Flood and Water Management Bill
Bill Presented — Video recordings bill
Nick Herbert (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Arundel and South Downs, Conservative)
The hon. Gentleman is talking a great deal of sense. I was simply making the point that, if at all possible, we need to get people back into their homes quickly and not lose focus on those issues. After all the attention given to the floods of 2007 and to the Cumbria floods, I fear that there is a risk that, as the House moves on, we forget that hundreds-and in the case of Cumbria, thousands-of people are still unable to live in their homes. I am simply arguing that we need a concerted attempt to get them back into their homes as soon as possible, which is a matter not for legislation but for effective action.
The need for legislation reveals something of a paradox. Climate change is affecting our weather patterns and we can expect a future where our winters will be wetter, with increased river flows and higher sea levels. That will lead to more extreme weather and more flood events. At the same time, we will see more water shortages as demand on this precious resource grows. Not only is it essential to ensure our communities are more resilient to flooding so that we can cope better when we have too much water, but we must all start to conserve and value water more so that we can adapt to the reality of having less of it. That calls for better management of water at every level.
As we look to improve the Bill in the weeks ahead, we must ensure that we are making it easier for people to manage water. Frequently, that will mean allowing local communities to use their local knowledge and expertise to minimise flood risk. By its nature, water is difficult to manage and defending against flooding can be expensive. With huge pressure on resources in the years ahead, difficult decisions will need to be taken. Sometimes it will mean ensuring that adequate hard defences are in place to provide security for the long term.
At the invitation of the Environment Agency, I recently visited the Thames barrier to see the excellent work that goes on in protecting this capital from flooding. When the designers originally agreed the project in the 1960s, future rising river levels were anticipated, so it was deliberately over-engineered. As river levels have risen, barrier closures have increased through the decades. The barrier was closed four times in the 1980s and 75 times in the current decade. That is a testament to British engineering skill and planning foresight, and on latest estimates the barrier should keep London safe until at least 2070.
The barrier is also a symbol, however, of the growing threat from flooding and of defence and the foresight we need to help protect our communities. We have a duty to ensure this country's environmental security and this Bill is a sensible step in that direction.