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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her support and to the Minister for his explanation. As a matter of observation, I can say that in my dealings on this matter, a fairly satisfactory and flexible approach has been taken to the whole question. I appreciate entirely that one small bank put across a stream in a narrow valley impounding a certain amount of water might not pose a problem, but if a series of neighbours down the valley were to do the same it could be that no water would arrive at the bottom, which might well cause problems. I accept that there are potential difficulties in the absolute laissez-faire approach we are expounding, but the principle of trying to free from regulation as much as we can is correct. It was for that reason that we tabled the amendment. We shall study the Minister's explanation with some care, but at this stage and at this point in the day I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. [Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 8 not moved.] Clause 3 [Existing impounding works]:
Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 9:
"the Secretary of State (as respects England)", but not as respects otherwise. If there is a hidden meaning behind the proposed wording, then the Government's intention should be made clear. It is unusual to see in one Act different words which mean the same thing, while this Bill contains the wording I have already mentioned. That is why we seek to leave out the word "otherwise" and insert instead, "in relation to England". I beg to move.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, that shows how useful these amendments are. I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. Given his undertaking to consider the issue of the right phraseologypresumably throughout the Billwe are happy to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Clause 6 [Rights to abstract small quantities]:
Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 10:
"(i) domestic use on the holding;" The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 10, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 11. In the discussions in Grand Committee on a small group of amendments concerning this subject, we gave the example of the historic situation where water abstracted by a farmer had been used to the general benefit of everyone on a holding. The Minister chose to interpret our concern as being solely with the protection of existing rights. That was not our intention. He assured us that the protection is already there, through the Water Resources Act 1991, for rights which existed prior to the 1963 Act. My interpretation of his interpretation is that he believed our concern was too narrow. The amendments relate to new abstraction rights. Many farms still comprise a farmhouse and one or two agricultural dwellings. Indeed, in some cases, such housing is not used for agricultural dwellings. Agricultural workers still grow their own garden produce and there is no reason to believe that a situation may not arise where such a worker would welcome a share in the water abstracted from a nearby river or stream. Farm buildings are also converted and let to tenants, who may or may not be agricultural workers and who may wish to have a garden and therefore use more water. As we understand the terms of the Bill and the Minister's response in Grand Committee, such usage would be prohibited.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we recognise that the amendments are similar in effect to the amendments discussed in Grand Committee. As I said then, they will not affect the way in which the new exemption for small abstractions applies to supplying domestic properties on an abstractor's land. I should like to clarify the issue of tied cottages on an abstractor's land. Such cottages fall within the meaning of "household" for the purposes of the clause. They will already remain within the exemption. The new exemption will allow any abstraction up to 20 cubic metres. The limitation to occupier's household applies only to the issue of protected rights. Premises which are let will be covered within the limit. All that the amendments would achieve is simply to extend the scope of the protected right associated with such an abstraction. It would extend it from domestic use for the occupier's household only, within the broader definition, to any domestic use on the entire holding of the abstractor. If the intention is to ensure that water abstracted under the exemption for small abstractions can be supplied to any domestic property on the abstractor's land, I have already reassured the noble Baroness that this is provided for in the new exemption. I hope that the noble Baroness will therefore feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, having had a late night last night, we are into common sense. I thank the Minister for that explanation. It has helped to clarify one or two of the points we raised. Interestingly, it has stimulated more thought and we shall come back with further amendments at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. [Amendment No. 11 not moved.]
Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 12:
"I will need to consider the issue raised by the water bottlers because in certain circumstances they have a specific concern. We may be able to deal with that in a different way".[Official Report, 27/3/03; col. GC89.] For the benefit of noble Lords who did not attend the Grand Committee, perhaps I may raise one or two issues. During the Grand Committee debate there was a query whether the 12-year limit had been specified in writing by the Environment Agency. This time limit and its bureaucratic rationale was set out in detail by the Environment Agency in its policy document, Managing Water Abstraction, which was published in April 2001, and was confirmed again in the written guidance for stakeholders published in March this year. It is the Environment Agency's strength of attachment to the period of 12 years which causes so much concern. During the debate the Minister made some helpful statements about taking investment needs into account. We hope that in the pursuit of these amendments this can be clearly established as a principle. In the Environment Agency's guidance to stakeholders there is no reference to the payback on investment as a criterion for granting longer-term licences and this clearly needs rectification. In Grand Committee I referred to the depreciation accounting practices of the water utilities and it might be helpful to highlight some of the financial commitments there.
"free from pollution at source" and
"have a consistent mineral content". I hope that the Minister can deal with this point in a slightly more sympathetic way than was the case in Committee. I beg to move.
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