I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am delighted to speak to a Bill on a topic that, unfortunately, can be close to us all, and sadly can have a devastating and dramatic effect on our constituents and many of us—flooding. The sad reality is that many of our constituencies have at some point experienced flooding, and some, such as mine, face the risk regularly. Flooding is a natural disaster that we have little means of preventing, and of course it occurs all over the world, as we have seen recently in Australia and America. However, we have the power to help our communities to better manage the risk of their homes and businesses being affected by flooding by taking precautionary action to be better prepared so that when the weather does turn out to be against us, there is less risk to life, livelihoods and property, and recovery is quicker.
I am sure that many of us have heard shocking accounts from our constituents, and many hon. Members will, like me, have seen such devastation themselves. The Bill will specifically help us to manage better the risk of flooding, and to improve our water management and, vitally, our environment. Hon. Members will remember the devastating flooding that hit the country during the winters of 2013 and 2014. The widespread flooding covered all four corners of the country, as we experienced the wettest winter for 250 years. Some 11,000 properties were flooded, and the total economic damage for England and Wales is estimated at £1.3 billion.
In Somerset, water entirely covered the levels and moors and devastated the land; 150 sq km of land was submerged for many weeks. According to the Environment Agency, 100 million cubic metres of water covered Somerset’s otherwise green and pleasant land. By my reckoning, that means that we were up to our necks in 40,000 Olympic swimming pools-worth of water. Lives, homes, businesses and infrastructure were all affected, and I will never forget making visits to the village of Muchelney in 2014 not by road, but by boat. I stood in people’s houses that not only were waist deep in water, but had been flooded only 12 months before. Livelihoods really were driven to the brink, and people were understandably driven to despair. The cost to Somerset was estimated at £147 million.