Water Bill [Lords]

– in a Public Bill Committee at on 16 September 2003.

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[Mr. Bill O'Brien in the Chair]

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 8:55, 16 September 2003

I beg to move,

That—

(1) during proceedings on the Water Bill [Lords] the Standing Committee shall meet when the House is sitting on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8.55 a.m. and 2.30 p.m., except that on Tuesday 14th October it shall meet only at 4.30 p.m.;

(2) 11 sittings in all shall be allotted to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;

(3) the proceedings to be taken at the sittings shall be as shown in the second column of the Table below and shall be taken in the order so shown;

(4) the proceedings which under paragraph (3) are to be taken on any sitting shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the third column of the Table;

(5) paragraph (3) does not prevent proceedings being taken (in the order shown in the second column of the Table) at any earlier sitting than that provided under paragraph (3) if previous proceedings have already been concluded.

TABLE

 

Sitting ProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings
16th September (8.55 a.m.)Clauses 1 to 32; Clauses 34 to 36; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1 (except new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Clause 33).
16th September (2.30 p.m.)Clauses 1 to 32; Clauses 34 to 36; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1 (except new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Clause 33).
18th September (8.55 a.m.)Clauses 1 to 32: Clauses 34 to 36; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1 (except new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Clause 33).
18th September (2.30 p.m.)Clauses 1 to 32; Clauses 34 to 36; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1 (except new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Clause 33).5.00 p.m.
14th October (4.30 p.m.)Clause 33; Clause 37, Schedule 1; Clause 38, Schedule 2; Clause 39, Schedule 3; Clauses 40 to 58; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Clause 33, and to Part 2 (except new Clauses and new Schedules relating to the licensing of water suppliers).
16th October (8.55 a.m.)Clause 33; Clause 37, Schedule 1; Clause 38; Schedule 2; Clause 39, Schedule 3; Clauses 40 to 58; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Clause 33, and Part 2 (except new Clauses and New Schedules relating to the licensing of water suppliers).11.25 a.m.
16th October (2.30 p.m.)Clause 59, Schedules 4 and 8; Clause 60; Clauses 62 to 87, Schedules 5 and 6; Clauses 88 to 102, Schedules 7 and 9; Clauses 103 to 106; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules (except new Clauses and new Schedules relating to fluoridation).
21st October (8.55 a.m.)Clause 59, Schedules 4 and 8; Clause 60; Clauses 62 to 87, Schedules 5 and 6; Clauses 88 to 102, Schedules 7 and 9; Clauses 103 to 106; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules (except new Clauses and new Schedules relating to fluoridation). 11.25 a.m.
21st October (2.30 p.m.)Clause 61; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to fluoridation; remaining proceedings on the Bill.
23rd October (8.55 a.m.)Clause 61; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to fluoridation; remaining proceedings on the Bill.
23rd October (2.30 p.m.)Clause 61; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to fluoridation; remaining proceedings on the Bill.5.00 p.m.''

TABLE

 

May I first say how pleased I am that you are in the Chair, Mr. O'Brien? I look forward to your firm guidance of the Committee. I also welcome the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin). I understand that it is his first experience of steering a Bill through the House for the Opposition and look forward to constructive and meaningful debate.

I also welcome my colleagues on the Committee. I am pleased to be joined by such a bunch of battle-hardened veterans, with whom I have shared Committees on several occasions. I am pleased to have their support for what is an important measure for sustainability. I welcome them and thank them for serving.

I think that hon. Members would prefer to get into the detail of the Bill rather than talking about the formal proceedings. As we discussed last night in the Programming Sub-Committee, we have tried to ensure adequate discussion on the main points of the Bill. Members will rightly want to scrutinise aspects of the Bill in detail. There are important issues of principle on the subject of fluoridation, on which there are strongly held views on both sides of the argument, and extra time has been allocated for proper discussion of that.

The programme motion is fair and offers adequate time for what I hope will be an interesting discussion on issues of considerable importance. The measures are important to ensure proper sustainable management of a resource that we often take for granted but would be foolish to continue so doing. It is an important resource that must be managed effectively, and the Bill gives us the powers to do that.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): I echo the Minister's kind words about you, Mr. O'Brien, and welcome you to the Chair. We all look forward to serving under your chairmanship.

I thank the Minister for his kind words about me and agree with him that the purpose of this and future Committee sittings is to be constructive and meaningful. Those two ideas were foremost in my mind when I drafted some of the amendments that we will debate later.

I also note that we have 11 sittings. That is helpful because there are a lot of important issues to cover. Although it is by and large a well-meaning Bill, there are one or two lost opportunities. I look forward to members of the Committee filling some of those small but important gaps. I also welcome the extra sitting to

 

discuss fluoride. It became clear on Second Reading that hon. Members feel very strongly about that. I am sad that the debate will not be led by the Minister before us today, but by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson). The Minister is right to describe water as an important resource. It is particularly unfortunate that I am sitting right in the sun on a day when we shall discuss rainfall, flooding and saving water. I look forward to an important and meaningful debate.

Norman Baker (Lewes): On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) and myself, I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. O'Brien. I have served under you before and I look forward to your guidance as we progress through the Bill. The Liberal Democrats have no problem with the programme motion. Indeed, we are grateful to the Government for providing the extra sitting to deal with fluoride. We think that that is sensible. The fact that the Under-Secretary will be taking that sitting for the Government again demonstrates that it belongs in a different Bill. We will nevertheless deal with it as best we can. I notice that we have a good deal of harmony as we start the Bill. I will be interested to see how long it will last. I look forward to more than just silent support for the Minister from Labour Back Benchers: I hope that his battle-hardened colleagues will join in the debate. Too often that does not happen.

Question put and agreed to.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that there are money and ways and means resolutions in connection with the Bill. Copies of the resolutions are available on the Table in the middle of the Room. I also remind hon. Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, my co-Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments, including any starred amendment that may be reached during an afternoon sitting.

Clause 1

Duty to conserve water resources

Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 173, in

clause 1, page 1, line 5, after 'implement', insert 'effective'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 1, in

clause 1, page 1, line 6, after 'use', insert 'clean'.

Clause stand part.

Government new clause 16—Duty to encourage water conservation.

Norman Baker: Perhaps we can maintain some harmony, because there seems to be general agreement that we should include the duty to conserve water resources in the Bill. It is simply a question of how we achieve it. The current formulation does not lend itself to support from the Government. They have tabled new clause 16 for the reasons that the Minister set out in a letter, which I imagine he sent to all members of the Committee—

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): No.

 

Mr. Morley: To Opposition spokespeople.

Norman Baker: I see. For the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, as he has not received the letter, I shall read the relevant paragraph:

''Clause 1 was added to the Bill by an amendment in the Lords. While the intention of the amendment is sound, 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 can cut across the statutory responsibilities of regulators. The Government amendment retains the principle of the clause, whilst addressing these concerns. This will place a duty on the Secretary of State to take steps to encourage the conservation of water and report to Parliament every 3 years on the action taken.''

I am not against the Government's move in principle, because the intention is to strengthen the duty to conserve water resources. However, I note that new clause 16 includes that dreaded phrase ''where appropriate''. That seems to be the opposite of the wide duty that the Minister complains about, and can be a narrow duty if he or his officials choose to interpret it in that way. When does he believe that it would be appropriate to

''take steps to encourage the conservation of water''

as the new clause says?

May I first say how pleased I am that you are in the Chair, Mr. O'Brien? I look forward to your firm guidance of the Committee. I also welcome the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin). I understand that it is his first experience of steering a Bill through the House for the Opposition and look forward to constructive and meaningful debate.

I also welcome my colleagues on the Committee. I am pleased to be joined by such a bunch of battle-hardened veterans, with whom I have shared Committees on several occasions. I am pleased to have their support for what is an important measure for sustainability. I welcome them and thank them for serving.

I think that hon. Members would prefer to get into the detail of the Bill rather than talking about the formal proceedings. As we discussed last night in the Programming Sub-Committee, we have tried to ensure adequate discussion on the main points of the Bill. Members will rightly want to scrutinise aspects of the Bill in detail. There are important issues of principle on the subject of fluoridation, on which there are strongly held views on both sides of the argument, and extra time has been allocated for proper discussion of that.

The programme motion is fair and offers adequate time for what I hope will be an interesting discussion on issues of considerable importance. The measures are important to ensure proper sustainable management of a resource that we often take for granted but would be foolish to continue so doing. It is an important resource that must be managed effectively, and the Bill gives us the powers to do that.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I echo the Minister's kind words about you, Mr. O'Brien, and welcome you to the Chair. We all look forward to serving under your chairmanship.

I thank the Minister for his kind words about me and agree with him that the purpose of this and future Committee sittings is to be constructive and meaningful. Those two ideas were foremost in my mind when I drafted some of the amendments that we will debate later.

I also note that we have 11 sittings. That is helpful because there are a lot of important issues to cover. Although it is by and large a well-meaning Bill, there are one or two lost opportunities. I look forward to members of the Committee filling some of those small but important gaps. I also welcome the extra sitting to

 

discuss fluoride. It became clear on Second Reading that hon. Members feel very strongly about that. I am sad that the debate will not be led by the Minister before us today, but by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson). The Minister is right to describe water as an important resource. It is particularly unfortunate that I am sitting right in the sun on a day when we shall discuss rainfall, flooding and saving water. I look forward to an important and meaningful debate.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) and myself, I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. O'Brien. I have served under you before and I look forward to your guidance as we progress through the Bill. The Liberal Democrats have no problem with the programme motion. Indeed, we are grateful to the Government for providing the extra sitting to deal with fluoride. We think that that is sensible. The fact that the Under-Secretary will be taking that sitting for the Government again demonstrates that it belongs in a different Bill. We will nevertheless deal with it as best we can. I notice that we have a good deal of harmony as we start the Bill. I will be interested to see how long it will last. I look forward to more than just silent support for the Minister from Labour Back Benchers: I hope that his battle-hardened colleagues will join in the debate. Too often that does not happen.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

I remind the Committee that there are money and ways and means resolutions in connection with the Bill. Copies of the resolutions are available on the Table in the middle of the Room. I also remind hon. Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, my co-Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments, including any starred amendment that may be reached during an afternoon sitting.Clause 1 Duty to conserve water resources