The aim of the discussions which my officials and I have had with the GLC in recent months was to see what could be done to achieve the earlier completion of the barrier and to contain costs. I am glad to say that the recent agreement between the GLC and the contractors approved by the Government gives every prospect of meeting these objectives.
Within the next three years there is about one chance in 17 of a major flood disaster in London in which large numbers of people might be drowned, thousands of homes flooded and the London Underground and power stations put out of action for months on end. Why has the completion of the flood barrier been allowed to fall several years behind schedule and the costs to rise faster than inflation, to a current level of £500 million or £600 million?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is many years since the Waverley committee first suggested that a barrier should be built. When rather to my surprise I discovered that the Thames barrier was within my responsibilities, I immediately got in touch with the GLC to try to shorten the period of completion. Until then, it had been mid-1984. The completion date is now 1982, and I hope we can meet that date.
We must now ensure that the contract is kept to time, and I am reasonably satisfied that that can be done. But we must also make people aware of the dangers. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) was right. It could be extremely damaging to life and limb in London.
Whatever the timetable, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Darenth barrier is completed before the Thames barrier becomes operational in order to prevent my constituents from being flooded out by the backwash from the Thames barrier?
May I remind my right hon. Friend that there was severe flooding in Greenford, in my constituency, two years ago? People are not happy about what has been undertaken by the local authority and the GLC and do not believe that it is any guarantee that it will not happen again. Will the Minister make inquiries on the real progress that has been made to prevent a future similar disaster?
The possibility of flood is principally the concern of the GLC and the London boroughs. I hope that hon. Members representing London constituencies will take an interest in this problem. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) said that there was a 17 to 1 chance of serious flooding and everyone should recognise that fact and do what he can.