Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:33 pm on 8th February 2019.

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Photo of David Warburton David Warburton Conservative, Somerton and Frome 1:33 pm, 8th February 2019

My hon. Friend is right that the Bill refers to England alone. It does not cover the separate competency that the Scottish Parliament will have. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will explain more about that.

After the devastation of the 2014 floods came grief and blame, and finally—thankfully—a desire to take action. I am sure that these thoughts are replicated after every disaster. One action that was taken was the creation of a 20-year flood action plan for the area. This was done at the sensible request of my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson, the then Environment Secretary. A key innovation that came from that plan was the creation in 2015 of a new body, the Somerset Rivers Authority. Since then it has overseen more than 120 projects.

The first measure in my Bill will allow for the creation of rivers authorities. They will be locally accountable flood risk management authorities with the power to issue a council tax precept. A rivers authority will bring together other local flood risk management authorities and use the precept to fund additional local flood risk management work. Such a body could be created anywhere in England where there is local support, and if proposed by a flood risk management authority.

We are fortunate in Somerset that we already have such a body, but we need the Bill to incorporate it fully. In doing so, the Somerset Rivers Authority would be able to secure its future. A flood risk management authority would have duties and would, for the first time, be able to put its finances on a stable footing as a precepting body. The Bill includes additional safeguards for local tax payers, of course, and would allow the rivers authority to plan its water and flood management schemes into the future and thereby create a safer, more secure environment for us all.