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Pitt Report

Volume 479: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

A total of £34.5 million has been provisionally set aside to deal with the recommendations in Sir Michael Pitt’s report. I will fully consider the recommendations before making a final allocation and response with a costed action plan this autumn.

As Sir Michael makes no fewer than 92 recommendations, is the Secretary of State satisfied that the money that he has set aside will be sufficient to implement them? Many hinge on better joint working between the various agencies, and a good job of work remains to be done in that regard. What assurances can he give the House about Sir Michael Pitt’s ongoing reporting to Parliament about the progress of the implementation of his practical recommendations—or will we just have to wait for the recriminations after the next deluge hits us?

The hon. Gentleman’s last comment is a bit unfair. I will continue to report to the House about the progress being made in implementing the recommendations. As I told the House when I made my statement, Sir Michael will have a continuing role. Only last week, indeed, in the light of his report and together with him, I met the heads of all the agencies and bodies involved to see what further progress has been made, and what more we need to do together. From memory, Sir Michael has said that about 80 per cent. of his recommendations call for a different way of doing things, and do not require additional expenditure. I shall weigh all that up when, as I promised, I report back to the House with the plan in the autumn.

In Sir Michael’s report he lays emphasis on the importance of improving the resilience of utilities’ facilities where there are cases of severe flooding. What reassurance, pursuant to the last answer given by the Minister of State, can the Secretary of State give me that the cost of utilities improving the resilience of their facilities in view of flooding will not be passed on to consumers, but will come from the balance sheets of the companies?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, ultimately that is a matter for the regulator, but I am able to report to the House that National Grid has purchased 1.2 km of relocatable defences like the ones that were used to protect Walham during the flooding last year; CE Electric has purchased seven temporary defence kits; and EDF Energy has also purchased a number. The National Grid and Central Networks have put defences around Walham and Castlemead substations following the floods last year. That demonstrates to the House how, now that all of us have had a wake-up call, the utility companies are responding.

My right hon. Friend will realise that one of the missing parts of the jigsaw is the Humber, the Trent and the Tame river basin flood strategy, which we shall probably have in two years’ time. Until that part is in place, does he believe that local authorities and other interested parties can take the best possible future measures?

We have made it very clear in the decisions that we have taken that the Environment Agency will now have overall responsibility for dealing with flooding from whatever source, and that local authorities will lead on surface water flooding. That was what Sir Michael recommended, and we shall now put it in place, through a flood and water Bill. Clearly it takes time for some of those plans to come forward. The other practical contribution that we are making, of course, is to provide more money for flood defence.

The Government are not displaying any sense of urgency whatever. They have failed to come forward with a detailed action plan, which is the least that the Secretary of State could do to satisfy the House, and to satisfy the victims of last summer’s floods; already one year has passed since then. The Government are embarking on a consultation on the restructuring of internal drainage boards. They probably have more engineers; we know from the Select Committee report that there is a shortage. What are the implications for ongoing maintenance of this restructuring? Will there be even fewer engineers at the end of the restructuring?

First, I do not accept what the hon. Lady says about how we have responded to what happened last year. Indeed, she does not have to take my word for it; she just has to look at what Sir Michael said in his interim report about the urgent recommendations, and what he said in his final report about the progress that has been made. Secondly, we are carrying out the consultation to ensure that the contribution of internal drainage boards can be as effective as possible, and clearly we have no intention of doing something that will make it more difficult for them to do their job effectively; on the contrary.