It is a pleasure to be called to speak on this important Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend David Warburton on putting his case eloquently.
The Bill goes to a fundamental part of daily life that we can take for granted until we receive the terrible news that we have been flooded. East Anglia is probably most famous for coastal flooding, but I will address two specific issues, one technical and the other more general.
First, I have had feedback from constituents about the position of riparian mill owners. I have had a lot of correspondence and surgery attendances from constituents who happen to have purchased properties that include an old mill with floodgates. This might sound obscure, but there are quite a few of them in my constituency. The issue is that the Environment Agency has been writing to riparian mill owners to say that it will no longer have responsibility for floodgates in such cases and that those responsibilities now lie with the riparian owner.
A constituent in Hadleigh came to see me. He is not a riparian owner, but he lives next to the floodgates and has to operate them because the owner is recently deceased. He has expressed concern: if the Environment Agency is pulling out of responsibility in such areas, who will co-ordinate? His argument, and it is a fair argument, is that if there is a flood, the use of the gates has to be co-ordinated. One set cannot be operated without taking account of the gates further down the river. I therefore intervened on my hon. Friend earlier to try to clarify the relationship between a rivers authority and the Environment Agency. Now that the EA is pulling out of responsibility, what can be done to co-ordinate those who now hold that responsibility? That is an important and germane question, technical and specific as it may seem.
I am not sure whether the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend George Eustice, has had correspondence on this, although I have spoken to and corresponded with my constituency neighbour, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Dr Coffey, who is the Minister responsible. The latest correspondence I have received from the Environment Agency about mill owners says that, in its view, the gates do not make enough difference to flooding. That is the Environment Agency’s subjective opinion, with which many mill owners disagree.
At the moment, although it may not be widespread, there are people in my constituency who would like to see the sort of action my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome is talking about, including the greater co-ordination of efforts to deal with flooding. If the community thinks the Environment Agency is not doing enough, what else can be done? If a rivers authority is the sort of body that could take up some of those responsibilities, I would certainly welcome it.