Clause 2 - Protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater

Water Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 16 September 2003.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes 9:15, 16 September 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 174, in

clause 2, page 1, line 10, leave out 'furthers the establishment of' and insert

'establishes to the legally binding timetable required'.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 175, in

clause 2, page 2, line 2, at end insert

'and, in respect of each calendar year from 2004 onwards, lay before Parliament an annual report on their implementation.'.

Amendment No. 2, in

clause 2, page 2, line 27, at end add—

'(4) The Secretary of State shall, in respect of each calendar year from 2004 onwards, lay before Parliament an annual report on the implementation of regulations made under this section.'.

Clause stand part.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

We may disagree on the amendments with regard to how European directives are enacted in domestic legislation. I am not happy with the Government's position, which is that simply because something has always happened, it must continue to happen. In other words, if someone is hanged for sheep stealing, people who steal sheep should continue to be hanged in the indefinite future. Sometimes we must reflect on and alter past practices. That must apply here due to the magnitude and importance of the water framework directive. There is no argument about that.

I refer the Minister to comments made by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The first line of the summary of its 2002–03 report states:

''The Water Framework Directive is a hugely important piece of legislation.''

Everyone accepts that. The measure has been on the stocks for a considerable time. It has been progressing through the European Parliament and the EU process for some years, and so cannot have taken the Government by surprise. However, according to my colleague in the House of Lords, Baroness Sue Miller, it seems that there are two separate teams in DEFRA, one working on the Bill and one on the water framework directive, and never the twain shall meet. Is that joined-up government? A joined-up Department might be useful for a start.

The Minister's predecessor, in a letter of 3 March 2000, attempted to explain why the Utilities Bill had been carved up and all the water provisions taken out. By the way, those provisions reappeared without amendment in this Bill three years later. He wrote:

''As we have been developing the draft Water Bill, it has become increasingly clear that it makes more sense to tackle all the changes we want to see made to the regulatory framework for water in a single piece of new legislation.''

As was often the case, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) knew what

he was talking about on the environment. He was right. We should have had a joined-up Bill that included the water framework directive. It is not impossible to have such a Bill; we have seen that approach in Scotland. Scotland has managed to have a joint piece of legislation that has been well received by all sides. The environmental lobby, business and all political parties have recognised the value of that approach; it is a great pity that it has not been replicated in England and Wales.

The Secretary of State herself recognises the problems encountered in implementing European Union directives. In a speech to the Water UK conference on 2 May 2002, she said:

''While we contest where we disagree sometimes we have been forced to accept judgements that we have under-implemented in the past. The lesson for the future is absolutely clear: we must engage from the first stages of such discussion, be more certain of what commitments actually mean, and play a full part in negotiation of new directives.''

The thrust of her speech, which has considerable validity, is that past directives have been under-implemented. Situations such as that of the fridge mountains have arisen, and we do not want them to happen again. DEFRA's preparation, and before that the preparation of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, should have brought together the Water Bill and the water framework directive in one Bill. However, that will not happen, and that is faulty, not joined-up, government.

A democratic point also has to be made. Although the directive is hugely important, and it is recognised as the most far-reaching environmental legislation since the EU began, it will be dealt with by secondary legislation. That cannot be right in a democracy. It should be implemented by primary legislation with a full debate and with the scrutiny that this Bill is receiving.

The Minister's response in the letter sent to Opposition spokesmen simply repeats the assertion that primary legislation is not appropriate. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and others, the relevant section states:

''Formal transposition of the Directive must be achieved by 22 December this year.''

That suggests that the Government are late in beginning their consultation and preparation process. One might have thought that, given that warning, they could have combined the directive and these measures in primary legislation. Instead, they are scrabbling around at the last minute trying to complete consultations before a deadline that was announced some time ago. The letter continues:

''The Government published a consultation paper in August with proposed draft transposing regulations. Our consultation period runs until October.''

It also says:

''An enabling power already exists in the European Communities Act'',

and as it is standard practice, we should not worry about whether it is implemented by primary legislation.

I do not think that the Government have deliberately decided to bypass Parliament or stop us scrutinising the measure. However, there has been a chronic failure in the Department and its predecessor properly to anticipate what is required by the EU directive and what the Government want to achieve through the Bill. Different teams have worked on the two matters separately and, too late in the day, someone has asked, ''Why does this Bill not incorporate the directive as the Scottish legislation does?'' I guess that the Minister has been advised that it is too late to do that now. As a consequence we have a hybrid process, which is unsatisfactory.

It is not now sensible or achievable to incorporate the directive in the Bill, but I want to put it firmly on the record that it is wrong that the Government have got themselves in such a position and that the Bill will be less satisfactory as a consequence. Problems may arise between the terms of the Bill and those of the water framework directive when it is enacted. Will the Minister give an absolute guarantee that, when the directive is introduced by secondary legislation, it will not be necessary to amend what will then be the Water Act? Will the Act be sacrosanct, or will bits and pieces require amendment because we did not properly anticipate what would happen? I will lay money now that regulations will be introduced to do just that when the statutory instruments are considered in the not-too-distant future.

The amendments are an attempt to recognise that it is right to have not only primary legislation to introduce the directive but measures to check how that is progressing. For example, amendment No. 174 refers to

''the legally binding timetable required.''

Members should be aware that the timetable for the directive is strict. It is helpfully set out on pages 13 and 14 of a Library research paper—the Library's research papers are always helpful. About 10 or 15 dates have to be met for the water framework directive. We should be discussing that and monitoring what the Government do to ensure that it is implemented properly, instead of squirreling it away in secondary legislation as the Government want. The purpose of amendment No. 174 is to ensure that they are firmly tied to that legally binding timetable.

Amendment No. 175, which is not dissimilar to Conservative amendment No. 2, would require an annual report to be laid before Parliament on the implementation of the directive. Again, that is not unreasonable. It is no use the Minister saying that we can have Adjournment debates or raise matters in written questions. That is no substitute for a proper debate on major legislation. That is not simply the view of my colleagues or that of the Conservatives, although they will speak for themselves on this matter. It is the view of companies.

I note the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on the directive. The note sent by the Library says that the view of the Committee was that there would be a requirement for primary legislation in respect of the water framework directive. The report states:

''South West Water Limited, however, reported to us that 'primary legislation is recommended strongly as the preferred vehicle to enable the transposition of the Water Framework Directive into national legislation' . . . We do not make a judgment on this point: although the status and comprehensive nature of the Directive amply justifies the introduction of a 'standalone' bill, the important point is the effectiveness of the transposition of the Directive into national law, not the means by which that is achieved.''

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I am being fair; I am giving the whole quotation. The Minister should not display a satisfied smile too quickly. The report goes on to say that

''until the administrative arrangements which will enable the Environment Agency to function as the competent authority have been properly explored, DEFRA cannot be certain that primary legislation is not required. We therefore repeat our recommendation that possible shortcomings in such administrative arrangements be identified as early as possible, and we recommend that the Government keep an open mind about the need for primary legislation to address such shortcomings.''

That is a pretty clear shot across the bows of the Government.

I return to the point that we are talking about the biggest piece of water regulation ever. That comes from the sustainability forum in Brussels in September 2001. Presumably the Government know about that. It is major legislation, but we will have it in dribs and drabs through statutory instruments.

Let the Minister come clean today and say that the Department got it wrong. We will live with what we have now. We will try to go forward constructively together, but let us not pretend that this is the ideal way to deal with the water framework directive. It is not, and it is an affront to democracy to suggest that it is. It is also far from joined-up departmental thinking on a crucial issue. I look forward to the discussion on the clause.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewes, particularly for the sheep-stealing analogy with which he opened his speech. It was extremely accurate. I am curious as to why the Government do not want clause 2 in the Bill. I was particularly struck by the passionate intervention by my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ), about water cleanliness. I cannot understand why any hon. Member who serves on a Committee such as this would have a problem with such worthy regulations to

''prevent further deterioration of and protect and enhance the status of the aquatic ecosystems and, with regard to their water needs, terrestrial ecosystems and wetlands directly depending on the aquatic ecosystems''.

The whole list—I could read it, but I am sure that members of the Committee can do so perfectly adequately for themselves—is extremely worthy and important. The Government recognise that because they have already encompassed most of it in the directive. Therefore, I do not understand why they do not want the clause in the Bill. If it were damaging in any way, I would accept that, but I cannot believe that a single one of the items in clause 2 could be construed as anything other than helpful. Nor can I understand

what is so bad about the directive that it makes it a problem to say it twice.

If the legislation is going to go through as secondary legislation, why cannot it also appear as primary legislation? What is wrong with that? We were reminded of the debacle over the fridge mountain. We cannot have water mountains, but we can have water shortages. The hon. Member for Lewes was right to identify that such matters are not being handled in a way that people who are passionate about water and the environment are keen to see done. I do not understand why, if there are items in the list that contradict the rest of the Bill, the Government have not chosen to amend those, instead of removing an entire clause.

I would like to know whether the water framework directive pilot scheme in, I think, the Ribble basin, has drawn any conclusions yet. If, as I suspect, it has not—because it has not been operating for long—it makes even more sense to include the aspirations in any Bill, but particularly a water Bill. The Government's failure to act in a joined-up way is a shame, but if the Minister has good answers as to why that is unnecessary, I would be pleased to hear them. However, I believe that there cannot be a good explanation for why all these things are bad, when the Government have signed the water framework directive. That is a natural contradiction.

Amendment No. 2 would require the Government to report annually, rather than every six years. If the legislation is so important and worthy of our attention, and if it is even worth doing through secondary legislation in relation to the water framework directive, we should still know about it. The Minister's answer to my question about why he wanted to report every three years was understandable, but not necessarily acceptable, particularly as the Government are trying to take the water framework directive out of the Bill. I hope that the Government recognise that we are interested in and care about the legislation, so we want to know what is happening annually. I hope that the Minister takes that on board.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

Important points have been made during this short debate. I agree with the hon. Member for Lewes that the way in which Parliament deals with European environmental legislation is far from satisfactory. He made a number of points. It is interesting that when one visits the Commission, the Commissioners speak highly of British officials and environmentalists. In the working groups the value of the input from British civil servants is extremely highly regarded.

There are two problems. A problem that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State herself has identified is that at the political level, there is a tendency not to get involved in the discussion at an early enough stage to shape the framework of forthcoming legislation. There is also an issue about not examining the outcomes or the impact of the legislation. That was well exemplified by the debacle of refrigerators.

My hon. Friend the Minister has his eye on the ball of forthcoming directives, so I will tell him gently that

I have real reservations about the end-of-life vehicles directive and the so-called WEE—waste electrical equipment—directive. My impression is that we are far from prepared for the outcome of those. That reinforces the point that Parliament needs to deal more thoughtfully with European environmental legislation. The European Scrutiny Committee does valuable work but the oversight of the detail of such matters is fairly limited. There is a wide issue about how we transpose European environmental directives into British law.

This is an important Bill; no one should underestimate that. Set against the impact that the water framework directive will have, however, the Bill is a dwarf against a giant. The directive will be a major change to the way in which we examine the environment. The hon. Member for Lewes was perfectly fair when he talked about the Select Committee report. The Committee kept an open mind about whether the directive should be dealt with in primary or secondary legislation, and the Government decided to use secondary legislation. The hon. Gentleman accepted that. The decision has been made; the clock has ticked on, and there is no point re-examining the matter.

There is a need to raise awareness about the impact of the directive. It has to be implemented over 15 years, and we are well into that time scale. The directive will have a major effect on planning issues for local authorities, so we must ask how they will be involved, and on the way that we farm the land. The directive's significance has not yet been appreciated, and we need to get on with raising awareness. The need to consult the public is implicit in the directive, and a campaign is needed to deliver its aims. We are just at the beginning of that process.

The hon. Member for Leominster mentioned the Ribble pilot study. We should remember that initially it was decided that the United Kingdom would not have a pilot study—the Environment Agency was used to dealing with catchment areas—but subsequently there was a change of mind, and it was decided that a pilot study would be carried out.

My views as to whether the directive is dealt with in primary or secondary legislation are fairly catholic. The necessity now is for a big, detailed campaign on the directive, because we underestimate its significance at our peril.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 9:45, 16 September 2003

May I first say what a pleasure it is to be back in Room 14 with you, Mr. O'Brien? We probably first sat on a Standing Committee in this Room in about 1983. The face of politics has changed since then, just as it is about to change again at the next election.

I wholeheartedly support my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster on amendment No. 2. I support the hon. Member for Lewes as far as he goes, but he does not go nearly far enough. He is far too kind to the Minister. I will not repeat what I said on Second Reading, but I believe that the way that Parliament scrutinises these affairs is wrong. The hon. Gentleman assumes that the Minister is simply doing

what he is told, because that is what Parliament has decided. That is not a good enough excuse. When the water framework directive is discussed by the House it will be in a single Committee sitting, and the Committee will not take any substantive votes to amend anything because it cannot. There is a popular misconception that statutory instrument Committees talk about things and then vote on them; they do not. It is a travesty that this extraordinary parliamentary chicanery continues.

I find it quite extraordinary that Government and Labour Members are prepared to delete clause 2 against the wishes of a wide range of national organisations. I am astonished that they are not prepared to listen to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the wildlife trusts, the WWF, the Woodland Trust, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the Herpetological Conservation Trust, Friends of the Earth, Buglife or the British Ecological Society. All those bodies are astounded that the water framework directive, the most far-reaching legislation to affect the water industry, the consumer and the environment, will be dealt with in a statutory instrument by a small Standing Committee. The directive raises such important issues that we should give it much more urgent consideration. It is a powerful tool that, if used properly, could result in much more efficient and equitable use of public money and bring huge benefit to our rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands.

The directive requires controls on abstractions, which must be periodically reviewed to meet European standards—that does not conflict with the Bill, so why can we not just say so? There is also a range of issues on which Ministers have failed to establish the appropriate administrative structures. An example is integrated catchment management; why can that not be included in the Bill, if we are all signed up to it, which, apparently, we are? In addition, there has been insufficient investment in the Environment Agency to ensure that the science underlying classification and risk assessment is robust. The directive must proceed with solid science underlying it. I am not convinced that that is the case, so we should say so and invest properly in the Environment Agency.

As the hon. Member for Lewes mentioned, the Government have failed to link water planning with land use and agriculture policies. I find that astonishing, as I said on Second Reading. I certainly will not support the amendment to delete clause 2, but I do support my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster.

Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater

There are four parts to this. The first, which is where the Minister has it wrong, concerns nitrogen deficiency and nitrogen-susceptible land. The directive will cover that. The Minister has been involved in many debates about the fact that the use of nitrogen and fertilisers in sensitive areas causes more trouble than it is worth. The retention of the clause will deal with that.

The second part concerns the Forestry Commission and the massive areas of afforestation. Trees create ecological change, which is covered by the directive. It can be used in the ecological planning of large areas of

forestation, which has been the policy of successive Governments since the war, and is set to continue.

The third part, which is closer to the Minister's power, is drainage boards, which plan the control of aquatic life a long way ahead. The Minister commented earlier on water levels, and the directive covers those too, which is vital.

The final matter is the vital role of the management committees of the Environment Agency, which my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster mentioned. The Environment Agency does a phenomenal job, and its management committees look after waterways throughout the United Kingdom. The directive gives them protection, not just from the Secretary of State making arbitrary decisions or passing laws, but in the context of the European Parliament. Ecologically, it is a great shame that the Minister is looking to remove that protection; he is missing something vital.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I decided to take part in the debate because it became so interesting that I had to say something. It is a pleasure, Mr. O'Brien, to serve under your joint chairmanship—[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

—or perhaps I should say the changing chairmanship of yourself and Mr. Amess.

I have little to add to what has been said by my colleagues, but I should like to make a point that was raised in the House of Lords when the clause was inserted in the Bill, against the Government's wishes. The water framework directive is the unmentioned guest at the Committee's banquet. It will have a huge impact on water management. The Government's consultations before drafting the regulations that will give effect to the directive are ongoing—the latest consultation round began only last month.

It is extraordinary, and difficult to comprehend, that a water Bill has been introduced when the Government are consulting on various regulations to introduce a directive. It would have made more sense to wait and see what shape the regulations take after consultation and to ask what else is needed in UK law to improve water management, rather than doing two things at the same time, as several peers said when the Bill was discussed in the House of Lords.

As the Government have decided to introduce the Bill while they are consulting on the directive, they should at least recognise the existence of the directive, which is precisely what the clause does. I do not understand why the Government will not accept it, as they will have to do what it proposes anyway. For example, subsection (1) states:

''The Secretary of State shall by regulations ensure the timely establishment of a working framework that furthers the establishment of practices required by Directive''.

Indeed, the Government are under a legal obligation to implement the directive in a timely fashion, so I cannot understand why the Minister does not say, ''Look, this is a good thing to have in the Bill as it recognises the importance of the directive.'' It means that if a layman or woman reading the Bill asked what

it was all about they would understand that the directive existed, and the Minister would probably avoid a battle in the other place. Why will not the Minister accept the proposal?

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), I served on the Select Committee that inquired into the water framework directive. The Committee recognised that it is an important measure; possibly the largest and most important of the European directives. It recognised, too, that a water basin management approach was the best model for conservation and for the protection of water and the water supply.

I, too, am anxious that the Government should take note of the need to prepare to enact the water framework directive in its entirety. Why is it necessary to remove the clause now? It would be appropriate to keep it to protect the waterways. I want the Minister to clarify why the clause should be removed.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Once again, I welcome you to the chair, Mr. Amess. It is nice to see you here.

I take my hon. Friend's point about the directive. I am concerned about the tenor of some of the discussions that suggest that we cannot implement the directive without a Bill, and that because we do not think a Bill appropriate we are not signed up to the concept of the directive. That is not true, and I am happy to explain why it is not appropriate to include the measure in this Bill.

First, as has rightly been recognised, the timetable is legally binding on the Government. We have signed it, and it has been agreed in the Council of Ministers and scrutinised by the European Parliament. Incidentally, amendments cannot be made in the European Scrutiny Committee; the European structure is the place for amendments—that is the nature of our relationship with the European Parliament and the European Council.

The directive will provide many long-term benefits for this country. It is the largest directive ever to come from the EU—my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood is right to say that it is of fundamental importance—and it will be challenging. I draw the Committee's attention to the fact that it is not due to be implemented fully until 2015. We do not need the Bill to transpose it; we will transpose it at the end of the year, when we are on target with the general framework directive. We are on our third consultation on the framework directive, as hon. Members who serve on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee are aware.

I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood that there are wider issues related to transposition and the formulation of European directives. One improvement that the EU could make would be to adopt the UK system of regulatory impact assessments of legislation. Sometimes, the EU signs up to what seems to be a good idea, without thinking about the long-term consequences or the time scales and frameworks. I

fully understand the point that my hon. Friend made about the WEE directive and the end-of-life vehicles directive, and I assure him that I am aware of those issues.

I shall outline the reasons why we do not support the inclusion of the clause in the Bill. First, the comparison with Scotland is incorrect. The Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003, from the Scottish Parliament, does not give full effect to the directive. Much of it will be implemented through secondary legislation. The Scottish Executive acknowledges that further work needs to be done, and it is explicit in the directive that this is the start of a long-term process.

The full water framework directive cannot be implemented in the Bill because there are years of work still to be done in relation to the directive. Moreover, although I do not disagree with much of the text in clause 2—it is appropriate in relation to the objective of the clause, and to the implementation of the directive—there are some specific issues to which I will draw the Committee's attention. For example, the difference between ''excellent'' and ''good'' in relation to water quality has enormous cost implications, because similar benefits may accrue for ''good'' and for ''excellent'' status. Such issues should be properly scrutinised and subjected to proper consultation. They should not be banged into the Bill because that is considered desirable—albeit with worthy objectives—without thinking of the long-term consequences of measures that will take years to implement fully.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Liberal Democrat, Guildford 10:00, 16 September 2003

Reference was made to the Scottish legislation, which incorporated the European framework directive. Did the Minister have a good look at what happened in Scotland and, if so, what view did he take on the fact that the Government of the day implemented it in the 2003 Act?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

But we have not implemented it into the Act—that is the point that I made. There is a misunderstanding. The 2003 Act does not fully implement the framework directive. It is included because the Scottish Parliament does not have the range of secondary legislation that is available to this Parliament. The Act will not implement the framework directive—the full process must be gone through.

The wording in clause 2 is premature, unnecessary, and has not been subjected to proper scrutiny. We need to examine that wording carefully as part of a proper consultation process—[Interruption.] It may well be said that we should do it now, but the Bill concentrates on a range of important and specific issues concerning resource management. Those issues will be complementary and will form part of the ultimate water framework directive, because the Bill will put in place tools that will be helpful in achieving the outcomes of that directive. The Bill is on the route, but it is not the definitive and conclusive method of implementing the directive, because of the directive's huge implications and the work that still needs to be done on it up to 2015. I cannot understand the reason—it seems almost to be panic—to have the measure in the Bill, when the Bill already fits nicely into the route for full implementation.

I am pleased to say that we have a pilot scheme. The Environment Agency has much experience in catchment area management, but in my view the pilot scheme goes beyond that. I particularly like the way in which communities are being involved. I have been to the Ribble valley to see the implementation of the catchment plan and to talk to the various stakeholder groups. I am a great enthusiast for that sort of approach.

A great strength of the framework directive, particularly in engaging people to meet the objectives that I believe are desirable, is that it will increase the range of people who have an interest in water. However, that process rightly involves proper public consultation and scrutiny, which I might say goes beyond this place. We have an important role as legislators, but I happen to think that scrutiny goes beyond Parliament. I believe that we should involve community groups, and have proper public involvement and scrutiny. The framework deals with that, and it is premature to start being so definitive as suggested in clause 2. The clause is unnecessary, and its language is confusing.

The Department is taking a joined-up approach. The water framework directive team and the officials who have been working on the Bill are in the same directorate within DEFRA. They are working together, but on different time scales. The time scale of the Bill and that of the directive are different. The Bill is an important and continuing part of implementing the directive.

The Government and I are fully committed to the directive. Perhaps I am being unfair to Opposition Members, but my impression is that they think that if the provisions of clause 2 are not included in the Bill, we shall not have a water framework directive. That is not the case.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

My hon. Friend makes a passionate defence of the Government's position. I am less concerned about the water framework directive; it is a worthy approach. However, it is long on words and relatively short on how it is to be implemented. I look for reassurance from my hon. Friend on what greater protection can be given to estuaries. We know about the Ribble pilot scheme, but one of the great threats to the Severn is that there is no consistency in water management, especially in relation to flooding, the use of the river, buildings and so on. What assurance can my hon. Friend give me that we will take estuaries much more seriously and put management policies into place that will stop some of the daft things that were done in the past?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend will know that, as part of our approach to flood planning, we are moving to entire catchment studies. We have committed a lot of money to them, and he will know that the Severn is one of the areas where they will be implemented. The effects of planning on the estuary will be studied. We are also moving towards better coastal planning and shoreline management plans, and how to integrate plans in order to protect estuaries, of which the Severn is an important one. Some important issues are arising in relation to shoreline management plans and potential management on the Severn that will result

in better environmental and coastal defence. I know that my hon. Friend is aware of these exciting proposals, and there will be an opportunity for an ongoing discussion on the topic.

I feel strongly about the water framework directive, to which I am committed. It is exactly the right way to go. We should take a holistic approach to biological quality as well as to chemical quality. I sometimes feel that people are unnecessarily distracted. The Bill contains many important measures. The directive will continue to be subject to the consultation to which we are committed and to the scrutiny of a European Standing Committee, which I would not underestimate, speaking as someone who is often at the end of it. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee also provides detailed scrutiny, and it has already done a good job on the water framework directive. As I mentioned, it said that it is the implementation of the directive, rather than the mechanism of implementation, that is important.

I am saying only that we do not need to include the provisions in the Bill. I am surprised that Opposition Members, who often complain about bureaucracy and excessive legislation, are asking for unnecessary legislation. Considering the wider public consultation and involvement, it would be far better to proceed along the time scales and mechanisms to which we have committed ourselves, rather than distract the issue in a Bill that cannot possibly implement the directive. We would risk going off half cocked if we tried to rush it through in that way. A directive of such fundamental importance deserves better scrutiny than that.

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

I am impressed by the Minister's reply—I wish I could do indignation as well as that.

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

Indeed, it was a most righteous, indignant and passionate defence of what is clearly indefensible. The Minister made a fundamental mistake in suggesting that clause 2 would implement the water framework directive, but we all heard him say, time and again, that leaving clause 2 in the Bill would not, by itself, implement the directive. The Minister is right, and it is not the intention behind the Bill to implement the water framework directive, which we know is rolling forward like a juggernaut. We merely want to ensure that the principles that everyone, including the Minister, has accepted remain in the Bill, which is not the same as asking the Government to implement the directive in the Bill. We want the principles that we all admire to be implemented at our speed rather than by 2015. If we agree that the principles are good, we must include them in the Bill. We do not need to wait until we have completed third consultations or for the water framework directive to be introduced. We can do it now and lead the way.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Did my hon. Friend listen with as much interest as I did to the contributions from Government Members? They again questioned whether the Government have an overall strategic

approach to water management. Would not clause 2 and the amendments help the Government with their own supporters by setting out in the Bill their overall strategic approach for water management?

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, although I suspect that his opposite number has other ways of dealing with Labour Members. I was also grateful to all the interventions and speeches from all my colleagues on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, because they were right. There are many problems with the water framework directive, but no one has a difficulty with the principles currently in the Bill. My constituency is not a million miles from the River Severn—the River Wye flows into it—and when we are legislating about water, it is important to take such principles on board.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is the point that I was trying to make. The principles will become law if they remain in the Bill, but they may or may not be relevant to the principles in the way that we transpose the water framework directive. Members realise that the Bill cannot implement the framework because the time scales are wrong. The phrases deserve proper scrutiny, and it would be a serious mistake to start including bits of implementation in one Bill when they apply to another.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:15, 16 September 2003

The Minister is right, but his comments highlight the difference between us. We want not to take a bite out of the water framework directive and sellotape it to the Bill, but to take the parts with which we all agree and ensure that that they are included. The Minister may say that that would mean that the water framework directive would not work, but we disagree. I believe that it would. The principles are worthy, so if there is a problem with the wording in the Bill, we must amend that rather than abandoning the principles altogether.

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Labour, Birmingham, Erdington

I am impressed by the hon. Gentleman's persuasive arguments, but which of his arguments for including the framework directive in the Bill would not also apply to the ten commandments and to the Magna Carta, with which we all agree? Shall we also put those in the Bill?

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

I am not certain that I have completely understood the hon. Gentleman's intervention. If we were legislating on mediaeval history or biblical matters, we might choose to include the ten commandments or even the wording from the Magna Carta. We are, however, debating water, so there is nothing wrong with including some of the best principles from the water framework directive in the Bill. That would have two advantages. First, it would ensure that the Government are kept on the environmental straight and narrow. Secondly, it might ensure that the legislation is enacted before 2015.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I understood the Minister to say that he disagrees with parts of the clause, or that they were ill thought-out, or that we had not examined their implications. My reading of the clause is that it contains only good things. Does my hon. Friend agree

that it would help the Committee if the Minister could set out—now, or by writing to Committee members—where he disagrees, or where the Government disagree, with the objectives in the clause?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have already done so. One example springs to mind: the definitions of ''good'' and ''excellent'' and their implications. We have to think about the implications in relation to how the definitions are applied, cost-benefit analysis and the likely results. I want the best water quality, but those wordings have implications that must be properly scrutinised. The public should also be properly consulted. The Bill is not appropriate for that.

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

I am grateful for the Minister's reply. If the consultation on the water framework directive is at its third stage, and if the wording of the clause has come straight from the water framework directive, I do not understand why that consultation was not done properly.

I agree with the Minister's comments about having the proper wording so that the difference between ''good'' and ''excellent'' is clarified. The correct way to deal with the problem is not to abandon the clause. It would reassure me if the Minister were to choose which words he would like edited, amended or even removed. To remove the whole clause is to abandon the principle, which would be a great mistake.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Liberal Democrat, Guildford

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that whether or not the European framework directive is implemented, the clause needs to be in place to address all the environmental issues that we have been discussing?

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

The hon. Lady is right. We must stick to our guns on this matter because the clause is right. The Minister knows that it is right, as do the Government, otherwise they should not have signed up to the water framework directive. We have to be firm with our principles.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Does my hon. Friend agree that a possible exit strategy from this mess may be for the Government to hold their fire at this stage and not remove the clause? The Minister could then reconsider the wording to see whether there is anything that he particularly wants to amend, and we could discuss it again on Report. The Government can then remove the clause if they believe that it should not be in the Bill.

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

I thought that that was a helpful intervention until I saw the Minister shaking his head in a most unhelpful manner.

It is apparent from this debate that there is a desire throughout the Committee to do good with the Bill. There is a desire to see proper environmental and water resources protected. We are failing if we remove this provision lock, stock and barrel, without saving at least some of the principles. The Minister looks as if he is going to say something helpful, so I shall conclude.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman will find what I am going to say helpful. To reiterate, clause 2 is a regulation power. We do not

need that regulation power in the Bill. This is not a Bill for implementing the water framework directive; we have an adequate process for that. Much of the content of clause 2 is perfectly worthy and involves principles to which the Government are happy to sign up. Those will be transposed, in the timetable that we have agreed with the European Union in the water framework directive. It is not appropriate for this Bill to deal with those matters, which are distracting us from the Bill's main principles.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Amess; we have seen a lot of each other this week, one way or another.

The Minister pulled every lever to try to justify removing this clause. We have been given every possible reason from the ministerial book of excuses, from page 1 to page 93—or even later. We were told that the Opposition had somehow said that clause 2 was being removed because the Government were not committed to the water framework directive. Of course they are committed to the water framework directive; no one has suggested otherwise. That was an Aunt Sally put up by the Minister. No one has suggested that; it is a complete red herring, and I invite hon. Members to disregard that comment.

The most important point concerns how we deal with major European Union directives. The hon. Members for Sherwood and for Forest of Dean made that point to the Minister, quite rightly, non-confrontationally and constructively, saying, as I understood it, that we cannot go on dealing with major legislation from Europe through secondary legislation. That is not an acceptable way for Parliament to deal with such legislation in the 21st century. I am sure that the Minister knows—he is an educated chap—that other European Union countries do not deal with secondary legislation in that way. They do not even do so in Scotland—he gave the game away on that. Scotland has bits of the water framework directive in the Bill because, as the Minister said, they do not have the range of secondary legislation there that we have. That is right. They decided to deal with things in the new Parliament rather more democratically and effectively north of the border.

It is time that we changed the way in which we deal with secondary legislation. The situation has come to a head with this measure, as the Minister knows, for two reasons. First, the water framework directive—as everyone accepts, including the Minister, his colleagues, and Opposition Members—is a hugely important piece of water legislation that affects everyone in the country. No one denies that. Secondly, its implementation by regulation and consultation is running in parallel to a Bill dealing with water. There does not seem to be much evidence of a joined-up process; even if there were, there is an argument for bringing the two together. Those two arguments, about the nature of the directive and the ongoing process, suggest that we should not have secondary legislation for such a directive. It is frankly indefensible that the arrangements in Parliament mean that such a measure is dealt with by secondary legislation.

The hon. Member for Salisbury is right to say that scrutiny in the Standing Committees on statutory instruments is not the same. It is not the same at all. I have tried in this Parliament to give hon. Members the opportunity to amend statutory instruments. It is an all or nothing situation. I am sure that hon. Members, whether in opposition or in government, will recognise that the situation is not satisfactory. We cannot suggest sensible amendments to statutory instruments, because we are in a Russian roulette situation, or a shoot-out: we accept either everything or nothing. No one wants to reject an entire SI, so the Minister—whoever it happens to be—bluffs his or her way through and says that we should accept it, when actually it should be amended. That cannot be a satisfactory way to approach legislation.

The Minister said that the directive cannot be amended. Of course a directive has been accepted by the European Commission and the European Parliament, but a directive is an enabling piece of legislation. It is not a regulation like that on tachographs in lorries. How each country implements a directive changes. We have flexibility in how we implement the objectives set out in the directive.

Other countries use that flexibility. Scotland used it, notwithstanding the Minister's comments. Of course the entire water framework directive is not there. No one said that it was. That was another Aunt Sally in the Minister's response. Scotland has recognised the need to bring the two elements together. We have not done so down here. We are told that the water framework directive is all or nothing. We can take it or leave it. We can vote it down or vote it through. Honourable Members on the Labour Benches—I use the word ''honourable'' deliberately—will want to look at these things properly, but they will not want to be disloyal to their Government. They will end up voting for things that they would prefer to amend.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

In fact, it is even worse. Members of a statutory instrument Committee are not asked to agree or disagree with the substance of the discussion on the instrument, but to agree the motion that they have considered it. There is no question that they are approving what they are asked to discuss.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We will be faced with a major piece of European legislation, asked to say yea or nay with no opportunity to amend anything. We will then be in the hands of the officials at DEFRA and we must hope that they have got it right. We, as elected Members, will have no meaningful input into that process.

Another lever that the Minister pulled was to say that we have scrutiny outside Parliament. Well, dear me. Of course we have scrutiny outside Parliament. We have pressure groups, the media and all sorts of people, but that does not mean that we should not have scrutiny inside Parliament. That argument could be applied by Robert Mugabe for what is happening in Zimbabwe. There is scrutiny outside the Harare Parliament, but there is still a need for some democratic processes there.

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

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not suggest that DEFRA should take lessons from the only Government in the world who treat their farmers worse than we do.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I would not wish to align the Government with that of Robert Mugabe. The Minister and his colleagues at DEFRA are far more amenable to democracy. The fact that people outside Parliament are looking at something—as indeed they should—does not obviate the need for people inside Parliament to do the job for which we were elected, which is to scrutinise legislation, suggest amendments and make them. That applies to us wherever we are on the political spectrum. That is taken away from us by this ludicrously archaic system of unamendable secondary legislation.

I know quite a bit about Sweden, and the Swedish method of dealing with European legislation is far superior to ours. That applies to other European Union countries, as the hon. Members for Sherwood and for Forest of Dean will doubtless know. We should learn lessons and not be afraid to say that we do not do things properly in this Parliament. Even Norway, which is not even in the EU, scrutinises European legislation rather better than we do. I have been there and I have seen how it is followed in a shadow process. Half the time, people there know more about what is going on than we do.

The Minister's argument simply does not wash. He pulled another lever when he said that we should not have bits of legislation pushed into bits of Bills. We have fluoride here, so that argument falls for a start. Bits of other legislation are coming into this Bill. Even the Government admit that it is a health measure, because the Health Minister is coming along to deal with it. The only argument left to the Minister was that it was not appropriate. Dear me, is that the best we can come up with under the circumstances?

The Minister has not convinced me at all. If he does not like the words in clause 2—that was another red herring—let him amend them. I am happy to accept his views and listen carefully to him and his officials when they say that ''good'' should be ''excellent'' or vice versa. I am happy for him to say that a few words here and there are wrong, but because a few words are wrong is no reason to throw out the whole clause. The clause contains an important principle. It demonstrates even at this late stage that there is a connection between the water framework directive and the Water Bill. We all know that there is a connection, but the Minister does not want to state it explicitly in the Bill. He should. I asked him earlier to give me an absolute guarantee that the regulations would not amend the Bill, but he did not. I should like him to do so now.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Absolute guarantees are rare in any walk of life. The draft transposing regulations for the water framework directive will not affect potential changes to the Bill. Another argument against clause 2 is that I cannot say whether there will be implications for the Bill as we go through the consultation process.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes 10:30, 16 September 2003

I hear what the Minister says, but the water framework directive requires us, among other things, to

''promote sustainable water use based on long term protection of available water resources''

and it requires

''comprehensive river basin management plans to manage surface water and groundwater''

and

''member states to ensure that there is no deterioration in the ecological status of water bodies,''

and so on. I suggest that the regulations might impact on what we shall have agreed here in terms of extraction licences and other matters. I am grateful that the Minister has conceded that, although he does not anticipate problems, he cannot guarantee that this will not be amended. That demonstrates, yet again, that our processes are not linked, and should be.

My final point is that it is time that Members of Parliament stood up and said, ''We want to do our job. We expect to do it properly, and to scrutinise properly, and we expect important European legislation to be subject to proper scrutiny by all parties, so that hon. Members are able to know what is going on, with a proper time scale, to consider primary legislation in the way in which it should be considered and to amend.'' That point trans—

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

Thank you. It transcends all political parties and all Members of the House. For that reason, I invite the Committee not to delete clause 2. In that light, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 13

Division number 1 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 2 - Protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 13 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 2 disagreed to.