Clause 30 - Water resources management schemes:

Water Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 18 September 2003.

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Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Liberal Democrat, Guildford 4:45, 18 September 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 203, in

clause 30, page 35, line 6, after 'shall', insert

'put these arrangements in the public domain and'.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 45, in

clause 30, page 35, line 7, at end insert

'and these arrangements shall be put in the public domain'.

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

This is a simple, but important, amendment. Requirements are being introduced,

especially when licences are granted, to make provision for

''the construction and installation of any reservoirs, apparatus or other works which the holder of the licence will use for the purposes of or in connection with his abstraction''.

There is also a provision requiring

''payments to be made by the Agency to the holder of the licence''

and a requirement for

''the reference to and determination by the Secretary of State or the Water Services Regulation Authority of questions arising under the arrangements.''

At the moment, those provisions are not in the public domain. If someone upstream, downstream, or facing someone who has been given a licence with these conditions wants to question something that is affecting their land, property or environment, there is no way for them to understand the basis on which decisions will be taken. There is no reason why these provisions should not be in the public domain. It is important that people can understand what requirements have been placed on the licence holder, which is why we have tabled the amendment.

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

I congratulate the hon. Lady on the brilliant wording of her amendment. She will find that mine is the same. The purpose of our amendment is to put the same wording in a different place in the sentence to ensure that the information from the Secretary of State is made available to the public.

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

I have made it clear that I am sympathetic to the idea of information being made available as widely as possible where that is appropriate. As the hon. Lady will understand, it is already necessary for information in agreements made under section 20 of the Water Resources Act 1991, other than commercially sensitive data, to be made available to the public. Where the information relates to the environment, a very broad term, it must be made available under the environmental information regulations. Other information will also be subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 when it is fully enforced. That will require a public interest test to be applied.

In reaching a decision on a request for information, a public body has to assess whether the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing it. That is perfectly reasonable; in most cases there will be no good reason to withhold information. If the interests are balanced, the presumption is in favour of disclosure. The provision is already in place, and I hope that the hon. Members for Guildford and for Leominster, with their nearly identical amendments, will accept that.

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

Certainly we are grateful for the additional information that the Minister has provided about the transfer of information. It is important that it should be available. Having received that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.