Previous Section Index Home Page

Sir Nicholas Winterton: What I am saying is that people fight elections to enable them to sit on these green Benches, and we should not underestimate the
12 Mar 2009 : Column 549
status of being elected to come and take a seat in this House. The House is easily carried away, perhaps on what people believe to be political correctness and appealing to young people. If there were the referendum that Labour Members have talked about, I wonder whether its result would be what they believe.

I say, in particular to the hon. Member for Reading, West, who, sadly—I say this with emphasis and sincerity—is leaving the House at the next election, and we will be deprived of his outspoken comments that occasionally enliven debates in this place—

Martin Salter: Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that he is staying on?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. As I said earlier, we have limited time left, and I want the discussion to be on the motion before the House.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will allow me to respond briefly to the challenge. The answer is that I have been reselected to stand—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Many Members hope to catch my eye. Will the hon. Gentleman conclude his remarks?

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Of course I will.

Mr. Greg Knight: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Of course.

Mr. Greg Knight: I am most grateful to my hon. and young Friend. Does he agree that if the debate does not conclude today and is resumed on another day, it would help many of us if the Deputy Leader of the House were to circulate a list of the conditions that he considers appropriate to attach to the use of the Chamber by the Youth Parliament? None of those conditions are mentioned in the motion. The Deputy Leader of the House has gone some way towards allaying many fears today, but there should be a list of his proposed rules of the game, as it were, if the matter proceeds further.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: My right hon. Friend’s intervention has been extremely helpful.

Chris Bryant rose—

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Before the Deputy Leader of the House intervenes, let me give a commitment. If such an undertaking is given, I will myself examine the criteria that will form part of the information provided by the Leader of the House about the basis on which the Chamber could be made available to the UK Youth Parliament, and I will certainly review the position that I am currently taking.

Chris Bryant: I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman means that he will not only review his opinion but revise it. I suspect not, but I am more than happy to make the commitment suggested by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), who chairs the Procedure Committee. Let me add that I think it right for there to be no still photography in the Chamber. That applies to us when we sit here, and I think it should also apply to the UK Youth Parliament if it does so.

12 Mar 2009 : Column 550

Sir Nicholas Winterton: The Leader of the House has given a very fair response, but I cannot give a commitment to revise my opinion; I would review it. The hon. Member for Reading, West read out an extract from a 2004 Select Committee report which referred to reviewing the matter, rather than making a decision to use the Chamber.

Sir Patrick Cormack: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In view of slightly conflicting statements that have been made, including some from the Chair, will you clarify whether it is your intention to put the question at 6 pm regardless, or whether there will indeed be an opportunity for the debate to be resumed on another day? My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) is basing his excellent speech on the assumption that that is the case, and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who has not yet moved the amendment selected by Mr. Speaker, obviously believes it to be the case. You yourself said that the proceedings had to conclude at 6 pm. Will you kindly confirm, for the benefit of us all, that we can resume the debate on another day?

Madam Deputy Speaker: The ruling that I gave was that the debate had to conclude by 6 pm. That is why I have urged Members to make their contributions brief. The hon. Gentleman will, however, be aware of the procedures of the House. If the debate is still continuing at 6 pm, it will be adjourned.

Mr. Chope: In the light of the helpful intervention by the Deputy Leader of the House, does my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield accept that the Administration Committee, which is already keen to have a report on the subject, is the appropriate vehicle for consideration of the detail of this proposal?

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I think that I have made the position clear. I am not sure whether the Deputy Leader of the House is actually sympathetic to the idea that there should be further debate on the subject in the light of additional information that the Government will provide on the basis that, once a year, the Chamber might be made available to the UK Youth Parliament.

Let me return to my fundamental objection. I fought long and hard to get into the House. There are people who fought many more elections before they got into the House, and I respect them for their determination and commitment to serve this nation as Members of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. I repeat that I take the views expressed by the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), very seriously indeed.

6 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed tomorrow.

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This point of order is not in relation to the debate we have just had. The shadow Leader of the House raised a point of order earlier this afternoon about the publication of the list of Ministers’ interests, which he was concerned might have been leaked to newspapers before it was
12 Mar 2009 : Column 551
made available to the House. In fact, the report in the Evening Standard refers to matters that have been published in the Register of Members’ Interests and are not in the list of Ministers’ interests, but I thought it would be useful for all Members to know that it is available in the Library and the Vote Office.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that clarification.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to transgress on your time again, but as there is great interest in the subject we have just been debating, I think it would be extremely helpful to all those present if the Leader of the House were able to indicate when “tomorrow” will be.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I think that is a matter that the Deputy Leader of the House will be able to convey to hon. Members at another—

Chris Bryant: Tomorrow is another day, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I am, indeed, only too well aware of that.


Planning and Development (Cheshire)

6.1 pm

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): I am very pleased to have the opportunity to present a petition on behalf of my constituents—based mainly in Tarporley—following the collection of signatures by a sincere and unselfish, but concerned, community action group. It has managed to gather in a very short space of time many hundreds of signatures, and it has my full support in objecting to the resubmission of an application for a so-called continuing care community development in the Tarporley area. It is through petitions that Members have the opportunity to stand up for both proportionality and balance in our communities. While planning is not a matter of immediate relevance to this House, it is vital that we state any objections on the public record through petitions.

The petition states:


12 Mar 2009 : Column 552

Flooding in Somerset

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(Mr. Watts.)

6.3 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I am very grateful for this opportunity to raise an issue that is of enormous importance to my constituents: the flooding that we in Somerset repeatedly experience, and most recently over the Christmas period and early in the new year. I was a victim myself, as I have already told the House; my car was washed away with me in it. That was a rather unpleasant experience, and it is not one I would care to repeat. Others, however, had much more serious experiences. Unfortunately, an elderly gentleman died in his car in similar circumstances in my constituency, and many people’s houses were flooded, and a substantial number of them have not returned to their dwellings even now.

Somerset is a wet county. It is a very green county, but the reason is that it rains a lot. We recognise that floods have always been a part of Somerset life. Indeed, the centre part of Somerset, what is now called the Somerset levels, was once the great mere—a large inland lake, since drained, but which reverts to a flooded condition for large parts of the winter months.

More recently, we have seen a repetition of flooding beyond the normal seasonal flooding. Often, it is not directly from watercourses but is surface-water flooding, which is of concern. Frankly, it is stretching the resources of people who live in the county and the services that deal with them to the limit. I visited the villages of Queen Camel and West Camel when they were flooded. I went to Marston Magna, which is not in my constituency but that of my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), where the pub was flooded and cut off. I have since been to the parish councils to talk about flooding in Bridgehampton and in Ilchester Mead, which is close to the A303. There were serious flooding incidents in Ash and in Martock. Over this weekend I am visiting Stoney Stratton, where a very serious flash flood is still causing concern, as it has not been properly addressed by the local authorities. Some 30 cars for sale at a garage in a village called Anchor Hill, in Holton, were lost as a result of flooding from the watercourse there.

So these are serious matters for my constituents, and I want to set out some of the arguments for further action, some of the things that have already been done in Somerset that are good role models for elsewhere, and some of the areas where a combination of Government, local government, the Environment Agency and other agencies can make a significant difference. Of course, we look at all this in the context of what the Pitt review had to say about dealing with flooding in areas such as ours. I hope that much of what I say will be consistent with that view and with the Government’s view.

Let me give a specific instance that I raised with the Secretary of State during questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: the flooding of the Countess Gytha school in Queen Camel. It has repeatedly flooded and its pupils have repeatedly needed to be evacuated and moved into alternative accommodation. I was on hand when temporary classrooms were put in to replace the flooded ones over the Christmas period, but what is clearly needed is for that school to be
12 Mar 2009 : Column 553
relocated. It is by the side of a river that constantly breaks its banks and floods the premises. The county council understands that and is looking at the feasibility of moving it.

The problem will be the capital programme and using the money made available through the schools programme to bring forward a project that is not currently a high priority within that programme. I asked the Secretary of State whether he could bring to bear any pressure on his counterparts in the Department for Children, Schools and Families to make a temporary arrangement for the county council in order to enable that. I have yet to have a formal response to my letter following my question in the House, and I look forward to that. I impress upon the Minister that this is a matter of great urgency for that community. Somerset county council is doing what it can within its resources, but it would like to make a move next year and it probably needs Government help to do so. I wonder whether there is any way of unlocking that money. It seems sensible in any case that we deal with facilities such as schools and make them flood-resilient as a matter of public policy. That issue has perhaps not yet been properly addressed within Government.

My second point concerns the desperate need for proper maintenance and drainage works across the county. I say that not to criticise the work of the Environment Agency or the county council, but simply to say that the present facilities—the storm drains and drainage ditches—are insufficient to meet what appears to be the need. No amount of wishing new construction will make the difference needed. A step change in facilities is needed to remove surface water effectively and efficiently to prevent some of the flooding.

The problem is often exacerbated by blockages in existing drains and ditches, which is where the issue of maintenance comes in. I know that the Environment Agency and drainage boards are aware of that issue, and would like to make further progress, but as always, we come back to resources. Because we are dealing with a large rural county with an awful lot of watercourses, it is hard to stretch the resources sufficiently to make a difference. I am convinced that if we had proper dredging of some of our rivers and proper clearing of debris and strengthening of banks on some of the smaller tributary streams, it would make a substantial difference to the way in which we deal with these matters. This is where the Pitt review proposals come in, and it is how we arrive at a common view of where the priorities lie. We might then try to unlock perhaps a little more resource than there is at the moment.

Somerset has been knocking on the door on this matter. We recognise that the Government have, inevitably, been looking at areas that were seriously affected last year, and I do not criticise them for that. Gloucestershire and Kingston upon Hull were clearly areas of priority, but I think that Somerset is as well. We did not feature in that particular incident—almost uniquely. It was unbelievable that we had major flooding incidents all across the country but that they did not affect Somerset. That was a reverse of the normal state of affairs, but simply because we missed out in that case, it does not mean that we do not have significant problems, which I would like the Minister to address.

12 Mar 2009 : Column 554

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heath: I mentioned Gloucestershire, so it is only fair that I do.

Mr. Drew: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I know that the debate is on Somerset, so I shall be careful about what I say. In the proposals to deal with flooding in and around the River Severn, the idea of the barrage as a flood prevention measure has been floated—I use that word carefully. Would he agree that while there may be arguments for the barrage—I do not agree with them—they should be separated from the issue of flooding? Flooding should be dealt with in its own right and the barrage should be put on a separate pedestal and dealt with differently.

Mr. Heath: I agree with the hon. Gentleman up to a point. The situation in the upper reaches of the Severn is different from that of Bridgwater bay and the Parrot basin. I cannot categorically agree with him because a barrage would be a contributing factor—it would essentially act as a flood barrier at high tide for the River Parrot and its tributaries. I cannot entirely go along with his point, although I agree that they are separate issues and that we should not confuse the two.

On the point of maintenance and physical works, I should mention the important role of accurate surveying, and I do so not least because there is an important company in my constituency—Fathoms Ltd of Langport—with which I have had dealings in the past, and which employs experts in this field. It can make a significant contribution.

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): There is a major housing development taking place in Norton Fitzwarren on the edge of Taunton at the moment, but it is dependent to a large extent on flood alleviation schemes so that new residents are not exposed to the risk of flooding. Would my hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely essential that the Environment Agency ensure that the developers are vigilant in taking every measure to reassure people who are moving into housing of that type, and people who already live there, that the necessary flood alleviation work is taking place?

Mr. Heath: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, although I do not know the details of the Norton Fitzwarren scheme—I do know Norton Fitzwarren. The solution can be found on several different levels. We should not take floodplain that is necessary for water retention, we should ensure that flood alleviation schemes are in place to protect the development in question and we should make the houses resilient and build them so that they are resilient.

Let me move on to my third point, which is to do with river catchment management. I am a strong supporter of whole-river-catchment processes. We experimented with one some time ago—I was involved with the county council—with the River Parrot catchment area. We need to look much more holistically at whole-river-catchment processes. We need to find ways to retain water effectively and to prevent flooding at source in a much more effective way than we do at the moment. I am convinced that is the sensible way of managing river basins and I hope it will be given proper precedence.

Next Section Index Home Page