Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I appreciate the noble Baroness explaining the purpose of the amendment at some length. We have said that as many abstractors as possible should come within the regime and be subject to the same level playing field. So, for the sake of consistency, and although we are interested in the Minister's reply, we do not support the proposal. We realise that there is a great market for and interest in bottled mineral water, but the Bill is also aimed at improving the quality and demand for ordinary drinking water from tapsa very important aim.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, we are considering the Water Bill in the context of the United Kingdomwell, mainly of England. When it comes to potable water, there is a trendwhich we cannot stop, much as I decry itfor people to drink bottled water when the water coming out of the tap is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, says, more than adequate. Indeed, many of the tests have proved that there are fewer bacteria in the water coming out of the taps than in bottled waters. As we import an enormous amount of drinking water, I should have thought that, in the overall context of the balance of payments, if nothing else, it would be a good idea to examine the issue.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I would like to write to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, on the importation of water. I know that there are some across the Channel and elsewhere who would be deeply offended. There are those of us who view the practice of buying water in bottles when we have already paid for it in the tap as a rather odd aberrationexcept in Wales, where Brecon water is obviously better than anything else.
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On time-limiting of licences, the agency can grant licences longer than 12 years; its guidance sets out criteria for doing so. It may be considered if the applicant provides a business case satisfying certain tests, one being that the lifetime of the infrastructure inseparably associated with the authorisation will extend over the desired period of validity. I hope that that is helpful.
The clause that is the subject of the amendment seeks to extend the existing right of some abstractors of small quantities of groundwater to construct boreholes without a licence to all such abstractions. It is therefore a deregulatory measure. However, Amendment No. 12 seeks to introduce selective control of those boreholes that would have an adverse effect on a neighbouring source and introduce additional regulation contrary to the objective of further deregulating small abstractions that have no impact on the overall management of water resourcesa point underlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer.
The amendment seeks to prevent damage to adjacent potable supplies by controlling the construction of some wells or boreholes where the abstraction of water is to be exempted. However, it does so based on a selective test of adverse effect, which means that developers cannot know at the outset whether what they intend is exempt from control. They would not know in advance whether they might face criminal sanctions. We believe this is not workable. We recognise the concern raised, but we consider that the proposal is not justified to cater for the very few such problems that may arise and that there are sufficient safeguards available to protect water sources.
I understand from our discussions in Grand Committee that a case was referred to by the noble Baroness in which a potable water supply might have been jeopardised by the construction of a borehole for a small abstraction. This case is one of the exceptions, and I believe it was resolved satisfactorily through the planning process.
There are codes of good practice; the Environment Agency has one on its Internet site. There is also a British Standard on the subject. The well-drilling industry should take note of such codes to help ensure that incidental damage does not occur.
I hope I have covered the points. If the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, would like me to reply in more detail on a particular case, I may be able to do so.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her good explanation. I am still somewhat concerned about the fact that this matter will not appear on the face of the Bill. On so many of the issues we discussed in Committee and will discuss again, it is suggested that provision is made for themor it is implied. I have become very sceptical about Bills. I tell people that they want to worry if something is not on the face of the Bill and also if it is. There is often a gap
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left in-between when it comes to interpretation by whoever is responsible for interpreting it. However, I am grateful to the noble Baroness.
As for there being only a few people affected, all small businesses start small and, with luck, grow into bigger businesses. If the idea is good, there are more businesses, and I would like to make sure they are all UK businesses, not importing water from overseas. The Minister referred to a particular case which I understand was dealt with satisfactorily.
Perhaps I should push my local bottled water: Buxton is not far away, but much nearer to home is Swithland in Leicestershire, which the noble Baroness knows very well. I hear what she says and hope that her words come true when they are interpreted. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 7 [Rights to abstract for drainage purposes, etc]:
Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 9, leave out lines 13 and 14.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Bill says on page 9:
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the exemption allows movement of water by an internal drainage board within its own district outside the licensing control. That is because it is for use within that district, which can be competently managed by the internal drainage board in that district. I am not sure what other use the boards would be making of the water than to augment the level of water that they had available. For whatever purpose they wanted to augment the level of water, they would need the exemption from what would otherwise be licensing for the purposes of raising the level within their own district. The provisions proscribe use for something outside that district.
The noble Baroness may have in mind whether one could use the exemption from licensing for flood control purposes or protection of land that would otherwise be encroached on by water. The answer is, "Yes", but it would require an abstraction further upstream, which would raise or alter the level further downstream.
"The restriction on abstraction shall not apply . . . within the district of an internal drainage board if . . . the water abstracted is transferred to another area of inland water
"the sole or main purpose of the transfer is to augment that other area".
On page 10, the Bill states that land drainage does not include,
"transferring water from one source of supply to another . . . solely or mainly in order to augment the latter".
That may be interpreted as an exemption granted to a bodynamely, an internal drainage boardfor an activity that is then ruled out of order. Having read it and considered it again, we feel that that is a contradiction, for which I would be very grateful for a ministerial explanation. I beg to move.
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The restriction is restriction within the area, to a quantum of water, and it is difficult to see how the amendment, by deleting that restriction, would make much difference in practice. One could argue either way, but the restriction is to within an area, and to delete the whole of those two lines would make that less clear.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, it just seemed very strange that on one page, one set of rules applies, and on the next page a different set applies. The matter is not worth pursuing at this stage, but perhaps between now and Third Reading the lawyers might consider it, as I may have made a mistake, or there may be some misunderstanding with which I have not got to grips. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 9, line 36, at end insert
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the amendment proposes an express duty on the Environment Agency to investigate notice of an emergency drainage abstraction. It would normally be the abstractor rather than the agency that drew attention to that situation. The proposed amendment would require investigation of all cases, whether or not the agency was content that the abstractor had rightly called it an emergency situation and the agency was co-operating with the abstractor in dealing with the emergency situation. The amendment would confine emergency situations to the types of threat set out in the clause. But the agency is already bound to interpret emergencies in that way, and it would have to give reasons if it disagreed with an abstractor.
The amendment aims to set down the criteria that would determine the grant of a licence for irrigation in the temporary transitional period. It is intended that transitional arrangements for all abstractions coming
"( ) In the case of any emergency abstraction the Agency, upon receiving notice of the abstraction in question, shall investigate the current position under each of the headings listed in subsection (2A)(a), (b) and (c) above; and only if the danger no longer exists under any of those headings and if there is no perceived threat in the immediate future, may the Agency conclude that the emergency does not exist."
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment arises from a debate surrounding a series of government amendments. It became clear that legislation defines the start of an emergency but not the end of it. The Minister seemed to admit that there is not even guidance on the subject; that is why we are returning to it. The amendment would put into the Bill an instruction to the agency that would make it clear when the agency might declare when an emergency did not exist. For the purposes of the Bill, that might be taken to be both when the emergency was over and when a particular situation did not amount to an emergency. I beg to move.
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under licence control as a result of the removal of exemptions under the Bill will be covered regulations made under Clause 95. The regulations will be published in the normal way, before the commencement of the Clause 7.
Some of the concerns that lie behind the amendment may be covered by the regulations. However, to stipulate as the amendment does is rather taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, in that most emergency situations will be dealt with by co-operation between the Environment Agency and the abstractor. Any limitation to that will be covered by regulations yet to be published. There will be not only guidance but regulations.