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Baroness Byford: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he look at subsection (2) of the amendment? It clearly states:

So there is a built-in safety valve. I should be grateful if he would comment on that.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, my point is that that is a fairly extreme exception. The amendment specifies, "except in exceptional circumstances", whereas changes may have occurred over the whole 12 years since the licence was granted or most recently renewed. "Exceptional circumstances" suggests a sudden and dramatic emergency, whereas looking forward to the next 12 years, the Environment Agency—the regulator—may well judge that the licence conditions should be changed or the licence should not be renewed in its current form. That is why I say that the amendment greatly constrains the judgment of the regulator. The provision which the noble Baroness quoted deals with an extreme example of change which would allow the regulator to behave differently from the presumption. There is a whole range of circumstances where there may be other matters to be taken into consideration when making the judgment on a renewal application.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I follow the Minister's argument but I do not accept it. I thank the noble

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Lord, Lord Borrie, for his support. I think that people generally—not just water companies, but everyone who uses water, particularly those whom I know well within the farming community—are looking for reassurance. The Minister said that the Environment Agency will operate a presumption that, subject to the requirements, renewal will be granted. However, the Bill does not state that. The Environment Agency is not answerable to anyone. It may be answerable to the Government as it is a government agency, but it is not answerable to this House. I am certainly not happy with the Minister's answer. We shall return to the matter at Third Reading. I hope that the Government will give it further consideration. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood moved Amendment No. 27:

    After Clause 19, insert the following new clause—

After section 46 of the WRA there is inserted—
(1) A licence granted under this Chapter to abstract water—
(a) to prevent interference with any mining, quarrying or engineering operations (whether underground or surface); or
(b) to prevent damage to works resulting from such operations ("de-watering abstractions");
shall be stated to take effect and to expire simultaneously with any planning permission or any extension or amendment to any planning permission granted for such mining, quarrying or engineering operations instead of a specific date, or dates, in the licence for the de-watering abstraction itself.
(2) In all other respects, reference in this Chapter to the date on which a licence is stated to take effect and on which it expires, insofar as a licence for de-watering abstractions is concerned, refers to the commencement and expiry dates comprised in any planning permission authorising the mining, quarrying or engineering operations relevant to the de-watering abstraction.""

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to speak in support of Amendment No. 27. I wish to take a few moments to make some general remarks which apply to other amendments under my name; that is, Amendments Nos. 28, 32, 183 and 185. Those remarks, if made now, need not be repeated. I give that commitment.

I declare an interest as a non-executive chairman of the Quarry Products Association. I support the general principles of the Bill to maintain quantity and quality of water—who could not? But the amendments under my name relate to the way in which the provisions of the Bill have relevance to the quarrying industry in particular. That is an important point.

A distinction must be drawn between those who use water in the processes of their respective industries and the needs of the quarrying industry to extract water literally in order to keep digging and then to return that water to the aquifer either immediately or after storage at equivalent quality. The point about the quarrying industry is that the water is not lost in either quantity or quality in this process of abstraction.

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My initial proposal at Committee stage was to ask for the quarrying industry therefore to be exempted from the type of licensing process envisaged in the Bill. In the light of discussion at that stage and the comments of the Minister, I have returned with this amendment rather than my original amendment. I hope that this amendment can be regarded as both conciliatory and consensual.

Amendment No. 27 seeks to protect the quarrying industry from what I can only view as a potential double hazard; that is, the need for planning permission and a licence to abstract water to run on different timescales. The amendment proposes that the licence and the planning permission should run concurrently with the same expiry date. Why is that important? It is important due to a matter already touched on in earlier amendments—the length of the investment cycle in the quarrying industry. I need not go over the details of that as that matter was covered in earlier discussion.

The Bill, if unamended, would reduce to 12 years the horizon under which significant investment is considered, with a time warning given after six. Let us consider the implications of that. I give a specific example to impress on the House the seriousness which such a use of powers could have, not simply for the quarrying industry. The Torr Quarry near Frome currently supplies virtually all the limestone needs of the South East of England. That is a consequence of geology not of business strategy as that is where the limestone is found. The quarry has been managed with great skill. Investment has been channelled into developing an adequate rail transport infrastructure to ensure that the flow of material to the construction sites of the South East of England that need the material takes place in the most effective and efficient manner.

Such investment in both the quarry and the infrastructure is unrealistic over a short investment timescale—a 12-year period. But what is at issue is the supply of limestone for construction, the huge majority of which occurs in the South East of England. The Minister does not need reminding of the ambitious government plans for construction in that area. That one quarry is pivotal to those plans.

I remind the House, however, that the issue is not simply the use of water and the possible contamination of water—as might arise in other industries—but the dewatering necessary to allow limestone extraction in this case and the return of the water to the aquifer. That is different from the position of some other industries which have an interest in this area which use water and, in so doing, diminish either the quantity or the quality of water returned to the aquifer.

I also remind the House that the measure does not imply an avoidance of proper regulation because planning permissions are subject to a rolling 15 year reaffirmation and regranting. The Environment Agency has a role in that process as a statutory consultee. I believe that proper regulation as proposed in the amendment in the spirit of the Bill can be observed along with the provisions already in place. I beg to move.

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5.15 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I support the amendment. I apologise for not having been present at previous stages of the Bill. I am a civil engineer and I have done some quarrying work in my youth, if one can call it that. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, are very valid.

No one likes quarries. They comprise big holes in the ground and often you cannot see them. Often they last for decades and sometimes more than 100 years. However, as the noble Lord said, people like the products of quarries. They want cheap buildings, roads, railways and harbours. The quarrying industry is a classic case of an industry that needs to plan for decades ahead in order to produce stone of the right quality at the right volume in an environmentally friendly way. As the noble Lord said, there is a need to dewater and return the water after it has been processed and cleaned.

I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. As the noble Lord also said, much of the material we are discussing is transported by rail to the benefit of the environment. Investment is made in the equipment needed for the crushing, loading, and screening processes and in all the other equipment that is required, including for concrete mixing. That is part of a big chain of business—it is almost a logistics chain—which could be affected if the businesses that run quarries are required to take the risk involved in reapplying for a licence after a comparatively short period.

If quarry companies have obtained the relevant planning permission, having consulted the Environment Agency, and having undergone very strict environmental assessments, it is reasonable for them to have the certainty of being able to carry on their business for the length of the planning permission without the worry of whether they can continue to extract water. If they cannot extract water, they cannot carry on the business.

The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, talked of the importance of assurance as regards those who have invested in the area we are discussing. Yesterday at Question Time we discussed the Royal Mail. The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, said that it was important that the Government did not interfere with business investments. I am not sure that I agreed with him on that occasion, but that was for another reason. However, it is important that uncertainty should be removed. The amendment is a reasonable attempt to bring the two timescales involved in planning permission and licences into line. I hope that if the Government cannot accept the wording of the amendment, my noble friend will at least agree to take it away and come back with a measure that would achieve a similar result.

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