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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): I recognise the noble Baroness's desire for a co-ordinated approach to water management, but the reality is that at a higher level the amendment would inhibit the ability of the Environment Agency to manage water resources sustainably in the future. The clause ends all exemptions. All significant users of water will be covered to allow for control of the total use of water when resources may not be as plentiful as they are now, given our expectations of climate change. The Environment Agency will need to be able to rebalance the needs of all abstractors and the needs of the environment. To exclude a significant amount of water from that would not be appropriate.

We recognise the view of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that we should not change unless we need to. We have retained the exemption for transfers within internal drainage districts. New subsection (1A) achieves that continued exemption. That reflects our confidence in the ability of internal drainage boards to manage the districts for which they have responsibility. The amendment would leave some transfers of large quantities of water outside control now and in the future, when our resources may be more scarce. That is contrary to the purpose of the Bill. The intention of the Bill is to ensure that transferring water into internal drainage districts, for whatever purpose, is not done at the expense of the supplying river, of its users or of the environment that is dependent on it.

We recognise the intention behind the amendment to ensure that water resources and flood management are more joined up. However, those two issues are covered by separate areas of legislation and are there for different purposes. From a legislative point of view, they are best not confused. The water level management plans referred to in this respect do not have a statutory basis. It would not be appropriate to use plans that do not have an explicit legal base.

I understand what the noble Baroness is trying to do, but it thwarts the overall purpose of this part of the Bill.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I am sure that the Minister remembers my suggestion that he should give a pound to WaterAid for every bad pun in the Bill. What will be the relationship between water level management plans and all the other mechanisms that the Bill will bring in, and the Water Framework Directive? If, as he says, the water level management plans have no statutory basis, how will the people who

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are taking part in the negotiations about them know where they then fit in? Why should they devote their time to those negotiations?

Lord Whitty: The water management plans for these purposes deal with flood management rather than water supply. The people who participate in drawing up those plans and managing the water levels understand their role. Transfers into the internal drainage board areas do not take place only during flood periods when there are high flows on the donor river. They could take place at any time. The exemption relating to the existence of a plan to deal with floods is not a relevant consideration. At all times the Environment Agency needs to be able to control all movement of water to balance the system, whether it is to deal with excess or drought or for ongoing water management purposes. The flood dimension deals with one aspect. It is an important aspect, but it is only one.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank the Minister for his reply, which I shall dwell on and see how best to achieve my purposes. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 23:

    Page 9, line 17, at end insert "; and

(d) the sole purpose of the transfer is for trickle irrigation""

The noble Lord said: The amendment relates to a specific situation—

Noble Lords: This amendment has been withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Perhaps it might help the Committee if I say that, although on the groupings the amendment is shown as having been withdrawn from the Marshalled List, it has not been withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I apologise to the Committee. That was my mistake.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I assure the Committee that there is no evidence of domestic strife. I am sorry to disappoint the Committee.

The amendment would add a paragraph (d) to new subsection (1A), which lists specific circumstances in which abstraction is allowed without a licence. I want to probe the Government on whether this is an appropriate place for special pleading on behalf of trickle irrigation. I realise that there will be a longer debate on trickle irrigation later, but I am bringing it up at this point to see whether this is an appropriate place to put in a special mention. We need to pay particular attention to trickle irrigation and prioritise it over other means of irrigation and other uses of water. In particular, it is used for food production. This part of the Bill refers to transfers of water. In some circumstances there may be an inadequate water supply. It refers specifically to districts. Trickle irrigation is a specific function to enable food

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production, which is a vital renewable resource and should be higher on the list of priorities than many other aspects. I wonder whether this is an appropriate place for a reference to specific circumstances for allowances for trickle irrigation. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Once again, I am slightly hesitant about speaking on this amendment. There is no doubt but that trickle irrigation is the most efficient way of using water for irrigation. It should be encouraged and it would be very nice if it could be exempted. However, large horticultural units can abstract large quantities of water. To exempt a whole class of irrigation might lead to an inconsistency in the Bill. Somebody using spray irrigation, who would have to have a licence, might be using far less water than someone using trickle irrigation, who would have an exemption. That seems a little hard. Of course, it gives the person using spray irrigation every incentive to change his system if that is possible, but it is not always possible. Spray irrigation may be the only way in which some people can work.

I am hesitant about the amendment and I look forward with interest to the Minister's response.

Lord Carter: I was going to make the same point in a different way. Paragraphs (a) to (c) all preserve the stock of water, whereas paragraph (d) proposed in the amendment would use it up. The noble Lord is probably correct that this is not the right place in the Bill, because it does not run with the rest of the clause.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I should like clarification of the intention behind the amendment. My understanding is that transfers of water within IDBs are exempt from the provisions of the Bill. The clause would be appropriate only if there was abstraction for trickle irrigation. I should like to press the noble Lord to clarify his intention.

4 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I make a special plea for trickle irrigation because Section 29(1A) says that,

    "restriction on abstraction shall not apply to any abstraction of water from inland waters within the district of an internal drainage board".

Specific exemptions are then set out. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, about whether this is the right place for this provision. Trickle irrigation is a very efficient method, but is this right place in the Bill to put it when one compares it with the other aspects mentioned there?

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I support my noble friend. We should like to see what judgment the Government think can be made. The Environment Agency may not make value judgments about whether food production is a more important use of water than, for example, car washing. We may wish to return to that theme. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has decided to add his weight to those who have pressed British institutions to supply, where possible, British

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food. We want to explore as fully as possible what weight is given to the importance of agriculture as a user of water.

Lord Whitty: This provision is probably in the wrong place. The section deals with transfers made by internal drainage boards, whereas the noble Lord is thinking more of abstractions. Transfers within IDB areas will continue to be exempt. But abstractions above a certain level are licensable. Therefore, some trickle irrigation above the threshold—for example, the large horticultural premises to which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred—will be licensable for abstraction purposes, but this deals with transfers.

If those transfers are to be exempt, they will be subject to the conditions set out by the clause. Therefore, adding this aspect to them would have the opposite effect to that which the noble Lord seeks. It could narrow the exemption to trickle irrigation by the drainage boards. It would be a narrower exemption than that provided by Section 29(1A). No doubt we shall return to the supply of trickle irrigation in general terms, but the amendment will not help the noble Lord's cause. He may therefore wish to reconsider it.

The noble Baroness raised the question of whether the Environment Agency can make a judgment on these matters. It depends on what one means by a judgment. One role of the agency is to decide whether quantities required for a particular use are reasonable. That is not an issue of whether one use is more important than another, but whether it is reasonable to use that quantity of water for that purpose. Therefore, a number of judgments must be made by the Environment Agency in that respect, but they are not subjective value judgments in the sense that the noble Baroness refers to.

I hope that the noble Lord will think better of the amendment and return to this matter in a general discussion on trickle irrigation.

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