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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the difference is that it is impossible to travel up and down a canal without having water in it. That strikes me as the prime purpose of the water. The dewatering process is a by-product of the process of quarrying. The different modes and systems involved in dewatering and returning the water in equivalent quality is a matter that can be considered separately. There is no alternative to having water in the canal if one wishes the boat to travel along it.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, there is no alternative to dewatering a quarry if you wish to get stone out of it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we are not, at this stage, discussing the dewatering of quarries; we are discussing whether it can reasonably be said to be different in every case from other commercial uses that require dewatering because of the processes involved.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I thank the Minister for what I regard as a conciliatory reply, even if it is not quite consensual; indeed, that remains to be seen. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Dixon-Smith, for their support, as I do the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. Equally, perhaps I may couple that with thanks for the tribute paid to the good

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practice of one of our members at Torr quarry. I believe that to be significant: the industry is responsible.

I have a few points to make. Beguiled, as I was, by the productivity of canals, I shall not enter into that argument. I begin with the question of what "dewatering" is legally. When St Augustine was asked "What is time?" He replied, "Well, when nobody asks me, I know what it is; but the minute somebody asks me I can't produce a definition that's adequate". That seems to me to be the same as the problem of giving a legal definition of "dewatering", although I dare say some lawyer could do so.

The issue raised by the noble Baroness was whether it is a closed cycle, and how that relates to quantity and quality. The quality is already checked. I shall give noble Lords an example. I know of a quarry that was fined by way of a penalty because its dewatering process left too much silt: it happened too quickly in the water that was abstracted and then returned. Therefore, there are processes already in place—and that will continue to be so—to deal with such situations so that quality can be measured.

The question of quantity and where the water goes is, perhaps, an issue for further discussion. The quantity can be measured. Equally, depending on pragmatic concerns, some of the water is stored in quarries. However, if the issue were to become whether one could store the water and return it to the original place, it would be a technical and technological question that could be confronted and considered to see whether it is practicable. I hope that my remarks deal with those questions.

The Minister's reply is such that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage. However, I reserve my position following the discussions that will take place in due course.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 [Limited extension of abstraction licence validity]:

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood moved Amendment No. 28:

    Page 23, leave out lines 10 and 11.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall not speak at equivalent length on this amendment. I have set the context. The point of the amendment is very straightforward. It is to allow that a licence legitimately held can be transferred on the sale of a quarry, just as planning permission is currently transferred on such a sale.

Consolidation has taken place in the industry, and has maximised both high quality and efficiency, and consolidation will continue to take place. It would be a serious impediment if a licence had to be re-applied for in the possible event of the consolidation of two major companies and an application had to be made for every quarry that they ran, or, alternatively, where a single quarry is amalgamated into larger combine. I

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hope that the proposal is straightforward; namely, that licences can be transferred, all other things being equal. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I rise with a certain amount of regret to express my slight concern about the amendment. Clause 20 makes the burden of responsibility for the renewal of an extraction licence—particularly the initiation of the process—a responsibility of the Environment Agency. That is not unreasonable. The amendment, however, would shift that responsibility back to the applicant.

In the case of a large quarrying business or any other large industrial use, that is well and fine. But we have talked about the administrative burdens on agriculture. I am not sure that, from the point of view of most of the agricultural industry, one would not rather see the initiation responsibility with the Environment Agency. One could be much more sure that the Environment Agency would not forget about it—whereas I would not absolutely guarantee my own memory, or indeed that of every farmer in the country. For that reason, we have a concern about the amendment—although anything that makes the process easier would be welcome.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am slightly concerned. My understanding is that the effect of the amendment would be to allow the extension of a time-limited licence under the remaining conditions of this clause, even if the person who makes the application for renewal is someone other than the existing licence holder.

It seems to us most unlikely that a person other than the existing licence holder would either want or be in a position to meet the appropriate application for the purposes of this clause to operate. We are not persuaded that parties in negotiation for a transaction would necessarily want this, given that the seller would want to preserve his own right until such time as the sale was agreed.

I hope I have clarified the matter. If I have not clarified the position with regard to an existing licensee, the licensee will be able to transfer the licence to a new owner at any time simply by giving notice to the agency. If the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, has any remaining concerns in this area, I think I ought to offer to respond to any queries he raises. However, I hope that I have been able to reassure him.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. I have heard the concerns expressed both by the noble Baroness and by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment and I will consider the points raised.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 24 [Claims arising out of water abstraction]:

Baroness O'Cathain moved Amendment No. 29:

    Page 30, line 28, at end insert—

"(8) It shall be a defence to proceedings brought under this section that the abstractor was abstracting the water in accordance with the provisions of a licence granted under this Chapter.""

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, my noble friends Lady Byford and Lord Dixon-Smith have added their names to the amendment. It proposes to add a new subsection (8) for the purpose of providing a suggested defence of compliance with an extraction licence. It would, of course, be necessary to remove the quotation marks at the end of subsection (7) of proposed new Section 48A before adding the new subsection.

As the Bill stands, Clause 24 would insert a new Section 48A into the Water Resources Act 1991 which would create a new statutory tort of causing damage by abstraction of water. However, except where small quantities of water are involved, it is generally necessary to obtain an extraction licence from the Environment Agency. This enables the agency to assess the impact of the proposed extraction and, then, taking its assessment into account, refuse a licence or grant a licence with or without conditions. In this connection, the agency should be better placed than the abstractor to assess the potential impact of an abstraction.

In the circumstances, when an abstractor is complying with the conditions of his licence, it seems reasonable that such compliance should amount to a defence to any proceedings brought under the proposed new Section 48A of the Water Resources Act. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, Clause 24 introduces the right to sue any abstractor who causes damage. The intention is that the change will foster greater environmental responsibility and respect for other property among the abstractors. They will need to remain alert to the possibility that they are harming others or otherwise they could be subject to a claim for damages.

In granting a licence, the agency will not have considered the effect of abstraction on the property of third parties. It will have considered only the effect on water resources, on the environment and on the rights of other abstractors to abstract. It is important to bear in mind that it is the abstraction of water that can cause damage, irrespective of whether this is under licence or not.

The abstraction licences allow abstraction without committing any offence. It is not a licence to allow or cause harm to the environment, damage to property or any other detrimental effect. Therefore, the indemnity that the clause would give, with the abstractor abstracting water in line with a licence but against causing damage to the property of someone else, would not have been taken into account in the granting of the licence. It is part of everyone's general duty of care to ensure that in conducting their businesses, which in this case would include the abstraction of water, they do not do so to the detriment of the property of others. I believe that that is far too wide an indemnity to be inserted in the Bill and I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue the amendment.

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5.45 p.m.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he not consider that there should be a responsibility for the damage that one person might do to another? If damage is above the ground, it is easy to see, but damage can be caused to a third party without awareness. Therefore, I believe that there is great strength in the amendment moved by my noble friend and I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify the matter a little further.

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