow you could construct a run-off similar to the ones that mills used to have—which would be activated only at times of high-flow—thereby avoiding interruption of the stream. I am grateful for the Minister's support. There are ways round the mechanical difficulties to which she has referred.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Yes. But, for the reasons I have outlined, it would not be possible to impose the controls that we are seeking to improve by this clause only during defined months or during periods of flood. I shall obviously give further consideration to the point made by the noble Baroness. It is obvious from the way in which she spoke to her amendment that we share a common aim.

I can give some reassurance in regard to exemptions for water that is diverted into off-stream storage areas in the circumstances covered by the amendment. There is already an exemption in the Water Resources Act for abstractions for land-drainage purposes, which includes,

    "protection of land against . . . encroachment by water".

That is the other half of the equation to which the noble Baroness referred with regard to flooding.

While we propose in the Bill to reduce the scope of activities which fall within the exemption in Clause 7, the words I have quoted will remain unchanged. I hope that reassures the noble Baroness that, both now and in the future, water abstracted from a stream or river in times of flood is already, and will remain, exempt from the need for an abstraction licence.

Of course, that deals with only one of the criteria for further exemption suggested by noble Lords. The other is that storage during January to March should also have an exemption. This is more difficult. Sometimes, if we have dry winters, flows during these months may be severely limited. There are some areas

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of the country—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will say that farmers work well together—where several irrigators seek to fill their own reservoirs from the same source of water and there is simply insufficient water for all to have a free hand. The Environment Agency is encouraging the storage of winter water and, rightly, will grant winter water storage licences only in those areas. However, control is needed to ensure that there are fair shares for all.

It is proposed that exemption would be available only if the land-drainage consenting process were applied to the scheme. We understand that the noble Baroness wishes to reduce bureaucracy. The Bill contains no proposals to make storage schemes more complicated. All types of permissions are covered to take into account different issues, such as a scheme's impact on water resource, on flooding and on safety in the case of a large and raised reservoir.

We do not believe that it is good practice to use one regulatory regime to achieve the objective of another. Impounding controls are aimed at ensuring the protection of other users and the environment from the potential stoppage of the flow, whereas the land-drainage systems are there to ensure that we do not aggravate flooding. Any new on-stream impounding structure will require both an impounding licence and a land-drainage consent. We expect the Environment Agency to ensure that applications are co-ordinated to minimise the bureaucracy involved. I hope that that explanation reassures the noble Baroness.

We believe that Amendment No. 7 is not necessary and would not work in practice. I hope I have shown that the removal of controls during January to March would not be advisable in certain circumstances.

As to Amendment No. 8—I have visions of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, talking about river systems being affected to the disadvantage of those who prefer to catch sewin—the agency already has a duty to protect and, where possible, enhance the environment in exercising its powers and can apply conditions to the licences it grants.

In the grant of any new abstraction or impounding licence the agency will consider the needs of the environment and the rights of existing abstractors. Where it is necessary to attach conditions to the licence in the kind of case referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, the agency can, and already does, constrain the licence to ensure that it is part of a sustainable extraction regime. These licences are in operation and include management arrangements to ensure that the environment is protected.

I hope that I have given noble Lords the assurances they seek. The subject is quite complex. I have covered a range of issues but, if anyone requires further information after the Committee stage, I shall be delighted to write to them.

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