Environment Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton WaldristMain Page: Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Conservative - Life peer)
(1 month ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for the introduction to his various amendments. As he said, Clause 84 removes the need, from 2028, to pay compensation to the holders of environmentally damaging abstraction licences when those damaging licences are amended or revoked. Although we have listened carefully to the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, we believe that we should put the needs of the environment first.
The requirement to pay compensation has been a barrier to action to protect waterways, including vulnerable chalk streams, which we considered earlier today and which in some cases have dried up completely, from the impacts of unsustainable abstraction. Over the years, a number of schemes have been introduced to identify and amend the most damaging and unsustainable licences, but the need to pay compensation to licence holders when those damaging licences are amended or revoked has been a significant barrier to progress.
The Water Act 2003 removed the requirement to pay compensation to the holders of licences causing “serious damage”, but this is an extremely high bar and is therefore rarely invoked, so in practice has provided little protection to our vulnerable waterways. The Water Act 2014 recognised this and removed the requirement to pay compensation for water company licence changes altogether. This has set a clear precedent for the removal of damaging licences without compensation. It is also important to recognise that 5% of surface water bodies and 15% of groundwater bodies are at future risk, where existing licence holders not currently using their licences in full could legitimately increase abstraction, thereby causing further damage to the environment.
The timescales proposed by the Government for this change provide ample time for catchment solutions to be identified and implemented wherever possible, with licence changes considered as a last resort. We must not curtail the ability of the Environment Agency to take action to protect and improve our rivers and wetlands, but instead should increase its ability to do so effectively.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, hit the nail on the head when he said,
“the days when you can be compensated for not causing environmental degradation have, in my view, long since gone”.—[Official Report, 7/7/21; col. 1313.]
We on these Benches could not agree more; we cannot support the noble Lord’s amendments, but instead believe that the Government have got it right in Clause 84.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much indeed for the very considered response. Although I do not totally agree on the compensation issue—but I was never going to—I accept all the assurances and the work that has been done by Defra to help ease our concerns. I have no hesitation in withdrawing my amendment, although I will continue on the compensation issue in future discussions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.