Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:00 pm on 13th May 2009.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 4:00 pm, 13th May 2009

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-4058, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 4:13 pm, 13th May 2009

I am absolutely delighted to open the debate on the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill, which I believe is a timely and crucial piece of legislation for Scotland. We even had our moments of excitement this afternoon with two casting votes and a number of narrow votes, too.

I hope that the people of Scotland and members of the Parliament, particularly those who represent communities that are under threat from flooding or which have experienced damage as a result of flooding events in past years, will recognise that the bill will improve substantially Scotland's approach to tackling flooding and its impacts. It will equip Scotland with a modern and sustainable approach to managing all forms of flooding. In doing so, it will promote a safer, stronger and more secure environment for Scotland's citizens and businesses.

For the purposes of rule 9.11 of the standing orders, I advise the Parliament that, having been informed of the purport of the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill, Her Majesty has consented to place her prerogative and interests in so far as they are affected by the bill at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill.

Before outlining key elements of the bill, I will take a moment to thank all those who contributed much to its development. Our consultation exercises allowed us to listen to and learn from the experiences of people who have been affected by flooding, alongside people with experience of tackling flooding problems throughout Scotland. That input was greatly appreciated and helped the process considerably.

I thank the members of the Finance Committee, the Subordinate Legislation Committee and particularly the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, whose diligent scrutiny of the bill helped shape the bill's final form, as it should. I also thank the committee clerks, who worked hard to support the committees' work. I put on record my sincere thanks to our officials in the bill team and to the Government and parliamentary legal teams. They worked extremely hard on what has been at times a demanding bill, with a challenging timetable. I am confident that all those who worked on the bill will agree that collaboration across party lines and with stakeholders was central to the bill's successful development.

I also say a word of thanks to the former Minister for Environment, Michael Russell, who began to pilot the bill through the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee at stage 1 and to his successor, Roseanna Cunningham, who steered the bill through stage 3 today and who made a seamless transition from chairing the committee at stage 1 to steering the bill through stage 3 on the Government's behalf.

The bill's aim is simply to equip Scotland with 21st century legislation for 21st century flood risk management. Research into climate change tells us that flooding could become more frequent and more severe. We must act now to minimise the impact of future flooding on Scotland's people, services, environment and economy.

Historical records show an upward trend in average rainfall for each year. For instance, Scotland became 20 per cent wetter between 1961 and 2004. That change included an increase of almost 70 per cent in winter rainfall in northern Scotland. The summer of 2008 was one of the wettest on record—August was 50 per cent wetter than normal and the ensuing floods disrupted people's lives and damaged their livelihoods.

The unavoidable conclusion from climate change predictions is that flooding is likely to become an increasingly regular threat to our communities, our lives and the economy. The unavoidable message is that we must act now to minimise the impact of future flooding on Scotland's people. Blaming climate change entirely for recent flooding would be convenient, but there are other factors to consider, which include how we have managed our land and our waterways to suit our society's needs, which has compounded the effects of flooding in some areas.

We recognise that flooding cannot be eliminated. However, experience tells us that well co-ordinated action can significantly reduce the likelihood of flooding and its harmful impacts. Scotland's current flooding legislation—the Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961—has been criticised for restricting the range of flood management measures that can be adopted; for lacking a clear framework to co-ordinate measures across catchments; and for delaying the implementation of measures to manage flooding. As I am sure everyone agrees, much of that act is outdated and no longer reflects how Government services and local services are delivered in Scotland.

The bill will address those problems directly and will give Scotland the modern and sustainable approach to managing flooding that it deserves, while also transposing the European Union floods directive. It will remove unnecessary burdens and obstacles to developing flood protection measures and it will clarify roles in and responsibilities for flood risk management by, for example, placing local authorities, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Water and the Scottish ministers under new and clear duties. It will also provide Scotland with an improved reservoir safety regime. It is important that the bill will establish a framework for collaboration between the bodies that are tasked with managing flooding and protecting Scotland's people, environment and economy.

The bill will create a flexible approach to managing flooding, which can be adapted to different circumstances—including many local issues—throughout the nation. Furthermore, the intent behind creating a flexible approach is to produce legislation that will work for current and future generations.

The bill will deliver flood management at a catchment scale, which will allow local authorities and others to take the best possible approach to managing flooding in their areas. Options will range from traditional defences to improved flood warning and natural flood management measures wherever appropriate.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

To back up the bill, which I am glad that we will be able to pass later this afternoon, does the minister agree that local authorities need to be given the strongest advice not to allow building on existing flood plains?

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

It would be helpful if you could begin to wind up your remarks, cabinet secretary.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party


The member raises a fair point. The issue featured throughout the debate in committee, as it did in the chamber and in discussions with stakeholders. I am sure that it will be reflected.

The new national flood risk assessments and flood maps will improve our understanding of the likelihood and consequences of flooding from rivers, the sea, extreme rainfall events and groundwater. Those new assessments will be complemented by flood risk management plans that will ensure that the most sustainable and cost-effective measures are put in place to manage flooding. The implementation of the bill over the next few years will make vital improvements to how we manage flooding and make a real and long-term difference to the lives of people in Scotland.

I believe, as does the Scottish Government—indeed, I am sure that we all believe—that the bill will position Scotland at the forefront of modern flood risk management. More important, it will make a significant and lasting difference to those who are at risk of flooding. I believe that the bill deserves the support of every member of the Parliament.

I am delighted to move, That the Parliament agrees that the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

We are going to try to finish the debate this afternoon. It would be helpful if opening speakers did not take up their entire allotment of time.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 4:21 pm, 13th May 2009

Point taken, Presiding Officer.

The Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill transposes into Scots law the provisions of an European Union directive. Many members will have witnessed the distress that floods have caused our constituents. The legislation will not prevent flooding from ever happening again, but it should ensure that the relevant authorities, working together in the full knowledge of their respective responsibilities, will develop better systems of flood prevention.

Consideration of the bill was enlightened by the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee's earlier inquiry into flooding, and amendments at stages 2 and 3 have effected significant improvement to the original bill. The progress of the bill illustrates how effective Parliament's committee system can be in working with the Government to achieve the aims of stakeholders.

I record the thanks of Labour members to RSPB Scotland and Scottish Environment LINK for their considerable and considered input at all stages of the bill. As Peter Peacock said, we thank in particular Andrea Johnstonová. I thank the minister and her officials for their constructive engagement with the committee. I also thank the committee clerks for their invaluable assistance in translating our aspirations into amendments. Through that assistance, the focus on sustainability has been strengthened. The bill now reflects a clear emphasis on the importance of natural features and characteristics in flood prevention measures, and provides the steer that is necessary to effect cultural change.

The need for the agencies that are involved in flood prevention not only to co-operate but to co-ordinate their activities using an integrated approach will now be laid in statute. Local authorities will be empowered to manage flood risk through land management, and owners will be entitled to claim compensation for work on their land that acts to prevent flooding but adversely affects their income from other uses. Local authorities will also be able to recover expenses for work that they are obliged to do on private land in the pursuance of flood prevention, whether in repairing flood defences or in clearing debris from water courses to prevent flooding of neighbouring land or properties.

However, the best flood prevention schemes will not be implemented if there is insufficient funding to make them happen, which is why amendment 4, in the name of my colleague Peter Peacock, was so important. Similar amendments were debated at committee, but lost on the convener's casting vote. I am delighted that Parliament agreed to amendment 4, albeit narrowly. The benefits of the bill will be realised only if ministers allocate adequate funding to responsible authorities to enable them to undertake the prevention schemes that they have identified as being necessary. The amendment that was agreed today is not unduly restrictive; it simply requires ministers "to have regard to" flood risk management planning when allocating funding to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and other responsible authorities.

The Rural Affairs and Environment Committee felt that the current legislative requirement on Scottish Water to deliver its functions

"at lowest reasonable overall cost" may not enable it to give adequate weight to issues of sustainability. It was for that reason that my colleagues Peter Peacock and Robin Harper lodged amendments to amend the relevant sections of the Water Industry (Scotland) Act 2002 on the duties of the Water Industry Commission for Scotland and Scottish Water. The aim of the amendments was to enable Scottish Water to deliver sustainable solutions to flood management. The amendments required ministers to consider the issuing of directions to Scottish Water and the WIC on their duties on sustainable flood risk management. I am sorry that we did not manage to persuade Parliament to agree to the amendments, but I hope that their spirit will be taken forward. I think that, in her responses, the minister indicated that she will progress some elements of the amendments, even without their having been agreed to.

In her amendments, Karen Gillon focused on the committee's consideration of the need for flood risk assessment to be undertaken prior to planning permission being granted in areas that have been assessed as being prone to flooding. One amendment was agreed to but the other was not. At this stage, I am not quite certain what the effect of that will be; however, we must note that the amendments reflect concerns that were brought to Parliament in the form of petition PE1207, from Gordon Sinclair, which was considered at stage 1. Similar issues were raised by our colleague Helen Eadie in her speech during the stage 1 debate.

To summarise, this is a good bill that has been further strengthened by the committee process and by parliamentary consideration at stage 3. It represents a major improvement to flood risk management in Scotland and a cultural change in the approach to flood prevention—from the previous assumption that prevention required hard engineering solutions to an approach that requires that consideration be given to use of natural features and characteristics. A duty has been placed on ministers, SEPA and the responsible authorities to act to achieve the objectives that are set out in flood risk management plans. The bill, when enacted, should help to prevent the considerable distress that is caused to individuals and communities by flooding incidents. It will be a welcome addition to the statute book.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative 4:26 pm, 13th May 2009

I congratulate the Government on the passing of the bill today. It has been an exciting bill to work on. Although it has been slow in its gestation, I believe that today we have delivered a bill of which all those who have been involved in its creation can be justifiably proud.

During consideration of the bill, the composition of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee has changed regularly: only Peter Peacock and Bill Wilson remain on the committee from the start of its initial inquiry into flooding. However, the concept and spirit behind the committee's work—to deliver a bill that is fit for purpose, to tidy up existing legislation, to develop natural flood prevention techniques and to contribute to the social, economic and environmental development of Scotland—have been constant throughout.

Today we must thank our clerks, who have delivered two reports on flooding in Scotland and who have, on occasion, worked long into the night to sort out amendments for stages 2 and 3 of the bill. We must also thank all those who gave evidence to the committee during both inquiries, especially those who invited members of the committee to see for themselves the problems and solutions that we are addressing today. We must thank Scottish Environment LINK and the RSPB Scotland for their constant input into the bill, as well as the members of the Government bill team, all of whom worked tirelessly to create a bill that we all hope will improve flood risk management in Scotland.

The bill is vital in addressing the problem of climate change. Increased rainfall since the 1960s is a fact of life in Scotland and, as the minister indicated, it is likely to increase further. Sea-level rises and coastal inundation are not yet immediate problems, but they are likely to become greater problems in the future. If I have a concern about the bill, it is that we may not have addressed sufficiently the problems that are likely to be associated with sea-level rises and storm and tidal surges. Storminess and semi-tropical storms, producing huge deluges of rain, are likely to increase. Those events pose the biggest threat to at-risk communities in Scotland.

In response to the threats that have been identified, we have developed the approach that is set out in the bill. At its simplest, the bill changes the emphasis of flood management from hard to soft engineering practices, as well as tidying up other areas of legislation. Although funding has not been discussed at length today, it will be a key to delivering the protection of communities that we all seek. Given the cuts in the Scottish budget that are likely as a result of the recession, I hope that lack of funding will not prove to be an insurmountable problem in the future.

I welcome, especially in the light of recent tragedies, the Government's commitment to a review of inland waterway search and rescue provision and I look forward to the emergence, within a reasonable timescale, of better and clearer contingency planning as a result.

Finally, I thank colleagues on the committee, who have been great fun to work with. I hope that the bill will achieve what it sets out to do.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat 4:29 pm, 13th May 2009

The passing of the bill is a further significant landmark for the Scottish Parliament, as we enter our second decade. Scottish Liberal Democrats warmly welcome not only the detail of the legislation but the manner in which it has been dealt with since its introduction. I suggest gently that although there are numerous examples of the minority Government's talk of working with other parties to achieve agreement being found wanting, the bill is a good illustration of what can be achieved through early, meaningful and transparent engagement—not just with Parliament and its committees but with the wider group of interested parties.

There have continued to be areas of disagreement throughout the process, including this afternoon, but it is worth observing that those have, on the whole, been limited. Resolutions to such disagreements have invariably been found relatively painlessly to satisfy all sides. For that reason, I record my thanks, as a member of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, to the ministerial team—in both its current and previous forms—and to their officials for the work that they have put in, particularly since the bill was introduced in September last year. At stage 1 I commended them for their willingness to listen and respond, and I am pleased that that approach has, by and large, remained since then.

I also record my sincere thanks to the committee clerks and to the Scottish Parliament information centre and other support staff, who have helped me up the learning curve since I joined the committee in September last year. Unlike some other members, I did not have the advantage of having participated in the previous flooding inquiry, but the clerks helped me to mask that fact, at least in the early stages. To all those who provided written and oral evidence, both to the committee and on a one-to-one basis, I offer my thanks. Like Elaine Murray and Peter Peacock, I draw particular attention to the efforts of Andrea Johnstonová.

It would be an unhealthy state of affairs if we agreed on all aspects of any piece of proposed legislation, however much the overarching principles might commend themselves. Even now, there will be those—perhaps even ministers—who can and will point to bits of the bill with which they are unhappy. However, that is the nature of the beast. As politicians it is, in the current climate, nice to think that the issues of controversy are related to policy, and not to the flood risk of one's moat, swimming pool or—heaven forfend—tennis court.

I am under no illusions that, however it might have seemed at times over the past six or seven months, we have been involved in the more straightforward task. Implementing the bill's measures and ensuring that they are effective and will achieve the objectives that have been set will be altogether more onerous. In that regard, we as parliamentarians must ensure that subsequent guidance is clear, well informed and timely; that funding is in place to meet agreed needs; and that we have the appropriate skills mix that is required as part of the culture change that we all agree needs to take place in our approach to managing flood risk in this country. That, as Elaine Murray has suggested, is all that we realistically can do.

It is imperative that natural flood management processes and features play a greater role in addressing a problem that, as the cabinet secretary said, we are likely to face more and more in the years and decades ahead. That is not to say that more traditional and innovative hard engineering solutions will not continue to be necessary, but a better balance needs to be struck. That can best be achieved by taking a longer-term perspective, but without losing sight of the need for early action; by making explicit our expectations of a range of bodies; and by ensuring, among other things, that appropriate compensation can and will be paid. In that way, we can help to effect the necessary culture change. We can do so without the need for a presumption in favour of natural processes, a concept about which there was clearly confusion, particularly among various local authorities. I think that the bill now achieves the right balance in that respect.

As for my own interest, the issue of coastal flooding has a particular resonance. Again, I record my desire for SEPA to take proper account of data on climate change impacts and local tidal patterns, including tidal surges, in seeking conclusions on flood risk. I echo John Scott's sentiments and concerns on that.

At stage 1 I concluded that this is a good bill that could be made better. Over the past three months, the necessary improvements have largely been made. The bill does justice to the legacy of the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003, which was successfully introduced by my colleague, Ross Finnie. I congratulate the Government, and Liberal Democrats look forward to voting in favour of the bill at decision time.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

We now move to the open part of the debate. I am afraid that I will have to limit speakers to three minutes each.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party 4:33 pm, 13th May 2009

I start by mentioning that I was not on the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee for stage 1. At stage 2, I was in the unusual position of considering Government amendments that had been lodged by my predecessor as convener, who had convened stage 1 proceedings.

I add my thanks to all the clerks for their hard work, and to all those who gave evidence on the bill. The process began for the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee away back in September 2007, when the committee agreed to conduct an inquiry into flooding and flood management. It was undertaken in the knowledge that the Government intended to introduce a bill. Such pre-legislative scrutiny proved very valuable, as it allowed the committee to feed its thinking on the best approach to flood risk management into the Government's work at a very early stage. As a result, the bill as introduced to Parliament reflected a number of the committee inquiry's recommendations.

In addition, the issues and associated inquiry recommendations that the Government did not endorse served as a useful starting point for scrutiny of the bill.

In its stage 1 report, the committee highlighted concerns, for example about resources and the shortage of specialist staff to implement the bill's provisions. Given the skills that we require in this country, youngsters might consider becoming water engineers. The committee also noted that there is uncertainty about the funding that will be provided to local authorities and Scottish Water to implement the legislation, and expressed concern about the conflict between SEPA's role in implementation and its priorities as an environmental regulator.

I am pleased that the Government has responded positively to a large number of the committee's recommendations. I am also pleased that points to which the Government did not see fit to agree were doggedly pursued to the end of stage 3. I am glad that the committee has ensured that flood risk will be managed sustainably and that existing natural features, such as wetlands, will be used to manage flood risk, wherever that is possible.

The committee's recommendation that clear strategic priorities be derived from the risk assessment process and be made publicly available has also been adopted. We have also received assurances that local authority development and flood risk management planning processes should prevent developments in areas that are subject to significant flooding. The need for more detail on how local authorities can recover expenses or fine landowners who do not maintain watercourses has been addressed, as has the need for more detail on how landowners can be compensated for loss of earnings if their land is required for flood prevention work.

We have a good bill. The committee reserves the right to conduct post-legislative scrutiny.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 4:36 pm, 13th May 2009

I have spoken in Parliament about a visit that I made to an old lady in the village of Caol, near Fort William, who told me about the terrible flooding that she had experienced. She told me that all her family photographs, which had been in the bottom drawer of a desk in her room, had been destroyed and she would never be able to look at them again. It was a poignant moment. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment and the Minister for Environment have heard similar stories in their constituencies. If the bill does nothing other than reduce the chance of such losses in the future, it will have served a useful purpose.

The bill will speed up a series of procedures in making provision for communities who are affected by flooding. However, it remains a complex bill—some of the terminology and concepts will be extremely complex for lay people. SEPA, which will have substantial new powers as a result of the bill, and local authorities will have a major job to do to interpret and explain the bill to communities who are affected by flooding, and to enable people to realise what is possible. SEPA staff have been in the public gallery this afternoon—I hope that they will take seriously the agency's new powers and their responsibility to explain the bill's provisions.

We have made substantial progress on natural flood management. The concept was very raw for committee members early in our inquiry on flooding, but it has been better defined and our understanding has become much more sophisticated. Natural flood management will have a big part to play in the future, which is why members have given the issue so much attention. I am pleased that we have made progress in that regard.

Finance will continue to be a big issue—notwithstanding the bill's provisions—for the reasons that the minister set out. Flooding will increase as climate change continues, which means that we will have to make more provision in more places throughout Scotland, if we are to protect communities. There is no question but that more cash will be required over time. The Government has a long way to go in relation not just to the quantum of cash that is to be made available but to how the cash is administered. I urge the minister to continue to consider the administration of funding, to ensure that small communities, such as South Uist, that require large flooding schemes can get the cash that they need.

The bill is better as a result of the scrutiny that it has received. There has been good co-operation between the Government and committee members in reaching consensus, which I welcome. I congratulate Scottish Environment LINK staff for all their work to support, encourage, cajole and persuade committee members to take seriously and push to a conclusion certain issues. I will very much welcome the passing of the bill.

Photo of Bill Wilson Bill Wilson Scottish National Party 4:39 pm, 13th May 2009

One cannot unboil an egg but I welcome the fact that this bill takes us from hard to soft—at least in terms of flood prevention. From now on there will be an emphasis on sustainable flood management practices making use of the natural features of the environment rather than hard engineering solutions. This will benefit biodiversity and the amenity and scenic value of our landscape. I am convinced it will prove more cost effective in the long term.

However, a change in mindset will be required if we are to adopt across Scotland an environmentally benign and co-ordinated approach to flood risk. If we are to meet our biodiversity and climate change targets, then the cost benefit analysis must and will be extended beyond simple financial estimates. The guidance that will be provided by ministers on how to create the new cost benefit analysis is critical, so I urge the minister to ensure that the final decision on guidance will be open to discussion among a range of sources.

The minister will not be surprised if I return to a concern that I raised in the course of the flooding inquiry that preceded the introduction of the bill, and during the committee's consideration of the bill. I am almost tempted to tell the minister to take a guess.

A supplementary submission from Scottish Environment LINK that was recorded in the stage 1 report on the bill also noted the potential for changes in sea level as a result of climate change. It stated:

"Potentially Scotland will in future experience more extreme rises in sea levels than previously predicted. For example, it has been estimated that future sea level rise by 2080 could be 20 cm higher in the Clyde estuary and 28 cm higher in Moray and Aberdeenshire than previously estimated."

During the course of the flooding management inquiry, Professor John Mitchell, the director of climate science at the Met Office, agreed with me that preventing new building below a certain height above sea level would be sensible. It is vital that our actions to mitigate the effects of global warming should include a prohibition on development below a given height above sea level—surely that should be at least 1m. If we fail to prevent major developments within the expected range of sea-level rises, we are only building problems for the future.

Let me emphasise that I am referring to significant developments. If a farmer decides to build a byre or an individual a holiday cottage, it is hardly a matter of great concern. However, when it comes to power stations, hospitals or housing estates, surely it is common sense to take possible sea-level rises into account when granting planning permission. Therefore, I urge the minister to examine changes to planning law in the near, rather than the distant, future.

I also urge the minister to ensure that SEPA is instructed to make public the estimates of sea-level rises it uses when preparing its coastal maps of flood risk. For coastal flood maps to contribute to good decision making, knowledge of the estimates that are used to build the flood maps is vital. As we are trying to be quick, I will stop there.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I am grateful for the extra time. We come to closing speeches.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat 4:42 pm, 13th May 2009

There can be no doubt that the bill is a leap forward for Scotland in dealing with the seriousness that flooding and the danger of water brings to the Scottish people, and it furthers the work of the Liberal Democrat former minister, Ross Finnie, who introduced the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003.

At the weekend, a couple from Kilwinning in my region tragically died after trying to rescue their dogs. I am sure all our thoughts go out to their family and friends. That acts as a reminder of the devastating force of water. Liam McArthur mentioned the disaster in Loch Awe, also reminding us of the importance of joined-up rescue services for inland waters.

In many towns in my area, such as Hawick, Selkirk and Dumfries—which are in Elaine Murray's constituency—residents and shopkeepers live in fear of flash floods and the devastation they can bring, as they have done in the past. Those people are victims of the fact that towns with industry had to be built next to the flowing rivers of the Nith and Tweed tributaries.

There is a broad welcome for the bill and a recognition of the hard work that has been put into it by the clerks and all the committee. In particular, the work of Elaine Murray and John Scott has encouraged the Government to address the processes, thereby avoiding much controversy in flood plan implementation: if land users have to give up their livelihoods and land for the greater good of the community, it is only right that they be compensated.

My colleague Liam McArthur lodged an amendment that took into account environmentally important areas, which was in recognition of the rich biodiversity that is found in our riparian areas and the need to take that into account in deliberations. Both withdrawn amendments have influenced the bill positively.

Amendment 31, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, seemed to cover Liam McArthur's point, as special areas of conservation cover large parts of Scotland, including the River Tweed and its tributaries.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, with the aid of his past and present ministers, has been fastidious in progressing the bill. However, there are still concerns about it, particularly from local authorities, which have difficulties in gaining expertise in hydrology—Maureen Watt mentioned that. We can perhaps learn that expertise from countries such as Austria, which has had to attempt to tame the likes of the great Danube with hard and soft engineering, which have been mentioned often in the debate. There is undoubtedly a skills gap in hydrology, which we must fill.

Funding, of course, is the age-old enemy, and there is a perceived lack of funding that would back up the bill's provisions. Flood measures funding is not ring-fenced, and it may take second place to front-line services such as education and social services. Given that we have a recession and budgets are limited across the board, I fear that flood measures may be put off until a later date, particularly when plans do not have to be finalised for some time. Of course, the longer we wait to implement projects, the more expensive they tend to become and the more the risk to life and property increases.

Concerns have been raised throughout the bill's stages about SEPA's role as facilitator and regulator. I am not totally convinced that there is no conflict there.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the bill and look forward to the speedy implementation of its provisions in flood risk areas, with adequate funding of proper expertise and engineering—soft and hard. I do not refer the soft and hard eggs to which Mr Wilson's scrambled message referred. Finally, I acknowledge the hard work that was done for all stages of the bill by all who have previously been mentioned.

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative 4:46 pm, 13th May 2009

Like all members, I am pleased that the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill has now completed its progress through Parliament and that the flood risk management plans and co-ordinated structures will soon be in place, which should help to protect people in Scotland from the devastating effects that flooding can have on their homes and communities and their emotional and physical wellbeing.

The bill is timely, as it comes in the wake of significant flooding episodes in recent years and one of the wettest summers on record. Climate change is likely to result in more wet summers, and a rise in sea level is possible. It is recognised that flooding is a threat to nearly 100,000 properties in Scotland. Water surges threaten our coastal defences and may cause surface flooding with which our urban drainage systems will struggle to cope.

There is an urgent need for long-term planning, with an emphasis on sustainable flood management, so the bill is welcome indeed. There is a plethora of flood-related legislation, but much of it is now outdated and out of line with changes to the delivery of Government and local services in Scotland. The bill gives us the opportunity to put right that situation.

By establishing a framework for assessing flood risk, mapping flood hazard and risk, developing flood risk management plans and transposing the EU floods directive into Scots law, the bill ought to lead to a reduction in the incidence and adverse consequences of flooding. The bill's main provisions have been ably discussed by many members this afternoon, so I will not repeat them—I will just highlight a few areas.

The initial provision in part 3 of the bill on the preparation and review of the assessments and plans that are required by the EU floods directive caused us some concern, because it contained no requirement to implement natural flood management techniques, nor was there a presumption in favour of natural flood management, hence our support for the stage 3 amendments that dealt with that.

The use of agricultural land for natural flood management must be considered carefully alongside the need to protect food security—that is of prime concern to my party. Although we welcome the provisions in part 4, which give local authorities broad powers to develop a full range of flood risk management measures, we feel strongly that land managers must be adequately compensated for any income loss sustained because their land is used as flood plain or as a means of holding back the flow of water.

We very much welcome the emphasis on natural flood management, but we recognise that it will not completely get rid of the need for hard engineering solutions to flooding problems. However, the bill should help to induce a culture shift in the minds of local authorities, with natural solutions being used wherever possible.

We are pleased that the Government has announced a review of all inland waterway rescue services, because they clearly require consideration and improvement. We look forward to the outcome of the review in due course.

There is clear consensus on the need for the bill and on its provisions. The Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, the Scottish Government and the various agencies with an interest in the bill are to be congratulated on their hard work and co-operation in taking forward such a complex and important bill and in amending it at stages 2 and 3 such that it has been strengthened and improved as it has gone through the parliamentary process.

We are broadly happy with the end result, and we look forward to supporting the bill at decision time.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour 4:50 pm, 13th May 2009

I very much welcome the opportunity to participate in this stage 3 debate. Those of us who have been on the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee since the start of session 3 have been on a relatively long journey in our consideration of flooding, but our pre-legislative scrutiny—in the form of the committee's inquiry into flooding and flood management—has helped us in our understanding of the issues.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

Will Karen Gillon accept my apologies for not including her in my list of those who have been a member of the committee from the beginning?

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

I will accept John Scott's apology in the constructive manner in which it was offered, although I must confess that I had a small absence for stages 1 and 2 of the bill. However, I came back from maternity leave for stage 3.

The bill has been shaped positively by that parliamentary process, which I think has, on the whole, been constructive and consensual. Yes, we do not agree on everything, but we now have a good bill that will begin the process of effecting culture change. However, the real test of the bill is not how worthy it is as a document or how much we have learned, but the extent to which it will prevent communities throughout Scotland from experiencing the type of flooding devastation that Peter Peacock mentioned. The bill is not the end of the process, either. Perhaps a future Rural Affairs and Environment Committee will need to reconsider, through post-legislative scrutiny, how matters can be improved.

Bill Wilson's scientific background leads him to explore issues in a very particular way and to ask difficult questions of his own ministers. The questions that he has raised today have some considerable merit, as has the persistence that he has shown in highlighting the need for more effective use of surface materials that allow better run-off in residential areas. I hope that the Minister for Environment will respond to those points in due course, if not in her closing speech today.

On what is a constantly changing picture, the bill will provide us with the ability to respond effectively as and when change happens and as information becomes available. The bill will also embed the principle of catchment planning to ensure that actions cannot be taken in one area that will impact on another without it having some involvement in the process. All in all, we have a good bill before us today. Those of us on the Scottish Labour Party benches will have much pleasure in supporting the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill at decision time.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 4:53 pm, 13th May 2009

I am in the unusual position of having made a transition, midway through the bill's parliamentary process, from being the convener of the lead committee dealing with the bill to being the minister sitting on the other side of the room dealing with the committee's concerns. I understand that I share that dubious distinction with Sarah Boyack. We are perhaps the only two members of the Parliament who have had that experience, although I may have been luckier in that I have managed to get the bill through stage 3, whereas I think that the timing was rather more difficult for Sarah Boyack last time round.

I thank all those who have been members of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee and the various clerks who have dealt with the committee throughout the period in which it has discussed flooding. As members will have heard, the committee undertook an inquiry into flooding and flood management before we—I am still saying "we", but I mean the committee—considered the bill.

No one doubts that we need new and improved flooding legislation. My constituency certainly has a traumatic history of serious flooding incidents, including the overwhelming floods of 1993, which are difficult to eradicate from the collective consciousness, therefore I am all too aware of the distress and suffering that flooding can cause individuals and communities. That awareness is shared by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, whose constituency has also had to deal with such experiences. Indeed, the vexed issue of moving water rescue—which emerged late as a big issue—is also a matter with which I am familiar, as a result of events in the River Tay. However, having got to this stage, we all know that legislation alone is not enough. The Scottish Government has already put in place a framework to implement the bill. That work will build on partnerships and experiences that have been developed.

As some members have said, it is vital that we have a sufficient number of specialist staff. The skills shortage became clear to everyone who was involved in the committee's inquiry and consideration of the bill. Last week, I met the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning to discuss how we can ensure that Scotland has adequate skills and staffing to carry out the new duties that the bill will introduce.

Furthermore, SEPA is planning to create 10 new posts in its flood risk science training programme in this and the following two years. The successful candidates will work for SEPA on a part-time basis while studying for MSc degrees at the University of Dundee or the University of Stirling—SEPA's partners in the initiative. That will help us to deal with the significant issue that arose during the passage of the bill.

I will try to deal with some of the points that have been made during the debate. As we would have expected him to, Robin Harper pleaded with us not to build on flood plains, but the fact is that we have already built on a great many flood plains. The process began so many hundreds of years ago that it is impossible for us to take back the land in question. The planning guidance that is provided to local authorities includes a presumption against building on functional flood plains that have not already been built on. We will continue to highlight that message when it is appropriate to do so. [Interruption.]

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Order. I am sorry, minister. It is the height of discourtesy for members who have not taken part in the debate to come wandering into the chamber and just start talking among themselves. Kindly refrain from doing so.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

Karen Gillon asked what the impact will be of the fact that one of her amendments on planning was agreed to and the other was not. I can tell her that it will now be a requirement that a flood risk assessment be prepared, but no one will have to take any notice of it. We will have to go away and have a look at that, as we will have to do in relation to the decisions on all the amendments that the Parliament has considered today.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

I had better just press on, if the member does not mind.

John Scott talked about coastal flooding. I can assure him and Bill Wilson that tidal surges and other coastal flooding are fully covered by the bill.

It is clear that we cannot prevent flooding, but the bill will ensure that our flood practitioners have the necessary framework to deal quickly and effectively with those areas that are at greatest risk. That is, after all, the principal aim of the bill. We ought to remember that local authorities will have an enormous amount of work to do as a result of it being passed.

We will continue to take into account all relevant views as we develop secondary legislation. I put on record my thanks for the enormous amount of work that officials have done, to which other members have referred. As well as providing assistance with drafting, they held many meetings and discussions with MSPs, non-governmental organisations such as Scottish Environment LINK and RSPB Scotland, and other stakeholders. We will continue to discuss issues with all stakeholders.

Finally, I thank all members for their comments. It has been a commendable process, so I thank everyone who has contributed to the development of the bill, which I believe will make a significant and lasting difference to people who are at risk of becoming victims of flooding. I urge every member to support it and I commend it to Parliament.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I thank all members for their co-operation in allowing us to conclude consideration of the bill this afternoon.