Clause 7 - Rights of navigation, harbour

Water Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 16 September 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Liberal Democrat, Guildford 2:45, 16 September 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 178, in

clause 7, page 6, leave out from beginning of line 44 to end of line 19 on page 7.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 12, in

clause 7, page 6, line 45, leave out 'without intervening use'.

Amendment No. 179, in

clause 7, page 7, leave out lines 32 to 37.

Clause stand part.

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

Much of the Bill relates to river systems, water companies' reservoirs and abstraction from streams and rivers for such purposes as sprinklers and trickle irrigation, and yet a large amount of water is in the navigation system. That concerns us, because if one takes a holistic view of water management, there does not seem to be a good reason to manage rivers but not canals, which also extract water. Water is pumped to the head of a canal and used to manage the waterway. That pumping and the holding of water creates reservoirs.

Consideration has been given over the years to using canals and waterway systems as a national water grid. That has been an unpopular proposal, and there have been several objections to it.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

The hon. Lady may be interested to know that a considerable amount of water is taken from mid-Wales by canals to Birmingham and the west midlands. What she has just suggested already happens in Wales.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. It is important to understand what we are doing with water, particularly when moving it from one part of the country to another. That also relates to how we might transport water to the Thames gateway.

Photo of Ms Candy Atherton Ms Candy Atherton Labour, Falmouth and Camborne

Is the hon. Lady aware that one effect of the amendment would be that, on all 2,500 miles of inland waterways, every lock gate and sluice would have to be licensed? Does she not consider that over-regulation?

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

At this stage we are talking about the reasons why we need some regulation in this matter. If it is possible to exempt locks and lock gates I would be happy to hear about that. There are wider environmental considerations. Moving water from one place to another in the normal course of events probably involves moving like to like—hard water within a hard water area and, when one is looking at holistic river systems, soft water through soft water areas—but if we use navigation systems as a grid, we will increasingly move hard water to soft water areas and soft water to hard water areas. That brings problems. Joints are weakened: in a hard water area they can be calcified, and running soft water through will weaken them and cause bursts and leaks.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

I want to draw the hon. Lady's attention to our problems in Wiltshire. She is being a bit optimistic. Where there are compensation schemes to top up one chalk stream from another chalk stream that is flowing better, even minute chemical differences in the composition of the water can have a substantial environmental impact on the flora and fauna. That cannot be balanced out. If on a micro-scale there can be that upset a quarter of a mile away, the problem that she describes is much greater when one starts moving hard water to soft water.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that useful point. The problems that I refer to multiply the problems that he describes. Once hard water has been used, it may be returned to a river that runs soft water. The problems that he described would be massively increased. We seem to be saying that water movement in one water system is acceptable but has to be managed, but that movement from one to another is acceptable but there is no management. I have some sympathy with the lock gate argument, but I wish to draw attention to the problem of the environmental and ecological balance.

The Environment Agency has regularly said that there should be controls. Some 60 per cent. of British waterways are allowed to pose a risk of impact on watercourses without any statutory control to protect the environment, safeguard other abstractors or manage water resources in a sustainable way. There is an anomaly when one looks at the future water framework directive. Again, we are managing waters, but not in a holistic way. The agency has already expressed concerns about this. There are ecological concerns. The life cycle of many species depends on how much water is in the river or reservoir. That reservoir might be used for pumping by a navigation system. If the water levels fall at the wrong time of year it may affect the breeding life cycle of the species living in it. We want to look at what the Government are doing with the catchment abstraction management strategy, but that seems difficult if we are to exclude a large amount of waterway systems in this way.

In closing it might be useful to give an example. English Nature has been particularly concerned about the navigation reservoir at Weston Turville. It is a site of special scientific interest. An important part of the wildlife interest is the reed bed that forms a nesting and feeding habitat for a range of species. A draw down at the wrong time of the year for prolonged periods would damage the reed bed and its ecological function and harm the conservation interests. The water table and its fluctuation are all part of that cyclical management. That is why we are so concerned about the mismanagement of ecosystems in these situations and why we should like to see them brought back into the Bill.

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

Amendment No. 12 is much smaller. It would simply remove the words ''without intervening use''. I still look forward to finding out from the Minister why ''intervening use'' is so important. 12. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments and to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) for her intervention. It is a shame that some

amendments that she tabled have been withdrawn, but—

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. To correct the hon. Gentleman, the amendments were not withdrawn. They were not selected, so it would be perfectly in order if the hon. Lady wished to catch my eye.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:00, 16 September 2003

I am most grateful, Mr. Amess. How useful to know that the amendments have not been withdrawn, just not selected. Glancing at them, they seemed to be constructive and helpful. I look forward to finding out why removing the phrase ''without intervening use'' would be such a damaging and corrupting amendment.

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

I can reassure the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty), in particular, in relation to her concerns. Amendment No. 179 does the opposite of what she said, as I shall explain. I can reassure her that a key objective of the Bill is to bring significant transfers of water within the scope of the licensing system. That would apply if canals were used as a water grid, and there are such proposals. In those circumstances, there would be licensing in, if water is being used for the grid, and licensing out. They would not be exempt in those cases.

Clause 7 recognises, however, that some activities, particularly day-to-day operational movements of water within navigation, harbour and conservancy systems, can continue to be outside control without risk to the environment. That picks up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne. It is true that if we did not provide those exemptions, we would require a licence for every lock, every impounding and every dry dock in the inland waterway system, as well as reservoirs, which only feed that system. The three sets of circumstances in which we think that exemption can safely continue are described in the table in the clause.

Amendment No. 12 would extend further the scope of those exemptions. It envisages continuing an exemption for transfers with intervening use. However, that would still apply only if they came within the scope of the exempt activities described in the table: for example, the passing of transferred water through the cooling system of a power station. That extension of an exemption is undesirable. The principle of the new regime in the Bill is that any use of water—such as abstracting water for a power station, or from a canal water grid—comes within the scope of the Bill and would normally require a full licence if it is above the exemption threshold. That is a key test, whereas simply transferring it will require only a transfer licence, again if it is above the threshold. Abstraction from canals and harbours for use will require a licence, so the amendment would introduce a significant inconsistency into the system to allow instances of use above the threshold without the need for a licence. That would be inconsistent with the principle of use, which is why I cannot accept amendment No. 12.

Amendment. No. 178 would remove a number of features of the revisions that we are proposing to section 26 of the Water Resources Act 1991. It would

require the licensing of all transfers by navigation authorities within their own systems. We do not think that that is necessary. The amendment would increase the burden on the Environment Agency and navigation authorities—as my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne said—with little real impact on water resource management. It would have little benefit, but a great impact on navigation authorities.

The proposed third exemption in the table for supply reservoirs belonging to navigation authorities is limited to reservoirs whose sole outlet is directly into a canal and therefore where no other waters depend on flows from the reservoirs, and only where transfers are made by a navigation authority acting as a navigation authority. Therefore, we are applying very restrictive exemptions.

For example, British Waterways has about 40 reservoirs that may qualify for the exemption. Many are small, most are close to the canal that they serve and some do not even have a catchment. In the winter, surplus water is pumped or flows into the small reservoirs. It is impounded and, in the summer, allowed to flow back in. In some cases, there will not even be a flow, so there will not be an impact. Water in such reservoirs or canals can be requisitioned under the drought orders in the Bill. If water that is abstracted from such a reservoir or a canal served by a reservoir is used for sale, it will also be subject to abstraction licensing.

Amendment No. 179 would remove the qualification for exempting reservoirs that I have just referred to and allow all transfers from reservoirs to canals to be exempt in all circumstances. From the comments of the hon. Member for Guildford, I do not think that that was the intention behind the amendment, but even so we cannot support it. When reservoirs can affect other sources of supply outside the navigation or harbour authority's water systems, they need to be controlled, for the reasons she outlined.

I hope that I have clarified the reasoning behind the current drafting, and I invite hon. Members not to press their amendments.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, and I take his point about the difference between using and not using water. We are debating one of the more difficult issues that the Bill tries to address, because all water, be it is used, consumed or unused, will still take part in the great cycle from sea to evaporation to rain and back to the sea again. I recognise that amendment No. 12 would not be helpful, so I do not have any problem in not pressing it, but we would not have needed this debate if the definition of ''using'' water had been clearer.

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

The Minister has dealt comprehensively with the points that I raised. We wanted to press him to see what was being done to manage the environmental cycle and the issues surrounding the idea of a national water grid. The understanding that that is effectively being managed is heartening, and it was useful to secure that assurance.

We are still concerned about the reservoirs with important ecological systems. As the Minister does not look like intervening, we will probably have to leave the point for another time. However, I continue to have concerns about the reservoirs that are SSSIs. We need to know that they will be managed one way or the other, whether or not they are included in the Bill.

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

I do not know for certain, but some of the reservoirs that feed canals may be SSSIs or contain specially protected species. If so, special protections and restrictions will apply to them separately from the measures in the Bill. I can give the hon. Lady that assurance.

Photo of Ms Candy Atherton Ms Candy Atherton Labour, Falmouth and Camborne

As a boater of some 20 years on our 2,500 miles of waterways, I know that quite a number of our reservoirs are covered by SSSI legislation and a range of environmental Acts. They are well loved and nurtured, and British Waterways has done much to enhance and protect the wildlife on our canals. We would all support that, having seen the work carried out on the Kennet and Avon canal, and on some waterways near the hon. Lady's own constituency.

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

I thank both the Minister and the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne. We have had an interesting and useful debate. We could have further discussions about improvements to canals, which also affect the ecology, but that was not really the purpose of the amendment. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.