My Lords, in our various discussions during the passage of the Bill through the House we tried desperately to persuade the Government that there was a need to have a duty to conserve water placed at the beginning of the Bill. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who wrote to me on 12th September 2003. The letter states:
"While the intention of the amendment is sound"— in other words, the Government accept the thrust of what we are trying to do—
"as drafted it presents a number of significant concerns. The duty is very wide so there is a danger that it might have unforeseen and undesirable implications. In particular, it has been suggested that it could cut across the statutory responsibilities of regulators".
I read that very carefully and I am still not convinced that we should not try to proceed with our amendment.
As noble Lords will realise, last summer was extremely dry. It is said that unless we get rainfall this winter that is 30 per cent higher than average it is likely that we shall have a serious drought next spring. I return to the Minister's letter. I understand the term "unforeseen"; obviously, crises can arise. I have no difficulty with that. However, I should like the Minister to explain further the term "undesirable implications". In what way could such a duty have undesirable consequences unless the Secretary of State took actions which were ill-judged or poorly implemented? I do not see where the Minister is coming from.
I turn to government Amendment No. 82. I am grateful to the Government for having taken on board the thrust behind our original amendment which we pursued at every stage of the Bill's passage through this House. I realise that the measure is an important addition to the Bill but I should like to see it at the beginning of the Bill. I think that the Minister will not be surprised to hear me say that that is where I think it should be. It is very important that one of the first things that a reader of the Bill sees is a duty to encourage water conservation. I cannot understand why there is so much resistance from the Government to that particular aspect.
I am trying to be constructive and helpful, as one does at the end of a Bill's passage. I suggest therefore that my amendment would partly meet the Minister's concerns in that it would make the reader of the Bill refer to the terms of government Amendment No. 82, which I presume he is happy with as he is proposing it. I am in a slightly difficult position, and would like to hear further from the noble Lord on that. My real desire is to see the duty to conserve water resources moved to Clause 1. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1, leave out from "House" to end and insert Amendment No. 1A as an amendment to the words so restored to the Bill.—(Baroness Byford.)