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Flood and Water Management Bill

Volume 718: debated on Wednesday 17 March 2010

Committee (1st Day)

If there is a Division in the Chamber while the Committee is sitting, we will adjourn as soon as the Division bells ring and resume after 10 minutes.

Title postponed.

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed.

Clause 3 : “Risk management”

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 3, page 3, line 8, at end insert—

“( ) entering into voluntary financial arrangements with landowners to keep specified fields ready to receive and hold back water in time of flood and to pay additional compensation for crop loss and soil damage when such flooding occurs”

For the purpose of the whole Committee stage of the Bill, I declare my interests as a farmer, landowner and as a member of the CLA and NFU.

Clause 3(3) contains a long list of arrangements that can be made in connection with flood risk or coastal erosion risk management. I realise that the list is not, as the Explanatory Notes say, exhaustive or limiting. As I said at Second Reading, I was surprised that there was no mention of the one recourse against flooding that serves to hold back the water of a catchment as opposed to merely accelerating it around the sensitive areas. Clause 3(3)(b) mentions,

“maintaining or restoring natural processes”,

but that does not really cover it. We are not necessarily talking about natural processes. Perhaps I can explain.

I am proposing a series of voluntary arrangements or agreements entered into willingly by two separate parties. The local authority enters into a contract with the landowner or farmer who is paid to prepare a field, fields or water meadows for flood relief. There are many examples of what it could be; the local authority might want to dig a two-foot bank around a group of fields or the edge of a field, or the farmer merely puts a 9-inch ploughed strip around the field. It could also involve sluices or a pump where the water can be pumped away from the river or into an area that can hold the water, not necessarily adjacent to it. The farmer is then paid an annual retainer for holding his land in readiness for such an eventuality. When flooding occurs or is likely to occur, the farmer, at a signal, or the local authority, floods the relevant area of land. The farmer gets extra compensation for the loss of his crop, including a profit, as well as for any soil damage that might occur. It will not always be appropriate. Sometimes concrete is the only solution. As I said at Second Reading, in a big river, hard defences and the inevitable acceleration of water downstream can only cause extra problems for those at the bottom end of a catchment.

Therefore, any decent local flood risk management strategy should consider such soft defence mechanisms wherever possible. It seems to me that, in an admittedly non-exhaustive list, which contains 10 possible options, to have no mention at all of modern soft flood defence mechanisms is remiss. As the one form of defence that is truly sustainable and helps to relieve a whole catchment, as opposed to putting in a quick fix for some localised built-up area, such soft flood defence mechanisms are worthy of consideration. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have Amendment 2 in this group, which would add to the end of Clause 3(3),

“but they do not form an exclusive list”.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, referred to the list not being exhaustive or limiting. It is clear that it is not because of the way in which it is phrased, but it is a very strange clause. I support the noble Lord’s amendment, which seems entirely sensible.

Clause 3(3) is a very odd bit of the Bill. It starts off by stating:

“The following are examples of things that might be done in the course of flood or coastal erosion risk management”.

It gives an exemplification of the powers that the risk management authorities will have. I have never seen anything like it in a Bill before. When putting forward these things, the Government veer between two different points of view. Sometimes, they set out clear powers—sometimes, they are duties—for authorities, showing what they are able to do. In other cases, they will not provide such a list—we are always being told that the Government do not like lists. Very often, the Government will put forward some very general powers for a body that they are setting up; opposition parties will put forward all kinds of additional things that they think should be in a Bill; and the Government will say, “No, that’s a list. We don’t like lists”. They do not like lists because there is a real danger that they will at some point be regarded as being exclusive. Even if the wording is very vague, such as a list of examples of things that might be done—which hardly confers a power; it is just an exemplification—people will say, “No, that isn’t in the list and therefore the Government really didn’t mean it to happen”. When matters reach the courts, as they sometimes do, the court may well take the view that things set out in the legislation were clearly intended and other things were not.

My amendment, first, draws attention to the unusual wording of the subsection; that is:

“The following are examples of things that might be done”.

It is extraordinary wording to have in primary legislation. It is almost as if one is writing an article about the legislation halfway through it.

Secondly, the amendment makes it absolutely clear that while the actions listed in the subsection are no doubt worthy and desirable, there may nevertheless be lots of other things which could be done. The fact that the list, unusually, is in the Bill does not mean that other things cannot be done.

My Lords, it occurs to me how appropriate it is that we are here discussing flood and water management in, of all places, the Moses Room. I start by declaring my interests. They are fairly extensive, I regret to say, in this case, but the House asks us to declare them in Committee. I am a landowner, farmer and grower, working in a family farming business—it is just three metres above mean sea level, so drainage is very important to it. We are members of the National Farmers’ Union and the Horticultural Trades Association, both of which have made submissions on the Bill. I am a member of a number of other bodies connected with farming and horticulture which have a general interest in the Bill. More directly, however, I am vice-president of the Association of Drainage Authorities, which represents the engineers and administrators of bodies engaged in flood and water management. Specifically, my nephew is one of my co-directors in the family business and is an elected member of the South Holland Internal Drainage Board, which is in turn part of a consortium of drainage authorities in eastern England called the Water Management Alliance. We are also, as a family business, members of the Holbeach Marsh Irrigation Co-operative, which plans to manage the water supply to some of the country’s most productive agricultural land.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for opening our scrutiny of the Flood and Water Management Bill with this first amendment, which goes straight to the question of what happens when flooding occurs. As has been said numerous times, the Bill is, on the whole, a good one and rightly has widespread support. The Pitt recommendations for dealing with flooding cannot be implemented soon enough and we look forward to getting the legislation in place.

Plainly, we hope to minimise the disruption caused by flooding because we know that from time to time—indeed, perhaps increasingly frequently—floods will occur. It is therefore very sensible of the noble Lord to raise the question of what arrangements are put in place in the event that a flood does happen. Clause 3 gives a very helpful list of suggestions of what risk management might include. There are 10 suggestions in Clause 3(3), which one imagines were put in by the Government as a guide as to what the Environment Agency and local authorities should be considering when they develop their risk management strategies. The Bill is reasonably carefully worded to make it clear that these are examples, which of course may not be suitable in every circumstance.

The noble Lord has added his amendment to that list, so that those responsible for framing the strategies might also consider coming to an agreement with landowners to make preparations for land to hold flood water when needed. The suggestion is a good one. Plainly, when a flood occurs, water will go somewhere. Why not then plan ahead so that identified fields can be kept in preparation? The better prepared we are for flooding when it happens, the better we ought to be able to ameliorate its consequences. There are washlands in the Fens which serve exactly that purpose, and the owners and occupiers of that land are well aware of the use to which it might be put at a time of crisis.

I am interested in the noble Lord’s proposal that the arrangements, which would be voluntary, must recognise the financial impact on landowners. In the recent Cumbrian floods the devastation wrought was widespread, and it will take a long time, if ever, to get back to normal. I spoke to one farmer whose land was inundated and was afterwards left strewn with what officials described somewhat euphemistically as “gravel” but which you or I might classify as boulders and which logistically will be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove. The economic consequences for that farm and for the area in general will be long-lasting. If an arrangement can be made so that use is made of flooded fields as a sort of holding area for flood water so that the landowner sees a benefit, that might help to ease the situation.

I note that the noble Lord’s proposals are voluntary so far as concerns remuneration. I suspect that that is the right approach and that it would allow flexibility in different situations. This flexibility is the key to risk management, given that it would be absurd to try to micromanage it in legislation. The list of examples is useful for reference but should not become a binding or definitive checklist. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right, too, to point out with his Amendment 2 that the list is not exclusive but that it can and should be augmented with approaches that suit local circumstances. I cannot help but sympathise with him about the inconsistency of the Government’s position on this list in particular and their position in general on lists in primary legislation when either he or I seek to introduce them.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have spoken and for the constructive beginning that we have made. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that it is entirely appropriate that we are in the Moses Room; there is no division between us on this amendment. Just as Moses was the unifier of his people, I hope that I can unite the Committee on this group of amendments.

With Amendment 1, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is seeking to provide for financial arrangements to be entered into with landowners to keep certain fields available for flooding with compensation payable for losses suffered. I assure him that we have absolutely no argument to make against this concept. I want him to withdraw the amendment because I assure him that it is unnecessary. The practice is already permitted as a method of managing flood risk under the broader range of works powers in Schedule 2—which is important in relation to these issues—combined with the incidental powers of these authorities to enter into agreements, and powers to give grants under Clause 16 or existing statutory powers.

The flood risk management authorities also have the powers, under the Environment Act 1995 and the Land Drainage Act 1991, to acquire land and interests in land which will allow them to take precisely the action to which the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, refers. If I thought that the amendment was necessary because the legislation does not provide for meeting exactly the point that is indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, I would take a different view. However, it is unnecessary because the powers are there.

That is also the case with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I understand that he described government Bills as the famous Morton’s fork. They are either too detailed, in which case it is necessary to add to the list an objection to prescription, or they are too loose and, therefore, he wants them defined more accurately. I can never make the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, entirely happy with any approach to legislation that we produce, but I hope I can make him happy at least with regard to this amendment. We do not need the words “not … an exclusive list” because that is exactly how the legislation is constructed. The first sentence of Clause 3 makes it quite clear that this is not an exclusive list. It is a list which clearly identifies key areas. Noble Lords should appreciate the obvious fact that the Bill provides for a change in the approach to flood and coastal erosion risk management. The list in Clause 3(3) provides for a better understanding of the sort of approaches that might be used. It is not meant to be exclusive.

We are creating legislation that we trust will stand the test of time, as I have indicated in the well attested case of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. We need to ensure that we have the powers for that. I can assure the noble Lord of that. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will therefore forgive us on this occasion for having produced a description of the kind of powers that are necessary. It is not drafted as an exclusive list and, therefore, does not need the noble Lord’s amendment to make clear what is already in the clause. With those assurances, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

I thank the Minister for stating clearly that it is not an exclusive list. Perhaps he will be quoted sometime in the future when somebody claims that it is. If that is the case, I will have achieved what I wanted to achieve today.

I thank the Minister for his kind remarks about the fact that I always look at legislation critically. The Minister talked about Moses. When I started teaching, some of my pupils called me Moses, at a time when my hair was much more luxuriant than it is now, on top, at the back and under my chin—a bit more like that of the gentleman in the picture. If I had been around when Moses brought down the tables of law to the Israelites, I would have wanted to move some amendments to those tables.

Finally, I forgot to declare my interest at the beginning of this new stage, as I often do. I declare an interest as a member of a local authority, which, if this legislation goes through, will become a risk management authority.

I ask the noble Lord for some clarification. I declare my family’s farming interests. We are not directly involved in any aspect with regard to this Bill, but the interest should be declared. The Minister said that there are already existing powers in existing Acts, which I am happy to accept. Are those powers voluntary or compulsory? Could one local authority take a different view from another? Clearly, it would seem unfair if different sets of rules apply in different circumstances.

My Lords, we produced the list because those are the most likely areas of activity. However, as I have indicated, we already have legislation in place which also covers these activities. We have great experience in this area and this constructive Bill takes us a considerable stage forward. That is why it has been welcomed on all sides.

The powers to which the noble Baroness referred are permissive powers for the authorities. I do not think that she would want them any other way. They are about local decision-taking and local discussions with local interests—that is the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, identified the necessity—and it would be the responsibility of the locally based authority to reach a decision. For obvious reasons, we would shy away from imposing this position upon the local authorities. The noble Baroness may feel more secure with the compulsory aspects—the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, would be quite fertile in giving illustrations of how these might work in a particular local authority—but they would have to be considered at a local level. That is why we have made it discretionary in those terms.

My Lords, perhaps I might briefly seek enlightenment. I have tried carefully, through reading the whole of the Second Reading debate and these amendments, to understand the position. However, I have a query in my mind and I should like to be absolutely clear about the precise situation. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned that this function would be the responsibility of the local authority. However, in connection with the amendments we are discussing, the make-up of the risk management bodies is still not clear to me. Is it the case that the responsibility for sorting out this function will be on the shoulders of the local authority? Will an extra local council committee be set up to deal with it?

Aligned to that, in many parts of the Bill which refer to the precise activities with which these committees will have to deal, “coastal erosion” is lumped together with “flood management”. However, there are many parts of this country which have no coastline and are hundreds of miles away from the problem of coastal erosion. Later in the Bill there are references to “or” coastal management but here it refers to “and” coastal management. I do not want these committees to be loaded with coastal erosion difficulties when their areas will not have those problems. Can the Minister be clear about this: will they be totally local authority people or will others join them? Will their remits cover only matters which are quite clearly in their area, and will they not have to bother with other matters which are not?

Without going through the Bill clause by clause and itemising the words I cannot reply in full to the noble Baroness. However, we have a plethora of amendments which identify the relative powers and where the boundaries are drawn. We will certainly clarify these issues during our debates in Committee. I know that the noble Baroness has the closest possible historical and current associations with the city of Birmingham, but we are not including it within the framework of a coastal authority. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, a local authority will be involved in the coastal risk position, although the Environment Agency has greater responsibilities than it may have.

I have a brief description that may help the noble Baroness, but I am shying away from going through every clause that identifies the relationship. However, the Bill provides for lead local authorities—counties or unitary authorities—to be responsible for the surface run-off, groundwater and minor water courses. Responsibility for coastal erosion remains with the maritime districts—not Birmingham, as far as I know. I know that Birmingham stretches on water as far as Elan Valley, which is fairly deep into Wales, but it does not stretch to the coast. The Environment Agency retains its responsibility for that crucial aspect: coastal erosion. That is the best I can do for the time being, but we will clarify these issues. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and other noble Lords will make sure that we do that in our deliberations.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply to my amendment. I realise that what I am proposing is possible in the current circumstances and after the Bill has gone through. However, I believe that if a clause gives examples of things that might be done in the course of flood risk management, some reference to soft flood defence mechanisms would be beneficial. All too often, engineers revert to their old training, work in a framework in which they feel comfortable and in which they understand the risks involved and go for the concrete solution. I realise the proposition I put forward is only an example of soft defence mechanisms, but some mention of them would be beneficial. I hope that the Government will give some thought to the views put forward in this debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendment 2 not moved.

Clause 3 agreed.

Clause 4 : “Flood risk management function”

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Clause 4, page 3, line 20, after “function” insert “, under an enactment,”

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 5, which is also a government amendment. I shall then restrain myself from commenting on the amendments tabled by the noble Lords opposite before they have the chance to deploy their case. I shall address myself to those points when we reach the concluding remarks.

Amendments 3 and 5 are in response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report. I emphasise again how grateful we are to that committee for the enormous work it does and the guidance it offers us when we are considering Bills at this stage. The committee recommended that the order-making powers in Clause 4(2)(f) and Clause 5(2)(c), which enable the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to add new risk management functions, should be confined to adding statutory functions only. As currently drafted, the power could, for instance, allow the addition of administrative functions. This would mean that Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales would have the opportunity to consider the appropriateness of a function in the course of the parliamentary procedure relating to the legislation creating those functions. This recommendation accords with the way that we intend to exercise this power, which is why we are entirely happy to accept it. The amendments we propose confine the power to add new risk management functions to statutory functions of risk management authorities. I shall listen to the arguments noble Lords make in advocating their amendments. I beg to move.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, I shall speak to Amendments 4 and 6 in this group. I should declare an interest as a landowner, although not as one affected by this legislation. The first two clauses of this Bill spend time defining flood, erosion and risk in the most all-embracing terms that one can imagine—specifically, in terms of,

“human health … social and economic welfare … infrastructure, and … the environment”.

We now move on to “risk management” and risk management functions. As far as I am aware, this is the first legislation to have the question of risk and safety brought into it and the first, in that regard, to deal with coastal erosion and flooding in general. As the Minister will be aware, it is not exactly the first in the case of dams and reservoirs. I declare an interest as the owner of a reservoir, which has been subject to the current inspection regime.

Section 10(6) of the Reservoirs Act 1975 laid a duty on the inspecting engineer to report to the authority any recommendation that he might make to the undertaker of the reservoir of the action required in the interests of safety. In response to that, the Institution of Civil Engineers brought out its own guidelines, which were published in 1978 as Floods and Reservoirs Safety: An Engineering Guide. I am grateful to the institute for confirming all of this. At that date, it already took into consideration the risks to lives and properties downstream and came up with four categories of dams, which it labelled A, B, C and D, and the measures that should be applied to remedy each case.

As your Lordships will see later, this Bill undertakes to redefine a “large raised reservoir” and allows that only those defined as “high-risk” reservoirs will be subject to inspection under the Bill. Does the Minister intend that a function of the risk management authority should be to define dams further, in categories similar to those presently employed by the Institution of Civil Engineers under the Reservoirs Act? If so, perhaps we could go into what implications there might be as we go further into the Bill.

Returning to the amendments in this group, the Minister explained in his introduction that the Government have listened to the recommendations of your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and that he has introduced his two amendments to curb the powers available to Ministers to change legislation by order. Noble Lords will be aware that this is a recurring theme, in Bill after Bill, and I congratulate your Lordships’ Committee on its persistent diligence in flagging up deficiencies in the drafting of Bills. There are a series of government amendments this afternoon, all of which also have opposition amendments grouped with them. We sought to push the Government into making their own changes and are pleased that they have done so. Our amendments add the express qualification that only existing statutory functions can be added to Clauses 4 and 5, and the Bill contains a fairly concise list of the statutory measures that can be included. The Committee has proposed that either the powers in the clauses be confined to statutory functions or they be subject to affirmative procedure. Our amendments follow the latter route, the Government’s the former. Is the Minister satisfied that this power cannot be extended to other Acts that might have a bearing in similar circumstances?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, for that explanation of the opposition amendments. I hope to persuade him that the Government now have it right.

On the Government’s amendments, while I accept entirely what the noble Duke says about the excellent work that the committee does on government legislation, one reason that I sought to explain them is that, often, the committee is particularly constructive when it sets out how the Government can make their intention more clear while the Government had exactly the intention that the committee is describing. That is one of these cases. We are grateful for the work that the committee has done because it has proposed how we should amend the Bill to achieve our intention more accurately. The government amendment confines the powers to statutory functions, and this makes the powers exactly consistent with our intentions. In the memorandum that we submitted to the committee, we expressed our intention and the committee translated it rather more successfully than perhaps we did originally in the Bill.

However, the power that we propose cannot be used to create a new function. I shall go into the debate about the new function that the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, suggested when we reach the relevant part of the Bill. We will be having quite a considerable debate about functions, so he will forgive me if I am not drawn too far down that road yet, for the same reason that I indicated on Amendment 1—that is, we ought not to run before we have begun to walk with regard to these early clauses. I have sought to emphasise that because the risk management authority cannot produce a new function but can only add statutory functions. The statutory functions have already been considered by Parliament, otherwise they would not be statutory. That is why we conceive that this order-making power should be subject to the negative resolution procedure. We agree entirely with noble Lords opposite that if we had not constrained the power within this statutory framework, then the case for affirmative orders would have been unassailable and would have been entirely right. In fact, I flatter Ministers and the officers who serve them so well that that is how we would have conceived of things. We think that, because the power is constrained to statutory functions, the negative procedure is perfectly proper. I hope that the noble Lord will understand why we think we have now answered the issue with the amendments that I have proposed and that he feels he can safely withdraw his.

Do I take it from that that in the Minister’s view the power can be extended to statutory functions from Bills other than those mentioned in the list?

That is certainly so, but the existence of statutory functions means that Parliament has reached a position on the wisdom of those provisions. That is why negative resolutions, which are referred to repeatedly in past legislation, are sometimes debated when an issue is of sufficient salience—but most often of less significance—so long as they are brought before Parliament and properly identified and examined. I speak as a veteran of the Opposition. Each day we had a very limited team who had to collect the list of statutory instruments, which I always seemed to think was a little longer than my arm, and within two days shadow Ministers were expected to have a clear idea of whether they should take action. Mercifully, as members of the Opposition will know only too well, in well over 95 per cent—perhaps 99.9 per cent—of cases, such action is not required. However, the list is absolutely enormous because the issues have already been considered by Parliament. If we were laying down functions that were not statutory, we would have recognised the argument for having an affirmative procedure. That is why we have the negative procedure here and I am sure that that is right.

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation but, as he said, the powers might possibly be extended beyond what is immediately visible at the moment. I think that we may want to come back on this but we will study with care what he said and I shall not press our amendment.

Amendment 3 agreed.

Amendment 4 not moved.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed.

Clause 5 : “Coastal erosion risk management function”

Amendment 5

Moved by

5: Clause 5, page 3, line 34, after “function” insert “, under an enactment,”

Amendment 5 agreed.

Amendment 6 not moved.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed.

Clause 6 : Other definitions

Amendment 7

Moved by

7: Clause 6, page 4, line 1, at end insert “permanently or intermittently”

My Lords, the amendment appears on its own, slightly to my surprise. The clause defines “groundwater” as meaning,

“all water which is below the surface of the ground and in direct contact with the ground or subsoil”.

It occurs to me that there may be instances where groundwater, at certain times of the year, is not in contact with the surface of the ground, however that is defined. It is still groundwater, and it still may be important to contribute to flooding at various times. Groundwater may be an aquifer and it may be what might be called underground streams, particularly in areas of limestone or perhaps chalk. We all know places where there are winterbournes, which flow during the winter and not the summer, for example.

It is equally possible and almost certainly occurs that some bodies of groundwater come to the surface beyond the coast. I am not sure whether “ground” includes the intertidal zone or whether it includes the land below the sea below low water. Without wanting to stray into marine Bill territory, it seems to me that a clear understanding that groundwater may sometimes, for part of the time, not actually be in contact with the ground would be helpful. I beg to move.

My Lords, I did not prepare any notes for this amendment, because I was somewhat puzzled about what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was proposing. I thought I would listen to him in the hope of having further insight. I am afraid that I am no wiser now than I was when I first came across the amendment.

Water that is not in contact with the ground is something I think of as rain, and I cannot think of any other. I might be mistaken; obviously I stand to be corrected. As I see it, groundwater is much more familiar to people I know as sockwater, and the water that lies below the surface of the ground is a permanent feature of soils. It may be at a depth of several inches or many feet. It is usually a permanent feature of most soils. I understood that that is what this was referring to, but I would like the Minister to clarify the Government’s position. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, might like to have another go at explaining what he was trying to persuade us of.

There are clearly instances when the groundwater is not in contact with the soil and there is a gap between the surface of the ground and where the aquifer or the underground range takes place. There are times when that drainage does not come to the surface, but it is an important feature of flooding when it does come to the surface.

My Lords, I am eager to take on any responsibility as a Minister, but explaining to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, means is not my function. As long as I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is saying, that will have to do. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will have to get his enlightenment elsewhere.

Of course we thought about this seriously. After all, it is one of the crucial definitions with regard to the Bill. We have defined it as,

“all water which is below the surface of the ground and in direct contact with the ground or subsoil”.

That reinforces what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, understood to be the definition of groundwater. This is a wider definition than that in the water framework directive, and does not only relate to water in the saturation zone of the soil. We think we have the correct definition. We are not sure that Amendment 7 would improve it. In fact, my note says that it might add confusion. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that if he has confused the leading opposition spokesman, I am right in my prediction. I am also right in saying that I want the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

I shall defer declaring my interest until I speak later. I, too, am interested in this. The problem is that there are three words in here that are what I would call legislative garbage, in that they fulfil no function except perhaps to add confusion. The three words are “direct contact with”. If you took those three words out, the meaning would be perfectly plain, and even the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would understand what the Bill was about. Would the Minister like to take that home when he is thinking about the Bill later and see whether he can clarify the matter in that regard?

The reason why we say,

“in direct contact with the ground”,

is because we are not talking about water that is in pipes. It may be below the ground, but that is a different consideration. We are talking about groundwater in the soil or below the soil level.

I have nothing further to add. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will help the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, if there is any further confusion, but I am absolutely clear on what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, wants, and I do not think that it adds to the Bill. In fact, he must confess that it spreads confusion, so we had better stay safely with the Government.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his comments. I suppose that what I am really talking about is underground water. I have taken the word “ground” to mean the surface of the ground, or the soil very close to the surface of the ground. If the ground actually includes everything under the surface of the ground until you get to the area where there is no water left because it is too hot or under too great a pressure, I am happy with that. However, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, never goes caving because he might get a real shock when he comes across underground lakes. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.

Amendment 8

Moved by

8: Clause 6, page 4, line 37, at end insert “, and

( ) the fire and rescue authorities”

I declare an interest in that my former parliamentary constituency included the towns of Keswick, Workington and Cockermouth—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

I was declaring an interest—I have to get my breath back because I have only one lung—as my former constituency included Cockermouth, Keswick and Workington. I am in contact with a lot of people up there who have been flooded. My amendment was originally moved in the Commons. It is about placing a clear statutory duty on fire and rescue services to deal with flooding incidents, thereby ensuring that they are properly equipped and trained. I am not arguing that they do not respond already. During the recent flooding in Cumbria, firemen went out of their way, showing great courage and determination, in their efforts to help those who were suffering, but they need proper support. These amendments would secure that objective.

Why does the law need to be changed? In the view of many, particularly the Fire Brigades Union, the law at the moment is incoherent. Fire and rescue authorities have to plan for floods and have the power to respond, but do not have a duty to respond. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 placed duties on fire and rescue authorities with respect to emergencies, including flooding. The duties include assessing the risks of emergencies and planning to prevent emergencies and to reduce, control or mitigate their effects. Of course, in reality, responding to flooding is a core function of the fire and rescue service and should therefore be treated as such. The public rightly expect firefighters and other professional emergency services to respond to flooding and other emergencies.

During the 2007 floods, firefighters from scores of brigades outside the flooded areas responded to hundreds of incidents, rescuing more than 3,500 people during that period. The Pitt review recognised all this and therefore advocated a statutory duty. Recommendation 39 of the Pitt review stated that the Government should urgently put in place a fully funded national capability for flood rescue, with fire and rescue authorities playing a leading role, underpinned as necessary by a statutory duty. The Pitt review also noted how fire service personnel worked in difficult conditions, often using personal protective equipment designed for routine firefighting duties, or for infrequent short-duration incidents in rivers, lakes and canals. Fire crews were deployed in normal firefighting PPE rapidly became wet and cold, and risked contamination by flood water.

The floods in Cumbria in November 2009 were a major test of existing arrangements. In Cumbria there were only 64 sets of swift water rescue personal protective equipment. I gained that information from the Fire Brigades Union magazine, Firefighter. The Fire Brigades Union in Cumbria reported that the crew trained to carry out swift water rescue was mobilised to pick up dry-suits and SWR equipment when the floods first kicked in but there was generally nothing for them to wear. During those first two safety-critical days that station could not carry out its rescue provision in water because it did not have any kit. The station does not have its own stand-alone supply of kit due to funding issues.

There are 700 firefighters in Cumbria—200 whole-time, based at five stations, and 500 retained-duty firemen at 33 retained stations. Fire Brigades Union reps said that there were firefighters available for recalled duty who were never utilised due to the lack of equipment. The Fire Brigades Union has been trying to get better provision of equipment for the past two years, while retained members do not have satisfactory personal protective equipment to carry out the work that they have been doing. The Fire Brigades Union also reported that some boats did not have engines, while other engines had so little power that they struggled to operate in the conditions. I am sure noble Lords will know the relevance of the boats and engines that I refer to; they were shown on television throughout the period of the most recent flooding.

The amendments that I am moving today were all moved in the Commons, although I have duplicated some of the amendments by placing them under an arrangement whereby they could be introduced to the legislation later by order. I do not know whether my noble friend has had time to see the revised amendments that were tabled yesterday. In the course of Commons proceedings, the Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies said:

“Fire and rescue authorities undoubtedly have a critical role to play in flood response, including flood rescue … That was shown to good effect in Cumbria, but I am interested in the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington about the feedback that he has received”.

There has obviously been much discussion between the union and Members of Parliament on the whole question of making this a statutory responsibility. Huw Irranca-Davies also said that the Government support Sir Michael’s recommendation that,

“a fully funded national capability for flood rescue should be put in place, with fire and rescue authorities playing a leading role, underpinned if necessary by a statutory duty”. —[Official Report, Commons, 2/2/10; cols. 224-25.]

He went on to say:

“I want to make it clear, for my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington”—

that is Mr John McDonnell—

“and for all those who have spoken in support in the amendment, that we do not reject totally the idea of a statutory duty option ‘if necessary’, as Sir Michael Pitt said. Our assessment at the moment is that that duty is not clearly needed right here and now, although we are already doing work in that direction”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/2/10; col. 225.]

The work they were doing was a project which co-ordinated a number of agencies in assessing their flood rescue capabilities.

He then went on to say:

“My hon. Friend also raised the interesting point that an amendment could be introduced later in another place”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/2/10; col. 226.]

The amendment I have tabled would defer the requirement to introduce the statutory instrument subject to an order approved by each House. I hope my noble friend will respond positively, as I understand a number of Members of the other place will follow his comments with great interest. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have in this group Amendment 43 as an amendment to Amendment 42, although clearly it could apply equally to Amendment 43A.

Before speaking to the amendment, I congratulate the noble Lord on his remarkably eloquent presentation of his case. He has considerable experience and knowledge of these matters over many years, as a Member of Parliament for a part of the Lake District and, indeed, as a former parliamentary candidate in the Pennines in east Lancashire many years ago. In particular, we all appreciate and applaud his interest and involvement in the aftermath of the recent flooding in Cumbria.

The Liberal Democrats strongly support his proposals and we congratulate him on bringing them forward. My amendment is more limited but draws attention, yet again, to a cause which the noble Lord has raised previously—that is, the voluntary mountain rescue services, the moor land services, the fell services and the cave rescue services. These organisations and enterprises are run voluntarily and the people who take part in them are volunteers. They, too, have great expertise, which is not only of huge value in rescuing people from rock faces or hauling them out of the ground when they get stuck, but also in emergencies such as the recent flooding. The mountain rescue services in Cumbria, in particular, received a great deal of publicity for the superb work they did alongside the police, the fire services and so on in the recent floods, and in other parts of the country, such as Derbyshire and the Pennines, where they were equally involved in helping people.

More recently they have assisted in the snow—which is obviously not about flooding, although it could be solid flooding, I suppose—which brought to the Pennines conditions that were unprecedented for 20 or 25 years. The mountain rescue services could reach people who were snowed-up in the more remote areas and take them to hospital or get services to them.

The problem is that, as voluntary services, they are at a financial disadvantage when compared with the other parts of the rescue services. They are not funded by the Government or directly by local authorities; they rely on voluntary income. The mountain rescue services are not eligible for VAT relief in the same way as the RNLI, or in the way that local authorities can reclaim VAT, and, because they are not local authorities, they have not been eligible for money from the Bellman scheme following the floods.

This clearly does not address those particular problems, because it is a specific thing in relation to the excellent amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. If the fire and rescue services are going to have this co-ordinating role and have a duty to make the provision as set out in the noble Lord’s amendments, there should be a provision to include and incorporate the voluntary services, which do so much good, and for providing them with adequate recompense for the costs of taking part in these activities, which otherwise have to fall back on voluntary subscriptions.

Perhaps as I am intervening for the second time I should declare my interests. I am a farmer and landowner in Essex. I have a reservoir—although it is nothing to do with what we are likely to be discussing today—which I caused to be constructed on my land. I also have very long experience of local government and local authorities, although I left that in 1993. I no longer have any technical interest in that, but it does give me a certain amount of knowledge. I join the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, in what he said about the other services that get involved in an emergency. He spoke very ably on behalf of the fire service, and I wholly agree with what he said, but we need to remember that other services are involved in local emergency planning.

I find the Government’s drafting of this part of this Bill to be rather conservative. Local government is not what it used to be. In the olden days, if you went to talk to county authorities in particular, you would be talking at the same time to the police authorities and all the emergency planning authorities. In the sort of situation to which the noble Lord refers, we are dealing with emergency in the widest meaning of that word. I remind the Committee that it was a policeman who lost his life in the flood in Cumbria. The police, equally, need to be very much involved, because it can get to the scale when a flood ceases to be a flood and becomes an emergency—and, as we saw last autumn, that can be an emergency on a really major scale. There is still a local emergency planning system somewhere in local government, I think, but I am not sure; there certainly was in my day. We had to deal with everything from the possibility of a major collapse at a nuclear power station to oil refineries exploding, even right down to small, very sophisticated chemical or medical establishments, which, if they had a fire and things started to escape, could affect a very wide area.

All these services need to be co-ordinated. In fact, generally, if you look you will find that there are plans around to deal with that sort of issue. But we need to take the debate a little wider than the particular remit of the fire service, because other services are involved. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned the mountain rescue people. You do not know exactly what is going to be involved when there is a flood, particularly a major flood. One thinks back, as I shall later on in this Bill, to the tidal surge that caused such chaos in the Thames Estuary in 1951; that is not a matter for the Environment Agency alone, or anyone else alone. We need to think about events that can involve all services very thoroughly. We should really take note of that. I plead that the Minister thinks about this issue before any further stage in this Bill, whatever that stage might be, because it requires very serious thought.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, on tabling his amendments on such an important issue. Perhaps I might join with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on his diligence in making sure that we learn lessons from the events in Cockermouth and in the Lake District in general. The speeches have reinforced the noble Lord’s amendments, because the role of the fire and rescue services in a flooding event is absolutely critical. It has been a remarkable omission from the Bill that they have not hitherto been directly mentioned. While the Bill aims to prevent flooding wherever possible and to mitigate the effects where it happens, we must also be realistic and accept that, unfortunately, severe floods will still occur.

A major part of what we do with this Bill is therefore to ensure that, following a disaster, the mechanisms for getting all the necessary assistance in place have been thought through carefully. The Bill is about integration, and this amendment brings to the fore the fact that the co-operation of the fire and rescue authorities is vital. They ought to be involved at every stage of preparation, because when called upon to act they will be expected to perform almost superhuman tasks. The noble Lord drew attention to the work done in the 2007 floods, and we all saw the role that they played in the 2009 Cumbrian floods. It would be really unacceptable to place demands on stretched services without having a clear plan in place for what role they might play.

This is both a national and a local issue. As we saw in Cockermouth last year, when an event on the scale of those floods occurs local services can quickly be overwhelmed. It was very useful for the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to bring up the voluntary services that often work in close association with the professional fire and rescue services. Some of them are probably on retainers rather than being full-time, but are none the less highly professional and skilled. It is a point that the voluntary organisations frequently find that they cannot get their kit recovered after an operation such as happened in Cockermouth last year, except by further fundraising.

As we know, the Army was required to come in; it performed a sterling job in those difficult circumstances. I expect that we would expect it to do so again, especially in putting up the temporary bridges that have allowed some semblance of normality to return to those communities which have been cut off—although it is wrong to assume that normality is the existence for everybody up there. There is still a lot to be done. Plainly, that was a very large effort indeed and may have been at the extreme end of the spectrum, but in any adverse circumstances the rescue services will be out in force. How that responsibility is co-ordinated across local flood authorities is certainly a matter of great importance, and I very much welcome the opportunity that the noble Lord has given us to debate it. I will be interested to hear what the Minister says.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, and I associate my remarks with those that my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours introduced, and which all noble Lords who have spoken reinforced, about our admiration for the response of the emergency services in the recent floods in Cumbria. We have not the slightest doubt that fire and rescue authorities play a vital role in flood emergency planning and response. They are, of course, category 1 responders as defined by the Civil Contingencies Act. It is because they have such an important role that my response to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is that it is essential, as he said, that those emergency services work closely with local authorities and together.

They need to understand the identified risks and the areas in which those risks lie to ensure that they are adequately equipped to deal with emergencies; I will come to the particular issue of equipment in a moment. Local authorities will need to make use of the knowledge held by the emergency services and understand the limits of their capacity. They have to make arrangements accordingly. However, I emphasise that they are category 1 responders under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, so this obligation and empowerment rests with them by dint of that important legislation.

With regard to my noble friend’s amendments, the Government are concerned that they would effectively include fire and rescue authorities as risk management authorities under the Bill. My noble friend knows that the Bill revolves around definitions of “risk management authority”. We identified some of the complexities of that when we dealt with an earlier amendment. The Bill is related to flood and water management. We are therefore reluctant to accept an amendment that would include fire and rescue authorities as risk management authorities. That is not because they do not have an important role to play. I have already recognised that, and it is provided for under other legislation. However, all the bodies given this designation in the Bill have a key role in managing and reducing risk rather than in responding to an emergency. That is the definition under the Civil Contingencies Act and where the fire and rescue services properly apply.

All these risk authorities have a role to play in managing water, whether through drainage systems, water courses, reservoirs or otherwise. We will debate this at considerable length as we go through the Bill. They all have a role to play in managing water. Those bodies will be bound by a duty to act consistently with the national strategy and, except for water companies, with local strategies. They must play an active part in putting together these strategies, co-operating with partners and sharing information. We do not think that those are appropriate demands to put upon the fire and rescue authorities.

In Clause 11(7) and Clause 12(6), we have provided for an order-making power to designate other bodies or persons who must have regard to the local and national strategies in the exercise of any functions that have an impact on flood risk. We feel this is a more appropriate duty for the fire and rescue authorities, which are crucial to tackling floods, but have fairly limited role in managing in the risk of flooding, which is the main burden of the authorities identified in the Bill.

We recognise the excellent intentions behind my noble friend’s amendment and that of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who spoke so eloquently to his amendment, but together they put a duty on fire and rescue authorities to put in place provision for rescuing people in the event of major flooding, including that from large raised reservoirs. Fire and rescue authorities have an important role to play in response to flooding—we had a recent illustration of that in Cumbria—but they are supported by flood rescue teams from the RNLI, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Mountain Rescue, to which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred, which have different resources available. I know that the noble Lord lobbies strongly with regard to Mountain Rescue, and I understand the point he makes. I think I shall give him a little joy on that in a moment. I will never be in a position where I can fully satisfy him with regard to resources, but I shall indicate that a door that may help on his concern is a little ajar.

As my noble friend said in his opening remarks, Sir Michael Pitt addressed the issue of a statutory duty. We support his recommendation that a fully funded national capability for flood rescue should be put in place, with the fire and rescue authorities inevitably playing the leading role. We agree that this should be underpinned if necessary by a statutory duty. However, this is not the Bill for that.

I hope that my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—as well as other noble Lords who have supported them in this debate—will be encouraged to learn that we are taking work forward, bringing together the key stakeholders, departments and responder organisations in a project to improve flood rescue capability and co-ordination. The project has so far focused on putting in place a co-ordinated, multi-agency flood rescue capability. The flood rescue concept of operations, currently in draft, will help clarify the roles and responsibilities of flood rescue responders.

The fire and rescue services and the RNLI are participating actively in the project, having provided project team members as well as sitting on the project board. The Government have agreed that the remit of the Fire and Rescue Service National Co-ordination Centre, established to co-ordinate the mobilisation of New Dimension assets, can be extended to include the co-ordination of the mobilisation of flood rescue assets from all flood responder organisations. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will prick up his ears—I hope that other Members of the Committee will be suitably cheered—when I tell him that we are making available up to £2 million in the current spending review to enhance current flood rescue capability. A strategy for how this money can best be used is being developed, and responder organisations, including the fire and rescue service, could receive some future funding—I cannot go any further than that in a debate on this Bill, as the Committee will recognise.

What the Minister has just said is very welcome. It indicates that the Government recognise that fire and rescue authorities are an important element of flood rescue. The point that he has perhaps not fully taken on board is that, while they may not be the principal agency for flood management and flood protection, the intelligence that they bring through their experience, particularly in areas which have experienced floods, can be considerable. There seems to be no formal mechanism within the Bill for drawing on the locked-in experience and resources of the people who have dealt with floods on the ground in preparing plans for the management of floods. I think that that is what lies behind the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. The Minister has not wholly taken that on board. It would be nice to know how he saw the mechanism working.

My Lords, I have taken the argument on board. I agree with every Member of the Committee who has spoken on this matter, and I have supported my noble friend. The issue that I have raised is whether it should be a statutory obligation. I do not think that it should be in this Bill, and my noble friend also indicated that he recognised there might be other ways of addressing the issue. He said that if it were thought necessary, it might be possible to introduce such a duty by order. If we are convinced that underpinning of that kind is necessary, we can already introduce an order on fire and rescue services under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.

Therefore, I am strenuously indicating that we are not yet convinced of the necessity for statutory underpinning, but we are totally convinced by the argument about co-ordination. We are putting funding in that direction, even including some voluntary parts of the service that receive no funding at present. It may be that they are reinforced on that point.

I am grateful for the stimulus to debate on this important topic that my noble friend’s amendment has provided. I want him to withdraw it because this is not the Bill for that statutory underpinning. We are not even convinced that we need it, but if we were convinced, moved from our present framework and decided that we needed statutory underpinning, we have the powers to do that under the 2004 Act, and that is how we would do it.

When that point was made in Committee in the Commons, it was said that the power that my noble friend referred to,

“is very specific and narrowly defined, in that it responds only to a particular type of incident. We are seeking a more general and much broader duty on fire and rescue authorities to respond to incidents”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/2/10; col. 226.]

Those who have taken advice on these matters disagree with my noble friend’s proposition that the 2004 Act would be the applicable vehicle.

The Minister said that money had already been allocated for rescue. One can envisage that plans to avoid flood dangers could be in a separate box from plans to rescue people from floods, but when the Minister refers to money being available, is it ring-fenced money for rescue or could there be a leak? One could envisage a situation where rescue efforts would be expected and would, I know, be provided by these people. If the planning included certain arrangements, it would be easier for rescues to take place. I can see some kind of meshing of this money. It would clarify the situation for me if the Minister could make it plain whether the money that will be made available for flood management is in a different category from the money for the rescue services, which would be solely for them, not for planning.

My Lords, when we get on to money it gets complicated. We have to remember that the money we are talking about is, in effect, an insurance premium. You put money into an insurance premium and keep your fingers crossed, and the insurance companies hope that you will keep paying and that they will never have to pay out. However, we get into the elephant that I raised at Second Reading if we are not very careful. Can the Minister give us an assurance? I do not think that we can predict this sort of liability because it will occur only occasionally and in different places. One hopes that it is not going to occur very often. It is essential to have some assurance that, after such an event, the proper costs of any rescue or safety work that is done, or anything else, can be reimbursed. That provision is really most important.

My Lords, I have tried to emphasise that on this work that we are doing, which is backed up by money—and I had rather hoped that that would bring a constructive and happy smile to the faces on the Committee, instead of raising questions—it is not a question of ring-fencing. It is directed towards the issues that my noble friend raises in his amendment and which have been substantiated by the arguments. The question of the effectiveness of the response by the emergency and rescue services, including those that operate in voluntary capacities, needs to be addressed. We are addressing that and putting money behind the concept.

I am not, as a result of that, going to get involved in local authority finance, government grants or anything else; I am dealing with the Bill. We do not need this as part of the Bill, because if we need to move in the way that my noble friend said in statutory terms, we have the order-making power. Over the years, I have been conditioned to be somewhat wary of being on a collision course with the noble Lord, because I know of the thoroughness with which he does his work and I have, from time to time, seen Ministers get into some difficulty from clashing directly with him. However, he will know that after the Commons debate, which he has just quoted and where anxieties were expressed about the order-making power, we addressed ourselves thoroughly to that issue. The response that we gave in the Commons was along the lines of the response that I am giving now; that we have it under the Act.

I have to tell the noble Lord that we are in disagreement. The Government’s position is that the power is general and broad enough for us to be able to use it in exactly the terms in which I responded to him. I cannot do much more than attest to that, while recognising the problem that I may face. If there is error—there is never error on the Government’s side, but if my interpretation of our position is in error—I have no doubt that I shall face that day when the noble Lord wreaks retribution, for I am in collision with him here. It is because of that that I think we have the framework that he is after, and I would like him to withdraw his amendment accordingly.

Before the noble Lord replies on his amendment, I am perfectly happy to smile at the Minister and thank him for what he said. Two million pounds is not chicken feed, even in this day and age, although it is not as much as it used to be.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, thinks that £2 million is chicken feed; it depends how many chickens you have, he says. Perhaps that is why he is a Conservative and I am a Liberal, but there we go. To use a different metaphor; it is not tuppence ha’penny. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister could write to all of us who are interested in this matter of organisations, such as mountain rescue and the wider services, to set out what he has been saying in some detail so that we understand it. We will obviously read what he has said very carefully in Hansard.

Let me briefly put the basic point again. The people who, by and large, fund mountain rescue are those who make donations and bequests. A lot of people put what I was going to call their two-bob bits, but they are probably their pound coins now, in the tins on the bars when they go and have a drink after going out on the fell. When they do that, what they expect to be doing is providing a rescue service provided voluntarily by their peers and colleagues within the mountaineering and walking community—because those genuinely are communities—in order to provide a service which they may need at some time, and which their colleagues, or certainly some of them, will need all of the time.

When we see those services providing the kind of service that they did after the flooding in the Lake District and in other areas, when they went to rescue people stranded in their remote farmhouses up on the edge of Saddleworth Moor—somewhere that the Minister knows—we are very proud of the fact that they are able to do that, and that their expertise is being used. We would like the costs that they incur in providing this wider public service to be recognised by the state in some way and reimbursed. I think the Minister suggested that a little bit of this £2 million may trickle in that direction, but we will be interested to see how it all works. That is the fundamental problem. It cannot be solved but some of us at least in this Room will keep raising the matter until it is sorted. On that basis, when we reach my amendment, I shall not press it.

My Lords, first, I apologise for the rambling nature of my first intervention. When I exert myself, I have to sit down for five or 10 minutes before I can speak, but I was caught on the cusp of the amendment and therefore rambled through my speech in a way that I would normally find very embarrassing.

I think that my noble friend’s final comments were quite relevant. He was arguing that the 2004 legislation to which he referred might be the vehicle for introducing an order that would make provision for what I am seeking. I hope that that is the case. If I remember rightly, my noble friend referred to it as being broad in nature. If that is the case, then that is very good.

Finally, I turn to the question of why we are doing this. Anyone who was in west Cumberland during that period would have realised how important the fire service was. Everyone—the whole community and all the local organisations—was involved but the fire service was seen as being at the very core of what was happening. Therefore, I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that, when the opportunity arises, we introduce this statutory responsibility. Without it, there will always be a Cinderella element to the way that resources are allocated. From the evidence that I rambled through before, it is clear that on a number of occasions people have said, “Well, we’re not trained. Where is the equipment?”. We must never let that happen again, particularly as we know that in the future there will be a far greater incidence of flooding, not only in the Lake District but also in other parts of the United Kingdom. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.

Amendment 9

Moved by

9: Clause 6, page 4, line 37, at end insert “, and

( ) Natural England”

My Lords, this is another adding-to-a-list amendment. It is a fairly simple probing amendment which would add Natural England to the list of risk management authorities. Of course, Natural England is closely involved in advising the Government on the environment and might therefore be considered as a good candidate to be on the list.

I am aware that a similar amendment was debated in another place, in which the Minister argued:

“Natural England currently has no statutory flood and coastal erosion risk management functions. As such, it has not been included as a risk management authority”.—[Official Report, Commons, Flood and Water Management Bill Committee, 12/1/10, col. 132.]

I would expect the Minister’s briefing to contain similar words. That would seem to be a fairly clear response but I should like to address some of the points raised in that debate. The Minister suggested that Clause 29 would allow Natural England to be included at a later date if it were to gain those statutory functions for flood or coastal risk management. Although that is strictly correct—and the Minister did not suggest that such a scenario would occur—can his noble friend please clarify whether, at this point, the Government have any plans to confer statutory functions on Natural England or whether that has been considered?

I understand that the Country Land and Business Association has already developed a protocol with Natural England on coastal protection, allowing some of the coastal defences to break down so that land can be taken back by the sea. If that is so, Natural England may be considered to be playing a relevant role. I wonder whether its involvement will be adequately recognised under the provisions of the Bill. It is currently not even specified as a consultee. While it continues to play its part in environmental protection, I wonder whether it is worth particular consideration. It may be that Natural England’s focus is on the environmental aspects rather than on flood management, but its functions in respect of flood management are so interrelated that it seems incongruous that there is no specific duty on the two of them to work together.

This is a probing amendment, which I have tabled to raise the possibilities of what other risk management authorities that we may wish or believe that we ought to see in the Bill. I beg to move.

My Lords, I can be reasonably brief in response to the noble Lord’s amendment, because there is nothing in his contention with which I disagree at all. As he indicated, the issue was also raised in another place, so there has been some debate on it. In response, we indicated that there was potential in Clause 11 to require other authorities to have regard to the national and local strategies. Clause 29 provides for Ministers to make an order that would allow responsibility to be reassigned between authorities or for additional authorities to be listed as risk management by amending the definition of a risk management authority. If it were the case that, in future, Natural England assumed a flood or coastal erosion risk management function, which it palpably does not at the moment, it would then be possible to list it as a flood risk management authority.

We do not have any plans—to give a direct answer to the noble Lord’s direct question—to confer a statutory flood or coastal erosion risk management function on Natural England, although it will certainly work with risk management authorities, because it is in the nature of the work in which they are engaged. If we had intended to confer a statutory function, we would have done so with the Bill, but we do not see that as necessary at this stage. I fully understand the points that the noble Lord makes. It is the case that Natural England in some of its functions will need to relate to these risk management authorities; that is the case without a shadow of doubt. But we do not intend to list them because we do not think that Natural England will engage with all the aspects that a risk management authority has in relation to the Bill.

I assure the noble Lord that his case is well made and that, if it became necessary, and the role of Natural England became significant in those terms, we have provision for that to be possible.

I thank the Minister for that very useful clarification. It has helped to put the amendment into context. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 9 withdrawn.

Amendment 10 not moved.

Amendment 11

Moved by

11: Clause 6, page 5, line 11, at end insert—

“( ) “Social tariff” means a charging scheme designed to reduce charges for either individuals or community groups under sections 43 and 44 of this Act.”

I can be fairly brief about this amendment, which is not so much a probing amendment as a clarification amendment. We are very grateful that Clauses 43 and 44 reflect the ability to pay certain water charges for certain groups who have difficulty in paying or should have caps placed on their charges due to their social function. However, I should like a little more clarification about what social tariffs mean, how those clauses will be expected to work and what the limitations are. That would be helpful for those groups outside who are watching—and that is primarily what the amendment is about. We should like to know whether such concepts as fair and affordable will be taken care of, for instance. I beg to move.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, I admire the ingenuity of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in tabling a sort of paving amendment for something which we will not get to until the back end of Part 2, where Clauses 43 and 44 lie. They are important clauses; I have no doubt that we will be able to address them along with the Government’s amendments at that time. These are important issues. Community group charges and social tariffs are of considerable concern to many people. Should the Committee’s deliberations become so protracted that we do not reach those clauses, it is probably as well that we have had an opportunity to recognise them in this brief debate on the noble Lord’s amendment.

My Lords, there was I thinking that this was a constructive, short debate when the noble Lord introduced the chilling possibility that we might not reach the appropriate time to discuss social tariffs. Perish the thought. I know that the noble Lord will co-operate with us all in such a way as to make sure that that is not the case.

I shall ask the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to withdraw his amendment, although I recognise that it is well intended and, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, indicated, it sign-posts later debates. The amendment is unnecessary. Subsections (1) of Clauses 43 and 44 respectively make it clear that the purpose of the clauses is to reduce charges in specific cases.

The noble Lord asked what a social tariff is. I am tempted to say that it is something that you will recognise when you see it, but that is probably not a good enough description. A social tariff is designed to enable some customers to pay a lower charge than the generality of customers for the service which they receive. We shall have significant discussion on this issue when we get to Clauses 43 and 44, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, obviously wishes that we do so as quickly as possible.

The amendment would not achieve anything or add anything new to the Bill. In fact, there is a danger of a certain legal ambiguity because, while Clause 44 uses the term “social tariffs”, Clause 43 does not use it at all, referring instead to “concessionary charges for community groups”, which is part of the definition. The noble Lord has indicated that we shall have fruitful debates on these issues in due course. For the moment, I hope that he will withdraw this amendment, because it is not necessary and does not add illumination to the Bill.

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords’ who have provided me with moral support. The purpose of the amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, pointed out, is to run this particular flag up the pole and have it recognised. I degrouped the amendment for the simple reason that the Government have tabled a later amendment. I acknowledge the Government’s recognition of how important it is to other groups that the concessionary charging scheme and social tariffs are built into the Bill. It is the concessionary charging scheme which initially dragged me to this issue. I appreciate what the Minister said. Bearing that in mind, and with the promise of more to come, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 11 withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed.

Clause 7 : National flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy: England

Amendment 12

Moved by

12: Clause 7, page 5, line 23, after “are” insert “expected”

My Lords, in moving Amendment 12, I shall speak also to Amendments 13 and 24 in the same group. My noble friend Lord Redesdale has a further amendment in this group. There are two small amendments in this group which revolve around the word “expected”. They are there to find out whether there is any reason why the national and local strategies differ in this respect. Clause 7(2)(e) states that the national strategy must specify,

“how and when the measures are to be implemented”.

The local strategy, under Clause 9(4)(e), must specify,

“how and when the measures are expected to be implemented”.

Is there some subtle difference here, or an important difference that I do not understand? The reason for tabling these two amendments is to find out what the difference is, whether it is intentional and, if it is intentional, what it means.

The second amendment is perhaps more substantial. At the moment, Clause 7 states that the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy must specify,

“the costs and benefits of those measures, and how they are to be paid for”.

That is obviously extremely important. I want the criteria to include how they are to be assessed and the schemes prioritised. There is considerable concern that the cost-benefit analysis which is used to distinguish between schemes in different areas fails to distinguish between urban and rural areas. This means that in any list of priorities, market towns and villages often struggle to attract adequate protection. The instance that has been cited to me, and which I have investigated, is that of the rather nice market town of Pickering in North Yorkshire, where it is believed that its schemes cannot compete, under the existing cost-benefit system, with schemes in the middle of Leeds, for example. Those inevitably provide a lower cost per head than a rural town which may be very much in need of protection but does not have enough people to come out well—in relation to cost—from the cost-benefit analysis.

It is suggested that what is needed is a separate funding scheme for rural, as opposed to urban, areas. I cannot comment on that but I can comment on my proposal that the national flood strategy that is laid down should set out very clearly the criteria for this, and establish whether there is the same system whereby smaller places have to compete against much bigger places, or whether there can be some variation in this. I will briefly outline the position in Pickering as an example. The town has had four major floods in a decade, the most recent causing damage costing in the order of £6.5 million. It is, in the view of local people, a town left to drown. There have been several close calls in recent months. It is not a question of whether it will flood again but of when and how badly. Schemes have been put forward, particularly for work upstream. That is a sensible way of dealing with the matter, but it is generally believed that if flooding is to be prevented, as opposed to mitigated, it requires a more significant project to protect the 130 homes and businesses against a flood of the level seen in 2007. It is put to me that, for a while, the cost-benefit system was suspended and, as a result, other towns, particularly the group that includes Malton, Norton and Old Malton, which are around eight miles downstream from Pickering, are now protected from similar floods while Pickering remains defenceless.

I do not want to say anything more about Pickering; it is a delightful place and if people have not been there they should go. Apart from anything else, it has a steam railway which is as close to a proper steam railway as you will find in this country. However, I am not talking about the steam railway but about flooding. Pickering is sited where a valley comes down from the moorlands, opens out, debouches on to the Vale of Pickering, which is a huge floodplain—it used to be a lake in fairly recent glacial times—and flooding is a real problem.

The point I am trying to make more generally is that if the Flood and Water Management Bill is to be successful, towns such as this—of which there are many throughout the country—ought not to suffer simply because they are smaller and cannot match the cost benefits of a big city. Cities have tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people protected compared with a small place which protects fewer people. If the small place is to survive successfully in the future, adequate flood prevention measures, both upstream from the town and within it, have to be taken into account. This should be set out clearly in the national strategy, which is why my amendment should be accepted by the Government. I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 58. I declare a couple of interests: I am chairman of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association and am soon to be a non-executive director of a watertight wares company which deals with flooding. After listening to the noble Lords, Lord Taylor and Lord Dixon-Smith, I should add that I own a mile-and-a-half of a river bank. The River Rede, which in Northumbria means the red river, is so called, we think, because of the iron oxide which goes into it or—the local variation—because it is stained red with the blood of Scotsmen after a massacre in the 16th century, which is the version that I prefer.

The purpose of Amendment 58 is to bring the water regulator, Ofwat, into the remit of the Bill. To me, it is the elephant in the room that has not been discussed because, although the regulator is seen as slightly outside the ambit of the tenor of the Bill, it is responsible for the operations of the water companies. The Bill also deals with sewer flooding and drains flooding from sewers into which the water runs. There is therefore a direct link between the water regulator and provisions within the Bill.

We should not underestimate the problems with flooding. Obviously we have been talking about water and rivers flooding—the first amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, dealt with the wider area—but 50 per cent of all flooding in houses comes from sewers being flooded by rainwater and then the water going back through the pipes. This was a major problem for the poor people of Carlisle, where much of the flooding came through the sewers. Sewer flooding is far worse because it is contaminated water and gets into the brickwork; you then have to hack all the plaster back to the brickwork to get rid of the smell. That is why flooding in this area takes between three and six months to put right and is far more serious than river flooding.

Another reason for tabling the amendment is that Ofwat regulates the water companies through five-year plans, which in relation to flooding is a short period of time with which to deal with long-scale issues. I do not want to clash with the ASA and its recent pronouncements on the department’s adverts on flooding, which say that climate change is an aspect of flooding, but I believe that long-term trends indicate that climate change will bring about far more flooding, although, of course, it is difficult to state that individual floods are caused by climate change.

If that is the case, as part of this Bill I would ask two questions. First, the powers or primary functions of the regulator are currently under review by Defra. In the light of the fact that we are looking very seriously at flood water management, should not the department take into consideration long-term sustainability when looking at this and write it into any review process? I hope that the Government, and any Government of any future colour after the election, will take this point extremely seriously, because it is a real issue in dealing with these much longer-term problems.

Secondly, should Ofwat in that review be conditioned with the same sustainability criteria given to other regulators? I raise the issue because, in the Energy Act 2008, Ofgem was given a sustainability regulation looking at carbon and the interests of present and future consumers. That is why I added that line into the amendment. In the 2010 Bill, whose Second Reading happens in your Lordships’ House next week, there is a provision to indicate that cost should no longer be the primary consideration. This is an important point; it might be seen as an esoteric point about the Short Title of the Bill but I believe that it is much more important than that. As we passed the Climate Change Act 2008, we should start taking into consideration the longer-term issues that all pieces of legislation will feed into. Therefore, I hope that the Minister can confirm that, in the Defra review, Ofwat’s primary regulations will be raised far above the regulation about cost and take in the much more important consideration, which this Bill deals with, of the long-term sustainability of managing our water resources.

My Lords, I begin by declaring my interests. I am a farmer and a landowner and I am involved in the property insurance market—all sectors which will be affected by the measures in this Bill. Until recently, I was a local councillor for a number of years in Norfolk. During that time, I had some involvement with our local internal drainage board.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has raised questions about the implementation measures contained in the risk management strategies—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has raised questions about the implementation measures in the risk management strategies. His pair of amendments, Amendments 12 and 24, do indeed highlight an unusual discrepancy in the drafting of Clause 7, which is about the national strategy, and Clause 9, which deals with the local strategies. In the former, measures are to be implemented, but in the latter they are not expected to be implemented. Why, I wonder, are expectations lower for local strategies? If a strategy has been developed, should not the measures be implemented?

If the Government are serious that local authorities will have as much of a role to play as the Environment Agency, each in its appropriate sphere of course, then why do we see the difference in the drafting? The noble Lord was sharp-eyed to have spotted that difference, but it is an interesting point which I should like the Minister to address.

The noble Lord’s Amendment 13 asks how we will be able to assess the costs and benefits of measures proposed in the national strategy to manage flood and coastal erosion risk. Presumably this will all form part and parcel of the work conducted by the Environment Agency when it is setting up and maintaining the risk-management strategy. Will the agency be required to produce the sort of impact assessments that government departments publish with their legislation, for example; and how, having done so, will the Environment Agency weigh up the pros and cons of the measures it has proposed? What is the process involved? To my mind this is another reason why we are justified in seeking parliamentary oversight of the strategy, so that we can have an impartial adjudication of the costs and benefits.

Amendment 58, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, at first seems a bit of an oddity in this group as it deal with the involvement of Ofwat in the guidance which is to set out the meaning of sustainable development. My noble friend Lord Taylor and I have an amendment tabled to Clause 27, which we will debate later—probably not tonight—which we shall use to explore the meaning of sustainable development in greater detail. However, as it is being debated now, I will make the comment that the obligation to contribute to sustainable development will indeed be another consideration that authorities must take into account when deciding the priority they give to the measures designed to give effect to their risk-management functions. Will the obligation to contribute to sustainable development, a concept as yet undefined, take priority over other measures, or where will it fall in the rankings of all the other obligations which must be undertaken?

The Minister may not at this stage be ready to tell us what he thinks sustainable development is—although I hope that he will be ready by the time we reach Clause 27—but he may feel that he ought to expand on the topic if it allows us to consider whether that obligation will interfere with, complement or otherwise relate to the measures which must be set out as a result of Clause 7.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken—although I must say that I take a little umbrage at that last remark. After all, I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on the Climate Change Bill—endless hour after endless hour on sustainability—so I am able to help in that respect. However, the noble Lord will forgive me, as I am not going to go into enormous detail on this amendment. As the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, correctly identified, we will have plenty of time to discuss those issues.

Just to be accurate, I think that the noble Lord was referring to the Planning Bill and the Marine and Coastal Access Bill.

I have been with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on several Bills, but the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right to remind me that he and I have disputed these points on yet another Bill. I am grateful for the memory of that happy experience, which of course is being replicated as we deal with this Bill.

It’s the same speech in every Bill, as my noble friend has indicated. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, that the apparent omission of “expected” from the national strategy, to which Amendment 12 is addressed, is deliberate. It reflects the fact that this operates at a higher level so that the implementation of measures or approaches, such as flood warnings or works programmes, can be managed to ensure that they are implemented to time and to budget.

The local strategies, however, may contain physical or other works in particular locations. The Bill therefore reflects the fact that these might be delayed, for example, due to requirements for planning permission or the availability of specialist plants or materials. So we do need an element of flexibility—an elasticity—in relation to the local position whereas with the national position we can determine broad strategy and be definitive. Hence the reason for the Bill as drafted. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, knows only too well, nothing that the Government ever draft in a Bill is inadvertent; it is always deliberately thought through and carefully considered before being presented to Parliament.

Amendment 13 would require the national strategy to include information on how measures are to be assessed and the schemes prioritised. The national strategy will work at a high level, setting out broad approaches and principles applicable to the management of all sources of flood and coastal erosion. It is likely that the principles for assessment and prioritisation of government expenditure will be set out in the strategy, but the methodology adopted will be set out in guidance so that an appropriate level of detail can be provided. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would not let me get away without this assurance: the appropriate level of detail can be provided and updated to reflect changing circumstances.

Perhaps I can indicate to the noble Lord another word of constructive comfort. He included in his illustration of local issues the town of Pickering, a town for which I have the greatest affection. As he said, it is a most attractive town. As I recall, it also makes for a well deserved holiday. After you have spent six weeks lecturing at the University of Boston during the year in which they were celebrating the bicentenary of the American Revolution, you need a holiday when you get back. I took one in Pickering and greatly enjoyed it. I therefore have the town’s interests greatly at heart and am delighted to assure the noble Lord that Defra of course recognises the difficulties he has identified with regard to Pickering and the threats to it. That is why we are funding a landscape scale trial to see whether tree-planting and water storage can reduce the risk. This is an Environment Agency, Forestry Commission and National Parks project—all those organisations are involved—which is being funded by Defra. This falls outside the main capital programme, so the noble Lord will at least give the department credit for having anticipated that he might contribute to this debate and mention Pickering.

I assure him that we do not discriminate between urban and rural. The appraisal system discriminates and that is why funding is targeted first at where the benefits are greatest and the potential damage is very serious. We do not distinguish between urban and rural; the question is where the threat is and where the issue needs to be addressed.

On Amendment 58, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, which presages considerable debate later on, I emphasise that the Government are considering the scope of the review of Ofwat. It will take into account our deliberations on these issues today and those that I hope we will have next week as we discuss the Bill. However, Ofwat already has a duty under Section 2 of the Water Industry Act to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, so it has an obligation. We have no doubt that the Bill will throw up some interesting insights into the necessity for effective action, and we will ensure that this is translated into the Ofwat review.

I thank the Minister for that. In Ofwat’s primary directives when it was set up—I have looked through the water Act—cost is the primary consideration. However, I want to put on the record—I hope that the Minister can confirm this—that in the Energy Act 2010 cost is no longer seen as the primary consideration for Ofgem. So if the primary consideration for Ofgem is now to be sustainability above cost—although cost is obviously an important consideration—should not Ofwat’s emphasis also be on sustainability above cost? Will there need to be a change in primary legislation?

My Lords, my honourable friend in the other place expressed a desire to consult on the guidance. Under the code of practice on consultation, the Government will consult on the guidance as a matter of course, and that will include Ofwat. So Ofwat and other interested stakeholders can all participate in that necessary consultation. We do not need to specify that Ofwat is consulted because such a consultation would expect all significant parties to play their part. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw Amendment 58 because we take on board his point about Ofwat’s responsibilities.

I will look at the question of primary legislation but, as I have said, the powers already exist. We do not think it is about primary legislation; rather, it is about conditioning Ofwat’s perspective from the public debate of priorities, which is what its concentration is designed to identify.

The Minister mentioned the land scale trials that are taking place. What area is covered? Is it one area or several different areas within the UK? What sort of timescale does he have? Will there be a review at the end of it? What is the programme cycle?

The trial will cover several areas. I cannot go any further into that because I do not have the identification of the localities immediately to hand. The trial will be evaluated in due course.

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s reply. I shall of course withdraw the amendment. I was intrigued, however, by his explanation as to why the national strategy will “happen” and the local strategies will be “expected”. He said that it was all a matter of getting planning permission, possible difficulties of funding and so on. Will he confirm that the national strategy will cover all main rivers? It is quite clear that local rivers are covered by the local strategy. Clause 9 refers to “ordinary watercourses” as opposed to main watercourses. However, main rivers and watercourses go down to quite small streams in many areas. There is a main watercourse in the ward that I represent on Pendle council which rarely has any water in it. It is a little beck and there is water in it only if it rains heavily, yet it is a main river. As part of a housing development, the Environment Agency insisted that there should be a scheme for a little weir and a pond. It has caused huge problems with planning and getting people to do it, because nobody knows who owns the land—it is a nightmare. However, this is a very small, local matter. Will the Minister confirm that the national strategy will cover all main rivers? In the case of the river that I am talking about, “expected” is certainly the case. If it does not cover all main rivers, where do they appear in the strategies? The list set out in the clause on local strategies does not include main watercourses.

The planting and management scheme upstream of Pickering is extremely welcome. It is exactly the kind of issue that arises in catchment area management, which comes up in the next group of amendments. My information is that for a 2007-level flood in Pickering, the new measures are expected to reduce the water levels and flooding by no more than around 10 per cent. It is far from the whole picture, although it is very welcome. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 12 withdrawn.

Amendment 13 not moved.

Amendment 14

Moved by

14: Clause 7, page 5, line 27, at end insert—

“( ) the means by which the strategy will ensure that flood risk management within catchment areas takes place on a co-ordinated basis,”

My Lords, this amendment raises the important matter of catchment area management. I shall speak also to Amendment 25 in the same group. There are also two amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington.

We talked about catchment area management at Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, was particularly eloquent about it, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say today. We said then that the principle of catchment area management is not clearly set out in the Bill and that some of the administrative arrangements being proposed may get in the way of proper catchment area management unless it is set out as a clear duty.

The amendment would add to the things that the national strategy must specify,

“the means by which the strategy will ensure that flood risk management within catchment areas takes place on a co-ordinated basis”.

My second amendment would add the same wording to the local strategies.

I shall not speak at great length because the position is very clear.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, in moving Amendment 14, I will not talk at any length about the need for integrated catchment area management as part of the flood risk strategies because it is self-evident that it is an important component. When we were interrupted by the Division, I was saying that catchment areas very often do not coincide with administrative boundaries, which is true at the local level and the regional level, and between England and Wales.

At a local level, it is very important that there is sufficient co-operation and co-ordination within catchment areas so that what is done upstream, in the middle of the river and downstream is co-ordinated in a way which helps to manage flood risk. At national level, the strategy must set out how this is to be achieved, and that is my reason for moving the amendment.

I should add—and this gives the Minister the chance to answer the question that I asked last time—that if the national level strategy includes all the main rivers, there clearly has to be catchment area integration between the responsibilities of the Environment Agency in dealing with rivers and the responsibilities of the local flood risk management authorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said earlier that engineers will often find a solution that they understand. It might be an engineering solution involving concrete because that is what they understand and it is how they work. That might be the right answer or it might be the wrong answer but, unless the proposal is looked at within the context of a catchment area, it could be a disastrous answer.

With regard to the use of farmland, there has to be integration with farming strategies, with single farm payment strategies and with environmental enhancement schemes on farms and the like. Unless CAP measures can be integrated into the whole strategy within a catchment basin, then it will not work. The Minister referred to planting trees and the involvement of the Forestry Commission. All these things are necessary, which is why the strategy should clearly require this kind of approach. At regional level, regional strategies—formerly regional spatial strategies—need to take account of catchment area planning and, at local level, the local development framework, which is the replacement for local plans, needs to take account of catchment area planning with regard to water and flood management. Particularly at district council level, where there are quite small district councils, a catchment area might have a lot of different local planning authorities. Unless they are integrated and have to take part, partly in their role as flood management authorities but also as local planning authorities, it will become impossible to have proper catchment area planning of the kind that is needed. Therefore, our view is that it should be clearly stated in the Bill that this is a requirement, and we ask the Government to take this matter very seriously. I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall speak to my two amendments in this grouping. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, seemed to indicate that he was looking for eloquence and depth in my remarks but I fear that he will be disappointed. All my interventions on the first half of the Bill are about catchment co-ordination, so I shall be dropping in my pearls sparingly, one by one.

The noble Lord is right that at Second Reading I said that I believed it was vital that we retain the management of our water on the basis of the whole catchment. The alternative, whereby every individual section of a river is managed differently with no thought for those downstream, is, to my way of thinking, a recipe for chaos, greater overall expense and greater insecurity. As I also said at Second Reading, I nevertheless sympathise with the desire to ensure that there is democratic responsibility for flood defences on a local basis. I fully acknowledge that having local flood risk-management strategies devised by the lead local flood authority is a good idea.

I recognise that Clause 9(5) and Clause 10(5) currently require the local strategy to be consistent with the national strategy, and that it is possible that the national strategy could, among other things, spell out what I am seeking to achieve in my amendments in this group. However, if Clause 9(4) and Clause 10(4) are trying to put the essential points of a local strategy into the Bill—that is, what it must specify—then for goodness’ sake let us ensure that we spell out the most important consideration: proper, co-ordinated catchment management. This means that we will ensure that we have the least overall cost and, at the same time, the maximum effective security against flooding for all in the catchment.

I have to admit that Amendment 25, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which I had not seen until late last night, probably covers my point rather more comprehensively than my wording. I always say what I want, but I am never very good at getting the right mechanisms for achieving it. I would be very happy to support their amendments in lieu of mine, if the Minister thinks it is a better way forward.

My Lords, the noble Lords’ amendments are useful in allowing us to consider catchment areas. I understand that this country, as far as water management goes, is widely admired for its organisation by catchment area rather than by political boundaries. To my mind, that is entirely correct, as water plainly does not know whether it is in one district council area or another. As far as I can see, the Bill is structured in a way that allows co-ordination between authorities which will be affected by each other’s decisions. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raised an interesting question about how differences will be resolved should two areas find themselves with incompatible approaches. What means will be used to resolve the differences? Will the Environment Agency have a role to play? I will be interested to hear the Minister's comments.

I also have some questions about downstream authorities. I can see an analogy between a flood and a car crash involving several cars. Who bears responsibility? Is it the last car in the line or the one immediately behind you? Likewise, if flooding affects a downstream area, where does the responsibility lie? Is it with each authority lying further upstream or with the one receiving the water? Or is there a different level of responsibility depending on what actions each authority took or failed to take? If my land at the bottom of the valley suffers flooding damage due to decisions or mistakes elsewhere, what avenue of redress can I pursue?

I fully expect that the Minister will be able to provide reassurance on this point, perhaps explaining the co-ordinating role played by the Environment Agency, with its national strategy, and the responsibilities of the lead local authorities to co-operate with each other. However, it would be very useful to have on the record a clear step-by-step guide to how the schemes will be managed. Will the department be producing guidance and, if so, when might we expect to see it?

My Lords, I declare an interest for this part of the Bill as a former chief executive of the Environment Agency. I am delighted to see the Bill here now. If we ever get a chance to stop voting, it might actually progress. I am also president of a local wildlife trust and a member of the climate change adaptation committee.

I support the principle of these amendments. They are probably legislatively unnecessary, since this sort of co-ordination is increasingly already happening, but I welcome what has just been said about the importance of co-ordination. I hope that noble Lords will bear that in mind when we come to debate Amendments 27, 33, 38 and 39, which seem to weaken co-ordination. I simply place a marker that the statements we have just heard about co-ordination are extremely important.

My Lords, what a pleasure it is when a contribution from a noble Lord sends a chill wind towards speakers in the debate other than the Minister. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for indicating that she has some anxieties about amendments that we will come to later. As noble Lords will appreciate, I have perpetual anxieties about all amendments apart from government ones.

I will begin this part of the debate by addressing the issue of how the national and local strategies should operate. We touched on this earlier in our discussions. There will be a number of occasions as we debate the Bill when these issues can be raised, but this is perhaps an appropriate one on which to clear up some of them and reach a broad understanding of the principles behind the Bill and of the way in which things are meant to work.

The national strategy will underpin effective management of flood and coastal erosion risk. Given the importance of this, the Environment Agency must consult other risk authorities, the public and, where appropriate, Welsh and Scottish Ministers on the content of the strategy. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raised a specific question about this when we discussed the previous group of amendments. I emphasise that the national strategy perforce will be general. It will not put forward specific options for specific locations. The Environment Agency will certainly be expected to continue with catchment flood management: that is the concern of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and which he emphasised so emphatically at Second Reading. He has been supported today both by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart.

The national strategy is bound to have broad objectives, which will include catchment areas. Therefore, it is bound to be involved in issues of risk assessment, including those aspects of climate change that we touched on earlier this afternoon. As noble Lords would be quick to point out if I did not, the issues of the costs and benefits of the measures proposed, and of the contribution to wider environmental objectives, will be the responsibility of the Environment Agency; and that will be the basis of the national strategy.

What the national strategy will not do is to prescribe particular local flood or coastal risk management decisions. That will be appropriately and properly the responsibility of the risk management authorities, whose operations we define in the Bill, but it will provide a framework within which these decisions can be made consistently. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is right: the concept of a catchment area is of very great importance with regard to risk management, and of course the catchment area does not automatically coincide with local authority areas—that is not how water distribution works. The Environment Agency will have overall responsibility, but it will not be prescriptive as regards decisions taken at local level.

Investment of public funds in flood and coastal erosion risk management must be carried out equitably to achieve maximum benefit. The national strategy will help to ensure that resources go where the greatest priorities are identified. What local strategies need to do is to reflect that element of national strategy. In addition, decisions need to be made in the context of wider risks to ensure that decisions made in one area do not impact negatively on another. That was the whole point that the noble Earl was making a moment ago. Why should those downstream bear the costs of those decisions taken injudiciously upstream? The point there is that the local risk management authority will seek to meet local needs but will do it within the framework of the national strategy, particularly reflecting catchment areas.

The responsibility therefore remains with the Environment Agency to manage those risks that typically occur on a larger scale, such as flooding from the main rivers and the sea. We fully expect that it will continue to undertake its planning on a catchment scale, as it currently does, through catchment flood management plans. That is the EA’s responsibility. Local authorities will be responsible for those risks that can be more appropriately managed on a local scale, including surface water and ordinary water courses—although, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is apt to point out, ordinary water courses have extraordinary features at times. I accept that point entirely. We all know that we are dealing with a difficult area. That is why this Bill is so important. We all recognise the great difficulties of water management.

These responsibilities are underlain by a duty for all risk management authorities to co-operate, as specified in Clause 13(1), and to share information, as specified in Clause 14. These, together with the guidance, alongside the national strategy and the ability for the authorities to enter into arrangements in Clause 13(4) provide the assurance that authorities will work together on a catchment basis, when that is needed. As will be seen from the broad description that I have given of how the national and local strategies are meant to interact, we conceive of the four amendments as being of broadly similar intent, making reference to the need for strategies to take account of catchment scale linkages and processes. Of course, we accept that argument entirely.

It is important to ensure that water movements across local authority boundaries are dealt with effectively; I hope that noble Lords will accept from the amendments that the Bill is structured to take full account of this most important concept. The guidance accompanying the national strategy will address these concerns and seek to ensure that one authority does not simply act in a way that passes the problem on to another. Local authorities will be bound by the duty to co-operate, and local strategies will need to be consistent with the national strategy and guidance. Similarly, in exercising flood risk functions, local authorities will also need to co-operate and act consistently with the national strategy and guidance. Against this clear perspective that the Bill identifies, I ask noble Lords that the amendments should not be pressed.

Amendments 26 and 32 would require local authorities to specify the strategy impacts outside their area. However, although they could specify, they would not have the power to do anything about them. Determining the impacts may not be practical, since it would require understanding of how risk is to be managed in adjacent areas for which they are not directly responsible. The Bill already makes sure that the people responsible in the adjoining authority—or authorities, if more than one—should co-operate and share information. Those duties, together with the ability to enter new agreements, buttressed by the national strategy and guidance, provide a more pragmatic approach to ensuring that the arrangements work at the catchment as well as the local and national scales. I am, however, grateful to noble Lords who tabled these amendments, because they raised the issue of the catchment area. It is important to recognise that the Bill successfully and properly addresses that most important concept. I hope that noble Lords will feel able to withdraw their amendments.

My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions to this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, is altogether too modest. He is far more of an expert on these matters than I am. I was grateful for his support and for the contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart.

I think we have got all that we could expect out of the Minister today—a clear statement, on the record, that the Bill will substantially be based on catchment area management. I do not think we will get more than that today, but it is very welcome and I thank the Minister for it. He said that the national risk management strategy will not be based on specific options or locations. However, the local strategies appear to be based much more on specific options and locations. Because they cover much smaller areas, even in large counties such as Lancashire and North Yorkshire, they will inevitably look at problems in somewhere such as Pickering or parts of Lancashire that are liable to flood, even up in the Pennines. I do not think they would work if they did not do that.

My point is that if the local strategies are going to deal, as the Bill says, with surface runoff, groundwater and ordinary watercourses, how do the main rivers fit into this strategy? How will it work in practice? This is what I was trying to get my mind around in the question of main rivers. Main rivers may be what we call “proper big rivers”, such as the Ouse and the Ribble, but they also include many quite small streams, some of which, in our part of the world, would just be called bits of becks. Clearly, they are the responsibility of the Environment Agency, but they have to be integrated into any kind of local flood risk management strategy that is going to make sense. You cannot say that a particular stream, which happens to be part of a main river, is to be treated differently from a stream that is treated as an ordinary watercourse. That is what the position is on the ground in many places. What is the responsibility of the two different risk management authorities that will be responsible for these in coming together for the local strategy?

I am sure the Minister will tell me that everyone will work together in a sensible and co-operative way and that it will all work in practice. However, it is not clear from what is written in the Bill that that is the case.

Guidance will have to be issued on how this co-operation is to take place. We expect the consultation on that to begin later this year and guidance will be provided. The noble Lord is absolutely right. The national strategy will have to be interpreted accurately and effectively by local decision-makers. We are protecting the proper rights of the local risk management authorities to take decisions. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is emphasising, it would be absurd if they took decisions about water management which ran contrary to good sense. The guidance will indicate how they reconcile their position with that of the authority next door, or even more than one authority. I accept entirely his point that it will be necessary to identify how difficulties are overcome. However, that element of detail is a function of guidance, whereas the structure of national strategy and risk management authorities are properly primary legislative issues. That is why they are defined as they are in the Bill.

We will not get any further with this today. My problem is that, much as I am a real supporter of public authorities, particularly democratically elected public authorities, they do not always behave in a sensible and co-operative manner, so I like to see things written down. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 14.

Amendment 14 withdrawn.

Amendment 15 not moved.

Amendment 16

Moved by

16: Clause 7, page 5, line 36, at end insert—

“( ) bodies representing the owners and occupiers of land likely, in the opinion of the Agency, to be directly affected by flood and coastal erosion,”

My Lords, in moving Amendment 16 I shall speak also to the others in this sweeping group of amendments, which, in some ways, gets to the heart of the structure of the Bill.

This is an important subject area and deals with the drawing up of the national and local strategies for managing flood and coastal erosion risks. We will deal later with the relationship between local and national strategies but, for the purpose of this debate, we are broadly content with the twin-track approach. I suspect the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, is somewhat amused by that. I find it pleasing that the Bill has been constructed in the way that it has, reflecting the reciprocity of national and local obligations.

Clause 7 deals with the national strategy for England and Clause 8 with the national strategy for Wales, with the Environment Agency tasked with the former job and Welsh Ministers with the latter. Clause 9 deals with local strategies for England and Clause 10 with local strategies for Wales. It is a good principle to develop this twin-track approach within the symmetry of the structure so that we can exploit the benefits of expertise and local knowledge.

It would perhaps be as well if I mentioned at this point the role of the IDBs. I do not think internal drainage boards will feature much in the debates of the Committee because the major section on internal drainage boards was removed from the draft Bill. However, they are a key delivery agency of any proper management of floods and water and I hope their role will be sustained by this new legislation and encouraged by the Government. If any body is designed to manage water on a catchment area basis, it is indeed the IDBs. I hope they will be encouraged to maintain a leading role in this respect.

The clauses require that the strategies be subject to consultation. We would not consider anything otherwise to be appropriate. The amendments, however, probe who must be consulted. Each of the four groups which draw up the strategies must consult with each other, with the relevant management authorities and, where necessary, with the Scottish Ministers. Anyone else, however, is simply described as “the public”. That is plainly a very wide category and, while it is right and proper that the public should be consulted, details seem rather vague. Would that obligation be met simply by posting a notice in local or national newspapers; would that be sufficient? What form would or should public consultation take?

I have suggested in my amendments bodies which would seem prime candidates to be consulted—the water companies, sewerage undertakers and bodies representing landowners likely to be directly affected by flooding and coastal erosion. All of these have a direct interest in any strategy that emerges, locally or nationally. Landowners and managers are instrumental in protecting other land from flooding because it is in their own interests. They will have not only opinions but experience and expertise which should provide an invaluable resource. It therefore seems entirely sensible that the agency or the responsible authorities should consult landowners and managers about the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy.

It is perhaps less cumbersome to have bodies representing owners and managers rather than the owners and managers themselves. Such parties will play a large role in achieving the objectives that we have set out in the section about consultation. The requirement to consult only “the public” seems too woolly. Surely it would be better to have a full engagement with those bodies and groups which have the most at stake.

The same is true of the water companies and sewerage undertakers. When discussing an earlier set of amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who is not in his place, gave graphic illustrations of the unpleasantness of sewage flooding. The water companies and sewerage undertakers will be directly involved if there is flooding. I cannot imagine that anyone would think that they should not be consulted. Their relevance is so fundamental that I can see justification for mentioning them in the Bill. The Minister may not be minded to do so. I imagine he might suggest that to include some would implicitly exclude others. That is the old list argument again, but a number of lists are included in the Bill. However, I hope that he will be able to indicate the guidelines the department will doubtless draw up to advise on strategies. I suspect that this will be key.

It seems to me that there is almost no chance that the bodies I have mentioned would not feature highly in any consultation, but I wonder whether there will be a requirement to give extra weight to the views of such organisations. I would appreciate hearing more details from the Minister about the way that strategies will be drawn up. I press him to provide draft guidelines at the earliest opportunity. It makes the scrutiny of legislation very much easier, and better, when Parliament is kept up to date with what exactly the Government are asking us to legislate on.

I think at this stage I am likely to get assurances from the Minister rather than anything else, but even assurances would be useful to have on the record as regards who will play what role in the national and local strategies. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have great pleasure in giving the warmest possible support to every word that has been said by my noble friend Lord Taylor. However, I must speak on this amendment because there is one small word in it that worries me very much—namely, “and”. Earlier, I mentioned my concern that in many clauses throughout the Bill the lesson comes across that the people who are looking at flood risk and trying to set out what the dangers are and making suggestions for combating them are also looking at coastal erosion. I think I am right in saying that that is mentioned nine times in this one clause alone. I do not understand why we cannot say “flood or”. I spent 10 years of my life as a local councillor and I am well aware of the frequency and joy with which local councils waste time. I can think of no better way of wasting time than to say that every council, whether or not it had any coastal problems, would have to consider them. That is the message that I get and it is repeated in the amendment. The Minister well understood this and kindly commented that somewhere such as Birmingham or Northampton—where my home is—should not have to waste time considering coastal erosion. Why can we not ensure that consideration is limited to the dangers which might occur in any one area?

This may seem a small point but, given the present passion for sending out forms containing boxes to be ticked, I can well imagine boxes coming out by the thousand on forms sent to all these councils asking them to consider what they are going to do about coastal erosion in Birmingham. It may surprise noble Lords, but I can tell them that councils could waste a good deal of time trying to figure out what those coastal erosion problems might be. Is it not possible to make it plain that there is no duty on any area which has no likelihood of suffering coastal erosion to have to consider that point? At the moment there is no certainty in that regard. In fact, as I read the Bill, it seems that they will have to waste time considering that. May I have an assurance on that? Otherwise, I support this amendment and so much of what my noble friend said about the need for consultation. There is a great interest now in flooding, because a great many people have had close personal experience of its dangers and of the agonies of families who have had it happen to them. We should most certainly consult, but recognise that wasting time on consultations that are not needed is not very sensible.

I support the amendments in this grouping, particularly those which try to ensure that local landowners and farmers are consulted in devising these strategies. The Committee would probably expect me to support them, and I reiterate my interests as a farmer and landowner. It is perhaps not quite so important in connection with the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy, although anyone drawing up such a plan without consulting the experts at the CLA and the NFU would be very remiss. As an ex-chairman of the CLA water committee, I was always amazed at the sheer weight of watery knowledge, including on coastal erosion, which was available from the members of that committee.

However, where consultation with the farmers and landowners is vital is at the local level. What happens to the rain after it lands on the soil, how the land is best drained and how floods are best avoided in each and every area—those questions require a lifetime of experience and often, indeed, more that. While I was writing these remarks, they reminded me of Arthur, who was an old boy in our village. I suspect that every farm and village has one who has inherited the knowledge of previous generations. Whenever a drain or a piped stream went wrong, and water was bubbling up everywhere, the cry went out: “Where’s Arthur? He’s the one who will know how this thing works and how we can solve the problem”. Sure enough, Arthur was sent for; sure enough, he knew exactly how it all worked. It also occurred to me that Arthur is, as they say in Somerset, now long gone. I am afraid that I have a deep suspicion that the “old boy” that they now call on is probably me, which is not an accolade I would necessarily wish to take on. Getting back to my point, any local flood risk strategy that ignores the knowledge and experiences of local farmers and landowners, or that fails to acknowledge their interest as food producers, would be seriously lacking, so I strongly support these amendments.

My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendments, particularly the one that reminds noble Lords regarding the members of CLA and the NFU. One bit that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has just mentioned is the question of the long-term provision of food. Some of these flood areas are key grade 1 land. The Bill does not recognise or address that. One could argue that there is no need for it so to do, but the changes in climate cycles that we are experiencing—even if one does not believe in climate change as such—with the weather being too hot, or too much rain coming in great depth, will reflect on food production. Clearly, there are particular areas in England; if we take the grade 1 agricultural land that lies below the five-metre contour, approximately 40 per cent of vegetables produced in England and Wales come from low-lying fen areas.

Perhaps I might raise two other issues. The first is in connection with consultation. As I am sure that the noble Lord is aware, at the moment the area of the land around Morecambe Bay is out to consultation. I think that the consultation process has actually finished but, before a decision is taken, even having consultation on it actually puts a blight on the land value of that area. I do not think that that has been taken into consideration at all, or whether compensation will be paid. At the moment, it is in some places and is not in others. However, whether it be on the west side of the country or in Norfolk, where my noble friend Lord Cathcart lives and where the Government have clearly decided that they are not going to continue to struggle against the sea, which will be allowed to come in, the whole question of coastal erosion has huge implications, not just for the food producers there but also for the value of the houses and the farming land around it.

I should be grateful for greater clarification from the Minister on two points: first, that low-lying land may well be removed from consideration of flood prevention schemes and, secondly, about the effect that consultation is having on the farms concerned. I have looked at the area being considered at Morecambe Bay. I know that some 20 farms and farmland areas there are very much under threat, and that is of great concern locally.

Returning to my noble friend’s comment, I suggest to the Minister that it is not adequate that the Bill does not specifically include landowners—I would call them land managers, but it does not matter what they are called—among those required to be consulted under Clause 7(3). Only “the public” is mentioned, but how do the Government weigh the evidence that is given by the public in response to a consultation? Is it the case that the greater the number of people who respond, the greater the weight they carry, compared with those who manage or work the land?

This may be the appropriate time to raise the whole issue of assessment. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for having raised this matter and I hope that I am right, at this stage of the Bill, to stress the importance of the role that assessment can play not only in relation to flood protection but also in relation to areas of good-quality land, which are very much the bread-baskets of our country but which may be at risk.

My Lords, I am sure that, when he responds to the amendment, the Minister will give his usual speech about lists. I share his worry about lists here because, if the various interested groups included in these amendments were added to the Bill, we would have to add a number of other groups that have a legitimate interest. We could therefore end up with a very long list. I shall give two examples. As well as having a big impact on landowners, water companies and sewerage undertakers, the strategies will also have a big impact on nature conservation. Therefore, both Natural England and the Countryside Council for Wales should be on the lists due to their having a very central interest. I am sure that the Minister will tell us that he is not going to have a list and that there will be guidance instead.

My Lords, I am always grateful for all contributions to the Committee but I am particularly grateful for the helpful one that has taken a good chunk out of my speech. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, is right to say that I am against lists. The difficulty lies in how exhaustive one can make lists—they are always there to be added to. Therefore, I am going to argue against these amendments, although I very much appreciate the opportunity that they have provided for an extensive debate about the various interests involved.

The one contribution to which I am afraid I have no response is that of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I do not know what to do about consultation blight, which is what I think she identified. In fact, areas that are subject to potential consultation about risk suffer from the fact that they have been identified as being at risk. I do not think that there is any way round that difficulty. It is obvious that it is the job of the authorities which manage risk to identify potential risk, and I am enjoined on all sides of the Committee to say that appropriate consultation should take place. I am not going to dissent from that at all. I am totally in favour of consultation. I shall merely indicate that the Bill makes provision for that. I take up the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, just identified: we cannot do this properly through lists.

The process is bound to carry difficulties and I sympathise entirely with the noble Baroness’s point, but I am not sure that there is much that we can do about risk management and coping with water and its problems without taking actions that, as she has indicated, might cause concern in an area. The only safeguard for that is that the risk has to be accurately defined. We must avoid areas being blighted by consultation about a risk that is non-existent and people therefore suffering in a totally unsatisfactory way that is unjustified. Every other noble Lord who has spoken in this debate has indicated the value of consultation. We are being rather more specific about it.

I want to clear up one other point. I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, identifies. I am aware that neither Northampton nor Birmingham, nor indeed many other places, have any concern about coastal erosion, but we have to put coastal erosion in alongside flood management because some local authorities have both. Take a place like Haisborough on the Norfolk coast, for instance; if we put it down just for risk management with regard to water but did not identify just what threat was represented by coastal erosion, we would be enormously neglectful of our duties. Noble Lords opposite—the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, and others—will testify to this aspect with regard to parts of eastern England. We have no option but to include this. I hear what she also says, about the danger that people can go off the point in local authority meetings. People can go off the point in almost all meetings, but I cannot imagine that the city of Birmingham is going to spend too much of its time worrying about coastal erosion, even if it considers the issues of water management, which it may well have to do in the framework of the Bill.

I am certainly not seeking to stop people who need to study coastal erosion having that done for them. I am simply anxious that there should be clear guidance to those who have these jobs given to them that they do not have to concern themselves with that particular area. Everywhere that has such a need, though, should be required to do so. I am sorry if I misunderstood.

I am merely indicating why both concepts have to be obligatory upon risk management authorities. The only word of comfort I have for the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is that, as she knows, we are concerned with our strategy for food security and production in the country. She has identified that there might be difficulties for food producers because of the way the Bill will operate, and that is an important consideration. We have had to include the availability of certain kinds of marginal land in the issues that we have concerned ourselves with in relation to the security of food strategy, and erosion therefore raises its ugly head for obvious reasons. We do not think that we ought to be enormously distressed at national level about the relationship between protection, as far as the Bill is concerned, water problems, the national food strategy and food production. I hear what the noble Baroness says about a particular area, though, and that is to be borne in mind.

I cannot do anything about consultation blight, but I can emphasise that the Bill is about effective consultation, as noble Lords have enjoined us. I am against the necessity for specification as the amendments require. The Environment Agency is used to consulting relevant representative organisations and other persons and to using its judgment as to which bodies need to be approached individually, and it will carry out this function in relation to this Bill in the same way. The Environment Agency is under a duty to secure the involvement of representatives of interested persons where it considers that appropriate. Under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, it must exercise this judgment in a reasonable way. If it did not consult, it would not be acting reasonably, and that is a safeguard for the national body.

In addition, the Secretary of State has the power to issue guidance to all lead local flood authorities in England to which they must have regard. The process of consultation will be identified in the guidance we are to produce, but that is different from saying that it should be in primary legislation.

As for Amendments 28, 29, 34 and 35, which add water companies and relevant sewerage undertakers to the list of bodies, the lists in Clauses 9 and 10 include risk management authorities that may be affected by the strategy, and water companies and sewerage undertakers are defined in them, so they are already included within the definition of risk management authorities in Clause 6(13). The relevant water companies and sewerage companies have got to be consulted, and we are quite clear about that. I am grateful to noble Lords for emphasising that fact. The Government would be very remiss if it was not in the Bill, but the Committee can rest assured that the necessity for consultation with those authorities is already enshrined.

My Lords, I was taught when I first came here to be fairly brief in response to the Minister’s comments, and I shall try to stick to that. I asked for assurances that the Environment Agency and local authorities would not be doing their jobs in drawing up these strategies unless they properly consulted, and we have had such assurances. It is important to have that made clear and on the record.

There is one point I have omitted to refer to. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his contribution. He emphasised the continuing importance of the internal drainage boards, and I can assure him that we share that priority and that commitment. They will not be affected adversely by anything in this legislation; in fact, they have an important role to play.

I am grateful for that further assurance. In listening to the debate it occurred to me that, quite rightly, we have been focusing on the contribution of rural England. After all, river systems and, indeed, rain frequently are rural matters. I am aware that many of us are influenced by the fact that we have rural experience and knowledge, but we have to remember that the system is designed also to deal with flooding in urban areas. That is an important element, and I hope the structure will allow a balance to be struck. However, that does not reduce the importance of the strategy recognising the needs of food production in the UK, the needs of nature conservation and the role that those who manage water on their lands can play in flood management.

I am grateful to the Minister for reassuring the Grand Committee in the way that he has, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 16 withdrawn.

Amendment 17

Moved by

17: Clause 7, page 5, line 36, at end insert—

“( ) Parliament,”

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 19 and 50. I apologise to the Committee because I will have to go at 7.45 pm. I have to catch the last train back to Skipton, otherwise I will be stranded in Leeds or somewhere dreadful. If I do not stay for the whole of the debate, I apologise.

I was going to withdraw Amendment 17, but I think that it would cause procedural chaos. Therefore, although I move it, I shall not speak to it or expect any answers. I shall speak to Amendment 19. I will withdraw Amendment 50 because the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, has tabled Amendment 49A, which does the same thing, only much better. I shall support her amendment when she speaks to it.

No, I am not. I am moving it in order to assist the Committee in the procedure. I shall not expect a reply from the Minister, but if he wishes to reply, that is entirely up to him. Otherwise, we will get into a certain amount of difficulty.

On Amendment 19, Clause 7(4) provides that the national flood and coastal erosion risk strategy is to be published in the form of a summary. That is all that it says. It seems to me that it should be published fully, and I therefore wish to replace the words “a summary” with “the strategy and a summary”. It seems extraordinary that a document of this importance would not be properly published. I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 21 and 51, which are tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. In this group of amendments, we are concerned with parliamentary oversight of the Environment Agency’s work of establishing a national strategy. The Environment Agency has been tasked with a major undertaking that will have an impact on communities and individuals across the country. I do not doubt—indeed, I have every confidence—that the Environment Agency is up to the task. It has a strategy overview for all flood and coastal erosion risks in England and a similar role in Wales, and will retain responsibility for the management of main rivers and sea flooding.

I understand and support the reasons for giving this responsibility to the Environment Agency. It has the national reach, the personnel, the expertise and, perhaps most of all, the resources to conduct this strategic national overview. The agency is very properly tasked with consulting not only English risk management authorities but also Welsh Ministers and Scottish Ministers. However, because of that and because there is so much work and public money involved, I would be grateful if the Minister could give us some indication of the expected costs of establishing a national strategy. Since the contents of the strategy will affect so many people, it is vital that we exercise parliamentary oversight.

It is clear from the introductory debates that we have had today that there is great interest in the Bill in this place, which reflects much wider public interest. What happens in the national strategy will be of great significance to local communities who will need through their lead local authority to co-ordinate their own efforts with the measures recommended nationally. It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to make certain that the Environment Agency’s proposals are realistic, workable and proportionate. Your Lordships' Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform rightly points out that when the Environment Agency has produced its national strategy it may issue guidance about the application of the strategy. Clause 11(1) requires that the relevant authorities,

“act in a manner which is consistent with the … guidance”.

My noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach has tabled amendments, which we will debate shortly, which question the requirements for consistency. However, for present purposes, we simply need to note the committee’s surprise that compliance with the guidance is mandatory. In other words, what happens in the national strategy will matter locally. Having a parliamentary check on what is going on is essential.

Amendment 21 was designed to do the same thing as some of the government amendments, and noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches seem to be thinking very much on the same lines with their amendments, which are to involve Parliament. I was slightly puzzled by Amendment 17 and am rather glad that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is not asking us to address it. There is a great deal to be admired in the Bill, not least its structure of reciprocity between national and local authorities. As well as establishing the national strategy, at a local level regional flood and coastal communities will provide a local overview to ensure that local strategies are being developed and that flood risks are being managed appropriately and consistently. To support this, the Environment Agency will be required under Clause 18 to submit a report to the Minister on the state of all flood and coastal erosion risks in England, with a separate report for Welsh Ministers. What goes into these reports will be of considerable and widespread interest.

Our Amendment 51 suggests that the agency’s report should be laid before Parliament for approval. That may not be entirely necessary, but I should like Parliament to be given a chance to consider the reports. We are establishing a new approach to risk management in this Bill, and we should keep an eye on how these changes progress. This is a new process, and we should all be eager to improve on it when it needs to be improved and strengthen it whenever possible.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I am pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is here to hear my reply to his Amendment 17. We already cover that area through the duty to consult the public; the issue was discussed in Committee in the other place, where the Minister made it absolutely clear that the timing of the consultation should be sufficient for the EFRA Committee, for example, to consider the strategy and that it would be arranged to avoid long overlaps with parliamentary recesses. Such timing should also provide sufficient opportunity for other parliamentarians to respond to the consultation without requiring the Bill to be amended. I think that honourable Members in the other place were reasonably satisfied by that ministerial reply.

Amendment 19 would require publication of the strategy, as well as the summary already identified in the Bill. The decision to require a summary to be published reflects the need to ensure that the strategy document is accessible to the public and stakeholders. The full strategy might include more detailed analysis of areas that we would not necessarily expect to be published, because of the sheer size of the exercise involved. However, we would expect them to be made available on request, for example; that would be done by the Environment Agency. If anyone asked for the total document, they should have the right of access to it without any doubt at all. But there is also a part that we should have reservation about—such information that might be classified for security reasons, which could not be published. However, we accept entirely the principle behind the amendment, but the publication of the synopsis will be more valuable to the public in terms of the overall strategy. If a member of the public wants the full detail, they should have right of access to it, and we ensure that.

I am grateful for that. This risks getting into the silly situation whereby Ordnance Survey used to miss out military bases from maps on the grounds that people would not know they were there if they were missed out, and as though they could not see them when they flew over them. Surely it is now perfectly possible to publish things on the internet, even if they would not be published as a great telephone directory-type volume. That would seem to be the way to make details accessible to those people—perhaps a minority—who want them.

I cannot give immediate assent to that proposition, but I will take it on board. Certainly, it is consonant with our obvious intent that, as far as possible, there is effective communication with the Environment Agency and the public over the document. If the noble Lord will accept that assurance, I will look further at how we can effect that.

Noble Lords will recognise that I want to speak to Amendments 20 and 22, and move them in due course. They are in response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report, which raised concerns about the Bill providing for guidance that it is mandatory to follow and advised that the House consider inviting Ministers to explain why guidance under Clause 7 was not subject to the negative resolution procedure in the same way as the guidance on contaminated land under Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act is to be examined. We have considered this point and are happy to comply. Amendment 20 provides for the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy and the guidance for England to be subject to the negative resolution procedure, as the committee recommended.

I hope, by the same token, that the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, will withdraw his amendment. I think we have met the burden of Amendment 22. Amendment 50 was not moved. I should move more logically, in numerical order, to Amendment 49A. I have considerable sympathy with the point that was made about that amendment. I emphasise that the report will certainly be published as soon as is practicable. It is not necessary to place this obligation in the Bill, and I resist that. I fully expect reports to be published as soon as is practicable after they have been received. I made the point a moment ago that publication may have to be reserved for security or other reasons, but in broad terms, I accept the noble Baroness’s point. I assure her that that is how we intend to act.

I think I have covered Amendment 51. The issue of cost was raised by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. The Environment Agency will meet the initial costs of preparing the national strategy from its existing budget. That is its job. Key aspects of the strategy will build on material which already exists, such as the long-term investment strategy and the Flooding in England report which were published last summer. The Environment Agency has some of this information at present. It is on the agency that the burden will lie. No doubt if this is more burdensome than its budget will stretch to, it will make its presence felt as it always did in the past under the tutelage of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. If tasks were being enjoined that did not have sufficient resources, the point was made to the department, but we think this is within the agency’s compass. I give assurance on that.

Our second amendment covers reports by the Environment Agency in relation to Wales. Welsh Ministers support calls for proper scrutiny. The Environment Agency has presented evidence to the Sustainability Committee of the National Assembly for Wales on flood and coastal erosion risk management several times in the past 12 months and is likely to be asked to do so regularly in the future. I hope that covers all points, although I was slightly thrown by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was partly here and partly gone, and his amendment partly moved and partly withdrawn. I hope my reply is sufficiently comprehensive for the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

The Minister kindly made reference to an amendment which I have not yet been called upon to move, for the simple reason that it is to Clause 18. Am I right in thinking that I shall have an opportunity to put it forward when that clause is discussed?

Of course. If the noble Baroness wants to move the amendment when we reach Clause 18, she can do so and we can consider it then. I shall give the same reply.

If the noble Baroness wishes to take it out of the group, she is entirely free to do so on the next occasion that the Committee meets.

I am well conscious of the fact that the time that we had planned for this Committee is just about over, so I do not wish to delay the Committee at this point.

My Lords, I think that I can confidently say that my noble friend Lord Greaves would wish to withdraw Amendment 17.

Amendment 17 withdrawn.

Amendments 18 and 19 not moved.

Amendment 20

Moved by

20: Clause 7, page 6, line 11, at end insert “; and it may not be issued if during the period of 40 days beginning with the date of laying (ignoring any periods for which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or for which both Houses are adjourned for more than 4 days) either House of Parliament resolves that it should not be issued (in that form).”

Amendment 20 agreed.

Amendment 21 not moved.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed.

Clause 8 : National flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy: Wales

Amendment 22

Moved by

22: Clause 8, page 6, line 39, at end insert—

“( ) The Welsh Ministers must lay any guidance in draft before the National Assembly for Wales; and it may not be issued if during the period of 40 days beginning with the date of laying (ignoring any periods for which the National Assembly is dissolved or is in recess for more than 4 days) the National Assembly resolves that it should not be issued (in that form).”

Amendment 22 agreed.

Clause 8, as amended, agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7.51 pm.