Wales Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 14th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative 6:00 pm, 14th December 2016

My Lords, I refer in passing to Amendment 42, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I spoke about it at a previous stage and explained why I did not think it was workable, and I do not propose to add to my remarks on it today. I am a good deal more sympathetic to his Amendment 44, which my noble friend said was not necessary because it could be dealt with by the Welsh Assembly Government. However, it still seems a perfectly reasonable amendment.

I will concentrate my remarks on government Amendments 40, 45 and 50 and my amendments to them. I was delighted to see the amendments in the basic form they are in. I thought that we would probably only hear at this stage about the outcome of discussions between the Assembly and the Government on the arrangements for water in a kind of informal concordat form. I am delighted that the Minister has decided to introduce them all in statute, as that seems a considerable step forward. I will explain why I think that having made that great step forward, it is rather sad that he is not making them as comprehensive and effective as they could be. I will speak from my considerable experience—not always easy in this field—as the chairman of the National Rivers Authority, when I had to deal with exactly these issues on both sides of the border.

Amendment 40, which introduces the modification of water-related functions, as my noble friend explained, refers to “previously conferred or transferred” water-related functions. However, it happens to contain an extremely useful definition, I think taken from the 2006 Act, of what water-related functions mean. Because I want to use this definition later, I inserted it—which it is probably not appropriate to do at this stage—because we are dealing with matters previously conferred or transferred. I think that is what the definition confines itself to, although new subsection 2B refers to,

“provisions contained in or made under this Act or any other enactment”.

I therefore raised the question of whether those words in fact apply to the matters I will refer to on the later clauses. My reason for inserting the important matters of fisheries and recreation into the definition here is not so much where it refers back to previously conferred or transferred functions but because I want at this stage to produce a definition of water-related functions, which would be extremely useful in the later clauses. I therefore leave my point with a question about the wording and a comment about why I have inserted fisheries and recreation into the definition.

When we come to the later amendments, this becomes really important. It is equally important in both the later government Amendments 45 and 50, which deal with different aspects of the management of the water environment. When we come to the water protocol, which goes into statutory form, we refer only to water resources, water supply and water quality in England, but equally, we apply the same in Wales. The great thing about the protocol and all the government amendments is that they are of benefit equally to both parties, working both ways. Therefore I do not quite understand my noble friend’s point that if we alter the Silk commission recommendation, which in my view is incomplete, we will somehow upset the Welsh Government. The reality is that the Welsh Government ought to be equally pleased.

On both this and the later amendment, which deals with the way in which we manage these affairs, it makes no sense at all to pick just one or other of the water matters. In managing the water environment and what is going on in the rivers, we are dealing with the whole package, so usefully defined by the definition I extracted from the earlier clause. I seek only to bring together and complete what seems to be an admirable, initial partial proposal from the Government to provide effective management for both England and Wales of the water environment, comprehensively, covering all the things they ought to be looking at, not just water supply and water resources but flood defence and other matters such as the purity of water supply.

I will enlarge for a moment on fisheries and recreation. Fisheries are extremely important here. The main rivers we are talking about, the Severn and the Dee, are both important fishery rivers, as important for Wales as they are for England. Recreation is important in both; recreation and fisheries are related, because canoeists can have an impact on the fishermen, and in the past there have been disagreements and quarrels between canoeists and fishermen. I am happy to say that they are usually resolved, but it may be useful for those managing the affairs to have them involved in the total package of water functions so that they can play a part for the benefit of both Wales and England.

The Government have set about doing an excellent thing in statutory form in giving partial effect to the proper management of water as it ought to be managed, on a catchment management basis, covering all aspects of water management. In a sense, they have baked a cake—I do not know whether it will be a very nice cake—but it is missing a central ingredient. My proposals are trying to be helpful and positive. They ought to be welcomed equally on both sides of the border, and I hope that the Minister will not simply reject them because Silk did not cover them adequately. That is rather a bad reason to reject them. If they can be improved on, it is our job, proceeding with statute, to do so here and now.

I therefore hope that the Minister will at least not reject what I suggest at this stage. I hope that with his usual good sense and courtesy he will say, “I will go away and consider very carefully what my noble friend has said and see if we cannot come back with something”. I may not fully accept his amendments because Governments always say that amendments drafted from the Back Benches are likely to be imperfect in some way.

I thought that I would have to criticise my noble friend’s partial set of proposals on the grounds that officials in his department have simply not given adequate thought to providing the most comprehensive and complete answer, but I find that that is not so. They were studiously obeying Silk. I know that my noble friend played a crucial role in the Silk commission and therefore the St David’s Day agreement, but I suggest that if he is to do a complete, good and effective job, he should listen to my proposals and, I hope, accept them. If he cannot do so now, perhaps he can bring them back in a new or improved form at a later stage of the Bill.