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Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful for that. I infer from what the Minister said about Amendment No. 174 that the membership of the flood defence committees remains as established under the existing Environment Act which deals with the composition of regional flood defence committees. That is therefore staying in place.

I am grateful for the Minister's comments on Amendment No. 176A. I am glad to hear that DEFRA will make a block grant to the Environment Agency; that that will become a block grant to the flood defence committee; and that hopefully everyone will be able to get on with the process without future interference.

There was a subset to my question which I did not really go into, which I should perhaps pursue. Under Clause 65(2)(4) there appears to be a possibility that expenditure might be shifted unreasonably down to the individual. It states:

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That is fine. However, if one happens to be a riparian owner upstream of a town that is liable to flood, of course there is much that one could do, but what might be required to be done may actually be rather more than one could possibly do as an individual. But it could be argued that because someone is a riparian owner or a group of riparian owners upstream that the liability was properly theirs. I wondered whether there was a possible attempt to transfer a liability, which up until now had been accepted by the taxpayer, back to the individuals—because of the circumstances in which they find themselves.

It may be that I have a nasty suspicious mind, but I should be grateful if the Minister would address that specific issue.

Lord Whitty: I hate to say that the noble Lord has a nasty suspicious mind—

Baroness Byford: An inquiring mind.

Lord Whitty: "An inquiring mind" is perhaps a better reference. No liability is shifted as a result of that. Of course, there is already some responsibility on the upstream riparian owner. However, Clause 65 requires agreement, so there is no way in which it could be imposed in the circumstances described by the noble Lord.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I shall sum up with regard to Amendments No. 173, 175 and 176 and comment on Amendment No. 174. Although I have sympathy with Amendment No. 174, it is not strong enough. It states:

    "the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability".

I think that it is absolutely essential and not only desirable that,

    "persons who have knowledge and experience of flood defence in the local areas of those committees",

are appointed. It is essential; that is very important.

I understand what the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, have said about local flood defence committees. I merely make the point that perhaps some of the local flood defence committees' problems may relate to centralised financial control and limits imposed on them. That is why it takes them 10 years to implement a flood defence scheme. I think that the jury is out on the question as to whether the position will be any better under the Bill and the reorganisation that will take place. I hope and trust that the new committees will not spend their money, especially initially, on grandiose buildings and neglect the essential flood defences that must be provided.

I turn to the Severn Trent situation and the remark of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I know that the Environment Agency has done a great deal of good work up and down the country and I do not want to criticise it and take it too much to task. However, if one talks to the residents of Shrewsbury, parts of Worcestershire and the City of Gloucester, they might not necessarily agree that the Severn Trent body has

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been entirely successful, although I know that it has spent a huge amount of money on trying to do something about the situation.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. In defence of the Severn Trent committee, I must say that many of the problems described by the noble Lord in Shrewsbury are a product of national policy on what is and what is not fundable for flood defence rather than the local actions of the committee.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: That is an interesting remark. Why that matter is not addressed in the Bill in more detail raises many questions.

Baroness Byford: The response from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, highlights some of the problems we face. There is never enough money to do what we want to do. We are discussing flood defences. At present we are discussing rivers, but if we consider what is happening in East Anglia, which my noble friend mentioned earlier today—I was in Suffolk last week—it appears likely that the sea may encroach around Southwold and make it an island. The Government's decision is not to put in money to defend that at the moment; we are undertaking natural retreat because there is not enough money. So the amendments have raised issues that need to be debated. I return to what I said before: if we do not take the chance with a Bill such as this to raise these issues, we do not get another chance. The noble Baroness has touched on something that is highly pertinent.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: The Minister has referred to some other issues. In particular, he said that the Environment Agency is not able to take over responsibility for the minor streams that feed into rivers. However, it is those minor streams that swell the rivers and cause much of the flooding. When a main river is in full flood, those streams are very often blocked up into the countryside and consequently flood much of the land. I do not believe that local authorities have the finance, the workforce or sometimes the equipment to deal with such situations. I therefore fear that the problem will continue in those areas. I sincerely hope that this Bill is not another exercise in megalomania whereby responsibilities are brought to the centre while services deteriorate at the grass roots. That is my fear. As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 63 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 174 not moved.]

Clause 64 [Regional flood defence committees]:

[Amendments Nos. 175 and 176 not moved.]

Clause 64 agreed to.

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Clause 65 [Grants for drainage works and flood warning systems]:

[Amendment No. 176A not moved.]

Clause 65 agreed to.

Clause 66 [Information]:

[Amendment No. 176B not moved.]

Clause 66 agreed to.

Clauses 67 and 68 agreed to.

Clause 68 [Border rivers]:

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 177:

    After Clause 68, insert the following new clause—

The Agency shall have the power to promote the development of ecologically sustainable fresh water fisheries."

The noble Lord said: I shall try to be brief. I declare an interest as a lifelong fisherman, having started at the age of five. I know from experience that despite the very good work which has been done, the quality of water is still not as good as it might be. Although the Environment Agency already has powers in this respect, I seek in this amendment to ensure that it has,

    "the power to promote . . . ecologically sustainable fresh water fisheries".

Those are the crucial words.

As we know, there are more than 3 million anglers in this country. I believe that many of them serve as an early warning system for the environment. They are the first to see things happening and are the pathfinders in identifying environmental deterioration. They are, for example, often the first to see fish killed by pollution in the water.

I shall give one example to demonstrate the importance of these issues. As I say in a later amendment, water-quality monitoring is crucial. In the area where I was brought up, there was a magical mayfly hatch every year, lasting for a fortnight in May. In May 1956, while I was doing my national service, I came home but saw not one mayfly. The reason was that Aldrin and Dieldrin sheep dips had been introduced and found their way into the river, which has never been the same since. Those pesticides were replaced by organophosphates and have now been replaced by pyrethroids, which are absolutely fatal to river ecology. This problem has to be sorted out.

Long ago, I worked in the agrichemical industry. There is sufficient research and development to produce products that will not wreak such havoc on our aquatic environment. That needs to be pushed further. Regardless of whether they come from industry or elsewhere, some of the chemicals are an ecological disaster for some streams. Fish cannot live in them. Life cannot survive in some streams because of the chemicals. In fact, some drinking water is contaminated by them.

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All I wish to do is strengthen further the Environment Agency's powers and functions in promoting and developing sustainable and ecologically sound freshwater fisheries. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford: I rise briefly to support the thoughts behind Amendment No. 177. Although I suspect that the Minister will tell us that the amendment is not necessary, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, has raised an important issue. He has highlighted the fact that fishermen are often the first to detect that the water quality of streams and rivers is failing. Regardless of whether the amendment is necessary, it has been worth while for the Committee to hear those comments. I await the Minister's response with interest.

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