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Schedule 4 — Reservoirs

Compensation Act 2006 (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 9:00 pm on 2nd February 2010.

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Amendments made: 57, in page 73, line 38, at end insert-

'Regulatory impact assessment

40A (1) The Minister must carry out a review of the burden on undertakers in relation to large raised reservoirs of complying with the Reservoirs Act 1975 as amended by this Schedule.

(2) The review must be carried out at the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the operative date.

(3) In sub-paragraph (2) the "operative date" means the first date on which all of the following have come into force-

(a) section A1 of the Reservoirs Act 1975 (inserted by paragraph 2 of this Schedule), and

(b) regulations under sections 2(2C), 2C(1)(b) and 10(2) of that Act as amended by this Schedule.

(4) The Minister must prepare and publish a report of the review.'.

Amendment 58, in page 73, line 40, after 'In' insert 'this Schedule, and'.- (David Wright.)

Third Reading

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9:14 pm, 2nd February 2010

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank hon. Members from all parts of the House for their contribution in helping the Bill to reach this stage, following the pre-legislative scrutiny that Mr. Jack so ably led. The House will recognise that there are the most demanding constraints on Bills this Session because of the shortage of time, but even with them the Public Bill Committee managed to debate the Bill, the amendments, most clauses on stand part, the vast majority of new clauses and several issues that were new to the original Bill. That in itself was a real achievement.

I am particularly grateful for the skill with which those who chaired the Committee, Mr. Chope, my hon. Friend Mr. Martlew and Ann Winterton, steered the Bill's debate. I thank also the hon. Members for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) and for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) for their constructive scrutiny of the Bill and the part that they and their colleagues played in bringing us to this point.

I am also grateful for the very hard work that was carried out by the Welsh Assembly and, particularly, the Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing in Wales, Jane Davidson.

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Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Labour, Llanelli

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this Bill has been one of the most outstanding examples of co-operation with a devolved Administration? The co-operation started at the very beginning: it was not a bolt-on; it was an integral part of the whole discussion.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I do, indeed, agree, and my hon. Friend makes an extremely powerful point. This Bill has shown what can be achieved if one enters into debate and discussion in the right spirit.

Many organisations have also been involved in helping us as a House to get the Bill right, and I place on the record our gratitude to them. I single out the religious groups, scout groups and others, whose very strong views on the unfairness that they faced in effect created clause 43, which allows for concessionary charges to be put in place for community groups. The truth is that theirs was an extremely doughty campaign. It was well argued, they were very forceful and they had an enormous effect for one simple reason: they had a really good point about their circumstances. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies, who had said throughout that we would find a way of sorting out the situation one way or the other, was as good as his word, and the Bill is proof of that, because it now safeguards community and religious groups against unaffordable increases in their surface water drainage charges.

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Photo of Jamie Reed Jamie Reed Labour, Copeland

On dialogue and continued dialogue, I must note that, although we are happy that the Bill, as successful as it is, has reached this stage, this is not the end of the story. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies knows from his work in Keswick and west Cumbria that we have to maintain that effective dialogue with communities to ensure that we get not only this legislation right, but future legislation absolutely perfect.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I agree, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in his constituency. All Members representing Cumbria have done such work in very difficult circumstances, and I shall say a word more about that a little later. The Bill demonstrates that we have listened and responded. If legislation needs fixing or sorting, our duty is to ensure that we have the means to do the job, and Parliament should respond. That is exactly what we are doing with this Bill.

To conclude the thanks that I wanted to express, I turn to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. His hard work and commitment, and his open way of doing business, if I may so describe it, has won respect and friends in equal measure in all parts of the House. He has led the Bill through Committee and Report stage with considerable skill and determination, and great knowledge. Everybody involved, including me, is extremely grateful to him for the fact that we now have the Bill before us in such good shape.

Our discussions in Committee and on Report have made a good Bill better and stronger, with significant changes having been made since it was first published. That shows that we have listened to those inside and outside the House as it has been scrutinised. I want to touch on some of those changes. First, there is the new clause agreed in Committee on building regulations and flood resistance, which amends the Building Act 1984. As the House will know, Sir Michael Pitt recommended revising the building regulations to ensure that all new or refurbished buildings in high flood-risk areas are flood-resistant or resilient. Powers in the Building Act allow regulations to be made to cover flood resilience or resistance for new buildings or for major alterations, but they do not allow similar provisions to be made for most types of minor repair work. A practical example is the replacement of flood-damaged plaster with a more resilient plaster. Extending, through this new clause, the scope for which building regulations can be made will enable us, if appropriate, to regulate so that flood resilience or resistance measures are required when a building is being repaired. That prepares the way for implementing recommendation 11 of Sir Michael Pitt's hugely influential report into the floods of the summer of 2007.

At this stage, I would like again to place on record, on behalf of Members in all parts of the House, my thanks to Sir Michael Pitt for an outstanding report, for the way in which he went about his work, and for the fact that he did exactly what I asked him to do in the wake of the 2007 floods, which was to identify what lessons needed to be learned. As the House will know, we have not waited to get on with implementing several of his recommendations, some of which required legislation. This Bill is proof that we have listened to what he had to say and made good progress in acting on it.

Secondly, we have the new clause that helps to tackle the problem of bad debt in the water industry, which was raised on Second Reading. The new clause was tabled after those concerns were aired following the publication of Anna Walker's final report on the review of charging for household water and sewerage services. The new clause requires the owner of a property that is occupied by persons other than the owner to ensure that details of the occupier are given to the water and sewerage company. Should they fail to do this, the owner becomes jointly and severally liable for the bill payment, along with the occupier. The provisions added to the Bill will allow water and sewerage companies to identify the bill payers who are liable and to pursue them for debt if they leave a property without having paid their bills. Ultimately, the benefit will be felt not only by the water companies but by all paying customers, who currently subsidise those who do not pay their bills by about £12 per household per year. This is therefore a very practical change.

Today, on Report, we have agreed to add to the Bill new clause 22 on the subject of social tariffs, about which a lot of hon. Members feel very strongly. The new clause, which is, again, very practical, will ensure that Ofwat does not rule out schemes brought forward by water companies on the grounds that those schemes introduce new cross-subsidies for other customers. Such schemes could potentially give badly needed help to those who are in the severest financial difficulty. We also tabled several Government amendments, almost all of which directly responded to debate in Committee where my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said that he would consider issues further or responded to representations from other stakeholders. They include, first, measures to make the scope of the water infrastructure provisions clearer, for example to allow for retendering or for projects to be split. Secondly, there is a measure to make the duty on local authorities to investigate flooding less burdensome, because in Committee fears were expressed about local authorities having to do a whole range of things. The position on that will be clarified. Thirdly, we have made the hosepipe ban provisions wider, adding to the two uses of them that were originally identified. Fourthly, we have made the compensation and appeals provisions more comprehensive, particularly in relation to designated assets. There is now to be a comprehensive right of appeal, which I am sure will be widely welcomed.

We have just discussed the process for the approval of sustainable drainage systems, and we have made clearer the provisions on the protection of them once built. We have fitted together the timetables for the approval of SUDS and the granting of planning permission, and we have ensured that we protect SUDS by making it absolutely clear that if somebody digs up or affects them in the course of doing other work, they will have to repair them. Finally, we have made much more explicit the need for landowners to be consulted when risk management authorities use their new environmental powers. With those changes, the Bill will be even better.

On Second Reading, as my hon. Friend Mr. Reed has just reminded the House, we all had in mind the then recent events in Cumbria and the terrible impact that they had on the people, businesses and homes of that community. For many, it will take a very long time to recover. I pay tribute to all those who have worked very hard to provide support as people recover from the terrible impact of that night, such as the local authorities, neighbours who have helped neighbours and local communities.

The Environment Agency recently reminded us that the 2007 floods, which were where the Bill began, cost us more than £3 billion. That is a clear indication of the serious impact that flooding has and why it is right that we have taken all the steps that we have since then to protect more people. As the House will know, we have invested more money in flood defence, so more homes are protected than at the time of the 2007 floods. We have taken practical steps to provide support for property-level flood protection where it is not possible to have a flood defence scheme, and we have learned lessons about how the emergency services work. I must say that they did a pretty good job in 2007 and certainly a very good job in the recent Cumbria floods, as any Member who was there will attest.

As the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, said at the end of the Committee stage less than two weeks ago, we know that we need to be better prepared for more extreme weather in future. This is an incredibly important Bill, and it has received cross-party support and is eagerly awaited outside Westminster because it will take the further practical steps that are required to ensure that we are better prepared and protected in the years to come when large quantities of rain fall out of the sky.

The Bill will put in place new responsibilities on upper-tier local authorities to lead in dealing with surface water flooding of the type that we saw in Hull and Sheffield in 2007. As a society, we have come to learn that if we pave, tarmac and concrete over all our towns and cities and huge amounts of rain fall, it will be difficult for the water to flow away. We are therefore saying to upper-tier and unitary authorities, "You now have responsibility for bringing people together to work out where the water can flow". They must consider whether they can minimise the problem in future through work on sustainable urban drainage and through implementing the change that we have made to require planning permission if people wish to pave or tarmac over their front gardens. That is a very practical step, as is giving the Environment Agency overall responsibility.

For all those reasons, I am confident that both this House and the other place, where the Bill will now go into the capable care of my noble Friend Lord Davies of Oldham, will want to see the Bill reach the statute book. We have made good progress so far, and this was the right Bill to bring forward now. I commend it to the House.

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Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9:30 pm, 2nd February 2010

I thank Members on both sides of the House for their examination of the Bill and the improvements that they made. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend Miss McIntosh for all her work on behalf of the Conservatives both in Committee and on Report, and I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the Minister's work. He conducted proceedings in Committee and on Report in the same constructive manner as he did those on the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which is much appreciated-it facilitates the passage of better legislation. As they sit here at this late hour, I also thank Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials for their work behind the scenes, which is often unappreciated.

There is a great deal of agreement on the Bill across the House. Eighteen months after the Pitt review, it is essential that we make the changes needed to protect people and communities from floods and their aftermath. As the Secretary of State rightly said, the recent Environment Agency report into the 2007 floods reminded us of their huge financial impact-more than £3 billion-and there were thousands of cases of personal suffering, with people losing possessions, property and, in the very worst cases, their lives. Those problems are not going to go away; indeed, there is plenty of evidence that they could get worse.

We are all well aware that this will be a short parliamentary Session-perhaps the Secretary of State knows exactly how short, perhaps not-and we have been pleased to co-operate to help ensure that the Bill makes it on to the statute book before the general election is called. As I said on Second Reading, it is a pity that we were unable to include some important water industry measures because of the shortage of time, and we will need to return to them in the future.

Despite the general consensus, we remain concerned about a few measures in the Bill, and we hope to work constructively to address them in the other place without impeding its passage. At the heart of the elements of the Bill relating to flooding are oversight powers given to the Environment Agency. The national strategy created under the Bill will be a comprehensive document setting out the overall approach to be taken. That is welcome, but we must guard against an overly centralising approach that leaves too little discretion to local authorities, and that does not empower them to implement the measures they consider most appropriate. The assurances given in Committee that the national strategy would not be too centralising and that it would allow for such discretion were welcome, but we would like the Government to be clearer that they are not offering hostages to fortune by refusing sensible changes that would clarify the relationship between the national and local strategies. We must also ensure that concerns about the accountability of Environment Agency decisions are addressed.

Some issues relating to the automatic right to connect remain. Sewer flooding is one of the most unpleasant forms of flooding that people can experience. If the Bill can be improved so that incidences of that can be reduced, it should be so amended. It should also be amended so that sewerage systems that do not meet the required standards, or that risk causing flooding elsewhere, are excluded.

The Secretary of State today added a new clause to allow social tariffs. Affordability is a significant and growing problem in the water industry, and with one in six customers complaining of unaffordable bills, it needs addressing. That is a concern on both sides of the House. We welcome the work done by Anna Walker in her review, but that package of measures needs consultation and a formal response from the Government rather than a piecemeal approach. It is important that there is a full assessment of those proposals, including proper consultation with the industry, the regulator and consumer groups.

As I said on Second Reading, we have proposed a White Paper for the industry to set out a direction of travel and draw together the various strands of thinking currently going on, which would focus heavily on the problems of affordability. This would provide a clear strategy, and necessary certainty, for the water industry. I continue to believe that that is the right approach, enabling a holistic package of measures for water management.

It may very well be the case that the introduction of cross-subsidies is a suitable way of dealing with the problems of affordability. After all, there is now cross-party support for action to deal with problems in relation to charging community groups for surface water drainage, as the Secretary of State pointed out. However, Ofwat has in general been working to unwind cross-subsidies, while today's new clause allows for new ones. We need further debate and clarity about the implications for all customers, and the potential effects need to be transparent. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood argued, with typical cogency, we are in danger of requiring very poor households to be subsidised by the only slightly less poor. Late-tabled clauses on Report are not the way to consider this issue properly.

Hon. Members of all parties are concerned about the issue of insurance and the way in which properties can be affected by flood risk. There was insufficient time to consider properly new clause 14, tabled by Martin Horwood, which focused on the problem of homes that have not been flooded but have nevertheless been hit by raised insurance premiums. New clause 14 bore similarities to our new clause 11, and we are sympathetic to these concerns and happy to work with the Government and the Liberal Democrats to see how the issue can be addressed in the other place.

This Bill was introduced in the aftermath of the Cumbrian floods, which dominated the news before Christmas. Two months on, only a handful of families are back in their homes, with more than 1,000 houses still empty. Most will not be able to return until May. It is essential that the people of Cockermouth, Workington and the surrounding area are not forgotten, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said. We should constantly be reminded of people who remain homeless as a result of flooding, wherever it occurs, so that we are spurred to action to get them back in their homes as soon as possible, and so that we remain mindful of future risks. That is why we proposed amending the Bill, in line with the Pitt report, to introduce a requirement on the Secretary of State to give regular updates on the recovery process, and we hope that the Government will respond favourably when we raise that point again in the other place.

We failed to reach consideration of amendments about reservoirs, and there are concerns that provisions in the Bill on inspection may be unnecessarily onerous for small reservoirs in agricultural areas and for golf courses, where there is no risk to public safety. We want to ensure that regulation is proportionate and that reservoirs that pose no risk are not caught unnecessarily. We shall return to that issue in the other place.

As I have said, this is a much needed Bill and we support it. Members on both sides of the House agree on the importance of reducing the risks of flooding and making changes to our national and local response to incidences of flooding when, regrettably, they occur. We are committed to playing our part in enabling the passage of this legislation and I am sure that the other place, while maintaining the rigorous scrutiny that is its time-honoured and important role, will also be mindful of the need to see this Bill reach the statute book.

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Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:38 pm, 2nd February 2010

This Bill, if a little late and perhaps a little rushed-certainly today-is an important and much needed piece of legislation, which we continue to support. In just a few minutes, flood water has the power to instil fear in people, damage property-almost beyond belief in some cases-and cause enormous costs for households and businesses. In mercifully few cases, it can also take lives. It is therefore right that Parliament should address this issue now, and Members on both sides of the House are doing their best to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book and is not kyboshed by a general election. I return the thanks of the Secretary of State for his and his Department's work on the Bill, and commend to him the work of the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Huw Irranca-Davies and the Bill team.

The Secretary of State was right when he said that his Minister has an open attitude. It has had a practical and positive result. A series of changes have been made during the various stages of the Bill in this place, many of which were instigated by the Opposition, including Miss McIntosh, who has made valuable contributions. That is exactly how Parliament should work, and I wish in a way that more of our constituents could see Parliament at work in such a forum and with such collaboration, instead of just the more knockabout antics at Prime Minister's Question Time.

I shall set out some of the positive changes. The Secretary of State mentioned the new provisions on building regulations and bad debt, but there were many others. I am pleased that the Minister paid attention to our request that the Bill clearly and beyond all possible ambiguity address all forms of flooding, specifically ground water, which has caused many problems in my constituency and many others. Other points were accepted in Committee, and if they are not in the Bill, they may be reflected in specific guidance-we had many useful undertakings from him on that.

I am particularly keen to welcome those measures which the Minister accepted that reinforced how flood defence and water management should work with nature, and not against it. For instance, we made changes to, and he accepted points on, the reinstatement of woodland as an important method of flood and water management. In a sense, it represents a change in philosophy away from always relying on hard defence to working with the landscape and nature. That is not only a more environmentally friendly approach, but a more effective and perhaps even a cheaper approach.

We also took an important step towards landscape scale planning, again reflecting the wider importance of the natural environment. In doing so, we allowed lead local authorities to collaborate explicitly over larger areas in the creation of their flood risk management strategies. That is important because obviously floods do not follow local authority boundaries, and actions in one area can have huge implications downhill or downstream in another area. That was an important set of changes.

Thanks to Mr. Grogan, we actually won a vote against the Government in Committee. That is a rare and welcome event, and I pay tribute to him for his long record in prompting such votes-there have been too few successes, but we had one on that occasion, and it has given added importance to regional flood and coastal erosion committees in approving Environment Agency work in their regions. I think that it will be an entirely beneficial amendment.

Then, of course, we had this enormous and important change on concessionary charging schemes or social tariffs-whatever we want to call them-which I am proud to say resulted from a Liberal Democrat amendment. Getting it on the statute book in good order and good time could have real benefits for thousands or even tens of thousands of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens, so it is an important step to have taken. As I said, I am proud that it resulted from a Liberal Democrat amendment.

A few concerns remain, however. The continuing confusion of responsibilities at the local level has not been entirely resolved. As Nick Herbert pointed out, the Bill gives some drastic powers to bodies such as the EA, including in particular those in schedule 1, under which just about anything could be designated as an asset to flood risk management. After a designation, the owner-whether Network Rail, a farmer tending his crops or the owner of a private wall-would barely be able to touch their asset, let alone alter it, without seeking permission from the flood risk management authority. That power in the Bill is drastic and without qualification, although there is a right of appeal against designation. Nevertheless, our noble Friends might have to return to that in another place.

There were two major issues that received rather less discussion than they deserved and on which it fell to the Liberal Democrats to propose real change. The first was planning permission. We were unable to press it to a vote today, although we did press it to one in Committee. I was rather disappointed not to receive Conservative support on that occasion, because it is crucial that urbanisation and its contribution to flooding should be addressed and that the current, inadequate response of PPS25 to managing flooding be sorted out. Our amendment sought to give local authorities the explicit power to refuse planning permission to new developments on the grounds of flood risk in high flood risk areas. I still think that it is an important amendment, on an issue that concerns many of our constituents, which should be returned to at a later stage.

The other issue, which we have just about got time to discuss today, is insurance. I welcome the Minister's positive statement about how he will engage with the insurance industry on some of the issues. I would have preferred the Bill to have said that explicitly and to have included slightly firmer regulations. Again, I am disappointed that I did not receive Conservative support on that. Our noble Friends will have to- [ Interruption. ] There is a little chuntering from the Conservative Benches, but I remember widespread abstention only a matter of minutes ago on that very issue.

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Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way at this late stage, as we did not have time to talk about this earlier. I hope that he agrees that the Minister might, when talking to the industry, want to look at ensuring that all payouts are made in a timely fashion. As the MP representing Boscastle, which experienced problems because some of the insurance companies were based overseas, I think that that is crucial, so if the Minister can address it when he talks about insurance, that would be useful.

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Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes a welcome contribution and raises an important issue.

I thank the Minister and the hon. Member for Vale of York for their important and constructive contributions to the debates throughout. Although he is not present now, I would like to give particular thanks to my hon. Friend Mr. Williams for his wise and expert contributions. Once again, I would also like to thank Victoria White, Har Shone and Tom Jenkins for their expert advice in my office. My test for the Bill was a simple question that I put on Second Reading: will the Bill help Warden Hill? By that I meant: will it help those thousands of neighbourhoods all over the country for which we had to try to make a practical difference? After many hours of debate, I think that the answer is yes. However, by neglecting critical issues such as insurance and planning, I do not think that the Bill will help Warden Hill nearly as much as it should have. Nevertheless, it remains a positive and fast-improving piece of legislation. I am happy to offer support from the Liberal Democrat Benches for its continued passage through Parliament.

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Several hon. Members:

rose -

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Members Estimate Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. Four right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye and we have under 13 minutes to go. Members can do the arithmetic for themselves. I would like to get everybody in.

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Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Labour, Makerfield 9:47 pm, 2nd February 2010

I will take a maximum of two minutes, Mr. Speaker.

I welcome all aspects of the Bill, particularly as one of those who originally gave evidence to Sir Michael Pitt's inquiry and who was interviewed about some of the recommendations that we wanted it to come up with. That inquiry and its recommendations were excellent. As a consequence, the Bill will be welcomed throughout the country as a major contribution towards resolving the issues that need resolving.

Today we debated social tariffs, subsidies and cross-subsidies. The water industry is one where cross-subsidies through social tariffs are important, because all the capital investment and all the infrastructure changes that have taken place-and will continue to take place-constitute capital with a shared risk. Through their rates, poor constituents of mine subsidise, with huge sums of money, investments on the Fylde coast in Lancashire and in parts of Cumbria on the west coast, as well as other investments in other parts of the region, and quite rightly so. It is therefore important that what the Bill does should not be seen as a sop to a few people in some communities who are poor. The poor make huge contributions towards the capital infrastructure of the water industry, yet they are sometimes poorly treated, in the services that they get and the costs for those services. I welcome the Bill as striking a balance between affordability on the one hand and shared risk in capital investment on the other.

My final point is about affordability, which also affects insurance. We simply cannot leave that elephant in the room any longer. The lives of tens of thousands of our constituents are being ruined-and they will continue to be ruined in the years to come-by an industry that cannot deal appropriately with the issues of insurance and shared risk. We need shared risk in insurance. Without that, we will not get the investment that we need to ensure that communities can be more resilient in future than they are now.

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Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Labour, Llanelli 9:49 pm, 2nd February 2010

I welcome the social tariff. Earlier today I pointed out the parallel with the council tax. It is a great disappointment to me, though not a great surprise, that the Opposition Front-Bench team is showing such hostility to that clause. There are sophisticated ways of dealing with it. Graduated methods can be used. To repeat that the poor will be subsidising the very poor is not accurate. It is important to remember that there are more sophisticated methods than a blanket cut-off point. We are proud to introduce the measure, and I am glad that we have had support from the Liberal Democrats.

As my right hon. Friend Mr. McCartney said, we need to recognise the extraordinary contribution that has been made over the years because there has been no relief from water charges. A disproportionate amount of people's income has been spent on essential infrastructure projects.

I shall speak briefly about Government amendment 54. The whole of schedule 3 is crucial because it deals with the idea that we must think about the future. Every time we build, we must think about what we are going to do with the excess surface water. One of the things that has worried me is that in some areas where there are unitary authorities, the same authority which, as the planning authority, will consider planning applications, will also comment on the flood risk and sustainable drainage systems.

We needed Government amendment 54 to strengthen the position of the Minister and enable him to demand certain standards, introduce regulations and specify the consequences of failure to comply. That amendment is extremely important, particularly where the unitary authority is itself the applicant in a planning application. Without that ministerial intervention and check, the same authority could be acting as applicant, judge of a planning application, and the warder of flood risk.

I join hon. Members in saying that we are proud that the Minister has put in the community halls concession and enabled groups such as scout groups and the Urdd in Wales to continue to provide a good service without having to put all their money by for additional water charges, when they had other activities planned.

Lastly, I am very pleased that although it is a complicated procedure and will take time, the Bill tackles the adoption of private sewers. That is extremely important for many of my constituents.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 9:52 pm, 2nd February 2010

I shall be brief so that my hon. Friend Stephen Pound can get in as well.

I was delighted to take part in the Committee stage of the Bill. I asked to serve on the Committee and was allowed to do so. Having also taken part in the pre-legislative scrutiny, I have seen the progress of the Bill from its earliest days. We know that there were many questions about whether it was needed, not necessarily about whether the timing was right. Some of us would argue that it should have been introduced sooner. With the Cave review, the Walker review and the draft Bill, which was always there and unlikely to be carried through in its totality, there were always those who would urge caution, delay and so on.

The Government were right to introduce the Bill. Like Martin Horwood, I pay tribute to the Minister who took it through. The essence of good legislation is not what happens in the Committee, but what happens outside it. We had useful discussions, and as a result, the Minister listened. Although we are still in play, we have a better Bill which will, in due course, be fit for purpose. It will need to be amended and enhanced, but we knew always that.

To my mind, the simple way to look at this is whether we have aligned better the legislative framework, the responsibility of those who have to take action, and the funding mechanisms that allow those actions to take place. I believe that we have. Some criticisms could be made, and we could have done some things differently and better; and no doubt the other place will look further into such matters. I hope, however, that their lordships will be very careful not to wreck, unduly delay or send back this Bill, because my people in Gloucestershire need to know that they are better protected than they were before the Bill started its parliamentary passage. They need to know that what happened in 2007 will not happen again-not, of course, that we can stop the floods, but we can rectify some of the things that went wrong.

Although I was not there in person to see the beatification of my hon. Friend Mr. Grogan, I am glad of the opportunity to say before he leaves this place that he will forever be known as someone who has managed to defeat the Government and bring them to their senses on an issue that I still do not understand, but am sure is of great import, and will ever remain so.

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Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North 9:56 pm, 2nd February 2010

I am not sure which great parliamentarian it was-it might even have been you, Mr. Speaker-who said that when the House is united, it is invariably wrong. May I say that tonight's business disproves that maxim? Although I will not attempt to exceed the slavish loyalty of my hon. Friend Mr. Drew, I would like to say that we have seen the extraordinary circumstance today that there is widespread recognition both within and outside this place that we have achieved something of considerable moment.

Nick Herbert said virtually the same thing. He raised some points and additional issues that will have to be considered in the other place. The responsibility of Ofwat for the individual is well delineated in the Bill, but the responsibility for community groups needs to be re-examined. Above all, however, we have produced a very good piece of legislation.

It seems less than a year ago that my hon. Friend Mr. Hall first raised on the Floor of the House the circumstances relating to community groups in the United Utilities area. I speak particularly with reference to clause 43. I speak of one of those dramatic occasions when we realised that over the length and breadth of this land, scout groups, church groups, sports clubs and community groups of every shade would not just be affected by the actions of some utility companies, but could be bankrupted and driven out by them. In my own area, Greenford and District scouts were affected, and an individual scout HQ was faced with a potential bill of £700 or £800 a year. That was impossible.

From that original clarion call and stirring cry from Weaver Vale, a meeting in Portcullis House was arranged, which 74 Members of Parliament attended; that must be close to a record. We met in Nobel house last summer-a great office built on the profits of the explosives industry. There we met again my hon. Friend the Minister, who juxtaposed that explosive past with an emollient, gentle, positive and productive present. In fact, during the course of those meetings, he revealed to us that within the heart of his constituency, at the top end of the Swansea valley, is the oldest continuous scout group in the UK-Ystrad Gynlais. He won himself many friends.

I speak from the proud position of being one of the co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary Scout Association group-a position I aspired to for many years and have now held for 13. I would particularly like to pay tribute to the Scout Association and its people, such as Dr. Stella Creasy, who was a constant source of activity and activism in raising the issue here, and Sophie Richings, a young leader from Enfield who went to all three party conferences. I was able to attend only one: I could not afford the champagne at the other-and frankly, I did not have my sandals with me, so I missed the Liberal Democrats.

I also want to mention Derek Twine, chief executive of the Scout Association, and David Shelmerdine, who will retire this month after more than 30 years in the association. He has seen the Bill go through, thanks to the Secretary of State and the positive work, engagement, good parliamentary skills and human decency of the Minister who has been dealing with the Bill today.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Members Estimate Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. It is always a pity to have to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's flow, but I must now put the Question.

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 15 December 2009).

Mr. Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E),That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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