(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), Standing Order No. 38 (Procedure on divisions) shall not apply if, after the time for the interruption of business, the opinion of the Speaker as to the decision on a question is challenged in respect of any question.
(2) Standing Order No. 38 (Procedure on Divisions) shall apply (and this order shall not apply) to questions--
(a) on motions or amendments in the course of proceedings on bills or allocating time to or programming such proceedings;
(b) on motions which may be made without notice;
(c) on motions to be disposed of immediately following the disposal of amendments proposed thereto, and on such amendments;
(d) on motions made under--
(i) paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted Business);
(ii) paragraph (3) of Standing Order No. 51 (Ways and Means motions);
(iii) sub-paragraph (1)(a) of Standing Order No. 52 (Money resolutions and Ways and Means resolutions in connection with Bills);
(iv) paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of Estimates); and
(v) paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 55 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.); and
Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I am pleased to present this petition to the House on behalf of more than 820 residents in Carshalton and Wallington. They consider the 75p increase to have been an insult. The petition states:
Declares that pensioners deserve a substantial increase in the basic state pension.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Social Security to increase the basic state pension.
And the petitioners remain, etc . . .
Before I start this debate--which is essentially about events in central Southsea, on 15 September, when a considerable part of my constituency was flooded--I should like to say a big thank you to the police, the ambulance service, the Coastguard service, inshore rescue, Southern Electric staff and all those who gave such a good service on that day. I particularly thank Hampshire fire service. The help of its 20-odd units saved not only many properties in Portsmouth, but many people from experiencing an even greater tragedy than they experienced.
Many local people, despite being in great difficulties themselves, put themselves out to help others. I mention in particular Greg and Jane, the landlord and landlady of the Florence Arms, and Kieran Quade and Gareth Dupre. Both their properties were severely damaged, yet they spent a great deal of time helping others. Basement flats, low-lying bungalows and houses were all flooded, but the big difference between what happened in Portsmouth on 15 September and what is happening now in many parts of the country is that the present flooding is mainly water. In Portsmouth, it was raw sewage mixed with water. Homes, gardens, garages, shops, pubs, public parks and streets were strewn with raw sewage. Condoms, tampons and human waste were everywhere. I saw many houses which had all three in abundance.
The city council and its emergency planning officer, Alistair Hogg, did what they could, but some people suggest that local authorities just do not have the resources to cope with such emergencies and that it takes far too long for them to swing into action.
The real problem on 15 September involved Southern Water and its parent company, ScottishPower. I could mention many individuals, but I shall not list them as I am sure that the Minister wants to tell us how he proposes to prevent similar disasters from happening in future. There are many questions for Southern Water to answer. What it knew, what it did not do, what it should have done and what it has done since are all important issues.
At 6 am on 13 September, the Meteorological Office issued a special forecast. It said that heavy rain would probably deliver something like 45 mm of water over the Portsmouth area or the central Hampshire area on 15 September. Southern Water claims not to have received that severe weather warning. The warning issued on 13 September was repeated again on 14 September, when we were told that there was a 70 per cent. chance of torrential rain causing major problems in the area. Again, Southern Water denies receiving the information. What went wrong? Southern Water claims that the 30-year-old pumping station was drowned by the volume of water that came up from the sewer pipes below.
The timing raises a lot of questions. I was sitting in my office in Albert road in the heart of Portsmouth. Before 1 pm, water was coming out of the main drains in the street. Albert road was flooded not from the volume of
Southern Water claims that the pumps were overcome by water and literally drowned. I visited the pumping station at 8 pm on 15 September and there was still at least 4 ft of water over the main pumps. What has Southern Water done for the people of Portsmouth? It has done very little and said simply that it will try to get the pumps back working. The local newspaper, which has done a valiant job trying to keep people updated on the issue, asked the managing director of Southern Water a number of questions. The headline was:
What did Southern Water do? It got pumps in and pumped raw sewage and other waste straight into the sea across our beaches and open spaces in three different locations. It had to do that to protect the city, but it was pumping raw sewage into sensitive areas such as Langstone harbour, an area of special scientific interest and the habitat of wildlife, sealife and birds.
What did Southern Water do for the people? It offered £20,000 to the Lord Major of Portsmouth hardship fund. That £20,000 accounts for one hour of Southern Water's yearly profit, and for 35 minutes of ScottishPower's profit. It would pay the directors of those two organisations for two days. And the company thinks that that is enough. It has resisted all claims, saying that it has done everything expected of it. That is cynical, uncaring, unhelpful, hurtful and not good enough for a company that claims to have people's interests at heart.
The company claimed recently that upgrading the station would cost more than £4 million. Yet people's homes have been torn apart by this tragedy. People have lost the whole ground floor of their homes, or have had their floor boards taken up, wooden floors and carpets removed, walls chopped back to the brick work up to a metre above the water line. Some people will be out of their homes well into the middle of next year. Asked whether it should spend £4 million to protect the pumping station, the company could only say that its
The floods came from neither the sea nor a river. People's homes were flooded from the main sewerage system running through the heart of the city. Public parks were not flooded because the sea flowed down the road or a river burst its banks. They were flooded because manholes in the streets started to seep human waste into a playground and a park.
What about Ofwat? It offered a booklet on levels of service for the water industry and a handout on its guaranteed standard scheme. For flooding from sewers, that offers a maximum of £1,000 per property for each flooding incident or the equivalent of the property's water charges for the year. That is not good enough. No one in Portsmouth has received either £1,000 or repayment of the water charge. The only offer from Southern Water has been the £20,000 for the Lord Mayor's fund.
The Environment Agency visited the station only once during the first three days, according to what it said at a public meeting held shortly afterwards. Since then, we have waited for its report with bated breath, and I hope that the Minister can update it on that response. I, and others keenly interested in the matter, have taken an independent civil engineer to the site, and his preliminary report is in the hands of the Environment Agency, where it is, we hope, assisting in its deliberations. I have also provided background papers about the site and a detailed report from an engineer who used to work there and who ran the plant.
If all that information is put together, it becomes clear that something happened in the pumping station. The capacity of the sewerage system and the station's pumps should have been enough to deal with what happened that day, but that manifestly was not so. The consequences were as I have spelled them out. I do not have the time to go into individual cases.
The Government can help with the hardship fund, a matter that I have raised with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister, but as yet to no avail. They are not prepared to help as yet, but I hope that they will consider doing so. The Government could help over insurance. For some people, premiums have already been raised by 30 per cent. My local paper today carries the headline "Sunk by a postcode" over a story that says that people living in Portsmouth or West Sussex will find it extremely difficult to get mortgages or insurance on their properties. Already, the problems have begun for people not yet over the awful experience of 15 September,
Local authorities need greater help. They need ring-fenced funding to be made available, to help with emergency planning. Sadly, too few local authorities have the organisational skills or equipment necessary to deal with such problems. Their actions come far too late.
What can the Environment Agency do? It can do a lot. It can tackle the problem and take on operators such as Southern Water. The people of Portsmouth look to the agency to protect their interests and to ensure that they get justice for what happened to them.
We need to see the report sooner rather than later. The agency needs to be resourced in such a way that it can deal far sooner with such issues and report exactly what it has found back into the public domain. I urge the Minister to speed up the agency's report.
Ofwat powers must be studied. Agreements with companies such as Southern Water need to be reconsidered. As with the railways, when the Conservatives privatised water they allowed operators to get away with murder as regards their responsibilities to their customers. The token gestures mentioned in the guarantee scheme are simply not
Work needs to be done. I also ask the Government to insist that Southern Water protects a city such as Portsmouth and ensures that its pumping station is not supported with standby pumps that are below sea level to start with and must always be vulnerable. When I visited the station, the operators told me that there had already been near disasters, when the station had been flooded. At least two people who were present on 15 September have told us about incidents in the station. Many people believe that some of the flooding that finally put the station out of action resulted from temporary construction and modernisation work there.
Given that it is difficult for the Environment Agency and others to get convictions or to prosecute, I would like to think that the Government can insist that pumping stations, such as the one at Eastney, are upgraded to cope with the additional flows that arise from the increased development and global warming, and are properly maintained to ensure that maximum pumping capacity is not compromised.
The stations should be thoroughly evaluated--independently, if necessary--to identify the potential risks and consequences of loss of, or a temporary reduction in, pumping capacity, or loss or interruption of electrical or fuel supply. They should be modified to eliminate all foreseeable routes to a catastrophic total loss of operational capacity, which is what occurred on 15 September. They should also be modified to introduce failsafe measures to ensure that flows either in excess of those predictable, or occurring during emergencies, are safely channelled away from sensitive residential areas. In an area such as Portsmouth, which is completely surrounded by the sea, that must be a practical suggestion.
The stations should incorporate storm prediction and remote rainfall sensors to provide advance warning of problems, or potential flows in excess of capacity, to alert emergency services promptly. Slow response diesel pumps should be brought in sufficiently early to attain full capacity when needed, but they should be put where they are out of harm's way--not below ground, inside a pumping station, where the water could flood them.
Prosecuting water companies can be difficult and slow, and is inevitably ineffective in achieving a solution. The current process can tackle problems only retrospectively. Is further regulation of the industry to be considered? I hope that it is and that the Minister will say that the Government are looking into regulation of the water industry to enforce improvements in ageing installations ahead of further disastrous flooding.
All of that and much more needs to be dealt with. Southern Water has a lot of questions to answer and it has failed miserably to deliver. We are grateful for the campaigning actions of the BBC South team, led by Freddy Rostan, and to Meridian Broadcasting, but more importantly for the campaigning skills of the local newspaper, doing what local newspapers do well. The News has pushed, dug and shoved and tried to humiliate Southern Water by putting the moral case on behalf of the people of Portsmouth. So far, we are still not getting the answers, despite the fact that the company has attended public meetings. It is not good enough for the company merely to take the flak for one night when people are so
People expect companies as large as Southern Water and its parent company, ScottishPower, to do more. Furthermore, they expect the Government to insist that such companies do more. Justice must be done. Those events took place on 15 September; it is not good enough that, on 7 November, questions remain unanswered and people continue to live with that tragedy--as they will probably have to do for a further six months or a year.