Clause 13 - Who may apply for a licence

Water Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:55 am on 18 September 2003.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes 8:55, 18 September 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 187, in

clause 13, page 15, leave out lines 31 and 32.

Good morning, Mr. Amess. I wipe the sleep from my eyes and reflect on the early starts for Committee sittings these days. I hope that we can move to a later start at some point in my parliamentary life.

This modest amendment aims simply to clarify the position in the clause. Like Government Back Benchers, we are battle-hardened, and I confidently expect the Minister to tell me why my amendment is inappropriate, does not work or has an unforeseen consequence; I look forward to it.

I tabled the amendment because of the criteria that the Environment Agency will apply in judging who may apply for a licence. New subsection (3A) states:

''The Agency may, in particular, take evidence of a person's occupation of land to be evidence of his right of access to it.''

Why does the agency not satisfy itself of a right of access, which is a sensible legal test, rather than trying to second guess the situation by examining someone's occupation of land, which could occur through trespass or some other illegal means? If the agency satisfied itself simply on an occupation test, rather than on a right-of-access test, it might end up condoning the improper occupation of land. That may be a theoretical point about an unlikely situation, but the provision seems unnecessary. Will the Minister explain why it exists?

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

Currently, occupation of land qualifies a person to make an application for an abstraction licence. Under clause 13, the availability to make an application is extended to land where there is a right of access. The clause amends section 35 of the Water Resources Act 1991 to establish a right of access to the relevant land as the only qualification necessary for a person to apply for a licence. However, occupation of land will continue to serve as evidence of a right of access. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that people who apply for an abstraction licence on land that is not theirs will have to provide evidence of right of access as part of the application.

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

The amendment is more interesting than I first realised. Will the Minister confirm whether the wording means that people will be allowed to abstract from common land, to which they automatically have right of access?

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

Commoners have right of access, but on common land there is probably an issue in law about occupation. People would not have sole or exclusive occupation of such land, which means that they could not apply for an abstraction licence.

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

I thank the Minister for that. Will he clarify the situation with an amendment?

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

I am happy to consider that. I do not know whether the point needs to be clarified in the Bill or in the explanatory notes, so I will check what needs to be done.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I listened to that brief exchange with interest. It may be because it is early morning, but I am not much wiser at the end of it than I was at the beginning. My query does not seem to have been answered, and notwithstanding the historical precedent, I am unclear why there is any reference to occupation of land; it seems to be irrelevant in determining the right to abstract. However, it would be useful if the Minister wrote a note to all Committee members on that point, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.