Water Bill [HL]
Lord Whitty (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Labour)
My Lords, there may be something of a misunderstanding here. Where a licence is revoked or modified, compensation is payable for loss or damage under Section 61 of the Water Resources Act 1991. The same section also provides that any disputes over the amount of compensation, or whether compensation should be paid, may be referred to the Lands Tribunal. The tribunal is independent of the Secretary of State and is thoroughly experienced in carrying out such assessments. So in general a system of appeal is already in place.
Clauses 25 and 27 set out a limited and statutorily defined set of circumstances in which compensation would not be payable after an abstraction licence is modified or revoked. If the clauses stand, it is not then a question of judgment or appeal to the Secretary of State, it is a matter of statute.
The amendments seek to amend those clauses to install the principle that the holder of a new licence should not be deprived of abstraction rights without the possibility of a hearing. I accept that principle. However, the Water Resources Act already provides a mechanism for a hearing in such cases. This would take place when it was decided whether to vary or revoke a licence on the grounds set out in the two clauses.
It is important to note that, contrary to the implication of the amendment, Section 61 of the Water Resources Act does not provide for the Secretary of State to make a decision whether to award compensation. As I have said, that would follow as a result of statute in the circumstances set out in these two clauses.
The procedure for deciding whether to vary or revoke a licence is set out in Sections 52 to 54 of the Water Resources Act. Therefore, at the appropriate stage in the decision-making process there is already the chance for a full hearing as to the need for the revocation or modification of an abstraction licence.
Whether or not the interpretation of those clauses is correct is a matter for judicial review, but it is not a judgment or a decision of the Secretary of State that can be appealed against, which I think is the motivation for the amendments.
With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press the amendments.