Clause 19 - Protected rights

Part of Water Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 18 September 2003.

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Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:30, 18 September 2003

First, I shall try to sum up where we are, which might be helpful to the Committee. On the hon. Gentleman's point, I can tell him that in the original Bill, the four-year period was fixed and there was no provision for an extension. During debate in the other place, the Government made a concession to ensure that the Environment Agency could, in certain circumstances, extend that period. Our view is that the Bill's wording is sufficient to give the agency the power to do that. We will re-examine the text to ensure that the concession is being delivered. I will ensure that that is checked, and if there is a problem, we will consider it.

To return to our discussion on protected rights, we were getting confused about the different issues of protected rights and abstraction rights. We are talking about protected rights, not abstraction rights. We are talking about abstractors who will be exempt under this Bill—those who come below the 20 megalitre

limit. They can continue with protected rights so long as they are abstracting. If they stop abstracting, they do not lose the right to abstract, but they will lose protected rights after four years. They can start to abstract again at any time.

There was an argument about four years versus seven years versus six years. I reiterate that the Bill is about resource management, and good resource management requires in all cases that exemptions be kept to the minimum that is reasonable. The four-year period is consistent with the proposed four-year time scale, later in the Bill, for removing an abstraction licence that is held and not used, and the period of review of discharge consents. That strikes the right balance between helping the agency to discharge its resource management duties and safeguarding the rights of the abstractor. I invite the Committee to support the measure.