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8 Apr 2010 : Column 1250
4 pm

Therefore, I am glad that the clause has gone, but I remain concerned about our underlying requirement under the European Communities Act 1972 to comply with the financial regulations that are streaming out of the European Union like a tsunami. Through majority voting, they will effectively hand over control of the City of London to the axis of France and Germany-Frankfurt and Paris. Nikolas Sarkozy has been quite clear from the beginning about their overriding objection to the Anglo-Saxon methods of dealing with financial services, and about their objective of taking over the City of London. That is one of their objectives, and the same goes for the Germans in Frankfurt. [ Interruption. ] I love to watch the deputy Chief Whip of the Government-for-the-time-being laughing about that.

The Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household (Mr. Thomas McAvoy): I'm laughing at you.

Mr. Cash: I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that. I am delighted, because all it does is demonstrate the absurdity of his position. He cannot tell that the people of this country are seriously affected. It may be very late in the day, and we may be right at the end of our parliamentary proceedings, but I say, and I shall say again, that nothing will stop me from defending in this Parliament the rights and interests of the people in this country. This legislation, whether or not it goes through in a wash-up and is fast-tracked, involves a disgraceful procedure, but at least it gives people like myself the opportunity to stand up for the United Kingdom, which I will do irrespective of deputy Chief Whips-for-the-time-being.

In line with the many times that I have raised this point with our shadow Chancellor and my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham, I trust that when we win the next election we will resist any attempt whatever to allow our City of London to be regulated by European regulations. We must insist that our City of London, our financial services, are dealt with under our laws, not under European or international legal jurisdictions.

Ian Pearson: I shall briefly respond to the points that have been made during this debate.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) about clause 8 and disagree with the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) and his comments on it. I agree that dropping the clause will not prevent the Financial Services Authority from engaging in international forums, but the fact that it has not had its role formalised is disappointing. It is very strange that such an important activity has not been formally reflected on a statutory basis in the FSA's objectives.

I heard what my hon. Friend said about Northern Ireland credit unions, and I share his strong desire to see them come under the auspices of the FSA. That is why, during Commons stages of the Bill, I said to Members that, if it were possible for the Northern Ireland Assembly to agree on an approach, we would see what could be done in the Bill. Lord Myners tabled a new clause in the other place, but there was no opportunity to debate it. Primary legislation is not actually needed to bring about those changes, but it is important to send the right signal, and I hope that the next Government will continue to look at the regulatory reform of credit unions.

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The House will be aware that there is a joint Treasury-Northern Ireland Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment consultation on proposals for the regulatory reform of credit unions in Northern Ireland, and that was launched on 30 March. As responses are received, I am sure that it will be possible-early in the next Parliament, I hope-to bring in any necessary changes at an early opportunity.

The hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) made three main points. On collective proceedings, the House is now aware that the amendments will drop clauses 18 to 25 from the Bill. However, I stress that, in terms of collective proceedings and providing for the rights of individuals collectively to take action, there is an important principle that needs to be pursued. We explored the issue in some detail in Committee, but it is clear from some reactions outside the House, which were reflected in the other place, that more work is needed in that area. That is why I am happy not to pursue those clauses at the moment, and to see more work done. However, the House will need to return to the matter, because it involves some important points of principle about how we ensure that such collective rights can be exercised.

The hon. Gentleman also raised a highly relevant point about clause 26. He will be aware of the actions that we have taken through amendment 33, and the agreement that it would be enacted separately. We just gave up on his amendment 43. I still do not think that it is a necessary part of the Bill, but in the other place I think they just decided, "Oh, all right then. Let's go on, let's do it. It won't do any harm." It certainly will not do any harm. The other concessions that we made in the other place have helped to improve the Bill; his amendment does not do so substantially, but there we go.

I should like to say two final things. First, I thank the hon. Members for Fareham and for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed), with whom I have debated on many occasions over the past couple of years. If I may return their compliments, I must say that they have been unfailingly courteous and well reasoned in their arguments. Although I have not been able to agree with them on every occasion, I have always carefully considered what they have said; and, where I have thought it appropriate, I have asked officials to draft and bring forward amendments, as we have done during the passage of this Bill.

Secondly, and lastly, I should like to thank my Bill team. Bills such as this require an awful lot of work on the part of many civil servants. My committed, dedicated and able team have provided me with terrific advice. I hope that I have not mangled their sentences too much in what I have said during the debates on the Bill. It is to their immense credit that so much of the Bill will be enacted very shortly, and that will be of benefit to people in Britain. So I say thank you very much to my team, and thanks also to hon. Members.

Lords amendment 5 agreed to.

Lords amendments 6 to 49 agreed to , with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 45 to 48 .

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Flood and Water Management Bill

Consideration of Lords amendments

Clause 4

"Flood risk management function"

4.10 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this we may take Lords amendments 2 to 25.

Huw Irranca-Davies: It is a great privilege to bring forward what I hope will be, both figuratively and literally, the final Act of this Parliament. Bringing the Bill forward was a good choice; the business managers know my reputation for brevity.

The Bill benefited from further changes in the other place, and we are considering those this afternoon. In all, a further 25 amendments have been made in the other place, three of which are purely technical. Of the remaining 22, 18 resulted directly from the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. We believe that all those changes are unobjectionable, and improve both this Bill and the Reservoirs Act 1975. We were more than happy to make the changes in the other place and we hope and expect that they will find favour in this House this evening.

I should mention briefly the issues outside the Bill on which I undertook to take further action. I undertook to address funding concerns for local authorities with the Local Government Association, and terms of reference for that work have been agreed. I also said that I would bring together the relevant interests to address concerns that had been expressed about the impact of flood risk on household insurance. I have had initial discussions with Members, including Opposition Front-Bench Members-I thank them for their courtesy in taking part-and with the Association of British Insurers with a view to having a wide-ranging discussion of this issue at a floods summit later in the year. That is indicative of the co-operative and open approach that we have taken to developing this legislation and I thank Members of this House and the other place and the bodies outside Parliament that also operated in that way. The result has been a Bill that was in very good order before it went to the other place; the scrutiny that it has received there, and the further amendments that have been made have, however, made it still stronger.

We should not lose sight of why the Bill is important. Floods can be massively disruptive to people's lives and to businesses, sometimes for a prolonged period. The events in Cumbria in the autumn were a vivid reminder of that, and climate change is likely to make both floods and droughts more frequent. The measures in this Bill will make a real and tangible difference; that is why the Government made the Bill a priority. I commend the Bill, and the amendments made to it in the other place, to the House.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I welcome this opportunity to make my last contribution of this Parliament. I thank my small but perfectly formed Bill Committee team of two at my office-they know who they are. I also convey my thanks to the Minister for his
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team, the Department's team and that of the Environment Agency in preparing the Bill and these most recent amendments.

On a note of sadness, I should say that this is my last contribution of this Parliament as the MP for Vale of York. The recommissioning and redistribution of the boundaries mean that I shall, I hope, be moving to higher ground after the election.

The Minister, gracious and charming as ever, has asked the House to support the amendments, which he calls "technical amendments"-as he knows, that gets our hearts beating a little faster. I take this opportunity to ask him whether the words "under an enactment", inserted by amendments 1 and 2, have any special meaning, in this Bill and more generally. As for amendment 3, what procedure will be followed in this regard?

I understand that amendment 4 to clause 8 will be consequential to the amendments that we discussed and supported in Committee and in the remaining stages in this place. Obviously we would be grateful if the Minister would clarify the points about the Lands Tribunal and the upper tribunal.

Like the Minister, I would like to pause for a moment to talk about some of the issues to which we did not do complete justice in considering the remaining stages of the Bill in this place. He will be aware of our concerns and those of interested parties about the provisions relating to reservoirs. We remain unconvinced and would have liked the time to look at the reservoir provisions more carefully. I am sure that the Minister and the House will recognise that the provisions have serious cost implications, especially for those who have small reservoirs on farms and golf courses, and other third-party users. The increased cost of the obligations imposed is causing serious concern and alarm.

The Minister referred to adapting to climate change-or as some call it, adverse weather conditions. Across the country we have all at various times faced such weather conditions. There is a dilemma between wanting to store water to enable us to adapt to these conditions and the cost of creating more reservoirs.

I hope that, whoever forms the next Government, the House will have an opportunity to discuss a White Paper on these issues. We as a party are committed to publishing such a White Paper. The omission of food policy and food security as a material consideration in the flood risk management decision-making process is one that the Government will have cause to regret. The national and local flood risk management strategy is flawed, with too much emphasis on the Environment Agency and too many powers being given to it. We have argued that there should be much more co-operation with local communities through their elected representatives on the local authorities.

I referred earlier to the possible impact of the reservoir safety clauses on small farm reservoirs and those belonging to third parties. The Minister is aware of our ongoing concerns. I have referred to the fact that the Bill gives too much power to the Environment Agency, and to the implications of clause 38.

I should like to place on record our disappointment that the natural hazards team has not reported as widely and done as full an audit of critical infrastructure as we would have wished. We had a good debate on SUDS-
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either the sustainable urban drainage or the sustainable drainage systems. We still need to identify who owns them and who will be responsible for maintaining them.

We are still waiting for the publication date for the transfer of private drains-the lateral drains and sewers. This would be a good moment for the Minister to announce when the regulations and guidance will be issued. That is something on which we can perhaps campaign and have a proper debate, especially for those small privately owned drainage companies, which are largely family firms, who feel that they will lose out and that they have not been properly consulted. I hope that the Bill will put down a marker that we need regular maintenance work not just by the internal drainage boards but by the Environment Agency.

We wish the Bill well. We know that we will return to the content in some measure with a White Paper. I am delighted that the Minister has taken on board our concerns and is calling the forthcoming discussions not a floods insurance summit but a floods summit. I hope that we will have a dry period in which to campaign in the forthcoming general election. We thank all who have been involved in the Bill on both sides of the House. I know that the Minister is not planning to retire from the House so we wish him well in the campaign. I am sure that that will be reciprocated. I thank him for the gracious manner in which he has skilfully steered the Bill through.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): May I too congratulate the Minister on the successful passage of the Bill? He has done exceedingly well in steering this important Bill through the House. The other place has demonstrated its ability correctly to witness, scrutinise and improve what was already an important Bill. In my constituency-both in the city of Hereford and in Ross-on-Wye-we have seen tremendous floods that have affected people's day-to-day lives. I am grateful for the investment made in flood defence schemes in the city and in Ross-on-Wye. They are important. The Minister is right to say that these events will occur more frequently in the future as a result of climate change and global warming. The Act that we hope will be in place this evening will be a great asset and of great assistance to our nation for the future. I congratulate the Minister on his role in this.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I reciprocate the comments of the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) and thank her for engagement with the issue. My officials will read the Hansard report of the debate and will read her thanks to them. They have been open and engaged and I thank them for that. I also ask the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) to take my thanks back to his colleagues for their engagement in terms of finding the best way through.

We had a great deal of debate about reservoirs. The issue has been aired in the other place, the Chamber and in Committee, but we have settled on this position as a result of consistent engineering advice based on a risk assessment approach. Partly because of our engagement with the hon. Lady and others, we have some flexibility to revisit the issue of over-capacity to take on some of her concerns.

On future legislation, we are in agreement. We see the need for additional engagement. Beyond Pitt's recommendations, we have the Cave report and Anna Walker's report and so much besides. We will have to have some consolidating legislation and I am pleased to
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say that we are already working up some proposals internally to try to bring forward something at the earliest opportunity. As always, this will be subject to parliamentary time but we would share the hon. Lady's aspiration to have another water Bill before the House as soon as possible.

I can confirm what I have said previously about drains: the transfer will go ahead next year. As for the regulations, I heard a whispered aside from behind me that they are in the pipeline. I can confirm that they will be available by the end of May. They are being drafted and are in a good state.

We say "enactment" in the amendments because we do not want the power to create an entirely new function. The functions should be defined in statute before the order is used to define them as risk management functions. On the Lands Tribunal and the change to the upper tribunal, other legislation has made the change, and the amendments merely reflect that.

I thank the hon. Member for Hereford for reminding us why this Bill is so important to his constituents and to others throughout the country. At the risk of making this sound like an Oscar speech, it would be remiss of me not to thank those external organisations that have engaged with us in this process, those in the other place who have added so much to the Bill, Front and Back-Bench Members, Committee members and members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, who have carefully constructed the Bill. It is all a tribute to them, and to my Bill team who have unstintingly given their time and efforts to turn this into a good Bill. It will make a difference, and it will deliver Sir Michael's Pitts recommendations. There is more work to do of course, as there always is, but this is a singular step forward, and we should all be proud of the work that has gone into the Bill.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 25 agreed to.

4.25 pm

Sitting suspended (Order, 7 April).

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message to attend the lords commissioners

5.22 pm

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners delivered by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

The Speaker, with the House, went up to hear Her Majesty's Commission; on their return, the Speaker sat in the Clerk's place at the Table.

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