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Baroness Byford: I thank all those who contributed to this debate, which, by its very nature, was always going to spread wider than the original amendment. I do not believe that one could consider the amendment without going wider than the written words. Therefore, I hope that, when I have finished speaking, the Minister will say to the noble Baroness opposite him, "I am very grateful and glad to accept your amendment", which, at present, he has not been too inclined to do. "Not today", I am being told. Perhaps I shall try again tomorrow.

I turn to one or two of the points raised. I know that they went wider than the amendment but I believe it is important to reflect upon them. My noble friend Lord Peel spoke, in particular, about the level of investment. I tried to raise that matter in my opening remarks. Several noble Lords spoke about local food production. I consider that to be a hugely important subject. Those of us who are concerned about pollution, which is part of our wider brief, are anxious to see whether we can achieve a greater reduction in what I call "food miles". Our food travels miles and miles and pollution is produced in the process.

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My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith—I shall come back to his comment in a moment—referred to the fact that the amendment calls for consultation. In reply, the noble Lord said rightly that the Government had already consulted over the years. He said that the results of the consultation were drafted in 1998 and published in 1999. Therefore, the Government feel that consultation has already taken place. However, when I read Hansard—I hope I am right—he went on to say that we shall have to consult now about the effects that the provision will have on businesses. That seems to me a little strange. I should have thought that, as part of the consultation exercise, the effect on businesses would have been considered in the first place and that that would be part of the original exercise. I simply put that down as a marker because I find it most strange.

I accept that people will have two years in which to make an application. From what the Minister said—again, we cannot question the noble Baroness, Lady Young—I understood that licences would be granted unless environmental damage had occurred or unless there was a very good reason why they should not be granted.

We then had a short debate on the subject of costs and benefits. The Minister recognised the importance of local rural businesses to the whole community rather than to the country as a whole. As I pointed out in the example that I gave of the gentleman, Mr Place, who manages a very good business, 64 people might well be put at risk. That number of people in a conurbation is a drop in the ocean, but when there are not many other options for employment, 64 people do not constitute a drop in the ocean. Therefore, I am glad that the Environment Agency will have to take that into consideration. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said that the agency will have to make a value judgment. Indeed, a value judgment is important and we establish that at some stages of the Bill.

I am sure that all Members of the Committee agree that food is an important commodity, but it could be placed at risk. The difficulty is that if, as my noble friend Lord Peel suggested, we export our business—a matter that I have talked about often—then we become dependent on food supplied from overseas. Sadly, we all know what is happening at present in the battles overseas. There is no genuine and long-term guarantee that food will be supplied forever. If food costs were to go up, that would have long-term implications for the country as a whole.

I turn to a final comment of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He said that when the applications were considered by the Environment Agency, they would be considered no less favourably. I do not believe that that is what we were trying to establish. We were asking that they should be considered favourably. My noble friend muttered to me the word "meaningless"; I uttered the word "useless". But we have digressed, and the noble Baroness is rightly shaking her head. However, that may help us to establish one or two points before we return to these matters later.

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I return to where we should be, which is my reply to the Minister's response. I do not believe that the Minister replied directly to my request that the bodies should be consulted. Perhaps the Minister will reply to that point because that is the part of the amendment that we are debating and it is the only part to which he did not respond.

Lord Whitty: I thought that I had responded to that point. I said that, in our view, the existence of that clause and the bringing into play of the clause have been dealt with by the previous consultation. However, as regards the way that the clause is applied in practice, we would expect the Environment Agency to consult bodies representing those affected by the changes and to inform them and involve them in the detail of the way that licensing would be introduced in practice. If I did not get that right when the noble Baroness checked it on the previous occasion in Hansard, I hope that I have done so on this occasion. To that extent, I recognise the importance of consultation.

Baroness Byford: The Minister has always been very generous with regard to consultation. I am simply disappointed that, as he supports the thrust of the amendment, the Government cannot accept it. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 31:

    After Clause 7, insert the following new clause—

After section 61 of the WRA there is inserted—
(a) an application for a licence to abstract water to prevent interference with any mining, quarrying or engineering operations (whether underground or surface) or to prevent damage to works resulting from any such operations is first applied for as a result of the coming into force of this section (which has had the effect of making the above abstraction an abstraction to which the restriction in section 24 applies); and
(b) that application is—
(i) refused; or
(ii) granted subject to conditions which result in the applicant being unable to implement or continue to operate any planning permission in respect of the said mining, quarrying or engineering activities;
the Environment Agency shall pay to the applicant compensation in respect of any loss or damage which is directly attributable to the refusal of the application or imposition of the adverse condition or conditions, and the provisions of section 61(5), (6) and (7) shall apply."."

The noble Lord said: I realise that this amendment was debated last week during a series of discussions led by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. I shall give a brief explanation as to why I am here as opposed to the noble Lord. It is because he was looking at the Bill through the eyes of the Quarry Products Association, with which I have a friendly but not a financial relationship. I have come off the bench in his absence to look at the Bill from the same standpoint. In doing

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so, I declare a kind of interest. I am not directly associated with the Quarry Products Association but, as someone with a lifetime connection with the construction industry, I have used a great deal of the quarry industry's products while trying my best to cover the country in concrete. I am still at it.

Having said that, I understand that, in order to make one very small comment on the amendment, I have to move it so that I can withdraw it. We were very pleased to have the assurances which my noble friend Lady Farrington gave last week. But, on second thoughts, we believe that Clause 25 may not fit entirely into the scheme of things. I do not, under any circumstances, want to debate Clause 25 now. I merely wish to say that at some stage in the process we may well come to Clause 25 and we may have to think again. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: We have one query about the amendment. We have debated this matter already. In her reply, the Minister mentioned that the Government proposed to make transitional measures to ensure that compensation would be available in the circumstances described in the amendment. Can the Minister tell me a little more about that? It is not clear to me whether the compensation payable will come from other licence payers. Has any assessment been made of how much the compensation would amount to if a substantial number of quarry owners were affected?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The compensation would come from the total abstraction budget. Therefore, in that sense, it would come from other abstractors. The circumstances under which compensation would be payable would be where a mine, quarry or engineering works operator was refused a licence or granted a conditional licence and, as a result, could not take full advantage of any planning permission granted for that operation. That was the policy to which I referred. It is already publicly stated at paragraph 3.17 of the document, Taking Water Responsibly. I hope that that answers the noble Baroness's question.

I note the interest declared by my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon and his warning that it will be an enduring interest. I note that he intends to return to this subject later, but perhaps I could offer to reply to any complex technical questions that he wishes to put in writing between now and Report. That might be more satisfactory and it would ensure that other noble Lords could read them.

I warn my noble friend that irony in politics is not always understood to be humour, and in a debate on a Bill from DEFRA it may be ill-advised to refer to covering the country in concrete. Someone may believe that he meant it and not realise that it was a joke.

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