Environment Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Lord CarringtonMain Page: Lord Carrington (Crossbench - Excepted Hereditary)
(1 month, 1 week ago)Lords Chamber
64: Clause 84, page 83, line 34, leave out “No”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to remove the proposals for increased powers to vary or revoke abstraction rights without offering compensation to licence holders.
The adoption of Clause 84 unamended would do serious damage to part of our farming industry that is at the high value-added end of the food chain. The proposed amendments take account of the need to vary and revoke licences when the need is clearly and openly proven. The industry looks forward to seeing the Government’s promised guidelines so that sensible business plans can be adopted to mitigate any adverse effects of revocation or variation of licences.
I am grateful for both contributions and for the support of the noble Baroness opposite. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for his amendments, and for not only meeting with my noble friend Lord Goldsmith and officials over the summer to discuss his concerns but for this constructive engagement.
The measures which we are introducing in Clause 84 are absolutely necessary to protect the environment from further damage and from over-abstraction. Members of this House have spoken of the necessity of protecting our water environment, including the fish and invertebrates which live within it, as well as of the need to protect our internationally important chalk streams, on which we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and others. Ending unsustainable abstraction is essential if we are to achieve this. But as I said in Committee, we also know that abstraction is vital for food production.
The Government recognise the impacts that these changes will have on permanent abstraction licence holders and are taking all steps possible to implement the changes fairly. The changes will not take effect until 1 January 2028. This will allow time for the full implementation of our 2017 water abstraction plan and for the Environment Agency’s catchment-based approach to become embedded, working with stakeholders, including permanent licence-holders potentially affected by these new powers, to voluntarily solve issues of access to water and unsustainable abstraction.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that, by contrast, water companies can already have their extraction licences varied or revoked without the payment of compensation. I hope I can also reassure him when I say that this is not, as he termed it, an arbitrary or undefined process. Excess headroom will be assessed over each year of a 12-year period, to allow for weather variations and crop rotations, and to align with the abstraction licensing strategy timeframe. The Environment Agency will assess licences within scope on a case-by-case basis, considering all relevant factors including business needs and existing and future water resource needs, as the noble Lord mentions in his Amendment 73, before deciding what action is proportionate, as the noble Lord raises in Amendment 65.
We expect the Environment Agency to use this power as a last resort, once all other options have been exhausted. But if those options have been exhausted, it is simply not right that unsustainable abstraction and environmental damage should be allowed to continue. That is why this power is necessary. Should that decision be taken, the licence holder will have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State, as is currently the case. They can put forward expert evidence should they wish to do so, which was also a concern raised in Amendment 64.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, asked about timing. We are working with partners, including the National Farmers’ Union, on the guidance and will publish this guidance as soon as possible. The Government have worked, and will continue to work, extremely hard to ensure that these new powers are reasonable, proportionate and just. We will continue to work closely with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that their implementation is a smooth and fair process.
I hope that the noble Lord recognises that the Government have endeavoured to put in place necessary safeguards. We can go no further without undermining the very purpose of this clause, which is to protect the environment. I acknowledge his comments about the long-term planning for the necessity of new reservoirs. I am afraid that I have no further details and can only acknowledge that this is a long-term solution. I hope that he agrees with the necessity of that purpose and will withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 64 withdrawn.