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Lord Howie of Troon: It does indeed, my Lords. At one time I owned it, but I exchanged that for a tenancy, which seemed a better idea. We there discovered that the attitude of the environmentalists—to give them a portmanteau title—was to prefer grass and chalk to houses. Houses should go. That is not my notion. The houses were part of the environment, just as a quarry is part of the environment. That analogy is fairly clear.

I found the environmental groups polite but savage—not at all as benign as we seem to be regarding them. Noble Lords are saying things such as, "We have assurances from those people". Assurances are all very well; they have been made in the House tonight on behalf of well-meaning people whom I trust absolutely—including the Environment Agency. I see in her place the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who is the embodiment of the Environment Agency, but she will not be there for ever. She will not be there 30 years from now; she will have moved on to higher things; of that I am quite sure. She will be governor of some colony, or something, but she will not be there. I do not say that her assurances will be like pie crusts, but they will be such that her successors will not remember them. I have no doubt that they will be kept in a file somewhere in Hansard. However, they will have no particular validity because the person who will then have to decide on these matters will have forgotten them or perhaps never even have heard of them. In 25 years in this House and several years in another place, I have heard many assurances, which are wonderful when made but which, like smoke rings, last for a relatively short time.

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It would be preferable that the amendment be accepted, or that the Government, if unable to accept the amendment as it stands, were to reconsider the matter in another place on the strength of what we have tried to impress on them and perhaps come up with some other, more emollient words that meet these objectives. I support the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, on the issue of compensation, we on these Benches say that although planning permission is, of course, given to individuals or to small business, those individuals or small businesses may nevertheless be dependent on their rights to compensation for obstruction. Of course, the quarrying industry is operated on a much bigger scale. I believe that the issue of compensation for individuals, small businesses, or indeed such a big business should be dealt with in an equitable way. For that reason, I cannot support these amendments.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I begin by stating a previous interest and the fact that I do not view nature, the environment or the rural community through the eyes of the kind of chocolate box world that my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon seems to imply. Having served on the planning committee of a large county council for over 20 years, I can assure my noble friend that I recognise not only the groups of which he has advised me but also other groups with commercial and industrial interests.

To the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, I say that the issue of compensation and planning permission is hardly analogous in these particular circumstances. As the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, recognised, Amendment No. 23 seeks to provide for the payment of compensation in the event that a licence is not renewed or is curtailed.

I cannot believe that noble Lords on the Opposition Benches would want to change the important policy principle of the polluter having to pay. The only reason for the non-renewal, or perhaps even curtailment, of a quarry dewatering licence would be an environmental problem that could not be overcome.

I say to my noble friend Lord Howie that if there is no environmental problem, if no one suffers, if the problem can be overcome, the issue does not arise. On the other hand, if it is not possible to overcome the problem technically or if the cost of doing so would render further development uneconomic, the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, provides that whatever the environmental effect of a quarrying operation, it should become a public liability. I suggest to noble Lords that that cannot be right. On the basis of that argument, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, indicated, it cannot be right to accept that principle.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, has she taken account of the fact that the second part of the amendment, proposed Section 46ZB, refers quite explicitly to,

    "Where an application . . . is refused under section 46ZA"?

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The terms under which a licence could be refused are specified. Provided that those terms are met, compensation would reasonably be provided. I ask the Minister to take into account that proposed Section 46BZ merely brings the provision for compensation in those circumstances into line with the Environment Act provisions.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the circumstances could not arise under the terms of the Bill. I am certain that my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, is correct. I noted his interest in pursuing those issues in another place. If it would help him, I shall write to him as soon as possible.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply and look forward to receiving her letter. I also thank those who have spoken in support of the amendment. I simply stress that bankers might reasonably want the assurance that, where no fault could reasonably be shown and for whatever reason—committees make mistakes—a licence is withheld, compensation would be available. Compensation should be available in those circumstances. Any reassurance that could be given in that respect would be very helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 [Modification of impounding licences]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 24 and 25:

    Page 25, leave out lines 13 and 14.

    Page 25, line 15, leave out "such notices" and insert "notices of appeal under subsection (1C) above"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 27 [Compensation for modification of licence on direction of Secretary of State]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 26:

    Page 32, line 28, at end insert—

"( ) After subsection (4) there is inserted—
"( ) Subsection (4) above shall not apply while the possibility of the abstraction of water under the licence constitutes part of—
(a) any water resource management scheme maintained under section 20, 20A or 20B above; or
(b) any drought plan maintained under section 39B above.""

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment has been relayed simply because, on Report, I asked the Minister a series of questions aimed at eliciting the facts behind the Government's proposals to reduce the seven-year time limit to four years.

At the time, as reported in Hansard on 12th June at col. 428, the noble Lord admitted that he could not answer most of my questions. My noble friend says that there were an awful lot of them. That is a most unsatisfactory, not to say arbitrary, state of affairs. The Government have almost halved the length of time that a licence holder can retain a licence without using it and still be eligible for compensation if that licence is amended or revoked.

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At the same time, the Government cannot explain their rationale for the action. They did not calculate the four years. They do not know what will happen to a farmer who loses his licence and then needs it again for perfectly good agricultural reasons. So far as I can see, they do not plan to allow water undertakers to refuse to supply water for a new build, even where the local supply is under great stress. Will a farmer needing water have a higher priority than a property developer or someone who washes cars? There has been no direction whatever. Which will come first? Will it be first come, first served?

Apparently, the Government have no estimates of the good things that may be expected to flow from those restrictions: good news for the environment, tourism and the countryside. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a more satisfactory answer than we had on Report. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the aim of the reduction from seven to four years is to tighten up the controls. The control of actual revocation of a licence after seven years has been used rarely and would rarely be used where there is a four-year limit. The issue is whether, if a sleeper licence exists, the Environment Agency can intervene if there is no good reason for the non-use of water. If there is a good reason for its non-use, particularly if use is related to planning and rotation systems, there is no intervention by the Environment Agency.

The intention is not that all sleeper licences should finish after four years. The Environment Agency would have the right to look at a licence and to intervene and take it away if there were no good reason for it. In fact, the amendment as it stands is not really about whether a licence can be revoked but whether compensation can be received. If I have understood the implications of the amendment correctly, compensation would only be received if it were shown that the licence holder was not using the water for valid planning reasons. However, the licence would not have been revoked in those circumstances.

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