Section 36 — Duty to have regard to flood risk management plans and local flood risk management plans

Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:00 pm on 13th May 2009.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 3:00 pm, 13th May 2009

We come to group 9. Amendment 4, in the name of Peter Peacock, is the only amendment in the group.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I suspect that we are getting into slightly more controversial territory and that the consensus may not last, but I live in hope.

Amendment 4 is designed to give effect to the unanimous recommendation that the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee made in relation to flooding funding in its stage 1 report. Labour members have consistently pushed the issue of funding, as we believe that the bill as it stands leaves future funding less well ordered and clear than it could.

The committee received a number of recommendations and representations on the adequacy of the means for planning and funding national priorities for flood protection. The amendment seeks to place ministers under a duty to

"have regard to flood risk management plans" when determining funding allocations to SEPA and local authorities. In my view, it is a modest but important amendment that requires ministers, in effect, to consider and form views on short, medium and long-term priorities, without tying their hands in relation to specific funding allocations and decisions at any given moment. As I mentioned, the amendment seeks to give effect to a committee recommendation.

The duty that the amendment creates is for ministers to

"have regard to flood risk management plans" when allocating funding to SEPA or any responsible authority. It does not say how ministers must allocate the cash or how much funding they must provide; ultimately, those are matters for ministers. However, the wider public need to be assured that, when considering funding, ministers have had regard to the various plans that exist. After all, by providing for investment in future measures, the bill is designed to reduce the trauma that all too many people experience when their home and community are flooded.

Ministers will no doubt argue that they will, of course, have regard to plans and that the new duty is not needed. In my view, the duty is clearly needed to give some assurance over the period during which successive ministers will be required to have regard to the important issues concerned. Ministers will have to consider a range of other matters when it comes to funding, and the amendment does not prevent them from doing so.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am intrigued by amendment 4. I appreciate that Peter Peacock has a point to make, but is it the policy of his party to lodge such amendments for every bill that comes before the Parliament from now on? Clearly, ministers give all such issues equal priority. I ask him to clarify the point for the record.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

That is a matter for future bills. Flood funding is an important issue, and many people in Scotland have been traumatised by flooding. At the very least, ministers must have regard to flood risk management plans before they decide on funding allocations. That is all that amendment 4 does—it does nothing more and nothing less. Ministers should consider the plans before they make their decisions. Some might make out that the duty is onerous or even unnecessary, and that it conflicts with ministers' wider duties and responsibilities, but I do not accept that argument. It is no more onerous than the amendment says—ministers must "have regard to" the plans. That leaves ministers considerable scope, while ensuring that they cannot ignore flood funding among the many other issues that they have to consider.

I move amendment 4.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

As Peter Peacock has indicated, amendment 4 represents a unanimous recommendation by the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee. We received wide-ranging evidence from a cross-section of witnesses, many of whom expressed concern, not least the redoubtable Jim Moodie of Fife Council, who voiced a number of concerns about what would happen if a "have regard to" provision was not placed in the bill. The bill delivers a wide range of benefits, but it is important to ensure that we will the ends as well as the means. Peter Peacock's amendment is, as he suggests, perhaps more modest than some of the proposals that committee members had been considering earlier in the process. I certainly commend the amendment.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

As Peter Peacock has described, his amendment 4 places a duty on ministers just to "have regard to" flood risk plans. That indeed reflects the recommendations in the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee's report on flooding and flood management, and in its stage 1 report on the bill. In fact, the amendment does not go as far as those recommendations might suggest. It does not tie ministers into reintroducing ring-fenced funding for flood prevention, which many of us would like to see. The amendment says that, especially in spending review years, ministers should take into account the burden that is placed on the finances of SEPA and responsible authorities if they are to be able to implement the flood risk management plans that they have drawn up. It is important that funding follows policy, and that is all that we are asking for at this point. As Peter Peacock said, amendment 4 is relatively modest, and I hope that the Government feels able to accept it.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

I fear that Elaine Murray's hopes are going to be dashed.

I regret that Peter Peacock decided to lodge amendment 4. It would of course require ministers to

"have regard to flood risk management plans ... and local flood risk management plans" when making funding decisions. Under the bill,

"The Scottish Ministers, SEPA and responsible authorities" have a duty to act

"with a view to reducing overall flood risk", and they must

"act with a view to achieving the objectives set out in the flood risk management plan".

It is for ministers, in co-operation with the responsible authorities, to allocate funding across a wide range of Government responsibilities in order to meet agreed national and local priorities. To place an additional statutory duty on ministers to "have regard to" such plans risks elevating flood risk management above all the other important functions of SEPA and other responsible authorities that ministers must consider when determining spending priorities. If such requirements are going to begin to appear in other legislation, everything will become a priority—in which case, as we know, nothing will be a priority.

For those reasons, I believe that amendment 4 is unnecessary, and I ask Peter Peacock to withdraw it.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I take it that we will just have to disagree. I do not accept the minister's arguments, as she knows. She said that the requirement

"risks elevating flood risk management", but it does not actually elevate it. Ministers remain free to make the decisions that all ministers and Governments have to make in sorting out their relative spending priorities. The provisions contained in amendment 4 would require ministers to have regard to what are very important plans before they arrive at their decisions. As other members have said, it is a modest proposal, but it is significant.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The question is, that amendment 4 be agreed to. Are we all agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

There will be a division. I suspend proceedings for five minutes.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Division number 1

For: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Margaret, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Foulkes, George, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Gordon, Charlie, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Hume, Jim, Jamieson, Cathy, Kelly, James, Kerr, Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Ken, Martin, Paul, McArthur, Liam, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Tom, McConnell, Jack, McInnes, Alison, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, Mulligan, Mary, Murray, Elaine, O'Donnell, Hugh, Oldfather, Irene, Park, John, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Rumbles, Mike, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stewart, David, Tolson, Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Whitton, David
Against: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Allan, Alasdair, Brocklebank, Ted, Brown, Gavin, Brownlee, Derek, Campbell, Aileen, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, FitzPatrick, Joe, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Harvie, Christopher, Hepburn, Jamie, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Kidd, Bill, Lamont, John, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McGrigor, Jamie, McKee, Ian, McKelvie, Christina, McMillan, Stuart, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Gil, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Smith, Elizabeth, Somerville, Shirley-Anne, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, John, Thompson, Dave, Watt, Maureen, Welsh, Andrew, White, Sandra, Wilson, Bill, Wilson, John

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The result of the division is: For 58, Against 56, Abstentions 0.

Amendment agreed to.