Clause 7
Flood and Water Management Bill
5:15 pm

National flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy: England

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

I beg to move amendment 87, in clause 7, page 4, line 37, leave out ‘risk’.

See Blueprint for Water submission. Replace risk-based approach with more holistic approach to flood and coastal erosion management.

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Eric Martlew (Carlisle, Labour)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 88, in clause 7, page 4, line 38, leave out ‘risk’.

See Blueprint for Water submission. Replace risk-based approach with more holistic approach to flood and coastal erosion management.

Amendment 89, in clause 7, page 4, line 41, leave out ‘risk’.

See Blueprint for Water submission. Replace risk-based approach with more holistic approach to flood and coastal erosion management.

Amendment 90, in clause 7, page 5, line 1, after ‘managing’, insert ‘all’.

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

I guess that we will have a stand part debate when we have discussed the amendments. Is that correct, Mr. Martlew?

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

Okay, but I would like to say that clause 7, on the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy for England, is at the absolute heart of the Bill, and I am grateful to the Minister for having expedited the production at least of the headings of the strategy as it might appear in practice. We were hoping that that might somewhat reassure those of us who are a little worried about the division of responsibilities in the Bill. The original vision that some of us had imagined from the Pitt report, which said that there would be national oversight of all kinds of flooding for the Environment Agency and an equal lead local responsibility for all kinds of flooding for local authorities, and that they would be two clear general and comprehensive responsibilities—one local and one national—got a bit confused when the Bill came out. It seemed to preserve the more vertical split, in which some kinds of flooding were the responsibility of the national body—the Environment Agency—and some were the responsibility of local authorities, raising the possibility that some kinds might fall between the two and not be picked up by either.

Looking at the draft outline of the national strategy, it is not absolutely clear that those fears have been allayed. There are some questions about whether the outline strategy might simply allocate responsibilities rather than provide national leadership, support and advice—I think those were Pitt’s words—from the Environment Agency, as the national body. Perhaps we can return to that in the stand part debate.

With your permission, Mr. Martlew, I shall talk about amendments 88 and 89 along with amendment 87, because they would implement exactly the same idea. I referred earlier to a more holistic approach to flood and water management in the landscape, and to trying to accept that flooding is a natural process with which we have to cope, albeit in a largely man-made landscape that now requires active management in a way that the original natural landscape of the country did not. That vision is shared by many organisations, including those involved in the Blueprint for Water campaign, which has set out an inspiring vision. It

“advocates a move away from flood defence, coastal erosion control and land drainage that is aimed solely at achieving the greatest cost/benefit in terms of risk reduction even where adverse environmental impacts are mitigated. We believe the focus should be on flood and coastal management that delivers clear environmental solutions. Government policy has taken considerable steps towards this in the Vision and Aims set out in ‘Making Space for Water’, the setting of environmental, social and economic targets in the current set of ‘Outcome Measures’ and reinforced by the Vision set out in ‘Future Water’. Nevertheless most FCERM”—

flood and coastal erosion management—

“schemes can still be characterised as business-as-usual with environmental targets being met off-site from the ‘real business’ of building flood defences.”

Indeed, earlier I gave the local example of a clear option for working with the landscape and using natural features to control and retain water, rather than the alternative of concentrating entirely on building hard defences in a built-up area and allowing development to go ahead in a natural landscape. That example underlines the fact that we tend to have an entirely risk-based approach and take a hard defence route as the default option, rather that one that is more holistic and ecologically inspired. That is the purpose behind amendments 87, 88 and 89, which seek to talk not about risk management, but in simple terms about flood and water management.

Amendment 90 is slightly different. It is surely the most innocuous and inoffensive of all amendments proposed for the Bill, as it would simply insert the word “all”. That is simply to clarify—we have the heads of an outline national strategy in front of us, but it still needs clarifying—that the Environment Agency will have an all-encompassing responsibility for all flood risk. If that is the case, as the Minister’s earlier remarks suggested, surely there can be no possible objection to inserting the word “all” in the clause. That is a really serious issue, because it relates to ground water and watercourses that are not main rivers, which might be deemed to be the responsibility of the Environment Agency, but which, instead, are the responsibility of local authorities.

There was an example in Cheltenham in the appropriately named Brook vale and the neighbouring Oak avenue—it was possible in the aftermath of the floods to tell from  the addresses what kind of case work was coming in. The people of Brook vale wanted me to see the very small brook in question, which was undoubtedly not a main river—it barely got the top of my shoes wet when I stood in it, as it was only an inch or so deep. It rose 15 feet at the height of the floods because the nature of the watercourse and the blockage in the culvert below it meant that there was nowhere for the water to go, so it rose straight up to fill the available natural valley near Brook vale and went straight into people’s houses, many of which were not even on the Environment Agency’s flood risk map. One resident had been told that their house had a one-in-1,000 chance of flooding, when the water went up over the top of the natural landscape features and followed its natural course down the hill, straight through what were then people’s houses in Oak avenue.

Although the brook was only a minor water course, and not the kind of thing that would have been the responsibility of the Environment Agency under the old arrangements for the oversight of flooding, the incident was a serious example of flooding. The water was extremely deep, and lives could easily have been lost. A disabled lady who lived in one of the houses could easily have lost her life if she had been caught on the wrong floor when the huge flood came through. Cars were completely buried in flood water and a huge amount of damage was done. That was a really serious incidence of flooding in my constituency, yet it was not within the current Environment Agency’s responsibility.

The Environment Agency is the body that has the expertise, not only in hydrology, but in mapping techniques—resources that local authorities can only dream of in exercising their responsibilities. It also has a vital connection with the Met Office so that in such circumstances, it can combine its knowledge of the landscape and hydrology with predicted weather patterns and map the likelihood of a certain event happening on a certain day.

Pitt made a clear statement on page 35 of his report:

“The Environment Agency should progressively take on a national overview of all flood risk, including surface water and groundwater flood risk, with immediate effect.”

There is a strong suggestion that we need to get away from the tangle of responsibilities and have one body with a clear oversight role. The risk of the phraseology that is creeping into the Bill and the heads of a strategy we have seen from the Department in the past few days is of a vertical split developing. It is there at the moment.

The Minister responded positively to my questions and comments this morning about the national flood line being a single point of contact. However, I rang the national flood line over lunch and it confirmed that, for the moment, it can give advice about only main rivers and sea flooding. With the planning issues we have discussed, there seems to be confusion over what the Environment Agency can give advice on locally and in planning appeals, not least in the Environment Agency and DEFRA.

After the floods of 2007, many of us found in our constituencies a terrible tangle of responsibilities, with people repeatedly trying to phone organisations. In the example of Brook vale that I have given, it was unclear who was responsible for the culvert and for looking after the watercourse. In some cases, when we pressed to find out who had the legal responsibility for a particular  watercourse, the great ghost of riparian ownership raised its head and it turned out that the poor, beleaguered householders had the only clearly defined legal responsibility for maintenance. In an estate called Whaddon in my constituency, the culvert passed hidden from view underneath people’s houses and I suspect that most of them were unaware that it existed. It was only through the good inclinations of the local authority or the Environment Agency that any maintenance was done on some watercourses.

Pitt was right that it is vital that we resolve this issue and address once and for all the creation of a buck-stops-here agency, where the expertise resides on all forms of flooding. That is all that is behind the incredibly simple insertion of the word “all” into clause 7 under amendment 90. That amendment is incredibly important and I would welcome the Minister’s response.

5:30 pm
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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

Amendments 87, 88 and 89, which were tabled by the hon. Members for Cheltenham and for Brecon and Radnorshire, seek to broaden the national strategy to address wider flood and coastal erosion management, rather than just risk management. That would enable the strategy to address the beneficial effects of flooding on the environment, as well as the negative impacts. However, there is already provision for the strategy to set out how it contributes to the achievement of such wider environmental objectives in clause 7(2)(j).

The Bill includes a duty for local authorities and internal drainage boards to contribute to sustainable development through the management of flood and coastal erosion risks. The Environment Agency already has that duty. It supports new approaches to flood and coastal erosion risk management, including working with natural processes—something we have discussed already—and will aim to reduce the threat to people in the property and, at the same time, deliver those greater environmental, social and economic benefits that are consistent with the Government’s sustainable development principles.

The Bill also provides powers for authorities to manage flooding and coastal erosion to gain beneficial effects for people and the environment as well as to reduce the harmful impacts of those processes. The national and local strategies will include a statement on how flooding and coastal erosion will be managed to contribute to relevant environmental objectives. They will provide an opportunity for authorities to consider and explain how risk reduction and environmental objectives will be integrated in their area.

The kinds of environmental benefits that we would expect to see and the hon. Gentleman would want to see as a result of this joined-up and integrated approach include—this is not exclusive—better water quality, better carbon management, and more attractive, ecologically rich and accessible coastal and river landscapes. In saying that, may I just draw his attention to something? I do not know whether he has seen this, but I have a copy—please do not hold me to this precisely—of the first draft outline of the national strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management in England. I just briefly want to read into the record from that. Within the context of managing the risks, there are two overall objectives: first, to reduce the threat to people and their property, which is primarily what the risk management  focus is about, and rightly so within the Bill; secondly, to deliver the greatest environmental, social and economic benefit consistent with the Government’s sustainable development principles.

Having said all that, it is important to recognise that the primary purpose of the strategy will be to manage risk. I will come back to that strategy in a moment. It is also important to note that many of the environmental benefits are associated with water level management, rather than flooding. The constraints of time in this sitting mean that those policy areas will be dealt with in subsequent legislation.

The hon. Members for Cheltenham and for Brecon and Radnorshire have also tabled amendment 90, which would require the national strategy to set out objectives for managing all flood and coastal erosion risk. At this point, although I recognise how innocuous he says it is, unfortunately we have a problem of a technical nature. The amendment could be interpreted in a number of ways—let me just cite two. It could mean that objectives need to be set out for all different sources of flooding or it could be that objectives need to be stated for each geographical area. I am therefore reluctant to accept the amendment as it could cause unintended confusion in its interpretation. However, I am happy to make it clear that the strategy is, indeed, intended to cover the management of risk from all sources of flooding, except those identified in clause 1(3).

Let me just refer to one other part of the draft outline. The national strategy will set out an overview of all forms of flood and coastal erosion risk management, bringing together the implementation of the Flood and Water Management Act and the floods directive with ongoing activities. It will be a high-level publicly accessible document setting out the scale of risk for different sources, explaining the way that risk is managed and providing a framework linked to local strategies and other plans and documents. The national strategy will set out an overview of all forms of flood and coastal erosion risk management and will bring together other pieces of legislation and other aspects that are already in place.

With that clarification, I invite the hon. Members for Cheltenham and for Brecon and Radnorshire, who have raised important points that we have already covered, to withdraw the amendments.

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

On amendments 87, 88 and 89, yet again we have to make a judgment call on whether we think the Minister’s good intentions and the strongly sustainability-oriented wording that he uses in his replies should or should not be reflected in the Bill. Such wording is in some places and this was another opportunity to make it more obvious in the Bill, but I am happy to take his remarks in good faith and withdraw amendment 87 and not press amendments 88 and 89.

I am much less convinced about amendment 90. I am afraid that there is a risk here. Pitt said that there should be a national leadership co-ordination and advice role for the Environment Agency on all forms of flooding. The Minister’s excuses for not putting the word “all” into the subsection, which sounded—I hope his colleagues will forgive me for this—a little like civil service speak, are really a bit pernickety. To say that it might raise the possibility that we have to include each geographical  area seems to ignore the word “national”, which is at the top of both the document and the clause. Clearly, a national document does not have to address each geographical area in turn. The Minister is now nodding vigorously. Perhaps he wants to intervene on me and reassure me that the word might be included.

5:45 pm
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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

Even though we have a technical issue with this, we are trying to achieve the same thing. Let me assure him that I will take this away and have a look at it. If we can get it right, we will try to bring something back. At the moment, there is an ambiguity. Legally, the measure could be interpreted in different ways. If the hon. Gentleman will accept my reassurance on that, I will reconsider the matter. We are trying to do the same thing.

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

We are both in the game of trying to remove ambiguities, so I am very happy to accept the Minister’s good offices in that respect, so I will not press amendment 90.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman: I call on the Minister to move amendment 44 formally—

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

On a point of order. I am not aware that we have debated the amendments.

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Eric Martlew (Carlisle, Labour)

We have debated them, but they had to be moved formally on the Order Paper. I informed Members at the time.

Amendments made: 44, in clause 7, page 4, line 40, leave out ‘risk management authorities in England’ and insert ‘English risk management authorities’.

45, in clause 7, page 5, line 15, leave out ‘risk management authorities in England’ and insert ‘the English risk management authorities’.—(Huw Irranca-Davies.)

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Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

I beg to move amendment 115, in clause 7, page 5, line 15, at end insert—

‘(b) bodies representing the owners and occupiers of land likely, in the opinion of the Agency, to be directly affected by flood and coastal erosion.’.

The Bill imposes an obligation to consult with “the public”. This is too general and could be discharged by simply posting notices in local papers. The Environment Agency should consult with those land managers most directly affected by flooding and coastal erosion, particularly farmers.

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Eric Martlew (Carlisle, Labour)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 92, in clause 7, page 5, line 16, at end insert—

‘(ba) national registered charities whose aims under section 2 (2)(i) of the Charities Act 2006 include the advancement of environmental protection or improvement,

(bb) Natural England,

(bc) Regional Flood and Coastal Erosion Committees as established under section 22,’.

To specifically include third sector environmental and conservation organisations, Natural England and regional flood committees as statutory consultees on national strategy.

Amendment 93, in clause 8, page 6, line 12, at end insert—

‘(3A) The Welsh Ministers must consult—

(a) risk management authorities in Wales,

(b) the public,

(c) Welsh national registered charities whose aims under section 2(2)(i) of the Charities Act 2006 include the advancement of environmental protection or improvement,

(d) Countryside Council for Wales,

(e) Welsh Regional Flood and Coastal Erosion Committees as established under section 22.’.

Amendment 9, in clause 7, page 5, line 31, leave out subsection (9) and insert—

‘(9) An approved strategy or guidance under this section may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.’.

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Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

This is an attempt to be helpful to the Minister and to save disappointment and angst later on. As the hon. Member for Vale of York said, landowners and managers are instrumental in protecting other land from flooding because it is in their own interests. They do not want their land to flood, so they are keen to see that flooding does not take place at all.

We believe that the agency should consult landowners and managers about the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy. When it was first suggested that such an amendment should be tabled, it was said that there should be a requirement to consult with every landowner or manager. I can understand why there could be a problem in identifying every landowner and manager to ensure that they complied with the legislation; I am sure that the Minister will agree. I thought that it was a better idea to have bodies representing owners and managers rather than having the owners and managers themselves. We must do everything that we can to ensure that we get co-operation and compliance with all the interested parties. Those parties will play a large role in achieving the objectives that we set out in the section about consultation. There is a requirement to consult in public, but that is a rather vague and nebulous term. I suppose that the Environment Agency could say that it could consult the public by putting a rather small advert in the corner of a local or indeed national newspaper. However, that is not the point; the point is to encourage engagement and co-operation. Therefore, an obligation on behalf of the Environment Agency to consult landowners and land managers would be a good thing to achieve the objectives that are set out in the Bill.

In the corresponding clause 8—

“National flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy: Wales”—

there is no obligation on Welsh Ministers to consult. I presume that that obligation would be achieved by regulation in the Welsh Assembly Government. Perhaps the Minister would like to comment on that issue when he comments on the advisability of consulting representatives of landowners and land managers.

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Anne McIntosh (- Shadow Minister, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Vale of York, Conservative)

Amendment 115 relates to the discussion and what I thought was the sympathetic hearing that we received from the Minister in relation to our earlier amendment. Perhaps the Minister is right that this is the more appropriate place to make this change.

On any reading of the clause, it is very bland to say that the agency “must consult...the public” without being more specific. Because of the implications for landowners of many aspects of the Bill, it would be nice to have agreement that it is spelled out that it is owners and occupiers of land—so it is landowners and farmers who farm that particular land—who could be referred to specifically.

I would also like to move amendment 9 in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster, along the lines that we believe it is absolutely vital that both Houses of Parliament should have the right to scrutinise the strategy. Therefore, we call for the approved strategy or guidance under clause 7—

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Eric Martlew (Carlisle, Labour)

Order. At this point, you are not moving the amendment; you are speaking to the amendment.

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Anne McIntosh (- Shadow Minister, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Vale of York, Conservative)

Of course. I am sorry to use language so loosely. I would like informally to introduce the little, humble, modest amendment that I am sure will charm the Minister so much that—[Laughter.] Otherwise, I really will get formal.

We believe that the strategy or guidance should only be made if it is laid before and approved by resolution—I think that it is the affirmative resolution and that is why we put it in those terms. So I hope that the Committee and the Minister will look favourably on amendments 115 and 9.

I should also like to draw the Minister’s attention to the conclusions of the Select Committee. I would not say that the Government were chastised by the Select Committee, because the Minister is such a nice man that we could not possibly chastise him, but the Select Committee concluded that clarity on the form of the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy should be provided in the Bill or through an order-making power subject to the affirmative parliamentary procedure. The Select Committee further recommended that the Bill provide for the strategy to be reported to Parliament.

In amendment 9, therefore, we are really just following through on that desire of the Select Committee. I hope that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, will support the conclusions of the Select Committee, on which he also serves, in that regard.

The Select Committee also recommended that the Department publish details of how the strategy will be prepared and scrutinised, and over what period it will be reviewed. I am not entirely convinced that that issue has been addressed in the clause, so I would be most grateful to hear from the Minister in that regard.

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

I shall speak about amendments 92 and 93, which are being considered in this group. I am attempting to be even more helpful to the Government by sharing with them a source of invaluable expertise and wise counsel. My background is in the voluntary sector, so I am naturally inclined to look to the third sector as a source of expert advice and well informed and well judged opinions. Voluntary organisations, of which there are a huge number relating to environmental, water and flooding issues, are an obvious group of  bodies to consult. They should be consulted properly and formally when a national flood and coastal erosion strategy is being drawn up.

We have the National Flood Forum, all the bodies involved in the “Blueprint for Water”, the Wildlife and Countryside Link, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Woodland Trust, the wildlife trusts, Froglife, the World Wildlife Fund UK—the list goes on. It is potentially invidious to name in a Bill specific organisations that we should consult. I know from my background in branding charities that their names change from time to time and that it is occasionally difficult to keep track of them.

Luckily, the Charities Act 2006 provides a neat way of identifying precisely which organisations the Environment Agency might care to consult on drafting its strategy. It provides the new heads of charity—the new definitions of charitable activity. It specifies

“the advancement of environmental protection or improvement”,

which neatly encompasses almost everything in the Bill and a bit more besides.

That was the first piece of legislation I ever dealt with in this place and I assure the hon. Member for Norwich, North that even though it was only a couple of years ago, it seems like an eternity. One gets a number of these things under one’s belt in time. It is a useful piece of legislation, which carries a precise definition of environmental organisations. Those charities could easily be a category of statutory consultee for the national strategy. Indeed, the Charity Commission no doubt has those data in easily accessible form and could provide a list to the Environment Agency within a matter of hours. On the geography, postcodes are stored by the Charity Commission, so Welsh environmental organisations would be equally easy to identify definitively.

The amendments would add two other organisations in England and Wales that seem to be obvious and natural consultees. One is Natural England, which has overarching responsibility within Government for looking at the natural environment and advising the Government on it; it seems to be the most obvious consultee imaginable for a truly environmentally sustainable flood risk and coastal erosion strategy. Its equivalent in Wales is the Countryside Council for Wales. I am sure that at some point my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire will give me the proper Welsh version of that.

Later, the Bill goes to great lengths to establish regional English and Welsh flood defence committees from the old flood defence committees. However, those are not statutory consultees in the process. Presumably, they are expected to be the principal reservoir—pardon the pun—of informal and voluntary expertise on flooding in particular parts of the UK. It is bizarre that they will not be part of the statutory consultation process.

What we are asking does not open great floodgates, add thousands of organisations or bring in a very complex way of consulting, but it would get away from the vagueness in the term “the public”, which has been referred to. That term could be used to cover up a lacklustre and half-hearted consultation. If we specifically include Natural England, regional committees and the voluntary sector, we can be sure that the public will hear of any issues arising from future versions—or even the  first version—of the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy. I heartily commend the amendments to the Minister.

6:00 pm
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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

Hon. Members have tabled amendments concerning approval and consultation of the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy. Amendment 9 would require both Houses to approve the draft national strategy. The Bill already requires public consultation on the national strategy, as well as consultation with the risk management authorities and Welsh and Scottish Ministers, in so far as the strategy affects Wales and Scotland.

On Second Reading, the Secretary of State noted that it would be for the Select Committee to decide what it wished to do. The EFRA Committee will, of course, be able to scrutinise the strategy at the same time as it goes out for public consultation. The code of practice on consultation, to which both DEFRA and the Environment Agency have signed up, states:

“Consultations should normally last for at least 12 weeks with consideration given to longer timescales where feasible and sensible.”

That period of time should be sufficient for the EFRA Committee to consider the strategy, it is consistent with the time provided for pre-legislative scrutiny for example, and we would expect such a consultation to be arranged to avoid long overlaps with parliamentary recesses. Similarly, I can assure the Committee that the Welsh Assembly Government are committed, as they always are, to ensuring wide consultation on their draft national strategy.

Providing for formal parliamentary approval of the draft strategy would be disproportionate. In fact, we are confident that the EFRA Committee, which has been rightly lauded today for the work that it has done on this Bill and other legislation, will provide very effective scrutiny indeed. The approved strategy and guidance will in any case be laid before Parliament, providing an opportunity for them to be considered and debated if required.

Amendments 92 and 115 would require third sector environmental and conservation organisations, Natural England, regional flood and coastal erosion committees, and bodies representing the owners and occupiers of land likely in the opinion of the Environment Agency to be directly affected by flood and coastal erosion, to be specified as statutory consultees on the national strategy. The bodies listed in the amendments are already covered by the duty of the Environment Agency to consult the public about the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy. The Environment Agency already engages with such bodies as a matter of course during national consultations, and is already duty bound to consult with regional flood and coastal erosion committees in the execution of its flood risk management functions. It is also subject to a duty to secure public involvement through section 23 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.

I can go further and give assurances, because I recognise the concern to ensure that the right people are consulted. The question is, how much do we put in the Bill and how much do we put elsewhere? There is an opportunity  here because the Secretary of State is allowed to issue guidance directly to the Environment Agency. I think that that is how we can stipulate to the Environment Agency who should be consulted, not simply through normal public consultation, but to say in writing who we think it should be. I do not want to prescribe it here because of the classic risk of saying, “These ones are in and these ones are out”. The hon. Member for Cheltenham proposed a very interesting idea about the third sector, I have to say. That may be exactly the approach that brings it all together in the Secretary of State’s guidance and talks about landowners and landowner organisations. There is an opportunity to do it, but it should not be in the Bill, because of the problem of fixing things in stone.

Amendment 93 concerns the Welsh consultation process, and would require Welsh Ministers to consult risk management authorities in Wales, the public, Welsh environmental and conservation organisations, the CCW and the Welsh regional flood and coastal erosion committees on the national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy. My colleague Jane Davidson, the Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing, has already made clear her commitment to conducting a full public consultation on the Welsh national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy, so that will happen. We are happy to give the undertaking that she can signal guidance to us on matters such as who should be part of that, in the same way as the Secretary of State can issue guidance to the Environment Agency.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire suggested that the Environment Agency might consult by placing small ads in papers and so on. That has not been ruled out, but it needs to go a hell of a lot further than that given the agency’s obligations and duties under this and other Bills. Just taking the action to which the hon. Gentleman referred would not be being compliant with the code on consultation. We want it to go a lot further. Good points have been made, but we need to find a way to get such things done. Indeed, we have ways that would not bolt down such matters for ever. We need to give the flexibility whereby a future Minister can turn round and say, “Well, actually we now have another organisation that we need to bring forward.” For all those reasons, such as detailing the degree of quality consultation in England and Wales that the national strategy will receive, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

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Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

We have listened to the Minister and, as always, he has sought to reassure us on such matters. He has done that. It would be good if the guidance that he or a subsequent Minister issues to the Environment Agency could be shared with members of the Committee or, indeed, Members of Parliament in general.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

I simply intervene to give the assurance that I will certainly share such guidance, and I commit my Secretary of State to doing so. Any future Minister, whether it is me or someone else, will have to read the transcript of my commitment, and heaven help them if they do not honour it.

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Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

I thank the Minister for so generously reassuring us about such matters.

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Anne McIntosh (- Shadow Minister, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Vale of York, Conservative)

I thank the Minister for his comments. We have twice put down a marker that landowners should be formally written into the Bill, so he might like to come back to us on that point.

As for amendment 9, perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not correct by saying that what we are seeking to do is disproportionate. Not all hon. Members who wish to be members of a Select Committee can do so. We believe that it is appropriate that regulations or strategies that are adopted in the spirit of openness, transparency and the desire for scrutiny should be considered by a motion tabled by each House of Parliament. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Anne McIntosh (- Shadow Minister, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Vale of York, Conservative)

Clause stand part?

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Eric Martlew (Carlisle, Labour)

No. It is hard enough with only one Chairman, not two.

Amendment made: 46, in clause 7, page 5, line 23, leave out ‘risk management authorities in England’ and insert ‘English risk management authorities’.—(Huw Irranca-Davies.)

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

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Anne McIntosh (- Shadow Minister, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Vale of York, Conservative)

I want to make a small but significant point. The Department was invited by the Select Committee at the drafting stage of the Bill to consider writing a definition of strategy in the Bill. For what reason has the Department chosen not to introduce such a definition? There are definitions on strategy in other legislation. There are precedents for defining strategies and policy statements. The marine policy statement in part 3 of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill and part 2 of the Planning Act 2008 contain provisions for the Government to produce national policy statements. The Department’s attention was drawn to that in two respects so that it could consider giving such a definition. Is the Minister minded to bring forward such a definition at a later date, perhaps on Report, and why was a conscious decision taken not to implement a definition of strategy at that stage?

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

I refer the hon. Lady to clause 7(2), which contains the steps we have taken to clarify the meaning by setting out what we understand by a strategy:

“The strategy must specify...the risk management authorities in England...the flood and coastal erosion risk management functions”

and so on. We have tried to set out an indication of what we understand will be in the strategy, although perhaps in a different way to that which the hon. Lady would have wanted. We have tried to go some way in complying with the Committee’s request.

Photo of Martin Horwood

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat)

I should like to return briefly to some of my opening comments about the division of responsibilities in the Bill. That is reflected in both the Bill’s wording and the draft outline flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy for England. The National Flood Forum, ourselves and others are concerned  that there is too much vertical division of responsibility. The Minister has an opportunity now to make clear those points that might have been somewhat buried in the draft outline. The third bullet point for the objectives in the draft sets out what it describes as principles—a risk-based approach, working in partnership and a co-ordinated approach to the management of different sources of flood risk. That one tiny phrase really goes to the absolute heart of this.

If national co-ordination and leadership, which Sir Michael Pitt’s has called for, is to be shown by the Environment Agency, that is where it will be shown and where the Environment Agency, on all forms of flood risk, can start to give real guidance and direction. That could include a more sustainable or sensitive approach to risk. It could be a more customer-focused approach, and one that was more sensitive to the victims of flooding. That is where that can start to be laid out and leadership can start to be given to local authorities. Perhaps the Minister would like to expand on what he expects to see in that tiny section. Will there just be a couple of paragraphs that will not really provide the kind of national leadership, co-ordination and advice that Sir Michael Pitt was looking for?

I should also like to ask the Minister about two other sections in the draft outline that are relevant to the clause. What are the different roles and responsibilities, and how exactly will they be enforced and monitored? It is not clear that the Environment Agency itself has much of a role beyond setting out that strategy, as there is no clear description of what it will do after being given those responsibilities. What if it comes to the Environment Agency’s attention that a particular local authority or flood risk management authority is not performing its task? Is there, hidden somewhere in the Bill that I have not spotted, a clear role for the Environment Agency in launching investigations or trying to enforce the various strategies and national leadership that it sets out in the national strategy? Will that kind of process be set out in the national strategy itself, and how will that work in practice?

Finally, we have been given section 6 of the outline national strategy, which deals with the process for review in time scales, setting out how and when delivery of the strategy will be monitored and revised, but that raises a few questions as well. Who will do the monitoring? If the Environment Agency has national oversight, who will monitor its delivery of the strategy? Perhaps the Minister would like to expand a little on how he sees that working in practice. This might seem like picking out small details of the document that he has given us, but it gets to the heart of some of the concerns many local authorities and observers have that the Bill still does not resolve that tangle of responsibilities or create the single, buck-stops-here responsibility for the Environment Agency that we were all looking for and that Sir Michael Pitt so strongly recommended.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies

Huw Irranca-Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine and Natural Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ogmore, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman has raised some important points, so perhaps I can expand a little on those and clarify them. We anticipate that the national strategy will go into quite some depth on the principles of the risk-based approach, on work and on partnerships as well. I will just expand on that a little bit in a moment, because the essence of the Bill is getting the balance of people working together right, with agents  working together, a co-ordinated approach to the management of different sources of flood risk and sustainability as well. It will go into some depth on that.

The national strategy will not prescribe local flood and coastal erosion risk management decisions. It will provide the framework in which they can be made in a consistent manner between areas. We know that if we make the wrong decision in one area, it will impact negatively on another area, as has been mentioned before. It will also ensure that the investment of public funds—they are significant funds now, and they will have to grow as well—in flood and coastal risk management is carried out equitably. That is an important principle of how we carry out the work, seeking maximum benefits, so that the national strategy will ensure that that is done. Local strategies will need to reflect that element of the national strategy, and decisions will need to be made in the context of wider risk to ensure that decisions made in one area do not impact negatively on another and are not compromised by a lack of investment in one area compared with another.

In response to the hon. Gentleman’s question, the national strategy will provide the co-ordination required for the effective management and partnership management of flood and coastal erosion risks, while enabling the development of solutions that genuinely meet local needs. Who will monitor that strategy? That is a fair point. Ministers hold—the Secretary of State and I hold—regular performance reviews with the Environment Agency and this will form part of that; it will include the delivery of the national strategy as well. That is where people are currently held to account. We have still got to see more of this fleshed out, but that is our direction of travel. The strategy will be held to account, and it will get away from the very rigid vertical approach and allow joined-up working and flexibility as well. However, it will be set in that national parameter, so that we have equity and do not have unintended consequences in other areas. It will also allow that element of local partnership work as well.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.