Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:00 pm on 8th February 2019.

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Photo of Peter Heaton-Jones Peter Heaton-Jones Conservative, North Devon 2:00 pm, 8th February 2019

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend James Cartlidge and to speak on this Bill, which is promoted by my hon. Friend David Warburton. I am about to say something that I rarely say in this Chamber, which is that I look upon Somerset with envious eyes. As one knows, Somerset is merely the county one passes through to get to Devon. I will not finish that idiom by saying that Devon is there to avoid having to go to Cornwall, on the basis that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, George Eustice will be replying shortly—and a fine Minister he is, too.

The reason I look upon Somerset with envious eyes is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome has rightly pointed out, his area has the Somerset Rivers Authority. This Bill seeks to put such authorities on a statutory footing as far as their funding is concerned. The SRA has done extraordinarily valuable work for his constituents, and householders and residents in the other constituencies across Somerset. We do not have such a thing in Devon—we do not have a Devon rivers authority—but a little history and research proves that there was once such a thing. Perhaps we could bring those days back. So here is a little history, for those who are interested—and indeed for those who are not, as they are going to get it anyway. The Water Resources Act 1963 came into force on 31 July 1963, two days before I was born. I am pleased to say that unlike that Act, I am still around. It was repealed on 1 April 1974. That Act created 27 rivers authorities, one of which was the Devon River Authority, but all of them went by the wayside, abolished when that Act was superseded from 1974 onwards.

I particularly welcome my hon. Friend’s Bill and his contribution today, because it seeks to hark back to a time when we rightly had rivers authorities, which were doing work that is best done by local experts, local people—those who know the environment. The importance of this has been brought home to me in my constituency in much the same way as it has for my hon. Friend in Somerton and Frome by the flooding that we have experienced.