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Flood and Water Management Bill

Volume 718: debated on Thursday 8 April 2010

Report (and Third Reading)

Report received.

Third Reading agreed without amendment.


Moved by

My Lords, I am under the obligation, following last night, to be brief in my comments on the Bill, but I pay due respect to all those in Committee on the Bill and thank them for the constructive way in which they dealt with a complex and challenging Bill in the limited time that we had available. I think that it was recognised on all sides that we had some extremely constructive debates. The Bill has received a thorough scrutiny in both Houses and is a better and stronger Bill as a result.

I place on record my particular thanks to my noble friend Lord Faulkner for his support during Grand Committee, when I was unavoidably detained by business in the main Chamber. He stepped into the breach and more than made up for my absence; I was delighted to see the progress that the Bill made on that occasion. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, and, if I may in his absence—I am sure that he is on some constructive work—the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, both of whom adopted an attitude of great understanding of how important the Bill is for the nation, while at the same time rightly identifying issues that need it to be fully considered. I pay my due regards to those noble Lords and their Back-Bench colleagues who supported them in their contributions. I pay tribute to the Minister for the natural and marine environment in the other place, Huw Irranca-Davies, who guided the Bill through the other place with considerable skill and determination. I also place on record my appreciation of stakeholders who, through their ongoing engagement throughout the Bill, have helped to develop it satisfactorily.

I also take this opportunity to remind the House of the changes made to the Bill as a result of agreements reached during its progress in Grand Committee. There were 25 amendments in total, the vast majority of which were a direct result of the very helpful points that were raised and the excellent work that was done by this House’s Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for its report, and I thank all members of that committee for that constructive work.

In summary, the amendments that were made in response to the committee’s report constrain the power to specify new functions as risk-management functions to the functions that are already set out in statute, to provide for regulations on appeals to be subject to the affirmative procedure the first time they are made, to constrain future changes to the maximum civil penalty in Clause 15 to reflect inflation, to introduce the negative procedure for the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy in England and for national guidance on this issue in England and Wales, to introduce parliamentary and Welsh Assembly scrutiny as appropriate for subordinate legislation under the Reservoirs Act 1975, and to require a consolidation Bill to be laid before Parliament before the power to make pre-consolidation amendments by order can be used.

The Government also amended Clause 43, the provision on concessionary schemes for community groups, to protect them from unaffordable surface water drainage charges. The House will recognise that this was an important and significant measure. This amendment was made to put beyond any doubt that Ofwat had to have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance on the need for and structure of concessionary schemes in assessing any charging schemes that water companies propose. We believe that that was the effect of the provision as initially drafted, but we took the opportunity to address the doubts that had been expressed by noble Lords at Second Reading of the Bill. Indeed, the surface water drainage issue was raised on several occasions before the Bill saw the light of day. The remaining amendments ease an unintended rigidity in the order-making power to change the bodies that are responsible for approving and maintaining sustainable drainage systems, which allows greater flexibility should circumstances change.

At Second Reading, I reflected on the impact of the terrible flooding in Cumbria and in other areas of the country on homes, businesses and communities, many of which, as we all appreciate, will take several years to recover properly. The Environment Agency has told us the costs of the 2007 floods—£3.2 billion—so this is a vital Bill that has received cross-party support and is eagerly awaited outside Westminster. We have all seen the havoc that floods have wrought in recent years. Conversely, we all remember the periods of drought, so we have to be ready for a future in which, regrettably, such events are likely to be more common. I am confident that this Bill will equip us to meet the challenges that lie ahead, and I commend it to the House.

My Lords, I join in the Minister’s acknowledgements. This Bill will indeed be welcomed by communities up and down the land, and let us hope that it will form the foundation for greater security against the risks of flooding in the future.

I thank my colleagues in another place, Nick Herbert and Anne McIntosh. As we know, the Bill was introduced in the other place by the Minister, Mr Huw Irranca-Davies, and it was the other place that considered it, but much of the work that was done here built on the work of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which has been extremely useful. This Bill, with the strong consensus that has laid behind it at all stages, has provided an ideal opportunity for Parliament to work together to improve it.

I thank my colleagues the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, for their support, and I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, in his place; the Minister rightly acknowledged the work that he did on this Bill the other day. I thank the Bill team, whose work has been exemplary on this Bill. We wish this Bill well.

I apologise for missing the first part of the noble Lord’s speech, but it is not a normal day and even I will occasionally take my eye off the monitor. Basically, we think that this Bill is a good thing. I particularly thank the Government for the attitude that they have taken. It is also nice to be able to congratulate the Commons on having done most of the legwork for us.

We have something here which is necessary and seems to be reacting to a real need. For that, we offer congratulations all round. In addition, I give my thanks for the concessionary fares and I am grateful that the rather unnecessary scare that the voluntary sector had about water charging has been dealt with. The answer that the Government came up with, if not perfect, was well handled. I say a profound thank you to them because some of us felt that a lot of damage could have been caused to the structure.

My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions of both noble Lords. I conclude by offering my particular thanks, of course, and second the vote of thanks from the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to the Bill team, who worked under considerable pressure against a background where we had limited time to consider a Bill which had its real complexities and challenges. I place on record my thanks to them.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.