The amendment relates to the issue of water conservation, to which your Lordships prefer to refer here. The House of Commons and spokespeople of all parties accepted that the amendments rightly gave greater prominence to water conservation in the Bill, by inserting Amendment No. 82, which we shall reach in due course. The intention of the amendments was to strengthen the duty to conserve water resources. They retain the principle driven at in Clause 1 while addressing concerns about the potentially adverse consequences of such a wide and general duty.
I note that Amendment No. 1A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, seeks to reinstate Clause 1 with an additional reference to the duty to encourage water conservation.
I apologise to the noble Baroness. Indeed, the amendment is in her name. I am not sure to whom I should apologise most, but I apologise to both noble Baronesses.
I note that Amendment No. 1A, to which the noble Baroness will no doubt speak shortly, seeks to go back to Clause 1, whereas the insertion of Amendment No. 82 was intended to replace Clause 1. I believe that the retention of Clause 1 would cause further confusion.
As I explained when the Bill was previously debated in this House, there are difficulties with the wording of Clause 1, and they have not disappeared. It would oblige the Secretary of State to take action, regardless of whether it was beneficial or cost-effective, and, more directly, it cuts across the statutory duties of regulators and water undertakers, which would weaken the provisions for them. It is also unclear how the Secretary of State would implement measures referred to under Clause 1 with no further statutory provision as to how that should be done. As a matter of law it is unclear what entities are in Clause 1, and that could cause additional confusion.
Whether a particular activity constitutes an appropriate use of water or a waste would also be a difficult question and that is not a strong basis for a statutory duty. It will be far more constructive for the Secretary of State to look towards the clear objective of conserving water, which will be placed in Part 3 of the Bill through Amendment No. 82.
By placing the new duty in Part 3 of the Bill it probably also has a wider application than in Part 1, where it may be taken to relate primarily to abstraction and impounding. In that respect the Environment Agency already has a duty to secure the proper use of water resources, and this has been clarified in the Bill to require the agency to secure the efficient use of abstracted water.
Amendment No. 82 places a new duty on the Secretary of State and the Welsh Assembly to take steps to encourage water conservation and report to Parliament or the Assembly on progress and proposed steps. This will advance the interests of water conservation and give Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise the sufficiency of the steps taken.