I beg to move, that the Bill be now read the Third time.
Before I talk about the Bill, I would like to associate myself with the comments from across the House about the appalling events in New Zealand, which cast a shadow over us all today. I have no words that are truly sufficient.
It is over a year since I first presented the Bill to the House. Not long after, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Dr Coffey, and I took part in an Adjournment debate on rivers authorities. Rather a lot has happened in those 12 months, not all of it particularly good, so I am delighted that in the last five weeks the Bill has moved from struggling to putting its head above the water in the long list of private Members’ Bills and then—with, I hope, the House’s support today—into the other place.
Yes, there was a pun there. I thank all those who have made this possible, particularly those who joined in the Committee stage, and I am grateful for the cross-party consensus and support, which has been very important and valuable.
My Bill covers the important topic of water management, particularly flooding. The House has debated flooding many times, and not just in respect of this Bill, so I know that we are all well aware that it is truly devastating and that such devastation can be wide-ranging and long-lasting. Many of our constituents, and some of us in this House, have had terrible direct experience of the effects and power of flooding, and anything we can do to help them help themselves, in addition to the record investment from this Government, which we should note, can only be a good thing.
Whether directly affected or not, no one in the House will not recall the images of inundated communities during the floods of 2007 and 2013-14 and of the winter of 2015-16, which impacted on so many people across our country. We must not forget, either, the other localised flooding that has affected many others between and since those events.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has touched on the relevance of his Bill to areas apart from Somerset—we all remember the flooding there. Is it his contention that the measures in the Bill could be used to create bodies to manage flooding in other areas of the country?
I am grateful for that important intervention. It is important to note that, while the Bill nominally allows for new rivers authorities to be set up, with local support and after consultation, anywhere in the country, there is no particular desire or need for that at the moment, as far as I am aware. That said, the measure is there.
I am very glad to hear it.
As we experienced just this week with Storm Gareth, which brought high winds and heavy rainfall, we are powerless to control the weather, but that is not so with flooding. Things can be done to reduce the likelihood and the impact of floods. We can and we do help our communities to better manage the risk of flooding of their homes and businesses by constantly assessing the risk and taking strategic action to be better prepared so that when the weather is against us, there is less risk to life, livelihoods and property and recovery is quicker.
My hon. Friend refers to weather, to which flooding is obviously directly attributable, but in my constituency the water table rose and it was almost impossible to get rid of the water. It just kept coming and flooded a huge number of houses, particularly those with cellars. I do not understand what we can do about that.
I am no expert on water tables or the flooding of cellars, but that is exactly the kind of work that our internal drainage boards and other risk management authorities manage daily. The purpose of the Bill is to bring the work of those bodies together and add to their weaponry, so that they can work to help us all. To help to deliver that, my Bill will specifically provide opportunities for local partners and communities to better manage the risk of flooding and to improve water management, which will also have other benefits. The Bill will achieve that through the two types of public body that it covers.
The devastating floods that hit my constituency and those of other Members during the winters of 2013 and 2014 will forever be ingrained in my mind. I apologise to Members present who attended previous debates on the Bill and have heard this before—I will not go into all the details—but the events really were shattering for Somerset. I recall travelling by boat on what ought to have been roads on the Somerset levels and moors, and standing in people’s houses that were not only waist-deep in water but had been flooded only 12 months before.
From adversity comes opportunity, though, and neighbours and communities in Somerset came together. Members of those communities wanted to take action to reduce the chances of such flooding happening again and properly to manage the risk. The people of Somerset were keen to take ownership and proposed the creation of a new locally funded public body known as the Somerset Rivers Authority. I thank the Government for their support for the idea, and the SRA itself for the benefits its hard work has already provided since its inception, even though it is currently non-statutory and unincorporated. Members will be pleased to know that the Bill does not purely contain powers formally to establish the Somerset Rivers Authority, but rather enables the creation of rivers authorities wherever there is local need and support and due process is followed.
The Bill’s first measure will enable the creation of rivers authorities, which will be risk management authorities and major precepting authorities. That means that they will be able to issue a council tax precept each year, to be used for local flood risk management activities in addition to those already undertaken by the Environment Agency, IDBs, local authorities and others.
Although a rivers authority would need to encompass an entire local authority area, if desired it could span any number of local authority areas, thus providing a level of joined-up strategic planning where appropriate. Rivers authorities will be locally accountable bodies that work with all risk management authorities, including water companies, to help reduce the local risk of flooding from all sources. They will use the funding provided by the precepts to undertake such work as will benefit their entire areas of operation. The rivers authorities model is very much one of collaboration and enabling the use of knowledge and expertise to deliver for communities. A rivers authority is not there to usurp any other organisation or the Government’s and the Environment Agency’s important work throughout the country.
Although, as I have said before, Somerset is fortunate, as in so much else, in already having its own rivers authority. The Bill is the final piece in incorporating that authority formally and ensuring that it has a secure future.
I note that the Bill will bring with it powers to levy a precept on council tax payers. I am concerned about local council tax payers having to pay more. Will my hon. Friend enlighten the House as to what he thinks the amount of the precept will be and how it will affect local council tax payers?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because it is important to clarify this. The Somerset Rivers Authority is already paid for by local council tax payers, to the tune of £2.5 million a year. That money comes in the form of a voluntary payment from the local authority to the rivers authority, which means that it has no security for the future. The rivers authority cannot enter into long-term contracts or plan strategically for the future. The Bill will provide it with assurance that it will be able to provide the kind of levels of water management that we need in the future. There need not necessarily be any change to the amount paid by local taxpayers.
In advance of a rivers authority being created, there must be a proposal and there must be local support. The Government will not, and indeed cannot, under the auspices of this Bill impose a rivers authority anywhere, but will consider those who want to propose such a body by setting out their policy intent for rivers authorities through a national framework. The details for any agreed rivers authority will be set out in secondary legislation specific to each one.
Assuming that my Bill makes it to the statute book, as I very much hope that it will, I will politely and respectfully press the Government to issue their national framework as soon as possible and will then pursue local partners to bring forward their proposals, which will finally allow for the Somerset Rivers Authority to be formally created under this legislation.
There are other already important risk management authorities in England. One type of such body is internal drainage boards. IDBs maintain watercourses, reduce flood risk to people and property and manage water levels for agricultural and environmental needs within their internal drainage districts. There are currently 112 IDBs across England, covering roughly 10% of the country, so Members will be aware of them and the important work that they do. However, there are gaps that some might wish to fill.
Internal drainage boards mainly fund their work through a charge on the communities that they serve. Agricultural landowners are liable for drainage rates, and local authorities are liable for the special levy. The special levy charge, and the methodology that sits behind it, is based on ratings from 1990, as set out in the Land Drainage Act 1991, but, unfortunately much of the data is missing or incomplete. The second measure in my Bill therefore amends the Land Drainage Act to accept newer ratings data that could be used to create new charging methodologies.
To ensure that the apportionment calculation between the two charges is up to date, and to reduce the risk of imbalance on either side, that measure will also allow for an update to the drainage rates charging methodology. Once the regulations are in place, the new data and charging methodologies will enable the creation, finally, of new internal drainage boards, or the expansion of existing ones, where this is wanted. I know that there is enormous pressure for that from hon. Members up and down the country. I stress that both those measures in the Bill are enabling powers and require local support before the Government can act.
As I said on Second Reading, this Bill helps to deliver greater protection through two different, but equally important, public bodies. We in this place owe it to our constituencies and our communities, and to anyone who has been flooded or is at risk of flooding, to take all possible steps to mitigate that risk. With the support of the House today, discussion and scrutiny of this Bill will, I hope, continue in the other place. I very much look forward to following its discussions with interest. I commend this Bill to the House.
I shall speak extremely briefly in support of this sensible Bill. There can be few Members of this House who represent constituencies that have not been impacted by flooding in recent years. In some cases, such as the flooding in Somerset, it has been on a devastating and life-threatening scale, and has featured in headline news around the country and sometimes around the world. In other cases, the flooding will have been much more localised, but still with an enormous impact on those whom we represent. In my own constituency, localised flooding caused the closure of a local primary school for a while, with everything that results from that. It sometimes causes significant damage to property and possessions, sometimes large financial costs and at other times very large damage to items of sentimental if not necessarily financial value.
If the measures set out in the Bill and the new rivers authorities can ensure that preventive work can be done to reduce the risk to people’s lives, properties and possessions, this legislation will make an enormous contribution to many families up and down the country. In some parts of the country, it is obviously appropriate that the work is done by new rivers authorities, covering either a single or multiple local authority areas. In others, the work can be done at least as, if not more, effectively by existing bodies, whether the lead is taken by the larger local authorities, particularly unitary authorities, or by a city region or combined authority.
As the effects of climate change become more apparent, with adverse and unusual weather patterns occurring on a much more regular basis than they did even a few decades ago, and as building and development patterns mean that, in the last generation or two, more and more properties have been built in areas that we now see being particularly prone to flooding, it is even more important that we do everything we can reasonably do to safeguard areas from the effects of flooding. This Bill is an important step towards achieving that.
It certainly was not too short, but it did rehearse my lifelong passion for drains and my concerns about flooding. I relived one of my worst ever court experiences, when I feared I would have to say cryptosporidium in Welsh when prosecuting Welsh Water. Luckily, that never came about.
I pay tribute to all the hard work that my hon. Friend David Warburton has put into this private Member’s Bill, which has cross-party and Government support. He has spoken on the subject with extensive knowledge and authority, if perhaps without my passion as a wet Tory. This is a worthwhile Bill and one that is long overdue.
On Second Reading, apart from talking about my grandfather’s drains, I also spoke about the quality of the raw water in my constituency, caused by discharges from sewage treatment works and diffuse agricultural products. This has caused increased nutrients in the water, which has led to quite poor water quality in many of our local rivers. I was having a discussion with my hon. Friend Mark Spencer as we prepared for today’s sitting, and he made the point that in his constituency—a former coalmining area—there are very real difficulties with water quality because the water courses have been messed around with as we have messed around with the environment.
This Bill will have importance for Members right across the House. Obviously we recognise that Somerset has had a particular problem with flooding, but I hope that the Bill will give peace of mind to homeowners and businesses across the country that are at risk of flooding, although most particularly to the people of Somerset. I am aware that Somerset has suffered from flooding for the past 400 years, with chroniclers describing floods as “faster than a greyhound”, as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome told us in Committee.
The Bill is important because it addresses some key issues. It would allow the Secretary of State the power to establish rivers authorities. Clause 1(2) amends the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 to include rivers authorities in the definition of risk management authorities. This will allow rivers authorities to co-operate with other risk management authorities when tackling flooding, and will help to ensure that there is central co-ordination when dealing with these issues. That co-ordinated approach is crucial for effective planning and strategy in these types of situation. The measure also means that rivers authorities will have the power to issue a precept to billing authorities, which would then be in a position to collect the money from local taxpayers.
This is something we have studied in depth in Banbury. We were severely flooded in 1998 and then again, slightly less so, in 2007. The original floods caused extensive damage to 125 residential properties, and 35 commercial properties were also flooded, with about £12.5 million of damage. After the 2007 floods, we came together as a community to work out how to deal with it. We came up with a new scheme, which I think it is relevant to mention.
We were able to collect the money for our flood defence scheme in Banbury not only indirectly from local taxpayers via the local council—not by a precept, because that was not available then—but from significant private investment. That is a model, and it should be used by other areas that are dealing with this problem as an example of a public-private partnership that can really benefit an area.
We had bad flooding in 2007. We started the construction of our new scheme in 2011. It now protects 441 houses and 71 commercial properties. It is a huge earth embankment of almost 3,000 metres long and up to 4.5 metres high in places. As part of the development, we were also able to construct a new park, with a circular walk, and to work locally to create habitats for wildlife, which we also need to consider whenever we play with water systems. We need to think about what good we can do when we change the way that water flows.
The scheme cost just over £18.5 million, and it was tested soon after it was constructed in the floods of November 2012. I am pleased to say that it has worked beautifully ever since. It has also had a significant effect on the environment in the village where I live. I live further down the Cherwell valley from Banbury, in a beautiful area right in the middle of my constituency. Previously, when Banbury or Oxford flooded, because of opening gates and managing the water, our area of the Cherwell valley could be very badly affected by flooding, but our new works in Banbury have alleviated the problem for not only the immediate area but those of us further downstream. It is a good example, and I urge Members with an interest in this to consider the way that we got private and public money to pay for it.
Areas that do not have rivers authorities will be able to set them up if they are needed, to ensure that there is local support. Another important element of the Bill is how it will help the 112 internal drainage boards across England that are involved in water management and flood risk management. They play an important role in their local area by maintaining water levels for agricultural and environmental needs, as well as through the upkeep of waterways and flood management.
IDBs are responsible for approximately 1.2 million hectares in England, covering close to 1 million properties. Each IDB is funded by the area it covers, and drainage rates are paid for by agricultural landowners and special levies that are paid for by local councils or authorities. Those land valuations depend on an assessment by each IDB of the relative value of agricultural land, buildings and “other land”. However, the valuation of other land is based on data collected in the 1990s as part of the Land Drainage Act 1991, which is older, if I may say so, than most of my members of staff. The Bill will mean that new data is collected, to be used by IDBs to calculate the value of “other land” and bring us into the modern world. It will also allow IDBs to extend their boundaries and make it possible for new IDBs to be created using modern-day data.
The other pressing issue in my constituency at the moment is the enormous amount of house building we are doing. We are finishing three houses a day in Banbury and Bicester on average. We normally top the leader board nationally most weeks for the number of houses finished. This has obviously had an enormous effect on the environment locally. It is really important that we use the structures in Bills such as this to ensure that we plan the way the water flows around these new developments.
It is also very important that we do just as much to plan habitat building around new developments. Bicester is a garden town, one of the schemes developed in the last Parliament, and we take this very seriously. I feel that the way in which we manage our water is important both for stopping flooding and, in a positive way, ensuring that it can help habitats and allow us all to enjoy it. Nothing is more beautiful than walking by a stream or, as my grandfather said—I think I mentioned this in my last speech—listening to a running drain.
It is important that we really embrace the concept of water management, so I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome not only for his hard work in getting the Bill to this stage for his constituents, but for everything he has done for people across England who have been affected by devastating flooding.
I rise to briefly support this excellent Bill, as I did in the Bill Committee and on several occasions as it has progressed through the slightly tortuous private Member’s Bill system. It is excellent that we are finally here today with something that will deliver real and meaningful benefits for Somerset in particular.
As my hon. Friend David Warburton knows, this is the point where I turn into a bit of a gloom bucket. While the Bill is brilliant for Somerset, I hope the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be able to look favourably on the other parts of the country that seek to benefit from the good things it will enable for Somerset and, in theory, for other parts of the country as well. I say that for two reasons, and some of this is already in process through the consultations that the Department is running via the Environment Agency at the moment.
The first is the extension of rateable areas for existing IDBs. In my constituency, we are blessed with five IDBs. As I have mentioned before, according to the Association of British Insurers, it is the constituency in the country most likely to flood in relation to both internal drainage and coastal flooding. To be sustainable, drainage boards need to rate areas that benefit from the work they do but that do not currently pay for it. It seems to me that that is only fair, because the work the drainage boards do provides a huge benefit for the wider local economy. In Lincolnshire, they work remarkably effectively and produce work at a fraction of the cost of the Environment Agency—by the Environment Agency’s own admission—and, indeed, they have often worked as contractors for the Environment Agency to produce the maximum value for the taxpayer. They will be able to do even better work if they are properly and sensibly funded by all those who benefit from their work. That is what the Bill will permit—in practice, in some areas of the country, and in theory, in others. Once my IDBs, which are independent-minded and well run, come to a collective view on what they would like, I hope the Minister and his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will look favourably on it.
My second point is on the rivers authorities aspect of the Bill, which could be—I do not say it will be, but that it could be—an excellent solution for Lincolnshire as well. I would like that very much to come from my own drainage boards, councils and those who know best what is good for them, rather than suggesting for a moment that the Department should impose any of this on Lincolnshire, although I do not think it is currently minded to do so.
Ultimately, and to use Boston Borough Council as an example, the responsible thing for drainage boards to do is clearly to make sure that they have the resources to do their necessary work and keep everyone’s feet dry—literally. As they put up their rates, however, because we have rightly capped the amount by which council tax can rise, any rises in council tax are entirely taken up by those necessary rises in drainage rates, and drainage boards are effectively able severely to curtail, if not cut, the resources available to a borough council. Being able to make that funding a separate council tax line, so that it is a precept rather than a levy, will be a huge step forward in Somerset and allow people to be properly resourced at both council and drainage board level. That is a good thing, but it is not the only way through by any means—as the Minister said in Committee, I suspect my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome will say that other options are available to my councils, and I imagine he will be right.
In remains the case, however, that today it is difficult for drainage boards to get the resources they need without butting up against that cap on council tax rates, which means that small authorities such as Boston Borough Council and East Lindsey District Council find themselves in a difficult position. The situation will be solved in Somerset through the National Rivers Authority—that is good and we welcome it—but I hope the Minister will work with his colleagues, my drainage boards and the Environment Agency to try to alleviate the problem that this excellent Bill will solve in an admirable way for Somerset, so that we can also find a way through for areas such as Lincolnshire. I do not want to be too gloomy because this Bill opens a number of doors through which I hope counties such as mine, and councils such as those in my constituency, will be able to walk if they wish. This Bill is excellent for Somerset, and it is excellent that the Government and the Opposition are supporting it, as will I.
It is a pleasure to add my support to this Bill, and I thank my hon. Friend David Warburton for introducing it and for accepting my interventions. I have a confession to make, Madam Deputy Speaker, because unfortunately I do not share the passion for drains expressed by my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis—[Interruption.] I am sorry about that, but I do share her passion for rivers, and for our environment more generally. In particular, I share her passion for drains that work well, as will all hon. Members who were here last week when the drains were blocked—enough said about that.
We are discussing Somerton and the Somerset levels, and the admirable work that has been done. It is interesting to consider the unique aspects of the environment that have affected the Somerset levels. Being a midlands girl, I confess that before I came to this place and made the acquaintance of many Members across the House I did not have much knowledge of the Somerset levels and that unique environment. Like many of us, I remember watching the news and seeing those devastating floods, which had a catastrophic impact on those communities. I remember seeing photographs of politicians in wellington boots and hi-vis jackets standing in a flood or river, and thinking, “Goodness me. They are tackling a really challenging issue”. Now that I have the privilege of representing a community, I find myself wearing hi-vis jackets and wellingtons on some occasions, so I understand what was happening on the Somerset levels.
Thousands of years ago that unique environment was covered by the sea. That is quite a common feature for our island nation, because we are surrounded by the sea on all sides. As it receded, we had to manage the land. I understand that it was the Romans who first dug up a network of drains and ditches to manage the place. That work has continued ever since, as the area is vulnerable to flooding because of its geography.
We are discussing the wider issues of flood management and it is timely for us to be doing so today. On my way here, I saw schoolchildren protesting in the climate strike. The Bill is about flooding, water management, and managing our environment and our ecology. It touches a wider nerve outside this place. I am proud to see our young people taking action on these issues that matter to us, and I am proud to be a part of a Government who take them very, very seriously.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for letting me intervene on her. She mentions the young people outside today. I went out to talk to some of them. Does she agree that they are an inspiration, but that this is also a time to reflect on what we are doing? The young people I spoke to gave me a list of things that they think we need to be doing. They did not mention the Bill—strange to say—but it is a part of the piece. Does she agree with me that those young people are why we are here and why we get up every day to do the jobs we do?
I thank the hon. Lady so much for that intervention. She is absolutely right. Every time I come into this place I see people with placards outside. It is a real privilege to be able to take on their concerns and to be able to do something about them. I agree with her on the climate. We all need to do more, but we are making some welcome progress. For example, the UK is the first country to phase out coal generation and we are the first country to have passed a climate change Act. When I speak to local young people in my constituency, they present me with demands similar to those she has just mentioned. I tell them that we are taking action and that we do care. We have reduced our carbon emissions. Our country is a leading advocate for the Paris agreement. Taken together, along with the action we will be taking on drains and flood management through the Bill, we are doing a good job, but we are all mindful that we have to keep doing more on this issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome mentioned the economic impact on communities, businesses, farmers and all people who live in areas affected by flooding that his Bill will help to prevent. I have some personal experience of that. The briefing notes state that the measures in the Bill can be used—he kindly responded to my intervention on this point—to create bodies in other parts of the country. One such place could be Cumbria. My 83-year-old mother lives in Cumbria. She has dementia and she was very badly affected by the floods that took place in December 2015. She had to be evacuated from her home and put up in a local hotel. She lives on her own and she had no carers there. She was totally distressed and it was harrowing to receive phone calls from her saying, “I can’t get food. I don’t know where I am. Someone’s taken me and put me in a hotel.” When we talk about the impact of flooding on roads and so on, we must remember the human impact. It really affects people. I believe that in those floods there was loss of life.
It is very important that we enable local bodies to take action as necessary on a local basis, supported by local communities, to address the specific issues in their areas. As a low-tax Conservative, I support the idea that this should be locally managed with the consent of local communities. A number of environmental measures have to be taken, as my hon. Friend said, to tackle issues that pertain to the specific geography of their areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury mentioned the impact on wildlife. Flash flooding has a huge impact on the local wildlife: not only the fish in the streams but any birds, flora and fauna living on the riverbank. These are fragile environments and they can be obliterated by flooding, huge movements of earth, landslips and so on, so having local plans in local areas is very important.
I am pleased that the Bill has the support of the National Farmers Union and the Association of Drainage Authorities. The Bill will be welcome in my constituency because as well as Somerset and Cumbria, we suffer in my area from flooding. Most recently, we experienced flooding in an area called Hollywood—not in Los Angeles but just up the road in Birmingham—where two months’ worth of rain fell in two hours. I am delighted that an organisation has come together to put in place the Hollywood risk management plan, because the flooding caused £15 million-worth of damage, which people in that area could ill afford. I am very pleased that there are measures in the Bill that will help local communities up and down the land, should those communities choose to put them in place.
I put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome for his work as he has steered the Bill through the House. I thank everybody else who has spoken and the Minister, and I look forward to hearing his comments about how the Government will support the Bill and enable it to be enacted.
I echo the words of my hon. Friend Luke Pollard on Second Reading and in Committee, and I welcome the cross-party consensus that has, if not sped the Bill along its way, allowed it to ooze into its present position. I add my thanks and appreciation for the efforts of David Warburton, whose hard work and persistence has got us to this point. Of course, the Bill also has the support of the Government, even though they did not take it forward in Government time, and of the National Farmers Union, the Environment Agency and the Association of Drainage Authorities.
I find myself partially disadvantaged in discoursing on this Bill because I am not from the west country, and the majority of the running has naturally come from west country Members, who have a long-standing commitment to helping the people of the Somerset levels, whence this Bill gained its original impetus, whether or not their constituencies cover any of the affected areas. The fact that fellow MPs are willing to work together to help one another’s constituencies is hugely encouraging and is in some ways a mirror to what the Bill seeks to achieve. It is by sharing the load that the new rivers authorities are going to be able to command the resources and implement the strategies that our vulnerable valleys and river catchments have been crying out for. Very often, the measures that will have the most effect on one community need to be carried out upstream in a separate community. These new rivers authorities will enable the best outcomes for all. However, while many parts of the south-west have been affected by flooding over many years and it is the area in which the first rivers authority—the Somerset Rivers Authority—will achieve its full expression through the Bill, once it has passed the Bill will enable improved drainage and flood prevention strategies in various parts of our country.
The Bill is long overdue. It would have been sensible if the Government had introduced it. There is still a very real threat that some of the planning and flood-prevention measures that could be facilitated by the creation of rivers authorities will not be put in place before the next major flooding incident, like the floods in Cumbria in 2015. I hope that those river areas where setting up a rivers authority will make a positive difference do not wait until the next major incident to do so. We would welcome proactive encouragement from central Government or the Environment Agency in that regard.
The Bill aims to provide local communities with new powers to organise and protect themselves from flooding, and that is wholly commendable. However, we also need to ask ourselves why there has been an increase in the prevalence and ferocity of flooding incidents in recent years. Alongside the powers to control and mitigate the flooding, I believe that we will need to take far more effective measures to deal with climate change in the near future and be more coherent and sensible about the development that is allowed on our floodplains.
We welcome the local accountability of the new precepting authorities through their public sector elected members, although we would welcome a more transparent and consistent approach to the selection of those members. It is essential for there to be a process for removing members if they are not careful with local taxpayers’ money, although I assume that that will take place through the normal democratic process for locally elected members. We wish to warn that any new money collected locally must be spent on additional measures, and not used by central Government as an excuse to cut the current funding of, for instance, the Environment Agency.
It would also be beneficial for local community ownership of a rivers authority to be given some genuine expression in the ability to follow and challenge the strategies and programmes of the authorities. I remind the Minister of the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport of an annual flood risk management plan as a tool for engaging with the public. I hope that the Somerset rivers authority and other forthcoming authorities will institute such plans.
Rainfall on the scale of the 2015 storm Desmond is becoming a more frequent threat as a result of climate change. We need to ensure that our regulatory system and our flood defences are fit to meet that challenge, but we must also do what we can to prevent the increasing occurrence of such storms through reductions in carbon emissions. According to the Committee on Climate Change, 200 km of English coastal defences are likely to be at risk of failure during storm conditions. The Bill will set up bodies to mitigate riparian flooding, but I hope that the Minister will suggest to his colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Dr Coffey that there might be some merit in seeking a similar solution to coastal flooding too, and that perhaps, once the bonanza of Brexit statutory instruments is finally over, she might want to turn her attention to doing something about that in Government time.
We face an unprecedented challenge in defending lowland areas from flooding. The Bill is welcome and timely, and has our full support. We are delighted to see it becoming law. The Government now need to think about how they can enable as many relevant communities as possible to make full use of the powers and opportunities that it gives. Ideally, there will be a comprehensive plan for every community at risk of flooding. If this Bill can help us to achieve that, it will have made a major contribution to the safety and happiness of the nation.
It is good to be back, Madam Deputy Speaker.
It is a pleasure to follow the shadow Minister, Sandy Martin. Let me also record thanks to his colleague, Luke Pollard, for all his work during the Committee stage. Able contributions have been made today by many other Members: each and every one of them made a valuable contribution, often citing specific issues in their constituencies. I note the point made by my hon. Friend Matt Warman about the wider benefits beyond those applying to rateable beck or river frontage. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) on pursuing this important Bill. I am pleased to reconfirm that the Government support the Bill and its aims, and it has been welcome to hear that it is supported on both sides of the House. The two measures that it contains fit well with the Government’s ambitious agenda.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome said, many of us have spoken eloquently about the impact of flooding and our experiences. Indeed, in my coastal constituency of Scarborough and Whitby it is no different. Scarborough has experienced multiple floods in recent years, and sometimes we feel that we are being attacked from all sides. Our sea front is subject to tidal flooding, as we saw in 2013 and 2017, and again just a year ago, last March. If that is not enough, the town has also seen its fair share of heavy rainfall, frequently causing flash flooding and sometimes requiring the rescue of several motorists. Of course, we all remember the Boxing Day floods of 2015, when Scarborough also suffered. If only that had been the last time: in August 2017, 70 properties suffered flooding which also damaged local infrastructure and highways.
Whitby and the surrounding area have not escaped either. Sadly, Whitby has a long history of tidal flooding, with records going back to the 1800s, and it still occurs relatively frequently. A December 2013 storm surge caused major disruption, with flooding of major properties along and near Church Street. Thankfully, the Church Street flood alleviation scheme currently being planned by Scarborough Borough Council will provide protection to 54 residential properties and eight businesses, and I know similar schemes are being delivered up and down the country. So I recognise what my hon. Friends have said and share their concerns not just because of the experiences in my own constituency. The 2015-16 storms brought a volume of water that overwhelmed the pumping station and Foss barrier in York, resulting in severe flooding to the residents and businesses of that wonderful city on Boxing day, and the collapse of Tadcaster bridge just a few days later, effectively cutting that town in half.
I was deeply honoured to be appointed as the flood envoy for Yorkshire in the aftermath and saw at first hand the destruction and devastation experienced by so many people. I am proud of the way those communities came together—as did those in Somerset—to support each other through the recovery, and to identify and deliver solutions through, for example, the Calderdale flood action plan. I am also proud of any small part I played in supporting them through this most awful of times by ensuring their voices were heard at the very heart of Government. Members will therefore not be surprised to know that I completely agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome: the effect of flooding is devastating, both physically and mentally, both on people and in terms of the wider consequences for communities, businesses and the environment. Such impacts can also last a long time after the water has receded to a more normal level.
Rainfall brings many benefits to our green and pleasant land, but too much water in the wrong place is not welcome. We cannot stop natural hazards: just this week we have seen storm Gareth bringing strong winds and heavy rain and flood warnings to much of our country, and we will continue to be susceptible but need to try to reduce or manage the damage flooding can wreak. We can all take steps to mitigate the risk and the impact. To that end the Government are continuing to invest a record £2.7 billion in better protecting communities across England, with some 1,500 new flood defence schemes being put in place between 2015 and 2021, as well as significant investment to maintain existing flood management structures.
There is also action that communities and individuals can take to become more flood aware, including registering for flood warnings and alerts, and taking advice from the Environment Agency and local authorities. The Government are also keen to empower communities to take further action at a local level and have committed to bringing the public, private and third sectors together to work with communities and individuals to reduce the risk of harm from environmental hazards, enabling communities to help themselves, which is why we are here today.
This Bill will, once enacted, enable communities to do just that if they decide to take, and to fund, local action so as to be better protected. This could be through the creation of rivers authorities, as we have heard, or through the creation of a new, or expansion of an existing, internal drainage board. While there is currently only one rivers authority in Somerset, there are 112 internal drainage boards, covering 10% of England, and many of us are aware of the important work that they do on flood risk management and water management more generally.
I assure the House that back up north we are no strangers to the benefits of effective land drainage and water management. If you choose to visit us, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the beautiful county of Yorkshire, you will see a drainage scheme which was put in place over two centuries ago, the Derwent sea cut, which history tells us was the brainchild of local businessmen and landowners, constructed at least in part by prisoners of the Napoleonic wars—a precursor, may I suggest, of the type of scheme we heard about in Banbury, although I assume it had no ready access to French prisoners.
That proud history of managing water flows to alleviate flooding and create rich agricultural land continues today via our internal drainage boards. I farm on land that sits within the internal drainage district managed by the Foss internal drainage board, so I have direct personal and professional experience of the outstanding work these bodies can do. That is just one of the reasons I welcome this Bill today—so that other areas that need and want to can benefit from locally funded bodies, with local expertise to support flood risk management, be that an internal drainage board or indeed a rivers authority.
Following Royal Assent to the Bill, the Government will take the necessary steps to develop and publish its national framework for rivers authorities, and will engage with interested parties in doing so. This will enable local proposals to be developed and local consultations to be held. The Government will also pursue the regulations for the internal drainage boards through the affirmative procedure. Again, this will enable proposals to be developed and local consultations to be held. As I mentioned earlier, the Government fully support this Bill and hope it will now make a swift passage through the other place without amendment.
With the leave of the House, I should like to say that I am enormously grateful for the support that I have received for the Bill from across the House. I am grateful to the Minister and the shadow Minister, and to Opposition Members and hon. Friends who are in the House today.
It was great to hear the sensible observations of my hon. Friend Mike Wood, and it is always good to hear my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis talk about her grandfather’s drain obsession, even though that obsession is not shared by my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean. I did not think that my hon. Friend Matt Warman was a gloom bucket, as he said he was. I thought his proposals were very constructive.
I also want to say thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger), for Wells (James Heappey) and for Yeovil (Mr Fysh), who have supported the Bill from the outset. I am also grateful for the support of the staff at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and of the Clerks in the Public Bill Office. I must also place on record my sincere thanks to my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow, who has worked terribly hard on this, beavering away behind the scenes at DEFRA to ensure that the Bill saw the light of day. Without her, the splendid people of Somerset would certainly not be facing a drier future. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.