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On resilience and the British Standards Institution's issuing of the kitemark, if a product is proved to be fit for purpose, will a householder or business property owner be able to sue the BSI or the product maker when a product allows water in? What comeback is there and how can we ensure that home owners and property owners in general have the confidence to increase their resilience? What happens if a product is demonstrated to be unfit for purpose? A great consensus is building on amending building regulations to increase resilience to future floods. It is not acceptable that home owners
are returning to properties that still have electrical sockets at ground level. When a property is prone to future floods, that simply stores up more problems.
The Government need to be much clearer what priorities there are between the arbitrary house building policy of one Department and DEFRA's guidance not to build in inappropriate places. The Secretary of State needs to be much clearer on the relationship between the Environment Agency's strategic overview and the regional spatial plans-my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) and others showed what future flooding problems there could be in their constituencies.
On insurance, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said in setting out the Conservative position at the beginning of the debate that there was a discrepancy between the £1 billion that the Government would be paying next year and the £1.5 billion for which the insurance industry is still calling. The Government need to address that, the need for accessible insurance for all, which the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and others addressed, and the fact that premiums and excesses are going up. In my constituency, excesses are well in excess of £10,000. They need to be affordable; otherwise, the taxpayer is left with the cost of picking up uninsurable losses. I should like the Secretary of State to go further and to write a duty into the Bill-we have prepared a little amendment to help him in this regard-for the Environment Agency to come forward with an annual programme for maintenance, which will be reported to both Houses and debated, to ensure that it is at all times maintaining and dredging the main water courses, so that as long as internal drainage boards are doing their bit, the water does not back up.
I should like to take credit for one measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs threatened to amend the so-called rain tax, but the Government have done so in clause 42. That was included only after the official Opposition persisted in saying that we would act if the Government failed to do so- [ Interruption. ] I am delighted that the House supports us.
We still need a full audit of critical infrastructure. I deplore the fact that the flood risk regulations have gone through without proper scrutiny and, I understand, without proper consultation. With the reservation that several issues that have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House this evening are worthy of further debate in Committee, we wish the Bill a fair wind and we hope that it will be even better than it is now once it leaves Committee.
Hilary Benn: With the leave of the House, I wish to respond to the debate. It has been an extremely good one, because without exception hon. Members have spoken with local knowledge, insight and a clarity of commitment to using this legislation to deal with the problems of flooding and enable society to cope with it better.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for his support for the Bill. I was slightly puzzled by his reference to the emergency response in 2007 because having visited a lot of places and talked to a lot of people, I have to say that it does not reflect my view or, in fairness, what Sir Michael Pitt had to say. On the balance between the national
and the local, about which the hon. Gentleman and several others spoke, I hope that on reflection they will agree that the Bill does provide the necessary flexibility to allow the right arrangements to be put in place. The hon. Gentleman asked about Cave, and-as I am sure he is aware-we are consulting on those recommendations. I thought that the example he gave of a local community protecting itself was a really good one, and shows clearly that it can be done without the need for additional legislation.
On national infrastructure, I can inform the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who raised this issue, that the Cabinet Office has now screened nearly 1,000 critical national infrastructure sites and identified 171 across nine sectors that are in areas that could be flooded by rivers or the sea. The lead Departments in all cases are preparing sector resilience plans, which will be produced by the end of this year. If time allowed, I could give several specific examples of steps that have been taken, but I shall refer to just one. The National Grid has invested more than £1 million in flood defence capability, including buying 1.2 km of flood defence barriers, which it can take to places that are under threat.
On the scrutiny of the national strategy, it would be for the Select Committee to decide what it wished to do. I always welcome its interest and attention. On the water framework directive, a statutory instrument establishing a power for the Environment Agency to improve the physical characteristics of water bodies was laid on 1 December, to come into force on 22 December this year.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) spoke with great authority because of his experience, and he made a powerful point about the need to strike a balance, including when it comes to agricultural land. Those who argue that greater protection should be given-and I understand the arguments that are made-must be equally honest about where the resources, which will always amount to a certain sum, will be found to achieve that.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) said that he did not want to be churlish just as I was about to intervene and say that I thought he was being a tad churlish in some of his comments. On private sewers-which my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) also mentioned-we already have the powers to make the change, and the House should not worry about that. Yes, there will be a small cost, but the argument for it is that this is in effect a national insurance scheme to protect householders who have no idea that they would have to bear the cost-
Insurance is a problem, and we have to have an answer to it. On more precise flood warnings, we do not need legislation to do that. Indeed, as the capacity of the flood forecasting centre at the Met Office improves and gives better and more accurate flood warnings, the House may rest assured that those will be issued.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall), who has played a significant role in highlighting the unfairness of surface water charges and gave some striking examples from his area concerning United Utilities. As for who will be covered, he will have seen clause 42(4)(c), and of course guidance will be issued as well.
I hope that today was not the last time that the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) talks on such matters, because he has chaired the Select Committee with distinction, enormous insight and great courtesy. I echo his thanks to the staff of his Committee. I thought that he spoke particularly eloquently about the need to be straight with each other. That has been a theme in this debate, and I agree with it. On the floods directive, I can assure him that we will, when necessary, stitch the bits together so that if changes are made to the Bill, they can be reflected in the regulations. Bridges should certainly be regularly inspected. He also talked about informing members of the public. One of the striking things about this matter-this came across in Sir Michael Pitt's report-is that we all have a personal responsibility. When a flood warning is issued, it means something and we have to pay attention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood reminded us that the internal drainage boards are good in some places, but not so good in others. Regional flood defence committees have an important role to play, and I agree with him completely. I liked his phrase about the environment acting as a sponge. He, too, said in respect of coastal erosion that we have to be honest with each other, and that includes everybody involved taking responsibility for the problem, because we cannot get into a situation where people start to say, "Well, the EA is the harbinger of doom and bringer of bad news." This is everyone's problem, and we all have to pitch in and do something about it.
The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) was kind in his expressions of appreciation. When it comes to building on flood plains, the responsibility is clear: it rests with the local planning authority. The question is whether we can guard against flood risk. Indeed, we meet and debate here on a flood plain that is protected by the Thames barrier. On alternative supplies, he will be aware that the Mythe defences have now been reinforced and that Walham has a flood defence. However, there is an alternative water supply, as we saw with the distribution of bottled water, which worked well. There were problems with the bowsers, but those were eventually sorted out.
I know from the terrific constituency work done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) that when he speaks about the importance of community consultation and involvement, he means it and lives it. I have seen that for myself through the great work done in his constituency dealing with contaminated land. The most striking thing about that was getting people involved. That is another aspect of sharing responsibility. If we say, "Hey, we've got a problem. What are we going to do about it?", people tend to respond, as he knows well. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) made exactly the same point. On insurance, we need ideas and to think about it, and my right hon. Friend made a powerful point about affordability.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) was right to talk about prevention. I say to her what I said to the Opposition spokesman. The Bill has the flexibility to enable local authorities to work together in a way that will suit them. In the end, it is up to the local authorities to enter into the spirit of that flexible provision in the Bill and to make it happen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) asked about training for fire service staff. We have offered assistance with physical material by ensuring that the right training is in place. He is right to say that those who are putting their lives at risk should have the right equipment and knowledge to undertake their important work.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) talked about the need for a better understanding of risks and local warnings. Better technology will allow that. He is also right to say that we will have to think about bridge design, especially in the light of experiences in Cumbria. The right hon. Member for Fylde made this point as well, and the natural hazards team is looking at that very question.
I pay tribute to the role that my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed) has played in the current difficult circumstances, as well as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham), who really has been at the sharp end and has been quite magnificent. My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland made a powerful case for accountability. Let me assure him that the water companies will be under a duty to act consistently with the national flood strategy. They will be required to co-operate with flood risk authorities, and the Secretary of State will be able to direct water companies or other authorities to carry out flood risk management functions if they fail to do so themselves.
The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) has more reason that just about anybody in the Chamber to be concerned about coastal erosion and rising sea levels. It is not a question of the EA trying to frighten anybody; there is a problem and we have to share it. The important point is the spirit in which that is entered into.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) talked about the Walker review. She is a powerful advocate for her constituents in the south-west and chairs the all-party group on water with great energy. She raised the question of arrears, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe, and if she is on the Committee, I suspect that it will be returned to.
I was glad to hear what the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) said about the change that had taken place, because that was where a different approach had been adopted. We will make provisions for appeals, through the relevant provisions in clauses 38 and 39, based on existing provisions in the Water Resources Act 1991.
My hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) chairs the all-party group on flood prevention, also with distinction. I agree with him about regional flood defence committees. As for water companies and sustainable drainage systems, the body giving the approval should also have the responsibility to maintain, because that will make it think about the decision. However, water companies will also be statutory consultees.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud talked about riparian owners. Assets will be registered under clause 21, which will enable the lead local flood authority to identify the cause of a problem and speed its resolution, should it arise. On the choices that have to be made, they will be a combination of collective defence, where possible, and greater resistance and resilience, but also individuals thinking about how they can protect the properties in which they live.
I pay tribute to the careful interest that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) takes in these matters and the expertise with which she contributed from the Dispatch Box this evening. On the expenses faced by local authorities, as she will be aware, there is support under the Bellwin arrangements, which we have again extended to 100 per cent. cover above the threshold, as we did in 2007. There is also other support available, through various different schemes. On the role of the Environment Agency, I would simply say to her that-how shall I put it?-when it comes to responsibility, one person's prescription is another person's clarity. The Bill is right to make it clear where the EA has responsibilities. The SUDS definition is the same north and south of the border, and existing SUDS are likely to be designated under clause 30 and schedule 1.
Finally, I want to come back to the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, who speaks for the Opposition. This is a week in which the world's leaders have been gathering in Copenhagen to try to bring home an agreement, which is essential if we are to deal with the consequences of a changing climate, one of which-flooding-we have been talking about this evening. This is a world in which we will have to live within our means. That includes nature's ability to accommodate human beings-our settlement and our activity-and we will have to do that with due respect for nature's power. What we are doing this evening represents a really important step towards helping the people who have been so badly affected by flooding in recent times. I commend the Bill to the House.
That the following provisions shall apply to the Flood and Water Management Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 21 January 2010.
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. - ( Kerry McCarthy. )
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Flood and Water Management Bill, it is expedient to authorise-
(1) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State, and
(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.- ( Kerry McCarthy.)
That, at this day's sitting, Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply to the motion in the name of Secretary John Denham relating to Rating and Valuation, the motion in the name of Mr Secretary Hain relating to Constitutional Law and the motion in the name of Ms Harriet Harman relating to the Electoral Commission. - ( Kerry McCarthy.)
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