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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs is today reported as saying that the Department of Trade and Industry permanent secretary is engaged in a "coup" against him, and that civil servants have "sabotaged" his work. I have given notice to the Minister of my intention to raise the matter as a point of order, but I understand that there is a meeting of DTI Ministers today in London.

Have you, Madam Speaker, received notice from the President of the Board of Trade or the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs of a statement about the total breakdown of trust between the Minister and his civil servants? The President of the Board of Trade has recognised that it is a matter for the House, as she is reported as saying that,

the Minister's remarks.

The matter is now public. Where is the President of the Board of Trade? Will she apologise publicly for the action of her Minister? It is an issue of ministerial accountability and of good manners. Civil servants do not have rights of audience. I submit that the matter is one for the House.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you please advise the House what protection is available for officials and civil servants when they are so publicly and viciously attacked by a Minister in their own Department? Furthermore, what trust can the House have in replies that we receive to our parliamentary questions and in debates when a Department is at war with itself--with Ministers set against civil servants and vice versa? Surely it is a matter that must be cleared up very promptly, so that our confidence in the system of parliamentary questions and accountability can be restored.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. As a member of the Standing Committee that recently considered the Competition Bill, I was aware that the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs was frequently unable adequately to answer the points raised in that Committee's debates.

Madam Speaker: That is not a point of order or matter for me. I shall reply to the other points.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) rose--

Madam Speaker: Does it relate to the point of order?

Mr. Salmond: It is another aspect.

Madam Speaker: Let me first deal with the pointof order. I tell the hon. Member for Christchurch

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(Mr. Chope) and the House that I have not seen the report to which he referred. He asked whether I have been informed that a Minister is to make a statement. I have no information that any Minister is about to make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Salmond: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is another side to the matter. Last week, there was a report in the press naming the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs and the Minister of State, Scottish Office as having been voted by civil servants the worst Ministers in the Government. It is therefore not true that there was not a civil service opinion in the matter.

Madam Speaker: Sometimes journalists never spoil a good story with the facts.


Pet Ownership (Residential and Sheltered Accommodation)

Burstow presented a Bill to require local authorities to formulate policies to enable people in certain types of accommodation to keep pets; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 236].

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that, in the hurly-burly of the House, there needs to be some flexibility, but I came to Prime Minister's questions to hear the Prime Minister questioned, yet in whole chunks of it, he was asking questions and refusing to answer. Is that appropriate, and is it in order?

Madam Speaker: This is a very robust House, and hon. Members on both sides have to discipline themselves so that we hear the questions that are put and the answers. [Interruption.] Order. I have been asked a question, and hon. Members must let me answer. It is extremely difficult for me, as Speaker, to keep all hon. Members under control. Some of them are noisier than others--and I know who they are. There are occasions when I point them out, and I shall send them out of the Chamber if this goes on during Question Time. There are people outside this House who want to hear Prime Minister's Question Time, and it is up to hon. Members to allow them to do so.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: Order. I have given a ruling, so we cannot have another point of order on it.

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Flood Warnings (Vulnerable Properties)

3.35 pm

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North): I beg to move,

The Bill arises directly out of the Easter floods and the terrible events that many hon. Members will have seen in their constituencies. People were caught in their homes by the rising flood waters, without warning and without even having been aware that they were at risk of flooding. Hundreds of holidaymakers were airlifted from flooded camp sites. Northampton was worst hit, but no one who saw the consequences of the floods or spoke to the victims would want to leave people so vulnerable ever again.

During the ensuing investigations, it became clear that existing provisions to protect and especially to forewarn people of flood risks were completely inadequate. If a developer wants to build new houses in flood plains and the Environment Agency--as the public watchdog on flooding issues--advises against, the local authority can still give approval for the building to go ahead. The new home owners get no warning of the risks until the flood waters come under their front doors. There is no identification of places where people are likely to be especially at risk, such as camp sites, which are often near rivers so that people can enjoy the scenery and water sports. They are not required to have emergency plans to deal with floods or to warn holidaymakers.

The Bill aims to contribute towards plugging some of the gaps. It sets out provisions to ensure that, if developers build new homes in flood plains where there is a risk of flooding, information about the risks is placed on the files of the properties, so that it shows up in local authority searches. It is a substantial measure, as some 4 million new homes will be built in the coming years, and many could well be in flood plains.

The Bill also provides for owners of caravan parks and camp sites that are in flood plains to have evacuation plans, and to make sure that people staying on their property know about the risks and know what to do if there is a flood. For holiday homes at risk of flooding, including mobile homes, there is a requirement to put a flood risk plaque in the property--rather like the fire alarm warnings in many hotels rooms.

For people selling older properties, there is a requirement to disclose to the buyer any history of flooding. That should ensure that people moving into the property know about the risks, without producing a bureaucratic paper chase. For example, some 125 sq km of London is in a flood plain, but very few homes have experienced flooding. To make everyone in inner London check with the Environment Agency about the level of flood risk would produce a complete bureaucratic nightmare, and would achieve nothing, except possibly a property blight.

After the floods in Northampton, I gave a lift home to some young people who had been rescued by boat from a mobile home. The first they knew about the floods was

22 Jul 1998 : Column 1122

when they opened the front door and found water lapping on the doorstep. They had no way of getting help, and they did not know what to do. For many people, the instinct might be to try to wade through the water to safety, but that would probably be the wrong thing to do, because I am told that flood waters have strong undercurrents and are particularly dangerous. I do not want other people, old or young, to be put in such danger. The Bill would help to prevent that.

Northampton was not the only place to suffer from the floods. People in many other constituencies also suffered, and their Members of Parliament have been of great help in bringing forward the Bill. In addition to the supporters named, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton), for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), for Kettering (Mr. Sawford), for Corby (Mr. Hope), for Worcester (Mr. Foster), for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), for Gloucester (Ms Kingham), for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), for Stroud (Mr. Drew), for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner), for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) and for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner), and the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) for their support in developing the plans.

I also pay tribute to the Environment Agency, for its support and comments on the proposals, to the Caravan Club, for helping to ensure that the provisions were practical and workable, and to the staff of the Public Bill Office, who have provided important assistance.

Many people want to live close to rivers, and many choose to spend their holidays there for scenery or water sports. The Bill would ensure that they were still able to make such a choice, but it would be an informed choice. They could receive the information they needed to ensure that they could get their ideal home or holiday, but would know the risks, and could make arrangements to protect themselves and their families.

Many of us will never forget the terrible scenes at Easter and many members of the public still have to live with the consequences. The Bill would be a small step towards ensuring that the lessons of the floods were learnt and that people would not be left so vulnerable and exposed to risk again.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Sally Keeble, Mr. Tony Clarke, Dr. Evan Harris, Dr. Phyllis Starkey, Mrs. Diana Organ, Mr. Patrick Hall, Mr. John Hayes, Mr. Brian White, Mr. Paddy Tipping, Mr. John Healey, Mr. Paul Keetch and Gillian Merron.

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