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Bill read a Second time.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A (Programme motions),

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Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 80 A (Carry-over of Bills),

Mr. Speaker: I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 22 October, pursuant to Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions).


Queen’s recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.



Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

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Terms and Conditions of Employment

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Mental Health

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Criminal Law

Question agreed to.


Planning and Development (Dorset)

10.29 pm

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): My constituents’ reactions to proposals in the south-west regional spatial strategy have formed the largest single issue in my mailbag—

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I remind hon. Members that they must not walk in front of an hon. Member who is addressing the House? It is bad manners. Mr. Djanogly, I must ask you to move.

Annette Brooke: Those reactions have formed the largest single issue in my mailbag this year. This petition represents the overwhelming views of residents in Corfe Mullen.

The petition states:


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Flooding (Northumberland)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Roy.]

10.31 pm

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 Ministers—I am glad that the Minister for the North East of England is in his place—to consider four things: flood warnings, flood defences, future emergency planning and Government help for the recovery effort.

There were clearly failings in the Environment Agency’s warning system. A specific failing affected householders in one part of Morpeth town centre, who did not get the
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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 Rothbury—they were wrecked.

Much more challenging, and more expensive, is the need to tackle flood defences. Some of that work is already planned—for 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 maintenance—the cleaning of drains, and their upgrading, where necessary—would perhaps not have prevented the worst damage, it would have alleviated many of the problems that were faced?

Sir Alan Beith: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, to which I shall return in a moment. Drain and culvert maintenance is very important.

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:

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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 rebuilt—that cannot happen soon enough for the people in Glanton, because all the diverted traffic goes through it—it 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 landslide—it 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 areas—and here I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Wansbeck—is 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 Agency’s, 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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