Kate Parminter writes … Jumping in at the deep end: Lib Dem successes on the Water Bill

Water pumpToday marks the first day of Report Stage of the Water Bill in the House of Lords.  As the Party’s Co-Chair on Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs I have been leading for the Lib Dem Group on the Bill.  I wanted to share with you some of the work our team has been doing.

I should start by saying that there are a great many aspects of this Bill which are thoroughly Liberal Democrat.  The Bill’s main focus is on aiming to meet our increasing needs for water, against a backdrop of limited water resources.  The Bill also introduces a new system of flood reinsurance, or ‘Flood Re’, that will help people in high flood risk areas get affordable insurance.  It will also ensure that we are better able to encourage adaptations and preventative measures to try and limit the kind of horrendous floods so many people experienced over recent months.

While the Bill was in the Commons, our Minister, Dan Rogerson, strengthened even further a welcome new primary duty on Ofwat to ensure water resilience.  At a time when water resources are becoming more and more scarce this is a vital step towards the sustainable system Lib Dems want to see.

So the Bill came to us in the Lords already in good shape, but our team, including myself, John Shipley, Cathy Bakewell, Christine Humphreys and Rupert Redesdale, as well as our Lib Dem Minister on the Bill, Lindsay Northover, have sought to make the Bill even better.  As a result we secured five major concessions from the Government that I want to tell you about.

Firstly, we have secured changes that add promoting water efficiency to the duties on the regulator, Ofwat.  This has been party policy since 2009 when we said ‘We will reform Ofwat’s remit to put water resource efficiency at the heart of water company plans’.  This change will finally mean that water companies have to take their duties of efficiency seriously.

Secondly, we have made it absolutely clear that the Government must address social and environmental issues when preparing the policy guidance for the regulator.  While the original Bill said that the Government may do this, we were clear that environmental considerations are too important to fall by the wayside.

Thirdly we have secured strong environmental safeguards for when water companies agree to bulk trades of water.  Under the original Bill companies could have avoided discussions with Ofwat and the Environmental Agency about the impact of large transfers of water on the environment.  We’ve made sure that these conversations have to take place and that protecting the environment from unsustainable abstraction is taken seriously.

Fourthly, we have ensured that the Government will produce a progress report on the new regime for abstracting water.  The report will be published before changes to water trading rules within the Bill are brought into force.  This is vital as without the two reform packages working in harmony, companies and other new suppliers of water would be able to abstract water that we need to retain for the long term, in order to make short term profits.

Finally, we have secured a review of the guidance around providing sewers to relieve environmental and amenity issues.   This was an issue brought to our attention by a Liberal Democrat councillor in Cambridgeshire where caravans were occupied as permanent residences, with full planning permission, but denied access to main sewers.  We felt it was vital that we minimise the risks to the environment and communities from poor sewerage provisions.

These changes to an already good Bill will help ensure we have a long term plan for our country’s use of water and that we protect consumers, homes and the environment.  I am proud of the contribution we have made on the Bill and think that we as Liberal Democrats can once again take credit for really positive change in Government.

 

* Kate Parminter is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and spokesperson on DEFRA matters

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3 Comments

  • Peter Chivall 26th Mar '14 - 11:47am

    Living on the edge of the Fens, issues such as large scale abstraction , normally from rivers, by Fen farmers, seems to be governed by a spiders web of agreements between the farmers, the internal drainage boards and the Environment Agency (as successor to the National Rivers Authority). I’m not sure where the Water Companies like Anglia Water, come into this? It it only when water is abstracted from boreholes? Unlike the other players, they appear to be acting increasingly as purely commercial bodies.
    It will be a good thing if Ofwat has to hold them to account for the environmental affects of their activities. However, should not the Environment Agency be responsible for monitoring the effects of abstraction, whether on river levels in dry seasons, or on the water table of acquifers. The Tories (with some acquiescence by us), have decimated the staffing of the EA and seem intent on emasculating it as an effective enforcer of standards, in this as in other areas.
    It will be strange if we end up with Ofwat doing what the EA should be doing.
    Thanks in any case to the hard work Kate and Dan and their teams have been doing to make the best of the bad job the Tories seem intent on doing in every area of environmental concern.

  • Kate Parminter 26th Mar '14 - 10:26pm

    @peter chivall: Thanks Peter. I agree we need a strong Environment Agency – and we were right to fight to against Tory plans to merge EA and Natural England. EA will have a stronger voice in the regulatory framework to tackle unsustainable abstraction once this Bill is passed but organisational changes there must not compromise what EA can deliver. Will be interesting to see who becomes the new Chairman.

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