HL Deb 19 October 1981 vol 424 cc601-14

105 After Clause 43, insert the following new clause:

'Duties of water authorities etc., with regard to nature conservation and the countryside.

.—(1) For subsection (1) of section 22 of the Water Act 1973 (duties with respect to nature conservation and amenity) there shall be substituted the following sub-section— (1) In formulating or considering any proposals relating to the discharge of any of the functions of water authorities, those authorities and the appropriate Minister or Ministers—

  1. (a) shall, so far as may be consistent with the purposes of this Act and of the Land Drainage Act 1976, so exercise their functions with respect to the proposals as to further the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and the conservavation of flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of special interest;
  2. (b) shall have regard to the desirability of protecting buildings or other objects of archaeological, architectural or historic interest; and
  3. (c) shall take into account any effect which the proposals would have on the beauty of, or amenity in, any rural or urban area or on any such flora, fauna, features, buildings or objects."

(2) In subsection (3) of that section the words "not being land managed as a nature reserve") shall be omitted.

(3) After that subsection there shall be inserted the following subsections—

"(4) Where any land has been notified to a water authority under subsection (3) above, the authority shall consult with the Council before executing or carrying out any works or operations appearing to them to be likely to destroy or damage any of the flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features by reason of which the land is of special interest.

(5) Subsection (4) above shall not apply in relation to any emergency operation particulars of which (including deatils of the emergency) are notified to the Council as soon as practicable after the commencement of the operation.

(6) References in this section to water authorities shall include references to internal drainage boards and the reference in subsection (3) above to the water authority in whose area the land is situated shall unclude a reference to the internal drainage board in whose district the land is situated."'.

As an amendment to Amendment No. 105:

105B Subsection (2), line 1, after ("land") insert ("for the time being").

As a consequential amendment to the Bill:

105C Page 104, line 6, column 3, after ("land") insert ("for the time being").

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 105, and to speak to Amendment No. 105B, and the consequential Amendment No. 105C. Amendment No. 105, and the earlier Amendment No. 93, concern the conservation duties of water authorities, internal drainage boards and the appropriate Minister or Ministers.

Noble Lords will recall that in Clause 36 this House made provision to extend Section 22 of the Water Act 1973, which places water authorities and the appropriate Minister or Ministers under certain duties towards conservation. The effect of Clause 36 was to extend those duties to internal drainage boards as well and to add a duty of consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council. I shall explain that point later. Section 22 requires the NCC to notify water authorities of areas of special scientific interest, and Clause 36 added a duty for the water authorities and the internal drainage boards in turn to consult the NCC before they carry out any works or operations, except emergency operations, which they think likely to be harmful to the special interest of any areas notified to them.

Turning now to the new Amendment, No. 105, this is a new clause which incorporates Clause 36, so that Clause 36 itself is no longer necessary, and the purpose of Amendment No. 93 was to take it out. But the new clause, Amendment No. 105, is not only a replacement of Clause 36; it also amends another subsection of Section 22 of the Water Act—subsection (1). In respect of the conservation of natural beauty and of flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of special interest, it changes the duty of the water authorities, internal drainage boards and the appropriate Minister or Ministers from a duty to "have regard" to conservation to a more positive duty to "further" conservation. Since the rest of the new clause is the same as Clause 36, this is really the point for consideration.

It may be useful to refer to the origins of this matter. At Committee stage, on 17th February (Official Report, cols. 604–609), we debated a new clause put down by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, proposing various amendments to the Water Act 1973, one of which would have required the water authorities to "take steps to preserve" natural beauty et cetera in place of the duty to "have regard" to it in Section 22. I said then that the Government did not honestly think that we ought to ask the water authorities to do more than what Section 22 requires. But the matter was raised again in another place and the Government were persuaded to reconsider the position.

While the Government still do not think it appropriate to place the water authorities in exactly the same position as regards conservation as they are already under as regards recreation in Section 20 of the Water Act—that is, they are under a duty to "take steps" et cetera—we decided that it would be right to go so far as to give them a positive duty to further the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and wildlife in the course of their work, and the Commons so agreed and this amendment provides for that.

However, the amendment does not require the water authorities or IDBs to do anything inconsistent with the Acts to which they work; on the contrary it only applies so far as may be consistent with the purposes of the Water Act 1973 and the Land Drainage Act 1976. To exercise their functions in a way which furthers conservation will be one of their duties, albeit a secondary one, and the bodies will have to use their own judgment.

Turning back briefly to the consultation with the NCC, which as I have explained is in Clause 36 already, anxiety was expressed in the Commons about consulting over maintenance operations. We gave an undertaking that we did not mean to let this new clause impose an unnecessary burden on those concerned and that we would initiate discussions and publish guidelines to clarify the best way in which the NCC can be consulted by the water authorities and IDBs without cumbersome work. Steps are already in hand to do that.

There are also the two very minor amendments to which I should briefly like to refer—namely, Nos. 105B and 105C. These are technical amendments which correct an error on the part of Amendment No. 105B which has, in fact, been copied from Clause 36. Section 22(3) of the Water Act refers to land: not being land for the time being managed as a nature reserve The amendments ensure that the entire expression is deleted and not just the words which appeared in Amendment No. 105, which would have left Section 22(3) of the Water Act in a nonsensical state. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 105.—(The Earl of Avon.)

5.46 p.m.

Lord Buxton of Alsa moved Amendment No. 105A as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 105:

105A Subsection (1), at end insert ("and water authorities shall have power to incur such expenditure as may be necessary to mitigate or eliminate any such effect as may be detrimental thereto; such expenditure shall be eligible for grant under section 90 or section 91 of the Land Drainage Act 1976".)

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 105A as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 105. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his encouraging comments and remarks, but I do not believe that they are sufficiently explicit to convince me that they meet the requirements that we are proposing under Amendment No. 105A. This is a very simple proposal. It enables the water authorities, and particularly internal drainage boards, to spend money received as grant from the Minister of Agriculture in order to mitigate the effects of their activities in the interests of public amenity and conservation.

On Amendment No. 105A, once again I want to make it clear to your Lordships that I am not making conservation arguments particularly, so much as drawing attention to the unfair situation where agricultural grants and the internal drainage boards are concerned. These produce a situation which in my view heavily favours agriculture—and I am a farmer—but which is heavily tipped against other public interests. The Minister of Agriculture seems to me to have almost unlimited funds, by comparison, to subsidise and sustain agriculture. The rest of the nation, about 50 million citizens or more, have only chickenfeed to match it by comparison through the conservation authorities.

But if agriculture has exceptional privileges and financial support—and I do not regret it myself—the independence and the resources of internal drainage boards are quite remarkable. There was never a great problem with internal drainage boards and water authorities in the past, not until the last decade or two. In the old days they did what they could in viable and sensible ways with the manpower and equipment available, and grazing marshes and meadows were then a very special feature of the English landscape.

However, everything has now changed radically due to two overwhelming factors: first, new technology and the arrival of vast new machines; and secondly, access to substantial financial resources through grants from the Ministry. Today these formerly modest boards have immense power and resources at their call. As I understand it, they can virtually propose a scheme without informing anybody—that has quite often happened—get a grant from the Minister (and I understand from what I have read that it can be up to £1.5 million on the nod) and the machines can then move in and start cutting huge dykes before anyone living in the vicinity has ever heard about it. In the case of some broadland drainage, that has actually happened—it has only come to light by accident.

It is essential that this unfairness to the nation should be evened out. I cannot be against agriculture, and, of course, I am not against farmers or landowners. However, I feel that it should be evened out and that public interest should receive more consideration when Ministry money is spent by internal drainage boards or water authorities. I believe that the best way of achieving this and ensuring that the public interest is not totally ignored—as it already has been, most notably in the case of Halvergate and the Broads—is for the water authorities and the internal drainage boards to be empowered to spend their grants for conservation purposes as well as for anti-conservation purposes. That seems only fair to the public who provide the money.

It is quite clear now as a result of the debate last week on Amendment No. 76A that the primary duty for funding future proposals cannot possibly fall solely on the conservation authorities unless the Government give them funds sufficient to contend with the massive claims which will arise. As the Government show no sign—and how could they?—of giving such funds to the conservation authorities (unless my noble friend Lord Ferrers failed to inform us in his reply), it is only fair to the public who provide the funds that the water authorities and the Ministry should contribute to the mitigation of the consequences of their own actions.

There is nothing peculiar or radical about the proposal in this amendment. Over the whole spectrum of Government it is, in fact, the norm: there is ample precedent. The Ministry is totally alone in refusing to fund mitigation of their own actions in the public interest while freely spending the public's money. The principle that the polluter pays is the accepted European principle to which we have to subscribe. Therefore, the costs arising from the obligation to further conservation interests should be met by the promoters of the schemes. This happens with all other Government departments. For example, routes of new motorways are influenced by landscape and countryside needs, and the extra costs are met by the Department of Transport. The siting of new reservoirs is similarly influenced and any extra cost is met by the water authorities. Anyone who receives planning permission has to bear the cost of meeting conditions designed to maintain amenity.

Surely it is illogical and anomalous that one Government department should spend money to prevent poten- tial beneficiaries from actually benefiting from a scheme funded by another Government department. It is clearly inconsistent with Government practice that when activities are initiated and subsidised by the Ministry of Agriculture, through internal drainage boards and water authorities, they alone should be the one and only sector which does not, likewise, fund the necessary protective measures.

Speaking from these Benches and as a farmer and landowner, this worries me because, in my view, it appears to the world outside to be arrogant and unfair to the nation, and as a farmer I find it very bad PR and rather embarrassing. During the Second Reading debate on this Bill I pleaded that we were not here to represent ourselves, that we were not here to represent only landowners, farmers and agriculture. I said that we were here to represent everybody. I urged that the worst thing that could happen is that this House should appear as the bastion for protecting the interests of farmers and landowners against public interest, amenity, recreation and conservation. There are votes in conservation. There are about 20 times more members of conservation and naturalist bodies than there are farmers. By their acceptance of the obduracy of the Ministry on this point and the farming lobby, I genuinely fear that the Government might be seen on this particular front at the next election to be both sectarian, favouring a lobby with very close ties in this House, and also philistine, taking a view which is really not very sensitive. Inevitably, this could be a black mark in the eyes of millions of floating voters who favour the countryside, wildlife and amenity for their recreation and wellbeing. I have all the evidence about public sensitivity—as have many noble Lords—accumulated from over 20 years in television and broadcasting. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the amendment to the amendment.—(Lord Buxton of Alsa.)

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa. He has said that we do not stand here just to represent ourselves or our interests. However, I think that one could almost say that if one rises and supports this interest, one is rising, standing and supporting the farming community. To a certain extent the Ministry of Agriculture forms the lives and the economic policy of those in the farming community. Let us be quite honest and open about it. Up to now the Ministry of Agriculture has been the most superb instrument for producing food and encouraging farmers. It has been the best example of the corporatist state. It has done what the Japanese MITI does for Japanese industry. It has produced this co-operation between the farming community and the Government, and it has done it extremely effectively under both Governments. However, I suspect that it is now becoming insensitive. Unless it becomes more sensitive to public pressures and to the public's concern for conservation, I think that we farmers will be on the receiving end of the public's wrath, and I, as a farmer, do not want that to happen. I want a nice easy, cushy life if I can possibly get it. That is why I rise and I very much hope that this amendment will be supported by the House, and that my noble friend Lord Avon will be able to accept it.

This amendment has been inspired by the Countryside Commission. Before any Minister suggests that it is improperly drafted and does not make sense, I would point out that it has, in fact, been drafted by the Treasury Solicitor. If the Minister is about to say that it does not make sense, then he had better sack the Treasury Solicitor.

I very much want to support what my noble friend Lord Buxton said about the polluter paying and the fact that this is the principle of modern legislation—it is an EEC principle. I suspect that if I were better educated I would know of a Latin tag which would encompass that, going back very much longer than European Community legislation. Of course, I am not saying that the agricultural industry is a complete polluter, but I draw this parallel.

If I, as a farmer, allow silage effluent to leach into a stream, not only am I prosecuted very smartly, but I also have to install some very expensive and competent method of catching that silage effluent. I am not allowed to pollute the countryside or effect damage to my neighbours by silage effluent, and quite rightly so. I believe that 1,500 tonnes of grass silage produces the amount of effluent which has the same biological oxygen demand as the untreated raw sewage of a city the size of Bristol. Consequently, one can see why one is not allowed to do this.

Therefore, if the Ministry of Agriculture gives a grant for land drainage which can have devastating effects in some areas—Halvergate Marshes is obviously one of them, where the taxpayers are being encouraged to spend in grant £1 million to drain these marshes and then another £1 million not allowing one-fifth of them to be used, at the same time increasing the value of the farmer's land from about £500 an acre to about £2,000 an acre, with very little expenditure on his part—surely those who benefit (that is, the farmers, who admittedly do not pay even the majority of the internal drainage board rate, and the farming Ministry, which encourages it) should pay for the environmental damage which ensues.

Another example of the damage which can be caused by internal drainage boards is at Horsey Mere, where deep drainage has released sodium sulphide, which is then oxidised, producing sulphuric acid and ferric hydroxide. That sounds incredibly complicated and like one of those diagrams with CO2, or whatever it is, all over it. I am certainly not a chemist and I lifted those terms straight out of a book. However, the effect is absolutely catastrophic. It produces a deep, dirty, orange sludge in the water. The water in other parts of the Broads and even in the partially drained areas of these grazing marshes is absolutely gin clear. It contains pretty plants and sticklebacks. I know that it is not some great, grand thing which everybody can see or can be shown on television, but it is part of our inheritance and part of our surroundings. We simply cannot continue chucking into the water vast quantities of ferric hydroxide, which has the effect of killing all the fish and all the small water plants; the reedbeds up to two inches up are surrounded by this dirty, nasty, red sludge.

Another example is the North Kent Marshes from Gravesend to Whitstable, which are an internationally important home for wintering wildfowl. Thirty per cent. of these grazing marshes has now been converted to arable land. It has been done on the piecemeal system: 100 acres there, 20 acres here, 80 acres there, so perhaps it was not noticed to start with. But when all the little bits are added together it becomes very noticeable. These are two examples of damage which can be done by internal drainage boards where grants should be more readily withheld and certainly paid for by the Ministry of Agriculture for the use of conservation.

That is why I rise to second the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa and to persuade your Lordships to agree with this amendment. Finally, if the Ministry of Agriculture is unable or unwilling to pay or contribute, I do not believe that the duties which are put upon the Ministry in this Bill can be taken very seriously.

6 p.m.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I should like to support the two noble Lords opposite and this amendment. I must say that I think we are getting into some fairly difficult waters—if that is not the wrong way of putting it when talking about these particular authorities. The Government appear to be saying two things at once. First, they are saying that the primary duties of water authorities and IDBs are unchanged and all that is being suggested in this clause is that these authorities can do certain things as long as they do not conflict with those duties. This is what they are really saying to the NFU to keep them happy. At the same time the Government are saying to conservationists, "Well, lads, this gives you everything you want and every IDB in the country will be bursting to spend money on conservation projects as long as they are within the overall remit of the Act of Parliament under which they are working".

Those interpretations—both of which were included in the noble Earl's opening speech and one of which will, I am sure, be included in his reply—cannot both be the case in practice. Either IDBs are going to spend money to mitigate the effects of their schemes or they are not. My information is that those responsible for actually implementing this—people working for IDBs, officials working for the Ministry of Agriculture, for example—do not think that this clause, as currently drafted anyway, would put any obligation on them to pick up the tab if a landowner in the middle of a drainage scheme decided that he would prefer the land not to be drained and would like to enter into a management agreement to preserve it in its undrained state—and therefore in a state of interest in nature conservation. As I understand it, MAFF officials have said outside this House and in other places that that is not the sort of case for which this clause would make IDBs liable to pay. That would be, as we were discussing last week, yet another thing that the conservationists would have to pay for.

In fiddling around with the wording of these clauses, I really do think that the Government are trying to have it both ways in respect of the two competing lobbies who have been battling at their door over this. Rather than do that, I would have hoped that the Government might have the courage to come down a little bit more firmly on one side or the other. To come down with this amendment and put a little bit of a check on internal drainage boards would not, I believe, be asking too much even in the terms of the Government's own political philosophy, which, as I understand it, is to provide some checks on public expenditure.

Last year IDBs asked the Government for grants for 50 per cent. more schemes than they did in 1978. They spent £17 million on land drainage works. Many of those operations caused serious ecological damage to some of Britain's richest wetlands. It may be argued that while this is something, apart from the grant from MAFF, for which farmers—because they are on IDBs and are the ratepayers who contribute to IDBs—are really paying. Farmers really make the decisions of IDBs because landowners appoint people to these organisations. But people might say that they are also paying the rates and so that is only fair. But of course that is not the case. As a recent article in the New Scientist pointed out, in the case of one IDB in Yorkshire, 98 per cent. of the land is agricultural but in 1976 agricultural ratepayers paid only 7 per cent. of the drainage rates. The other 93 per cent. of the drainage rates were paid for by urban ratepayers. So in the case of schemes such as these. if that IDB is typical, as to half the money the farmers are spending 93 per cent. is coming from the poor old urban ratepayers in the IDB area, and the other 50 per cent. from the rest of us, in taxpayers' money from MAFF. On top of that, apart from the people sitting on IDBs, there seems to be virtually no control over what they spend or how they spend it. I understand—and maybe the noble Earl can confirm this—that until very recently IDBs did not even think they were covered by Section 11 of the Countryside Act, which is meant to lay a duty on everyone including bodies such as theirs, to have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.

If the Government really took seriously anything they say to the rest of us about controlling public expenditure they would welcome this amendment with open arms. But I do not believe they do take things seriously when it comes to farmers and landowners. I think that what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, about the way things will appear outside this House is actually going to prove quite an accurate reflection of the outcome of debates on this Bill; where farmers will be getting their cake and being able to eat it and to spend the money somebody else paid to buy it at the same time. We are getting ourselves into a nonsensical situation and I hope that the Government might try to rescue themselves a little from it by accepting their noble friends' amendment.

Lord Sandford

My Lords, I very much agree with the argument which was put by my noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa, and I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that the NFU and the CLA would do very well to heed his warnings. All the time there is this peril of having planning control brought down on farming and agricultural operations. We already have a specific directive from the EEC that such things as the draining of the Halvergate Marshes would be subject to an environment impact assessment. I myself do not believe that Amendment No. 105A is necessary if the Government are wholehearted—which is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, was making —about what they put into Amendment No. 105. If they are wholehearted about that and if that is the philosophy which they have grasped and intend to enforce, then I think the House should know why it is not going to be applied to the problem of the Halvergate Marshes. If it were applied then everybody would know that the Government were in earnest in proposing Amendment No. 105 to your Lordships' House. If it is not going to be applied to the Halvergate Marshes then, for heavens sake, why not?

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, from my serried rank on this Bench I would like to support the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa. 1 was unable to be present at the earlier debates and so I shall not speak in detail but I should like to make one or two points of principle. Am I wrong in thinking, as the law would stand without this amendment, that there is nothing to stop (except the paying for it) the entire surface of the Broads being reclaimed for more efficient farming? Or is that a misconception? It does seem to me that this is always a question of degree. Clearly, without the fenlands and Lincolnshire we should be much poorer than we are. There was a time when it was absolutely right to reclaim. That time is certainly at question now in a number of different areas. The Broads are a very special area, not only from the point of view of the birds there, which are unique, but also from the point of view of the fish and marsh plants.

It seems to me that there should be a restriction on the ease of getting rid of them for money—which is what this really amounts to. It seems to me that the kind of restriction put here in this amendment is a fairly effective one. It is that the IDB has two duties. One duty is to the farmer, but the other is to be cost-effective in not spoiling too much and having to pay if they do. This seems to me to be a very wise and suitable restrictive measure and I very much hope that this amendment will be carried.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, I am certainly not going into the history of the reclamation of the Fens, interesting and important though that is. All I want to do is to make it clear to the noble Earl, before he replies, that there is support for this amendment in all parts of your Lordships' House. I do not want to repeat the arguments so admirably put by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, and reinforced by the noble Lords, Lord Melchett and Lord Sandford. I believe the case is utterly clear. This amendment gives body and real significance to the Government's own amendment, Amendment No. 105. Without this amendment to the Government's amendment, I am of the opinion that Amendment No. 105 becomes no more than the paper upon which it is written. I hope that we shall hear some pretty clear assurances with regard to this amendment or the intentions which lie behind it.

6.10 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, we have had a wide-ranging debate on this amendment, which is narrow in itself. I should like first to take up some of the remarks by my noble friend Lord Buxton about agriculture, generally. I do not think I need remind him that the world population has increased by 50 per cent. since the war; that production of food is vital to the nation, otherwise we would have to import, and it does save on the balance of payments, so there is importance in agriculture. It is not just for the benefit of farmers as individual people but it is for the benefit of the nation as a whole. The importance of food production is foremost in our minds, and let us get it clear that agriculture is essential to the nation.

I have been listening to both ways; lack of courage and balance. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, who produced and stimulated this amendment in the first place—and I spoke to it when I introduced our amendment—now seems to be switching slightly over to the farmers' side. We think that this is a good amendment and we think it has answered all the comments made previously in the House and in the other place. Before answering the amendment in detail, may I say something about the Halvergate marshes. I do not want to say too much because it is, although not sub judice, at the moment under discussion.

There is a case of whether to hold a public inquiry, which will be a decision to be taken by the Minister of Agriculture. But a scheme of management agreements from the Broads Authority to conserve the highest quality landscape in 1,100 acres has been under negotiation locally, and the Broads Authority still have finally to decide their attitude towards the drainage scheme in this light.

If they are content they would receive 75 per cent. grant aid from the Countryside Commission, as the Secretary of State for the Environment announced in his speech to the national parks on 18th September. On the other hand if they decided that they were not content, that would be a different position, and it would seem to me, and I am sure the House would agree, quite wrong for a Minister to decide about intervening with a public inquiry before the appropriate authority, the local authority, the Broads Authority, have finished considering their position.

A specific case was brought up about an IDB which was financed mainly by urban ratepayers. This is most unusual. It does happen when there is a central electricity GB power station in an IDB with a very high rateable value. However, in most IDBs the rates are mainly paid by farmers. Certainly at Halvergate the cost of the scheme will be met almost wholly by farmers, who will pay an annual rate of £20 per acre per annum for the next 20 years.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, the noble Earl said that in most IDBs the rates are mainly paid by farmers. Could he quantify the "most" and "mainly", because to give us that statement the Ministry must presumably have worked out the figures in detail'?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I have not got the detailed figures in front of me at the moment. The cost of the scheme will be met almost wholly, Yes. I will try to get them to you before I sit down if we have them with us.

May I come back to the amendment moved by my noble friends. I would remind you that the new clause, the clause we are talking about, 105, is Duties of water authorities et cetera, with regard to nature conservation and the countryside". This question of the powers of water authorities and internal drainage boards to incur expenditure as a result of the new clause which is introduced by Amendment No. 105 was raised at a Committee stage in another place. At that time my honourable friend the Minister who spoke, Mr. Michael Roberts, said: The honourable Member wanted an assurance that IDBs have legal power to spend money in pursuance of their existing conservation obligation and that MAFF has power to grant aid them. They already have that power. The new clause [that is the clause embodied in Amendment No. 105] will give them a further obligation and the power to spend accordingly". I can only spell out in greater detail the assurance given then by the Government; namely, that in carrying out work in pursuance of their powers under the Land Drainage Act 1976 these drainage authorities already have the power to incur expenditure on conservation and amenity, and that subject to the normal rules about reasonableness and so on any such capital expenditure will be eligible for grant aid under Sections 90 and 91 of that Act.

To the extent that this amendment is seeking to give that power it is unnecessary because that power is conveyed by the new clause itself. The amendment, No. 105A, as I see it does not therefore achieve anything My noble friend Lord Buxton seemed to argue, however, that the purpose of the amendment was to give wider powers to water authorities and internal drainage boards to incur expenditure which does not directly arise from the exercise of their function under the Land Drainage Act 1976, and even to make revenue expenditure grant aidable.

I have to say that the Government could not accept provisions of this kind because it would require the water authorities, internal drainage boards, and the Minister to take action and incur expenditure not consistent with their functions under the Land Drainage Act, and that is of course the Act to which this particular clause refers.

May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that there are no more exact figures available at the moment than I gave. I hope with these explanations my noble friend will see that his amendment is not necessary and will accept the assurance that the Government are wholeheartedly behind Amendment No. 105 just as they are behind all the clauses in this Bill.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, could he say whether that means that the Ministry of Agriculture with its grant system could not be asked, or will not pay, for anything towards management agreements to offset the damage done by deep draining, or some such similar operation, by an internal drainage board?

The Earl of Avon

No, my Lords, the grants are only for the improvement of agriculture, so they would not have the power for that. Incidentally, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, gave me two examples, and I meant to say to him that they would both be covered under the Government clause.

Lord Buxton of Alsa

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for what he said. Every time he speaks his words give a great deal of assurance. What worries me is that I still do not see us any nearer to the Ministry, and through the Ministry the internal drainage boards and the water authorities, accepting any responsibility in the financial sense for the conservation damage which they cause. Of course, I accept the Minister's assurance and argument about the proper function of the Ministry and the water authorities, but I do not follow it when all other Ministries are allowed to do exactly what we are asking in the same context. I do not know what the functions are as laid down for the Ministry of Transport, but they are perfectly entitled to plant hedges, lovely banks, and broom and everything along the motorways, and this seems to me exactly what we are asking in the case of the Ministry of Agriculture and the water authorities.

On the wider front, I quite see the point, and I have pontificated and lectured about the population explosion and everything else, until everyone is bored with it. Of course the population is rising and will continue to rise, and the need for food will be overwhelming no doubt, but that is exactly what public inquiries are for and exactly why careful assessments have to be made of the economic factors to see whether schemes are viable. In the case of Halvergate and the Broads, I am perfectly prepared to leave a thorough assessment at a public inquiry having been convinced that it is the best scheme that has ever been put up. All I say is that everything I have heard indicates that it is the worst scheme that has ever been put up. Therefore, I hope that if the Minister is to be consistent, with all that implies as my noble friend Lord Sandford said they will listen to the huge weight of opinion from every quarter and follow the proper course, which is to have a public inquiry in that connection.

On the question of an inquiry, as I understood the Minister, if the local authorities, including the Broads Authority, do not reach an agreement then the Minister will probably have such an inquiry. That being the case, I am prepared to withdraw this amendment with the agreement of my noble friend, but in the confident hope—no, confident anticipation—that the Government are going to be consistent in all that they have said in the Act; that they are going to be consistent in the case of Halvergate and the Broads and all the other major schemes around the country. We shall be watching with hawk-like vision every move that is made in this respect. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment to amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

As an amendment to Amendment No. 105:

105B Subsection (2), line 1, after ("land") insert ("for the time being").

6.20 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the amendment to the amendment.—(The Earl of Avon.)

On Question, amendment to Amendment No. 105 agreed to.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I did not raise a question on this when we were discussing Amendment No. 105A because I thought it would become too confusing, for me if for no one else. When the noble Earl, Lord Avon, was introducing Amendment No. 105 he made some remarks about maintenance and the need for regional water authorities or IDBs to consult with the NCC prior to carrying out maintenance works which would affect sites of special scientific interests, and he said that some concern had been expressed about the matter and that the Government were to publish guidelines on it.

It is worth stressing that maintenance works carried out by regional water authorities can be just as damaging, if not more so, as capital works; that has been the case in the past. For example, where major capital schemes have not been proceeded with by a regional water authority, the work has often been done under the auspices of a maintenance scheme, particularly if the original capital works did not meet cost benefit targets. For example, that happened at Alconbury Brook in Huntingdonshire in the Anglian Water Authority's area. Maintenance work can often cause significant and serious damage; channel maintenance on stretches of the Severn division of the ST Water Authority resulted in the removal of several otter holes. The 1976 Act, which is worded in a similar way to the Land Drainage Act and Water Act and has similar aims, ensures that consultation with the NCC takes place before maintenance work which would affect SSSIs is carried out.

This is therefore a very important issue, and I hope the noble Earl will say that the guidelines which the Government will be issuing—which might be taken, from what he said, to qualify the words in the amendment, and I hope the guidelines will not impose any such qualification on what Parliament has agreed—will be published in draft so they will be available for interested parties (water authorities, the NFU and conservation bodies) to comment on, and that the Government will ensure that the NCC (who, after all, are the people to be consulted) are entirely happy with the guidelines before the Government finalise them.

My second point relates to the clause as a whole and I raise it in response to the noble Earl's comments on the information I wanted about IDBs and the percentage of rates coming from urban or farming interests. His department must have had the figures to have given him a brief which allowed him to say that most of them did; they could not have done that without working it out. I hope he will write to me and let me have the figures on which the statement was based.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, as regards maintenance and the need for regular consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council, that will be fully covered in the guidelines, and they will be agreed with the NCC before issue.

Lord Melchett

Will they be published in draft, my Lords, so that interests other than Government agencies may look at them?

The Earl of Avon

While not giving a guarantee to that effect, my Lords, I note what the noble Lord said and I am sure that if at all possible it will be done. In regard to his second point, I will of course write to him.

On Question, Motion, as amended, agreed to.

As a consequential amendment to the Bill:

105C Schedule 16, page 104, line 6, column 3, after ("land" insert ("for the time being").

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the said amendment.—(The Earl of Avon.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.