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There were also concerns that the Bill does not categorically end the automatic right for a new development to connect with the sewerage system, even if the system does not have the capacity to take the outflow from the new development. Although the Bill provides that all new sewers and drains must be built to universal build standards, it allows the connection of new sewers and drains to the public sewerage works even if these standards have not been complied with. The end of the automatic right to connect is one of Sir Michael Pitt's recommendations. We should like the Government to look again at this to ensure that no extra capacity can be placed on the system that might increase the risk of flooding of sewerage, a point referred to by my noble friend Lord Selborne.



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The adoption of the private lateral drains and sewers by water companies will help to consolidate the drainage system and will remove the risk of future liability and repair in the long term. However, we also believe that the 2011 timescale is unrealistic and that more consultation is needed and further clarity should be provided. Water companies have no idea as to the number of drains they will be adopting or whether the adoption is to include private pumping stations. It has been a flawed consultation and not all those affected, including small family drainage companies and relevant bodies, were consulted. Therefore we should like the Government to consider proposals which ensure a full audit of all private drains to be transferred, to establish the costs and implications involved.

In Clause 27, authorities are placed under a duty to aim to contribute to achieving sustainable development when exercising a flood or coastal risk management function. Under Clause 27(2), the Minister must publish guidance about the meaning of sustainable development. I often find that the words "sustainable development" mean different things to different people. Can the Minister say what he thinks sustainable development means in this context and indicate when we will see this guidance? It would be good to get this definition in the Bill.

It is clear from the accounts we have heard from communities stricken by flooding that this Bill is timely, even if it is not as complete as it could be. As my noble friend Lord Taylor pointed out, many of the families affected by the Cockermouth floods have yet to move back into their homes. Can the Minister give us the number of families and businesses affected by flooding which are still waiting to return to their properties? If he does not have accurate statistics, will he consider the merits of the recommendation in the Pitt report which proposed a monthly update, following major flooding incidents, of the recovery process and the number of people out of their properties? My honourable friends tabled an amendment to this effect in another place. We will consider bringing back a similar amendment here. Such a measure may help focus minds and prevent victims of flooding slipping off the radar.

My noble friends Lord Taylor and Lord Dixon-Smith raised questions on reservoirs, as did other noble Lords. How has the lower figure of 10,000 cubic metres, which is given in Schedule 4, been reached? I know that the Environment Agency is calling for it to be lowered to 10,000 cubic metres, but even it says that there have been only a handful of incidents at this level. Quite what "incidents" means, I do not know; "not life-threatening", I suspect. I understand that the last time a life was lost through reservoir damage was in the 1920s. I cannot see such a recommendation in the Pitt report. As my noble friend Lord Taylor mentioned, there could be an annual cost of £10,000 for carrying out risk assessments, which seems an excessive charge to levy on farmers and others who have done the right thing by capturing and storing water rather than extracting it from rivers. I hope that these measures will be about safety rather than putting extra burdens and costs on to small reservoir owners.

I was encouraged to see in the Environment Agency's own briefing that, in some cases, the regulatory impact will be reduced for those who own or maintain low-risk

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reservoirs with capacities above 25,000 cubic metres. It says that this could mean as many as 400 to 500 low-risk reservoirs being effectively deregulated. That is certainly welcome, although the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

As is clear from our wide ranging debate today, there is an appetite on all sides to improve the way in which we approach the management of our water resources. The Bill could be more comprehensive and it could be better, and we will no doubt aim to improve it in Committee. We have raised a number of issues today and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

7.07 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to a fascinating debate on a very important Bill. I record my pleasure and gratitude that all four noble Lords who spoke from the two Front Benches indicated their support in principle for the Bill. That did not stop them in any way, shape or form introducing their inevitable caveats, some of them quite principled. I shall do my best to indicate the Government's response to them.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who expressed those anxieties in their most graphic form, that we are of course planning for the Committee stage of the Bill. I cannot give him the precise date, because he will know that a short period has to elapse after Second Reading before Committee can begin, but we are planning-I cannot offer him greater assurance than that-to have a Committee stage on the Bill. I have the greatest confidence that we will do so, with the sole proviso that, if the general election intervened much earlier than any of us had thought, that assurance would not be worth a great deal. However, against the perspective that most noble Lords, I think, and most of the country think that we will run towards Easter at the very least before any significant announcement, we shall have a Committee stage on the Bill and seek to make progress. I am comforted by my confidence that there will be a Committee stage, because I am not sure how I would be able to respond in anything like a tolerable time to the many points that have inevitably been raised today and which presage Committee stage debates. Nevertheless, there are some quite fundamental issues at stake and I want to reply to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, supported by his colleague, the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, asked who bears responsibility and whether the Bill is clear on this. I had great support at hand. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, was able to speak on behalf of the Environment Agency about its role. He was supported by his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Young. She said how much the Environment Agency and she had looked forward to a Bill that would seek to define these issues in the way in which this one does.

The Bill sets out to ensure that all sources of flood risk are addressed and it provides clarity on who is responsible for what at both national and local levels. Local authorities will lead the management of local flood risk, while existing roles for delivery organisations will be retained wherever possible to ensure the continual engagement of local knowledge and expertise. It was

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suggested that our emphasis on the county councils in a particular role took away from the district authorities. We will retain a position where expertise exists, but the Bill provides the considerable flexibility that is necessary for delivery on the ground. It seeks to promote partnership, which is a concept behind the Bill that I stressed in my opening contribution. There is a requirement for all bodies to co-operate and share information. This is meant to be a co-operative exercise. The Environment Agency's national overview is formalised in its duty to prepare the strategy and guidance. This will support local roles and partnerships rather than prescribing actions.

My noble friend Lord Giddens raised a dramatic additional dimension when he talked about the relationship of the Bill to climate change. He was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. The Environment Agency is already involved in 100-year projections with regard to flood risk and coastal erosion. It is not a new concept that one has to project a long time ahead. I will come in more detail to the points raised by my noble friend Lord Giddens and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. The Bill fits within the necessity of addressing the very real issues of climate change.

I was grateful that my noble friend Lord Giddens took time out to emphasise the rigour of the science that conditions all serious authorities in the world to address themselves to the issue of climate change, however inadequately in some cases, although not in our case-we have been very concerned about the issue and have given considerable leadership on it. It is important that we appreciate that the Bill is constructed within that framework. We have to come to terms with more erratic weather patterns and ones that have greater severity and impact on our citizens.

The issue of reservoirs was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, in his opening remarks and he was followed in a most informed fashion by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, who is the owner of a reservoir and therefore speaks with additional authority. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, and others went on to describe what 10,000 cubic metres of water might look like if it was contained at the far end of this Chamber and was let loose upon us all.

The new approach to reservoir safety introduced by the Bill will ensure that the controls to be applied to individual reservoirs are proportionate to risk. Reservoirs that pose no or low risk to the public will be exempt from the routine supervision and inspection currently required under the Reservoirs Act 1975. This will be the case for many farm reservoirs, such as the reservoir of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, which is one-tenth of the size that is mentioned in the Bill, as he will recognise, and those golf courses that contain supplies of water given their considerable use of it for the courses. We make no apology, however, for requiring the owners of reservoirs that could present a risk to people to take reasonable steps to manage those risks. We intend to keep the registration requirements for small reservoirs as simple and as straightforward as possible. We shall consult widely on the arrangements to be made and there will be no charge for registration, so I reassure the House that that matter has been considered very seriously.



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The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, inevitably stole some of the lines that he knew others were likely to pursue on the Bill. I do not blame him whatsoever for that, but he would have known, when he started to speak about the concessionary charges for community groups regarding drainage, that the right reverend Prelate was waiting his turn to make his case on them. He must also have known that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was not going to talk about cathedrals and churches in this context, knowing full well that that would be presented elsewhere, but that he would bring the scout halls and community clubs into the picture.

The Government are of course absolutely clear that we do not want community groups to face unaffordable increases in their water bills as a result of site area charging for surface water drainage and we expect undertakers to ensure that that is the case. Ofwat will ensure that undertakers have had regard to the guidance that we will provide when approving individual charges systems. We intend to address that matter and Ofwat will be charged with taking account of that guidance. We seek to avoid a situation that I recall rather graphically, because it was from the spiritual Bench that the question was first addressed in this House. I remember my shock when I realised just how much the costs had gone up; the right reverend Prelate referred today to those increasing costs for churches and cathedrals in particular areas. We will make sure that fairness obtains regarding that matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, also identified, rightly-I think that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, followed him on this matter-that the Bill does not provide for all the aspects on which the Walker or Cave reports enjoined the Government to take action in due course, after full consultation. Nor are we in the position that we are able fully to incorporate everything to do with the Pitt report. This is a relatively modest Bill, but it responds to the urgency of the situation and, with co-operation on all sides, we expect it to gain Royal Assent. That is why it is constrained by the timescale.

Another point of the noble Earl's argument was that it was a pity that the Bill was introduced on exactly the same day as regulations that impact in this area. That was a coincidence in a period where, had we had a full parliamentary Session, we would have been able to address these issues from that time on. I reassure him that we expect the regulations and the Bill to be consolidated in due course. He is quite right that there is a considerable interlocking, if not an overlap, between the two positions.

There were questions on water use. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, covered the point about anxieties over the code of practice regarding hosepipe bans and the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, gave us a graphic illustration of what might go wrong because of uncertainty. We all know that there have been uncertainties in the past over how long such bans would last and so on. I emphasise that we welcome the great interest in this issue, reflecting that it is appreciated on all sides that we need to conserve water and that, from time to time, constraints will be enforced. It is essential that the water companies have some flexibility with regard to this response. The patterns can vary in

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different parts, even of England, so the necessity for a hosepipe ban in one area may not obtain in another. Different circumstances require different solutions.

We will work with the water companies through the statutory drought planning process to ensure that their revised drought plans set out clearly how they anticipate using their powers, including their broad priorities for conserving water and the types of concessions or phasings they propose to introduce. We will also ensure that they take account of stakeholders' and customers' views. As a first step, we will meet the water companies when the Bill obtains Royal Assent to explore how they can work together and with stakeholders to develop a framework for managing the necessary flexibility of these powers, while at the same time giving the public the best service that they can and the greatest certainty about what is expected of them.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raised some fundamental issues. With the development of the debate, he probably thought that-a great deal having been said about the necessary role of the Environment Agency-he had some reassurance for his concern about significant infrastructure. We expect the Environment Agency to concentrate only on the most important features or assets in the most critical locations, where the consequences of removal or modification of the assets would be significant. It would take into account the current state of repair and whether an alternative arrangement is appropriate. I assure the noble Lord that we do not expect vast sections of crucial infrastructure to be taken out by the Environment Agency-far from it. It will work on the basis that it will act only within the constraints of great necessity.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, also raised an issue with regard to Clause 27. We want to pin down more precisely in guidance just what is expected of flood and erosion risk management when carrying out such functions. The definitions in the guidance will be based on accepted definitions of government policy at the time. I know that the noble Lord will say, "There is a Minister seeking to avoid a precise definition in the Bill of sustainable development". The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is best placed to know that sustainable development must be an evolving concept that follows change. In this framework, therefore, we are concerned that we use the concept in the guidance to guide the authorities. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would be the first to point out that, if we gave the rigid definition that he referred to in the Bill, it might well be that things had moved on in such a way as to render the definition irrelevant and inappropriate almost as soon as the Bill came into force. I emphasise again that it is right that the Government address themselves to this issue in terms of the sustainable functions. I am not prepared to accept the noble Lord's kind invitation to give a definition of sustainable development at this time.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, also raised the question of the responsibility of the approving body for the SUDS. I emphasise here that we think that we have got it right. We have consulted fully on this. We know why we want the county councils to have their wider responsibilities under the lead local flood authority role in Part 1 of the Bill. That was debated fully in the other place. I heard noble Lords say that more time

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could have been made available there, but there was considerable debate on all the crucial issues, as there certainly was on this one. I recognise that we are bound to return to it because the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, indicated his intention to do that. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, followed that in his wind-up speech, and I take on board the fact that I have not heard the last of the issue in the context of this Bill.

I emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, who raised some fundamental questions, that Clause 22 provides for the Environment Agency to set out the boundaries for the new regional flood and coastal committees, which will be able to take account of hydraulic catchments and other considerations. I understand the point that has been made about the catchment areas, but it is the task and ability of the Environment Agency to take that into account in its broad strategies. I also appreciated the point that the noble Lord made about the guidance on soft engineering techniques. We envisage that the national strategy produced by the Environment Agency will set out the range of approaches to be used in managing flood and coastal erosion risks. The draft national strategy is expected to be published for public consultation in the autumn. We have a great deal of work to do before then, but we will address the point that the noble Lord raised.

I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter feels that I gave him an adequate response when I spoke earlier about the important point that he raised on costs. We will be able to control the issues in that area.

The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, raised the issue of mapping, which worried me a little. He is absolutely right to say that the issues regarding revenue flows for the Ordnance Survey are still to be resolved. The issue of the availability of maps for the work involved in relation to the Bill is very important. We are concerned to set up a business model for the Ordnance Survey that makes it viable, and there must be a sustainable long-term funding mechanism for its process. That issue must be resolved given that the necessary maps will be used by the bodies empowered under the Bill. I am grateful to the noble Earl for raising the issue.

My noble friend Lord Giddens dramatically introduced wider issues regarding climate change. He was a little unfair on the insurance industry, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, helped to inform the House. The principles that he suggested go a long way back-a decade or so-were in fact updated in 2008 following a joint review. We have improved our understanding of flood risk by assessing the probability and consequences of flooding, and we published a new national flood risk assessment in June 2009. Our understanding of risk from service water is improving and service water vulnerability maps are provided to local resilience forums and local authorities.

I was of course extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, who identified just how much progress must be made on the issue of insurance, which my noble friend Lord Giddens indicated was one of his key concerns. Inevitably we will have to address this matter against the background of the climate change factors that will have to be considered.

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I should emphasise that the Government are fully charged on that point, within the context of that framework. I am not sure that I can go quite as far as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who suggested that there should be a statement at the start of every Bill in this area, but we would be failing in our duty if we did not accept the principle that he adumbrated and which my noble friend Lord Giddens had already identified.

I have nothing to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, about fly-tipping, except to say that, like her, I lament its occurrence. It is never anything less than a blight on our landscape. It is dangerous in the countryside, and perhaps not quite as harmful in the towns, but we deplore the practice in any environment. Although I accept what she says, I have no immediate legal solution. As she knows, it is illegal and there are significant penalties for those who fly-tip. However, when there are complaints from the farming community, there is always a difficulty in identifying the culprit. That is a real danger. The noble Baroness has also played her part in expressing concern about the scouts and guide associations, and I assure her that we have taken that matter on board.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, asked about the delayed recommendations, including matters such as the national emergency framework. We are working on that. Every noble Lord has been kind enough to say which areas of the Bill they support in broad principle. However, it is accepted that the legislation is not all-encompassing, as that would extend it to a size that would immediately bring complaints from some sections of the Opposition about it being too large. The noble Duke mentioned several factors that I understand entirely would have led to a much lengthier and more extensive Bill. He referred to the 1991 Act consolidating the water industry. We currently have no plans to do that but further water legislation will be required to bring about reforms recommended by Anna Walker and Martin Cave, to whom I referred earlier. We explored at that time whether it would be appropriate to introduce the consolidation measure about which the noble Duke advised us to think seriously. I hope he feels that we have indicated our response on the definition of the lead local flood authority. If I have not answered that question well enough, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken on behalf of the Environment Agency and its role and subsequent definition.

As I said, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for his unique contribution on the insurance industry, I do not have the slightest doubt that it is of the greatest importance and that we need to make progress.

I have heard of the elephant in the room, and whenever I think of the elephant in the Chamber, I always think that, for Ministers, there are usually several of them. The one that was articulated gently today but which is of greatest concern is the question of funding. Funding is outwith the Bill and there is no reason why it should have the allocation of resources within it. However, I can give noble Lords an assurance. We have not introduced the Bill against any background other than our clear realisation that, when putting obligations on other agencies-the Environment Agency,

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and particularly local government in terms of county and district councils-they will have made it clear that they expect to be fully funded for the additional role to which the Bill enjoins them. We are discussing these issues with them and can expect no other from the local authorities in these terms. I give an assurance that the Government intend to meet that commitment.

The Bill is intended not only to receive Royal Assent and be enacted but to be implemented, because we are all aware of the facts. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, told us that he had visited Cumbria and seen the devastation. One of the features is that defences erected for Carlisle saved that town, but that was not the case for other parts of the north-west, particularly Cockermouth and the surrounding area. We know that we have to have this Bill in place; we know the urgency of it; and I know that all noble Lords appreciate that, which is why broad, principled support has been given to it. I have not the slightest doubt that we are going to have an interesting and exciting time in Committee; I hope, however, that it will be conducive to the Bill reaching the statute book.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.


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