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That the following provisions shall apply to the Political Parties and Elections Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Committee
2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 13th November 2008.
3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed. [Claire Ward.]
That if, at the conclusion of this Session of Parliament, proceedings on the Political Parties and Elections Bill have not been completed, they shall be resumed in the next Session. [Claire Ward.]
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Political Parties and Elections Bill, it is expedient to authorise
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided;
(2) the payment out of the Consolidated Fund of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums to be charged on and paid out of the Fund under any other Act; and
(3) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable into that Fund under any other Act. [Claire Ward.]
That, at the sitting on Thursday 23rd October, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr Edward Leigh relating to Public Accounts not later than three hours after their commencement; proceedings may continue after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply. [Claire Ward.]
That the draft Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) (Amendment) Regulations 2008, which were laid before this House on 2nd July, be approved. [Claire Ward.]
That the draft Mental Health Act 2007 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 8th July, be approved. [Claire Ward.]
That the draft Remand on Bail (Disapplication of Credit Period) Rules 2008, which were laid before this House on 7th July, be approved. [Claire Ward.]
The Petition of people from the Mid Dorset and North Poole Constituency,
Declares the Petitioners concern that the proposal for the construction of 700 dwellings in Corfe Mullen will lead to the destruction of a beautiful green valley in the green belt, increase traffic on already inadequate roads, put pressures on hospitals and other health services and on schools and endanger the heath lands. The Petitioners further declare that it is not an effective way to tackle the housing needs of local young people.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to respond to the views of local residents, elected councillors for Corfe Mullen and the Parish Council by removing the proposal for the 700 dwellings from the South West Regional Spatial Strategy.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I am glad to have the opportunity to mention the very serious floods that Northumberland experienced on the weekend of 5 September. They were devastating and went well beyond the experience and expectation of the communities involved. Hundreds of people will not be able to resume living in their homes for months, in some cases for a year or more.
Many local businesses were directly and severely hit, and the whole nation saw on television how appalling the situation was in the historic town of Morpeth, which is the local market town for a significant part of my constituency. Its MP, the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Murphy), is in his place, and he has secured a debate on Thursday on the situation in Morpeth. The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) is also present, and Ponteland, in his constituency, was affected.
Although I shall refer to the devastation that I saw for myself in Morpeth, I wish to draw attention to the fact that, although the numbers involved were smaller, the devastation was severe in a number of smaller communities. Worst hit was Rothbury, where more than 50 properties were flooded, many up to above window height and 6 ft or 7 ft up the wall in many cases. That happened in pensioners single-storey cottages. Access to the village was cut off by the floods, so the rescue efforts and counter-measures depended entirely on the small number of council and emergency service workers based in the village and the huge effort of voluntary organisations, volunteers and good neighbours.
Throughout the flooded areas, there were thankfully no lives lost and no serious injuries, and a great debt of gratitude is owed by all of us to the professionals, volunteers and neighbours who worked unceasingly throughout the weekend. The good neighbours included hotel proprietors such as those at Clennel Hall near Alwinton and the Percy Arms at Chatton, who took in and fed flooded caravanners and stranded motorists, despite the fact that their own staff could not get into work.
Other places where houses and businesses were flooded included Powburn, Warkworth, Belford, Kirknewton, Felton and a large area of the Till valley near Wooler, where rural businesses were completely deluged, crops destroyed and more than 800 sheep and other animals drowned. In the Ingram valley, the only road was washed away and homes were severely at risk. At Amble, there was very serious damage to the harbour wall, and equipment for the fishing industry was destroyed. Many places had severe flooding, from which properties only narrowly escaped with the aid of sandbags. No one could remember anything like it, even those who could remember the 1948 floods.
In dealing with the situation, I want agencies and MinistersI am glad that the Minister for the North East of England is in his placeto consider four things: flood warnings, flood defences, future emergency planning and Government help for the recovery effort.
There were clearly failings in the Environment Agencys warning system. A specific failing affected householders in one part of Morpeth town centre, who did not get the
warnings that were issued elsewhere. At Rothbury, the warning system failed, apparently because the gauge was on the Usway burn and it did not rise rapidly owing to the rain falling on a surprisingly narrow section of the Upper Coquet catchment. A man in Warkworth who rang the Environment Agency because of floodwater rising in his house was told that there was no warning in place for his area.
All those defects in the warning system can and should be remedied urgently, and that will not involve huge expense or difficulty. Warnings would not have prevented the floods, but they would have assisted the rescue operations and enabled some people to move particularly treasured possessions to safety. Alnwick district council would have moved vehicles from its yard at Rothburythey were wrecked.
Much more challenging, and more expensive, is the need to tackle flood defences. Some of that work is already plannedfor example, to reduce the flood risk at Morpeth. Bringing such work forward for earlier completion is doubly sensible, because it is just the kind of available investment project that the Chancellor apparently recognises we need in a recession. The Environment Agency must engage with people in the Rothbury and Coquetdale areas to discuss how the flood risk can be reduced.
Mr. Denis Murphy (Wansbeck) (Lab): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He rightly points out that a number of communities in Northumberland were affected by severe flooding, one of which was the village of Hepscot, just outside Morpeth. It was not affected to the same extent as Morpeth, but one of the main reasons it flooded was that the drains were overwhelmed. Does he agree that although simple maintenancethe cleaning of drains, and their upgrading, where necessarywould perhaps not have prevented the worst damage, it would have alleviated many of the problems that were faced?
I was discussing what the Environment Agency must do in a number of areas. In the Rothbury and Coquetdale areas, I want it to engage with local people to discuss how to reduce the flood risk. Work being done on the Coplish burn will not, by itself, be enough and, because of access difficulties, even that is not certain to be completed. There needs to be a public meeting at which the agency must explain and discuss the options that could be pursued, by extending the floodplain in upstream areas, for example. Local councillor, Stephen Bridgett, and I feel that such a discussion with local people is urgently needed.
The Environment Agency needs to be similarly open with the people of the Ingram valley. I share their anger that action that could have reduced the damage and the risk has previously been resisted by the agency on the grounds that the river would not pose the very dangers that we faced in September. The agency sent me a letter in October 2005, when I took up a demand for some work to be done, in which it stated:
We refused consent for the works...on the grounds that the works would cause too much environmental damage. We have monitored the situation over the last 2 years and see no indication of rapid erosion, in fact the section of river appears to be naturally stabilising.
That very section of river went from being 50 m from property to just a few feet away during the floods, so, in refusing consent for works, the agency had wrongly anticipated the situation. The agency has to take account of all sorts of issues, which results in local residents feeling that the interests of fish are taking priority over the homes and livelihoods of those who live and work in the valley.
Not far away, in Powburn, where there has been serious flooding, there is a belief that the massive landslip, which has closed the A697, prevented the flooding of the village from being even worse. When the road has been rebuiltthat cannot happen soon enough for the people in Glanton, because all the diverted traffic goes through itit will need to incorporate some method of retaining floodwater in the dene, located between the road and the railway track, so that water does not overwhelm the village. The situation is curious, because people in the village, who are cut off from the south by a landslide, say, Thank goodness for the landslideit could have been even worse but for that. We need carefully to examine alternative measures once the road is reinstated.
In the Till valley, older flood defences have been pierced to protect homes, which seemed to work, but agriculture and local businesses, such as the Fenton centre, paid a high price. Tourist businesses such as the Heatherslaw railway and the café were hit hard. The flooding of one group of recently built properties at Canno Mill, Kirknewton, was no surprise. The Environment Agency had objected to planning permission in 2004 because the development was on a floodplain. That is a clear warning for the future. The future flood strategy for the Till and its tributaries needs wide public discussion.
One vital but neglected part of flood defences in many areasand here I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Wansbeckis the clearing of burns and culverts of obstructions that cause floodwater to build up quickly. That was highly relevant in Belford and Netherton, and the hon. Gentleman points out that it was also relevant in Hepscot. It is a local council responsibility, not the Environment Agencys, and its importance should be more fully recognised. It is an especially challenging task in large rural authorities and it needs to be recognised in the funding formula. We have long-standing arguments about the funding formula as it affects Northumberland and the particular rural challenges that the county faces.
I turn now to the help that communities need. There has been some good, practical help from a wide range of authorities and agencies, both to householders and, in some cases, to business. DEFRA and the Environment Agency were proving very difficult over the disposal of the large number of animal carcases, refusing permission for local burial. However, One NorthEast stepped in to fund an emergency fallen stock disposal scheme, and farmers were grateful for that, but they still face huge drying costs and uninsurable crop losses.
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