Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:44 pm on 15th March 2019.

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Photo of David Warburton David Warburton Conservative, Somerton and Frome 12:44 pm, 15th March 2019

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.