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The reality is that there is good co-operation at a regional level between the Environment Agency and the regional committees. Therefore, that has not yet become an issue. However, I put a marker down that, if at some stage we were to have a catastrophic flood with substantial loss of life-and I hope we never do-we would have to revisit that area of lack of clarity about responsibility.

Irrespective of the clarity that the Bill gives nerdy folk like you and me as to who does what, there are still many people and bodies involved in making decisions about flood risk management in this country. I suspect that the clarity in this Bill is not necessarily sufficient for the public. They will still feel very confused as to whether it is the responsibility of the regional flood and coastal committee, the Environment Agency, the local authority, the IDB or the water company. Although all those organisations may be working very well together, I wonder whether it is worth considering the propositions that were mooted some time ago of having a first-stop shop or single point of contact where the public can go and be led to the right authority by someone knowledgeable who understands the nature of the flood experience that they are having or the query that they are making so that they are taken through what will still be quite a complex system.

The Bill does not resolve the issue of money, which has two dimensions. First, there is the issue, which I am sure will come up in Committee, of funding for local authorities for their new surface-water drainage roles and certain funding for local authorities in their new roles with sustainable urban drainage systems. Nevertheless, while the work of the committee announced by the Minister is undertaken, I hope that we can encourage local authorities not to sit and wait for resolution of the funding issue. I believe that the public are anxious that the issues of surface-water drainage and sustainable urban drainage are gripped now and I urge local authorities not to wait for the resolution of the funding issue but to begin to put in place the very necessary plans and programmes which will be required.

The second money issue is the Environment Agency's own long-term investment strategy, highlighting the need for about £1 billion of investment per annum in the next few years, if we are to tackle the challenges of decaying flood defences and increased pressures as a result of climate change. I know that asking questions about money at this time in the economic cycle is a waste of time; I am simply putting down a marker that those questions do not necessarily go away just because we are broke. The investment outlined in the long-term investment strategy was reasonable to counteract the worst risk, but not every risk.

I hope your Lordships will enjoy this wonderful Bill. I hope its passage will be fast, as it is most important that the wretched thing gets on to the statute book so that everyone can work together to help to protect the nation from floods and to pick up all the other water issues included in the Bill.

6.31 pm

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, at the outset I declare an interest: I am the chairman of an insurance broking organisation. I welcome this Bill as I recognise that a

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binding agreement on flood risk management is long overdue. The recent floods in Cumbria caused widespread devastation, surpassed only by the 2007 floods which resulted in 13 deaths and extensive damage to properties at a cost of over £3 billion. The Environment Agency announced that the severe flooding in Cumbria last year was a phenomenon to be expected only once every 1,000 years. Although the circumstances were unforeseen, they can serve as a catalyst for better flood preparation in the future.

Many homes and businesses have been ruined by the effects of torrential floods; livelihoods have been shattered and in some cases, irreplaceable items have been destroyed. The Association of British Insurers has estimated that payouts resulting from the floods in Cumbria alone will be made in the region of between £50 million to £100 million, and may even surpass that figure. Flood damage has caused considerable losses to the insurance industry, which may result in the charging of higher premiums and application of terms in areas which are prone to floods. One in six homes in the United Kingdom is at risk from flooding. Better flood management and funding is essential to provide those at highest risk with adequate assistance.

In many instances the psychological damage caused by these floods will be difficult to overcome. Affected communities should be given additional emotional support through initiatives such as counselling for those who wish to make use of the service. The Bill provides developers with the responsibility to make sustainable drainage systems available in housing and commercial properties. An effective framework is needed to minimise the economic and social upheaval caused by flooding. Central and local governments must work together to successfully tackle flooding and give leadership to local communities on how best to prepare and equip themselves for floods.

There is growing concern that many individuals are unaware that they live or work in areas that are prone to floods or coastal erosion. A number of people in Cumbria did not arrange insurance cover and, as a result, have suffered financial hardship. What steps will the Government take to raise awareness of possible flooding in high-risk areas so that individuals can seek adequate insurance protection? There are specialist insurance brokers who can provide appropriate cover in areas which are prone to flooding. This legislation must end the confusion over which bodies have responsibility for flood-risk management. Although the Environment Agency should have an overview of all types of flooding, local communities have an important role to play as their knowledge and expertise is crucial to rescue efforts, both during and after flooding.

The Pitt review called for the allocation of clearly defined roles for flood management. It is encouraging to see that this recommendation is a requirement of the Bill. I welcome Clauses 7 and 8 as they make it incumbent on the Environment Agency to devise a strategy for flood and coastal-erosion risk management in both England and Wales. We need, however, to examine details of these clauses at later stages of the Bill. The agency should have the full confidence of both central and local government-related agencies to adequately develop a strategy that is free from political

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or commercial bias. It is important for the agency to present regular reports to policy-makers that include independent flood-risk assessments which also detail funding requirements and proposals for dealing with imminent floods. The agency should also devise a long-term plan for flood-risk management and must be given responsibility for creating accurate, national flood maps covering all sources of water damage to be made available to the public. There are opportunities for the Environment Agency to consult with tertiary institutions to promote the research and skills required for effective flood and coastal-erosion risk management.

I support Clause 13 as it ensures that local authorities communicate and co-operate with relevant bodies concerning flood and coastal-risk management. Resources such as flood maps are essential to the industry. There is scope for local agencies to collaborate with the Environment Agency in the production of local flood-risk maps. Local authorities have the potential to become the leading agencies in charge of assessing local flood risk in specific areas. Insurers and loss adjusters have a duty to advise local communities susceptible to flooding whether they should build in flood resistance to best prepare their homes for possible floods.

I welcome the provision which grants greater power to local authorities when managing flood risks as they are best placed to deal with the initial effects of flooding due to their knowledge of their areas. The proposal to promote multi-agency co-operation is also encouraging. A lack of broad agency collaboration has been cited as one of the barriers to effective flood management. Local authorities must work in concert with the Environment Agency to enable the development of a national overview of surface-water flood risk.

I agree with Clause 35 which proposes to regulate the provision of infrastructure by a third party for the eventual use by water or sewerage undertakers. I support Clause 36, which amends the Water Industry Act 1991 to enable water companies to prevent or restrict the use of water at times when serious shortages occur, or are at risk of occurring. We have had situations in this country when there has been a lack of rain and a shortage of water. The use of water must be controlled under these circumstances. However, we must work out the details, perhaps in the form of issuing a suitable code. I will add that during the last drought, I lived in a house with five acres of grounds and encountered great difficulty in keeping my plants alive because of the hosepipe bans.

Water companies should be free to impose charges for connecting new developments to give access to sewerage and water networks. They also have a duty to ensure that new developments do not increase the risk of future damage. Clause 38 allows the Environment Agency to engage in works that may cause flooding, provided this is in the interests of natural conservation or civic enjoyment. I hope that the conditions of the clause will be examined in more detail in Committee.

We need to examine the provisions of Clause 39, which allows lead authorities or internal drainage boards to carry out works under certain conditions that will or may cause flooding, an increase in the amount of water below the ground, or coastal erosion.

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I welcome Clause 42, which introduces a new section into the Water Industry Act 1991 that requires the owners of premises and sewers to connect with the public sewer. This requirement is, first, on the proviso that an adoption agreement exists between the owner of the sewer and the sewerage undertaker; and also that the agreement must include details concerning the standards that the constructed sewer or drain should meet. In most cases, repairs will be carried out in accordance with the same regulations that did not prevent water damage occurring in the first place. I would like to see a provision that will ensure that construction repairs are made in such a way as to prevent future floods from causing the same degree of damage. This would in turn reduce the costs and the level of disruption to local community groups. I recommend that local housing authorities be asked to provide low-cost insurance in high flood risk areas, perhaps on the lines of tenants' contents insurance with rent schemes. This should gain wide support.

I am concerned at the number of householders and businesses without appropriate insurance who, in the event of flooding, will encounter financial and personal hardships. It is encouraging to witness broad political consensus for the majority of proposals in the Bill. I am confident that it will be adequately strengthened during its passage through your Lordships' House. We have a duty to ensure that the Bill greatly contributes towards managing the rising threat of water damage, which is critical for the 5 million properties nationwide that are most at risk of flooding.

6.44 pm

Lord Tope: My Lords, we have had a good and interesting debate this evening. It is pleasing to reflect that, particularly so close to a general election, we have such an important and significant Bill before the House and such widespread support for it from all corners of the House. That is a tribute, first, to the work of the Environment Agency in helping to bring us to this point. I will say from these Benches that it is a tribute, secondly, to the way in which the Government have approached the Bill, particularly in the other place. As the Minister said in his opening comments, there was a collegiate approach and a willingness to listen, to consider concerns, to reflect on them and, in a number of cases, to come back and address them before the Bill left the other place. All that is welcome and contributes to the general support that the Bill has received this evening. Nobody has said anything other than that we all wish to see the Bill on the statute book as soon as possible. I repeat the commitment given by my noble friend Lord Greaves when he opened from these Benches that the Liberal Democrats will do all that we can to co-operate and ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book by the end of this Session.

However, the debate has been going on because there are still concerns. Many of them have been raised and many questions have been asked. Many references have been made to what we must explore in Committee but, with the exception of my noble friend Lord Greaves, we have been carrying on as if what we know is going to happen is not going to happen at all: the general election and the dissolution of Parliament.

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If the general election is to be on 6 May, then dissolution must take place not later than 12 April, which is the Monday after Easter Monday-in other words, immediately after the Easter Recess, or quite possibly before that.

Time is very short and we do not realistically have time to go through the normal processes of this House in examining and scrutinising the Bill. That is a great shame and a matter of great regret, because the Bill has so much general support. That might sound contrary, but what this House does particularly well is asking questions and probing the Government not so much on what will happen but on how it will happen. That is where many of the concerns still arise. They are not about what we are going to do, as there is broad agreement about that, but about how we are going to do it, as that is still unknown and untested. What this House does well, partly because we do not have the time constraints that the other place has, is pressing the Government to make them think about that and work through the process not just in Committee, where the questions are asked, but on Report, when some of the answers come back-even at Third Reading we can come back and make a good Bill an even better Bill. I regret that we almost certainly will not have time to go properly through that process.

I am tempted to ask the Minister to give us the date of the general election. I suspect that he probably will not, so I shall try another tack. Can he tell us when Parliament will be dissolved? If he will not do that-and I suspect that he will not-I hope that he will give as much reassurance as he can that there will be a Committee stage for the Bill. There is a suspicion that the Bill is having its Second Reading because it must in order to get into the wash-up. None of us would dispute that, but once it has had its Second Reading it does not need to have any further consideration because there is such general support and it will be carried through during the wash-up. I therefore press the Minister, not with great expectations, to indicate to us what dates the business managers have in mind for Committee, should the Prime Minister allow us to have one. I hope that the Minister will do that, because the Committee will be an important part of the consideration of the Bill, even if we are not able to go further with it. It will guide us in the discussions that will take place in the wash-up.

There are a number of outstanding concerns, most of which have been aired tonight. I lead for our party on local government, so let me start with some of the concerns coming from local government and from the Local Government Association. At this point, I have to declare my interest. I do not own a pub-sadly-but I am a London borough councillor. The London boroughs have been unitary authorities since they were created 45 years ago, so I do not have a personal interest in districts and counties and two-tier authorities. However, that is one of the concerns about the approval process for SUDS-I cannot help wondering about SUDS and wash-ups at this stage. As my noble friend Lord Greaves said-he is a district councillor and a former county councillor, so has far more experience than I have-to give the power to approve SUDS not to district councils, which are planning authorities, but to the county authorities, which do not usually

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become involved in development control matters, must at best be a recipe for delay, for more bureaucracy and for more duplication. It is not sensible. That view is quite strongly supported by the Local Government Association, which represents both district councils and county councils and often declines to take a view where there are such disagreements. There is a strong measure of agreement on this important issue and I hope that the Government will consider it further.

The next issue that all local authorities would raise at any time, but particularly given the financial outlook ahead, is the funding burden. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, that no one will try to hold up either the enactment of the Bill or more particularly its implementation while we try to resolve the funding issues. The Local Government Association regrets-I am sorry, rejects, although it also regrets-Defra's funding model on two fundamental grounds. It is not necessary to set them out tonight because they are well known to Defra.

In Committee in the other place, the Minister gave a commitment to set up a group involving Defra and the LGA to assess the costs and to look at how they are funded. I understand from the LGA that, although that commitment was given in Committee in the other place, the group does not even have its terms of reference yet, let alone the call to its first meeting. I therefore hope that the Minister can give us some encouragement about the progress that will be made in setting it up so that it can get on with trying to resolve these important issues, even if we accept that the Government are not going to delay enactment or even implementation.

Other concerns will be referred to the group, but because the group does not yet exist they cannot have had any attention paid to them. One concern is about the skills and training that are needed for the new flood authority role. Another is the sustainable funding system for SUDS. I hope that the group will be convened soon to look at those issues and that we will have news of progress during the Bill's consideration, whatever that will be, in this House.

A number of other issues were raised, including the community groups and the concessionary charges to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter and my noble friend Lord Addington referred-I sometimes think of my noble friend as a boy scout, so perhaps that is where this comes from-and the role of Ofwat in all this. These are important issues; if we can have a proper Committee stage, we can tease out more from the Government. My noble friend also talked about the "may/shall" issue. In other words, is this voluntary, as it is in the Bill, or should it be statutorily compulsory? That is not an unusual question when we consider legislation and it is particularly important here, so we need time to consider the matter.

Reservoirs were talked about and my noble friend Lord Greaves pointed out exactly what 10,000 cubic metres means. We sat in the Royal Gallery and said that we do not have a concept of what 10,000 cubic metres is like. The NFU described it as a small reservoir. I do not have the knowledge of reservoirs that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has. What is a small reservoir? It was explained to us that it is one and a

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half times the volume of the Royal Gallery, which gave me some concept of what it might be. Any catastrophic incident and flooding from it on that scale would have very serious implications for anyone living or with a business anywhere in the region. The Environment Agency is pretty clear that the vast majority of such reservoirs are unlikely to pose any risk at all. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, illustrated one reason why that might be. However, if any of them do, of course they should be registered we should know about it, and something should be done about it.

Questions of insurance have arisen again, which need to be probed and resolved. I was particularly interested in the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. I speak as a small vegetable gardener-the vegetables are quite small, and so is the garden-in suburban London. I understand well the problems of hosepipe bans and the watering difficulties in suburban London. It was irritating to have lush green lawns while my vegetables were withering; nobody seemed to be doing anything about it. Issues like that need to be addressed. We need time to consider this excellent Bill and to address the concerns and questions raised in this debate. I hope that the Minister can give us some comfort on that. However, at the end of the day, we will pass this Bill and it will go on the statute book.

6.55 pm

Earl Cathcart: My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest. I am a farmer and landowner and I am involved in property and insurance markets, all sectors which will be affected by measures in this Bill. Most of the measures we welcome, as my noble friend Lord Taylor made clear at the outset of this very informed and constructive debate. I share the concern that other noble Lords have expressed for the communities which have suffered such severe problems from flooding. I, too, recognise the pressing need for improving the way in which we prepare for flooding and manage our water.

The Bill is a welcome start, but it is only a start. We have recently had the Pitt, Cave and the Walker reviews. We have, therefore, been provided with a very broad body of research to consider. The Pitt report alone has 92 recommendations, whereas this Bill has but 49 clauses. That may be a somewhat rough comparison, but I hope that noble Lords will accept the point that there is much more that we could be looking at today. However, I accept that we are probably pressed for sufficient parliamentary time. Instead, it will fall to the next Government, as the Minister said, to consider all these matters affecting the water industry in their entirety.

I regret that the Government did not allow as much time in another place as was necessary to give full consideration to the Bill. At Report, my honourable friends tried to debate reservoirs, infrastructure projects and temporary water use bans, but were unable to do so, so scrutiny was not quite as thorough as it might have been. It is very much my hope that sufficient time will be found to allow this House the chance to do its job and subject the Bill to rigorous scrutiny, but that, too, may be in doubt.

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My noble friend Lord Selborne talked of the importance in the preparation of maps and other information, particularly water catchment maps, which reinforces the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and mentioned by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose. My noble friend Lord Selborne also called for the naming of who was responsible for each component part within the catchment area. That must be made clear.

I join my noble friend Lady Fookes in congratulating the Government on Clause 47, which concerns pre-consolidation amendments. It was interesting to hear her informed remarks about building on gardens with hard impermeable surfaces and her idea of water companies allowing watering on certain days of the week. My noble friend Lord Taylor tells me that that is done in France.

My noble friend Lord Taylor has set out our position on much of the Bill. Although, for example, we welcome the strategic overview role of the Environment Agency outlined in the Bill, which gives it a national responsibility for flood risk management while local authorities will have responsibility for local flood management strategies, we have concerns that the Bill is too centralising. We would like to see a balanced and common-sense approach, with a clear definition of roles, to avoid the cumbersome and unnecessary overlapping of different layers of Government in the efforts to deal with flooding. My noble friend Lady Byford reinforced the need to know who is responsible and for what. Where does the buck stop?

As my noble friend Lord Taylor said, we will examine in Committee, we hope, the role that local authorities and communities, with their local knowledge, can play in the preparation for flooding. It was heartening to hear the assurances given by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, that the Environment Agency will be working closely with local organisations.

My noble friend also touched on the Environment Agency's role of balancing whether the benefits of carrying out work will outweigh the damage to human health, the economy, infrastructure or the environment caused by the work. The question here is whether an unelected body should balance these competing interests and make these decisions rather than an elected representative, albeit with the Environment Agency's support. The original draft Bill did not give the Environment Agency the power to balance these competing interests; rather, it allowed it to carry out the work only when it explicitly did not create or increase the harmful effects.

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