Commons Amendment

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 13th November 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy) 7:45 pm, 13th November 2003

My Lords, no, but in practice water companies take advantage of the ability, in particular in the South East. New developments could be covered by that. However, we are talking about encouraging water conservation and the argument is about where, and the form in which, the provision should appear in the Bill. I interpreted the noble Baroness as saying that she had no real objection to Amendment No. 82, merely its place in the Bill. We could always argue about that, but the problem with putting it where she should wish it—as an additional amendment to Clause 1—is that Part 1 is described as "Abstraction and impounding" and it deals with restrictions on impounding. On the other hand, as regards some of the more general provisions in Part 3, the duty on conservation would apply more widely.

Ultimately, where we put the provision in the Bill is to some extent a matter of taste because every part of the Bill has the same legal significance. The more important objection to the noble Baroness's amendment is the form in which Clause 1 came out of the House and has been deleted in the Commons amendment. It states that:

"The Secretary of State shall have a duty to devise and implement measures to ensure that all entities and persons who use water do so without wasting it".

That is a somewhat wider power than others given to the Secretary of State in the Bill. It could cut across powers which are given to other entities in the Bill. The term "entities" here is not described and the term "persons" could mean that the Secretary of State in some sense has the ability to check the level of water in our baths or the number of showers we take per day. That may be at the extreme end of interpretation, but it is a legitimate and logical interpretation of this clause because there is no limitation on it; nor are any powers, other than those already in the Bill or in existing legislation, given to the Secretary of State to carry out that rather wide-ranging duty.

The other reason for placing the provision in Part 3 of the Bill is that that would apply to all aspects of water legislation. It would apply to parts which amended the Water Industry Act and those which amended the Water Resources Act. Therefore, the key issue is that the new clause, which would place a duty on the Secretary of State to carry a responsibility for water conservation, would apply throughout all the powers which accrue to the Secretary of State in the Bill, but it does not imply that she would have more powers, nor that her powers might override the powers given statutorily, for example, to the Environment Agency and the regulator. Those are prescribed separately in the Bill and in previous legislation.

That is my objection to keeping Clause 1 as it stood when we last saw the Bill. My objection to it being in this place in the Bill is perhaps more marginal. There are obviously advantages to having the duty up front but, in practice, that would limit its application to the areas covered by Part 1, which includes amendment to one piece of legislation but not the other.