Clause 23 - Modification of impounding licences

Water Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 18 September 2003.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 199, in

clause 23, page 25, line 34, at end insert—

'(1BB) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for the form and contents of notifications to a licence holder of conditions required by subsection (1B) above.'.

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

The amendment is designed so that the Government can clarify the reason that in

''the case of a licence to obstruct or impede any inland waters, a variation may take the form of a requirement that the impounding works be modified in ways specified in the proposed new provision of the licence.''

That is harsh; either a licence is acceptable or it is not. It is an unnecessary provision, and that is why I want to delete it.

Watercress growers, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury referred, impound water with which to wash their watercress beds. If they are told to modify the impounding works, their business might collapse. Such modifications would also be unnecessary for other businesses, but in some cases it will be impossible to gain a licence unless modifications are made. That is implicit in licence applications, which is why the provision is not necessary.

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

We, too, have concerns about the obligations on licence holders, and I listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's introduction. Although we have not asked for the deletion of the lines referred to in amendment No. 39, we feel that there must be clarity for licence holders. They must know what will be expected of them, what the financial

implications will be and what site restorations will be required. We accept that it would be unreasonable for such a provision to be included in the Bill, but it could be made by regulation, which would provide more opportunity for consultation on what might be reasonable. Businesses such as watercress growers need greater reassurance about where they stand, and such a lack of clarity is not good for them. They need to know the implications of the clause.

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

Perhaps the hon. Lady misunderstands the intentions set out in the clause. The agency currently has no option but to revoke an impounding licence at the holder's request. That could allow conditions of such licences—for example, to maintain flows downstream for other river users—to be avoided. The owner of an impounding works that is expensive to maintain could say, ''I do not want this anymore, I want the licence to be revoked,'' and the licence would have to be revoked, even if the works were beneficial to the management of the watercourse.

The clause will allow the agency to attach conditions to the surrender of the licence. For example, it could ensure that, if necessary, the impounding works are removed—another reason that someone might want to revoke a licence—or modified to ensure that they cause no problems for the environment or other abstractors. If the licence holder is dissatisfied with the conditions for revocation, there is a provision for them to appeal. In setting such conditions, the agency will consider issues such as the impact on river flows, abstraction rights and the environment. In some cases it might be best to preserve impounding works to maintain flows, and in others the structure might be removed. It would depend on the circumstances, and the clause gives the agency flexibility to do that. Amendment No. 39 would remove the ability to apply those conditions and damage the agency's ability to respond.

Amendment No. 199 would introduce an unnecessary bureaucratic requirement for the Secretary of State to prescribe the form in which licence holders are notified of conditions to be met prior to a licence being revoked. It would also enable the Secretary of State to constrain the parameters of conditions that the agency must set. If the agency is perceived to be acting unreasonably, the licence holder will have a right of appeal, so the amendment is unnecessary and I hope that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) will not press it.

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

I was especially impressed that the Minister was able to respond even though I read out part of clause 24 instead of clause 23. Fortunately the wording is almost identical, and I thank the Minister for dealing with the nub of the problem. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:00, 18 September 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 40, in

clause 23, page 26, line 21, leave out subsection (5).

This amendment is somewhat different. Subsection (5) irritatingly refers to subsection (6) of section 52 of the Water Resources Act 1991, some of which the Government are deleting. The passage to be deleted says:

''A notice for the purposes of subsection (4) above, in addition to any other matters required to be contained in that notice''—

the notification of the instance of the authority—

''shall . . . name a place within the relevant locality where a copy of the proposals, and of any map, plan or other document prepared in connection with them, will be open to inspection by the public, free of charge, at all reasonable hours during a period specified in the notice in accordance with subsection (7)''.

The rest of the subsection is replaced almost identically. Why was it necessary to remove provision for what seems to be a helpful public service?

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

I have explained the intention of the clause in terms of applying conditions to an empowerment licence. I must admit I was surprised to find out that at present an impounding licence is required to be held only during the construction of impounding works. The holder may surrender it once the works have been completed, without any conditions being placed on it. The amendment would remove that requirement for those licences that are already in existence and allow those who have benefited from the impounding works to walk away and leave future problems for both the environment and other abstractors. I know that that is not what the hon. Gentleman was talking about, but that would be the result.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply—but not that grateful, because it did not deal with what has been changed by this provision. Subsection (5) says that

''the holder of the licence may give notice in writing . . . and any other person may make representations''.

We are dealing not with whether the impounding takes place but with the notification that section 52 gives.

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

The hon. Gentleman's comments were so similar to the previous amendment that I did not notice it, but I have a feeling that they relate to another amendment.

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

Yes, we are debating amendment No. 40, but his comments do not relate to it. Amendment No. 40 would remove the requirements in relation to existing licences.

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

The amendment would delete subsection (5), which refers to subsection (6) in the Water Resources Act 1991.

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

That is what I want to amend and how I drafted the amendment. All I want to know is why provision for useful information should be deleted from the 1991 Act.

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

It might be helpful to explain it again. Section 52(6) of the Water Resources Act is amended by subsection (5), and my amendment would remove that alteration.

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

I may be misunderstanding the hon. Gentleman, but I have a feeling that he is talking about subsection (5) of clause 24, not clause 23.

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

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman can raise the matter under clause 24 by withdrawing the amendment.

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

In light of what has been said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 24 and 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.