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Session 2009 - 10
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Flood and Water Management Bill

Flood and Water Management Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Christopher Chope, † Mr. Eric Martlew
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab)
Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Grogan, Mr. John (Selby) (Lab)
Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD)
Irranca-Davies, Huw (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab)
McIntosh, Miss Anne (Vale of York) (Con)
Morden, Jessica (Newport, East) (Lab)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
Smith, Chloe (Norwich, North) (Con)
Turner, Mr. Andrew (Isle of Wight) (Con)
Watkinson, Angela (Upminster) (Con)
Williams, Mr. Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)
Wright, David (Telford) (Lab)
Mick Hillyard, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee


Huw Irranca-Davies, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Martin Hurst, Director of Water, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Simon Hewitt, Divisional Manager of Water, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 7 January 2010


[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair]

Flood and Water Management Bill

9 am
The Chairman: Before we begin, I have a few announcements. It is customary at this stage to tell Members that they can take off their jackets if they wish. If you wish to put your overcoats on today, I do not mind. Please ensure that you turn off any electrical devices, or put them on silent.
Members are reminded that there is a money resolution in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available in the room. I remind Members that they should give adequate notice of amendments. To be eligible for selection at a Tuesday sitting, amendments must be tabled by the rise of the House on the previous Thursday. For a Thursday sitting, amendments must be tabled by the previous Monday. As a general rule, my co-Chairman and I will not take starred amendments.
Not everyone is familiar with the procedures for taking oral evidence in Public Bill Committees so it might be helpful if I explain briefly how we will proceed. The Committee will first be asked to consider the programme motion on the amendment paper. That debate is limited to half an hour. We will proceed to a motion to report written evidence and a motion to permit the Committee to deliberate in private in advance of the oral evidence, which I hope we can take formally. Assuming that the three motions are agreed, the Committee will move into private session. Once the Committee has deliberated, witnesses and members of the public will be invited back into the room and the oral evidence session will commence at about 9.30 am.
If the Committee agrees to the programme motion, it will hear oral evidence today and revert to more formal clause-by-clause scrutiny next week. We expect to hear from all or the majority of the witnesses today, weather permitting. If there are gaps in the programme, we will have to be flexible and may have to amend the programme motion to take account of them.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): I beg to move,
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.00 am on Thursday 7 January) meet—
(a) at 1.00 pm on Thursday 7 January;
(b) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 12 January;
(c) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 14 January;
(d) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 19 January;
(e) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 21 January;
(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following Table:
Thursday 7 January
Until no later than 10.25 am
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Thursday 7 January
Until no later than 2.00 pm
Environment Agency; Local Government Association; Local Government Flood Forum; Local Government Information Unit
Thursday 7 January
Until no later than 3.00 pm
National Farmers Union; Association of Drainage Authorities; Association of British Insurers; Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Woodland Trust; National Flood Forum
Thursday 7 January
Until no later than 4.00 pm
Water Services Regulation Authority (“OFWAT”); Water UK; Consumer Council for Water
(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 30; Schedule 1; Clause 31; Schedule 2; Clause 32; Schedule 3; Clause 33; Schedule 4; Clause 34; Schedule 5; Clauses 35 to 46; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 21 January.
The Bill has received all the usual forms of scrutiny. A draft Bill, which was much wider than the current Bill, was published on 21 April. Consultation closed on 24 July. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee scrutinised the draft Bill and produced a report on 23 September. We are bringing forward the most pressing elements of that package in the Bill.
The Bill will deliver the measures needed to implement Sir Michael Pitt’s review of the 2007 floods. It will put in place much needed changes on water policy to protect water resources and services to customers. In short, the Bill is Pitt and pithy.
We have listened and then adapted and improved the Bill. For example, it will give new environmental powers to the Environment Agency and local authorities. Flood risk management authorities will have a new sustainability duty, similar to that of the Environment Agency.
Anna Walker published a report on charging and metering last month. Her review, and that of Martin Cave, raise significant and complex issues. Those are being addressed, but that should not be rushed.
The most pressing policy issues, including those that have come to prominence since the publication of the draft Bill, such as concessionary schemes for surface water drainage charges, are included in the Bill. Given the widespread support for tackling bad debt in the water industry, I will produce the necessary legislation on that issue as soon as parliamentary time allows. We firmly intend to bring forward legislation on all remaining issues set out in the April consultation paper. However, we simply cannot do them full justice now. I think that we should avoid debating matters that do not need to be legislated on now.
I want to address one particular issue in the Bill that is of widespread concern. We have undertaken to ensure that local authorities are properly funded for the activities they are to take on under the Bill. We believe that it is highly unlikely that authorities will be underfunded or spend more than our assessment suggests. On all matters, including private sewers, we have taken full estimates of the costs and the conservative estimates of the savings, but we have undertaken to keep those costs and the assumptions underpinning them under review and, importantly, address shortfalls if they arise.
Furthermore, we are exploring the options for the long-term funding of the SUDS—sustainable drainage systems—maintenance. We will publish a clear way forward that takes account of circumstances faced by local authorities and developers in time for the implementation of the legislation set out in the Bill. That will ensure that local authorities will be able to implement SUDS with full certainty that there will be no gap in funding. I know that the funding is of critical importance to the Committee, and that has already been considered in the settlement working group, on which the Local Government Association is represented, so we can get a fair outcome there. That does not require legislation, so we do not need to delay debate on other matters.
I am pleased to say that the Bill, and particularly its flood management provisions, has broad support across the political spectrum, both in and outside Parliament. It will obviously be a great disappointment to people if we do not get it on the statute book in time in what is a necessarily short Session. I am looking forward to working with Committee members, many of whom have experienced at first hand the impact of flooding on their constituents, and to keeping the pace and focus we have already established. We have discussed the programme motion and I think that we have adequate time to do justice to the Bill.
The Chairman: The motion will be debated for the first half hour.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Now that the Minister has made an opening statement, I would like to say a few words, not on the programme motion, but on the inadequate time we have for debate. I regret that we lost two evidence sessions—
The Chairman: That is the programme motion, so you are in order.
Miss McIntosh: Thank you. I regret that the Minister withdrew two of the scrutiny sessions and think that in time it will emerge that we needed them. I hope that the Committee can co-operate to consider as many of the important aspects of the Bill as possible in the limited time available.
The Minister referred to bad debt. Why does he feel that separate legislation is needed? There is, I believe, scope for political agreement on that issue, so why can we not agree on the wording of an amendment in that regard? If he is willing, we are prepared to table an amendment along those lines. As he is aware, there is also an issue relating to two-tier local government, rather than the unitary level of government, about which tier is best placed to apply and adapt the risk management strategy. There is scope for an element of flexibility, and I hope that he will agree that we should leave it to the local councils to agree. The issue, in a nutshell, is that the district councils are responsible for planning permission, and therefore directly involved in setting up the SUDS, but in fact the county council, in a strict interpretation of the Bill, will lead.
On the whole question of SUDS, I think that the Minister now might have an opportunity to explain why there is nothing in the Bill on the history of SUDS, what the present legislation relating to them is and what regime covers them. I agree entirely with him that the issue of resources is absolutely fundamental if the Bill is to be a success. He needs to set out in the limited time available how he will be able to do that. What new resources will be made available to his strong environmental agency team that is supporting him on the Bill and to local government?
I challenge the Minister, formally, on his sums. As private drains are currently not maintained by local authorities, I do not see where the savings he has costed will come from. My understanding is that private drains are the responsibility of their owners, and the owners of the drains are not, for the most part, the local authorities. I think that he is on the back foot with regard to the financing and resources available. We wish to lend all the support we possibly can, but I think that he is weak on the funding.
Another omission in the Bill, which we have addressed and hope that the Minister will confirm that there will be time within the limited programme to cover, is the Pitt recommendation of regular maintenance being done and being seen to be done. With regard to the one-in-1,000-years flood that we saw recently in Cumbria—I know that one distinguished Member has been directly affected by it as has the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury, the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham)—I hope that the Committee will accommodate our request to have a direct reference in the Bill to the need for maintenance at every level, possibly by the highways authorities. In passing the overall strategy to the Environment Agency, with which we agree, I hope that the Minister will be open to discussing a dispute resolution mechanism and an appeals procedure to avoid the Environment Agency’s being seen to make arbitrary decisions.
One of the biggest omissions in the Bill is, I think, a drafting error that can be addressed, so we have tabled some amendments in that regard. It was the wish of the Government—it was certainly Pitt’s wish—to end the automatic right to connect. The way in which the Bill is currently drafted means that the Government do not achieve that, so I hope that the Minister will look favourably at that and allow time for debate and approval of amendments. He may even wish to improve on the amendments; we are open to discussions on that. There is scope for bringing a real end to the automatic right to connect that has led to so many of the surface water flooding incidents that we have seen in 2000, 2005 and most particularly in 2007. We welcome in-depth debates on a number of clauses, including clauses 9, 36 and 41.
One final omission for which we need to have scope in the programme is mapping. We must address once and for all the co-ordination and sharing of the mapping that we know is being done by many different bodies, including the insurance companies.
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Prepared 8 January 2010