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Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I am happy to make a short input into the amendment as a Welsh Member of this House. It is very welcome indeed to see that the Assembly will be able to exercise these powers. I wish to put one or two points on the record regarding membership of regional flood defence committees in Wales. I am pleased that the amendment refers to committees to be specified by the Assembly, and that the Assembly will have the power to alter the composition of the regional flood defence committees in Wales. That is a satisfactory state of affairs.

The method of selection of the committees is the purview of the National Assembly. I wish to make two points which are encapsulated in the present system. Obviously, there is the question of technical expertise and local input. At the present time some of the technical expertise is supplied by the Environment Agency and the local input by local authorities. I am sure that the Assembly will take note of what I have just said and will undoubtedly also take note of what the Minister said about cross-border influences and the solutions to that. I merely point out that we have in Wales at least two river systems, the Wye and the Severn, which cross the England/Wales border. It is obviously important that that aspect is addressed by the Assembly.

Should the Government accept what is contained in the next amendment—I do not want to pre-empt it in any way—that might have an impact on what the Assembly might wish to do on the question of river basin management. I hope that the Assembly will take note of this debate and the points made in it and in particular the merits of some of the aspects of the Bill to help it come to decisions on how to manage the system. I realise that I am on delicate ground as this is the purview of the Assembly and not of this House. Nevertheless I make these points as a Welsh Member of this House.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, in responding to the amendment. In doing so, I hope that he will forgive a gentle reminder, prompted by his opening remarks, that he is a Member of this House. He may come from

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a part of the country that is rather special, but we all come from parts of the country that are rather special, and we none of us represent them.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his letter of explanation, if only because it gave me the opportunity to consult colleagues who knew rather more about the special area that the amendment affects than I do. We have members there, and the Minister will be glad to know that he is acting in complete compliance with their wishes. I am sure that that will give him great reassurance.

The amendments are easy to support, because they are directed at giving control of the local situation with regard to rivers and so on to those who know most about them—the people immediately affected. I have only one comment: what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The amendment applies to Wales, but others might apply to England. If we are to apply a consistent principle throughout the Bill, proposing something for one area makes it entirely relevant for consideration elsewhere. I am happy to support the amendment.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I want to tell the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that I know exactly where I come from. I do not come from Wales; I come from Cambridge in England. However, I am here as spokesman in the House of Lords for matters relating to Wales. I am extraordinarily sensitive, as we all have to be, to the fact that we are talking about a devolved matter. It is absolutely appropriate for noble Lords to comment on matters, but we must remind ourselves that those matters have to be considered by the Welsh Assembly. For that reason, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for putting on record for consideration by Members of the Welsh Assembly a number of matters in which he was interested and wished to draw to their attention.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 64 [Regional flood defence committees]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 158:

    Page 81, line 25, at end insert—

"(5) Subsections (1) to (4) above shall have effect until December 2007.
(6) On 1st December 2007 section 14 (regional flood defence committees) of the Environment Act 1995 shall be repealed.
(7) From 1st December 2007 the Secretary of State shall, by order, establish a river basin management committee in place of each regional flood defence committee which will cease to exist under subsection (5).
(8) The timescale for the establishment of river basin management committees under subsection (7) shall be in accordance with Article 14 of the Water Framework Directive.
(9) Each river basin management committee shall include—
(a) elected local authority members from the local authorities which are located in part or entirely within the river basin covered by the committee; and
(b) other members whom the Secretary of State considers to offer substantial local knowledge on issues within the competence of the committee.

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(10) Each river basin management committee shall inherit all of the powers and duties of the regional flood defence committee it shall replace.
(11) Each river basin management committee shall develop policies and a river basin management plan in consultation with the Environment Agency.
(12) Each river basin management committee may, where the size of the river basin so necessitates, and after consulting the Secretary of State, establish such sub-basin management committees as it considers appropriate.
(13) From 1st December 2007 the amendments made in subsections (2) to (4) to Schedule 4 to the Environment Act 1995 shall have effect as if references to "regional flood defence committee" or any variant thereof were to "river basin management committee" or the appropriate variant."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the clause aims to rearrange the flood defence committees. Before I go any further I had better declare an interest, in that my husband chairs one such committee. The rearrangement of the committees may well be an improvement, but it ignores completely a whole range of issues that the Water Framework Directive—we have been reminded that it will move into national implementation at the end of the year—will require. It is a great loss that Clause 64, instead of grasping that opportunity and creating river basin management committees, simply rearranges flood defence committees.

My amendment does not propose adding another layer of committee. It proposes that we abolish flood defence committees, not immediately but in 2007; I recognise that it may well take that long for the Government to come up with the geographical areas, composition of the committees and exactly how they will operate. By 2007, we need committees that are able to take on the requirements of the Water Framework Directive.

I am aware that there is government resistance to this proposal. The Government, having appointed the Environment Agency as the competent agency to oversee all of the river basin management issues, believe that the agency should be in charge of its own plans with its own discretion as to how and when to involve the public.

The directive makes it clear that public participation must happen. But I do not believe that it is adequate to leave the agency in charge of such an important area and then to say that the flood control element alone can be subject to some kind of democratic accountability.

I anticipate that the Minister may well say that local plans or regional spatial plans are the place for involvement. But at present those bodies have much else to deal with—housing, waste and transport—and they will never devote sufficient time to water and water issues, particularly at the point when the Water Framework Directive is new and needs an enormous amount of energy in terms of its successful implementation. Perhaps after 15 or 20 years the regional spatial plans might be considered the place to deal with water issues. But I do not believe that any of our democratic structures these days are likely to last for 20 years unchanged.

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The Environment Agency's role as the competent authority is crucial in terms of giving technical advice and producing the plan. But it is primarily an organisation that is geared to regulating. Its primary function is not as a facilitator of public debate and involvement—indeed, that is not where its expertise lies.

We need a statutory group of people, drawn from the communities of the river basin, to oversee a process which, if successfully implemented, as we have said time and again in this House, will bring great benefits. But if it is unsuccessfully implemented, with inadequate public participation, it could well be disastrous and expensive. To date, the Government's record is not terrific in this area. They have one pilot in the Ribble Valley which was implemented a year or so later than all the rest of the European pilots and after a great deal of debate over whether England would bother with a pilot at all. By contrast, the Scottish Executive already has a national stakeholder forum of representatives of industry, landowners, environmental organisations and the public.

My amendment allows in subsection (9) for a mix of people, but, crucially, it specifies that there must be representatives of the public, elected by the public themselves, as councillors. The Secretary of State can then supplement those from a range of people with the necessary skills and local knowledge.

As to timing, I have specified December 2007. I suggest that that would be enough time for the Government to organise this process. It is also driven by the fact that that is the latest date when the river basin management plans can be produced on time yet enable adequate public input. The preparation of the plans must happen at least three years before they are due to be implemented.

Anyone in this Chamber—I know that there are several—who has been involved in the preparation of a local plan will know that it takes several years to allow for enough public consultation. Given that the Water Framework Directive introduces a new process, I believe that that time-scale is probably just sufficient.

It has been said that the Water Framework Directive will have as big an impact on the management of water in Europe as Roman aqueducts did at the time. I remind the Government that in Roman times the introduction of aqueducts decided whether new towns could develop. They removed water from some and gave it to others. Perhaps the Labour Government should not be compared to a Roman emperor, but I hope that they will have learnt some lessons from that and will encourage genuine public participation, where the agency is not in charge of the process. I beg to move.

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