Clause 60

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 3rd July 2008.

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Directions by Secretary of State to prepare reports

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 105, in clause 60, page 27, line 42, at end add—

‘(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations—

(a) make provision requiring reporting authorities to co-operate with other reporting authorities in the provision of information and the preparation of any report under this section.

(b) make provision as to the arrangements for such co-operation.’.

The amendment would place a duty on local authorities to co-operate on adaptation—

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

If I may refresh the Committee’s memory, the amendment would place a duty on local authorities to co-operate on adaptation. That is important because there is a gap in the Bill whereby councils may be substantially deficient in their ability to prepare for the effects of climate change if they do not have access to information from other reporting authorities. The amendment seeks to bridge that gap by facilitating the pooling of information between public bodies and ensuring their co-operation with councils so that local areas are adequately prepared for the effects of climate change planning.

Councils are unique in that they have close access to local information on infrastructures and the ability to produce comprehensive, detailed and accurate reports that will be greatly beneficial to central Government. While local government has the capacity to report on its estates and services under its direct control, it is not in a position to chase and collate information from non-council public authorities, by which I mean former public utilities such as water, electricity or gas supply companies.

Moreover, if councils are required to make a report, they need the power to require relevant, reliable and timely co-operation from non-council public authorities. The prevention of flooding is a key example of an area in which the amendment would be mutually beneficial to both public bodies and local councils.

As was demonstrated by last summer’s floods, a number of public bodies are involved in operations to deal with the consequences of floods and with flood prevention. To achieve that, it is essential that the relevant bodies are able to impart information and collaborate in investigations to root out the causes of the floods. However, to resolve the problem successfully in all cases, it is necessary that they explain their actions and work with local authorities to make improvements.

The ineffectiveness of the current process was demonstrated last summer in Leeds, when the city council was able to access Yorkshire Water’s sewer records only on a stand-alone basis. It was not permitted to superimpose that data against its own information to gain a fuller picture of surface water drainage. Unsurprisingly, it is difficult to investigate drainage problems holistically when the various records can be seen only in isolation. That strikes me as an inefficient use of data, when sharing information at no real expense to either third party would have had distinct benefits for tackling flooding.

It is clear that there is a need for those who have a statutory duty to keep drainage records to also have a duty to share such records with other related organisations. For example, the effective maintenance and upkeep of drainage infrastructure requires those bodies responsible to maintain adequate records to highlight any risks. By sharing and collating that information, all the facts required would be in place to make an accurate assessment  of how such infrastructure should be maintained and by whom. The experience of Hull city council, in an area that suffered severely from floods last summer, is a prime example. The draining system was overwhelmed and an independent report investigating the floods subsequently highlighted that the lack of information on the ownership of watercourses and their maintenance regimes resulted in there being no sole agency or combined body in control.

It is not enough simply to assume that non-council reporting authorities, through central guidance, will in all cases take reasonable steps to co-operate and respond effectively with councils. It is thus necessary to underpin effective action with statutory obligations. As we remember the appalling floods that damaged parts of the country so badly on two occasions last year, and we are mindful of the fact that much of the human misery caused was preventable through better co-operation between public bodies and councils, I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

Amendment No. 105 recognises and highlights the importance of co-operation in producing adaptation reports. In that sense, we agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said in support of his amendment. There is a need for co-operation. When it is essential for a successful approach to adapting to climate change, we have already put a number of measures into the Bill to ensure co-operation between relevant reporting authorities. Our approach is measured and proportionate to the task.

The Secretary of State’s and Welsh Ministers’ guidance to reporting authorities will include co-operation, as set out in clause 59(1)(c). Additionally, clause 60(2) already provides for the power to request joint reports from reporting authorities. When considering which public bodies should be subject to directions to prepare adaptation reports, we will consider which other bodies should be subject to similar directions to ensure that each sector is undertaking adequate assessments of climate risk and that particular areas of the country are covered properly in a joined-up way.

I have sought advice on the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised about the floods. I am told that the powers in the Bill require reporting authorities to co-operate, and that will specifically include sharing information. It is clear that what I am saying in general would cover the case that he has raised because of the specific requirement to share information. With that duty to co-operate and share information, and the power to direct authorities to produce joint reports, which would require them to bring their information together, I believe that we already have in the Bill a set of measures that provides a strong framework and offers a more proportionate response to ensuring that there is appropriate co-operation between reporting authorities in producing the adaptation report.

I understand that the amendment was well meant and the purpose behind it. I hope that I have satisfied the hon. Gentleman that the Bill provides what he seeks.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:00 pm, 3rd July 2008

I appreciate the Minister’s words about the amendment. Given that this is an important area and that there have been practical examples of where a lack of co-operation has had a bad effect on  local ability to deal with severe weather, which will only increase with the onset of climate change, we would have liked the Bill to contain a more clearly stated obligation on local authorities to co-operate on adaptation. However, I heard what the Minister said about the obligations being diffused elsewhere in the legislation. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 60 ordered to stand part of the Bill.