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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I wish to speak briefly to the amendment, as I did at Committee stage. There is a great deal of good sense in what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said. However, he misses the point, which is that agriculture is treated as a poor relation in this respect relative to other industries. Other industries are not subject to having their water supplies suddenly cut off in this way. When I used to be a producer of vegetables, it was a continual source of extreme annoyance to see the chemical factory down the road. We knew that it was drawing a million gallons a day; there was no attempt to stop that. I would wish to see some regulation which removed that manifest unfairness.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, Amendment No. 34, moved by my noble friend Lord Addison, would require the agency in fulfilling their water resource duties to protect and safeguard the interests of landowners in so far as they may be affected by new abstractions.

As I said during Committee when my noble friend first raised the question, the duties under Clause 6(2) effectively carry on the work of managing water resources in England and Wales introduced by the Water Resources Act 1963. The subsection provides the general back-up to the more specific functions dealt with elsewhere in the legislation.

Nevertheless, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this question again at this stage of the Bill. It is a complex issue and, after further analysis, I have concluded that there is a case for a more detailed examination of these questions. Because of their complexity and the wide range of interests that would need to be consulted, I do not think that it would be practicable to develop any solutions during the course of this Bill. I am, however, prepared to undertake to publish a consultation paper on this subject, which

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would enable a proper consideration of this whole question to take place and, I hope, an agreed solution to be developed. On that basis, perhaps my noble friend will not seek to press Amendment No. 34.

Amendment No. 280, which again was moved by my noble friend, would, by repealing Section 57 of the Water Resources Act 1991, curtail the existing powers of the NRA to manage the effects of spray irrigation during drought conditions. Those powers form part of the armoury available to manage water resources during droughts, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. The armoury includes hosepipe bans, changes in abstraction licences and the rules on compensation water. Because the powers on restricting spray irrigation are vested in the NRA, it does not mean that they are the first weapon to be used. I am also advised that they would be subject to Clause 37.

As I said about the proposals of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for drought permits, we favour the environment agency having a wider range of weapons in its control so that it can have a wider discretion in developing the appropriate response to any drought. We intend that amendments to that effect should be made to the Bill. I hope that, with those explanations, my noble friend will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Addison: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the way in which he has tackled and will continue to pursue my first amendment on extraction and the problems that exist. I believe that the helpful response to my amendments goes some way towards alleviating the fears of irrigators, in that a review will reduce the likelihood of irrigators justifiably becoming irritators! I therefore beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 35:


Page 7, line 32, at end insert:
("(b) it shall be the duty of the Agency to—
(i) provide and operate in the area of each regional and local Flood Defence Committee flood warning systems;
(ii) provide, install and maintain in such areas any necessary equipment required for the purpose of such systems;
(c) it shall be the duty of the Agency to issue a flood warning to all such persons and organisations specified in paragraph (d) below in a timely manner in the event that the systems established under paragraph (b) (i) above indicate that there is a threat from flooding to life, persons and property in any such area;
(d) the persons and organisations to whom a warning is to be issued in accordance with paragraph (c) above are emergency services, local authorities, statutory undertakers, local media and such other persons or organisations as may be from time to time so specified by the Minister by Order; and
(e) the power to make an order under paragraph (d) above shall be exercisable by the Minister by Statutory Instrument.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 35 seeks to establish a statutory duty to issue a flood alert or warn the public of impending flooding. At present there is no statutory duty on any organisation either to issue a flood alert or to warn the public. The

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NRA has existing powers—not duties—under Section 32 of the Land Drainage Act 1991 which it interprets as providing limited flood monitoring systems and the warning of police. Having myself had experience as chief superintendent of various riparian divisions in London, I am well aware that one sometimes receives rather belated flood warnings. The public in Chiswick, Battersea and other places where I have served believe that it is the fault of the police when cars are flooded or basements filled with water. The police service would be grateful if a statutory duty were imposed on some other organisation to initiate the flood warning in the first place.

Police forces can keep tables of tides and so on, but they cannot be aware of flood waters coming down vast rivers like the Thames from a long way up the Thames Valley. Those often lead to surges in water when the flood conflicts with a rising tide. So it is essential that those organisations which understand what is happening in terms of river flows should have monitoring systems a long way up the river. Then they can give sufficient warning to alert members of the public to remove their cars, put up flood boards or in some cases carry out more elaborate work to protect their lives and property. It is essential that there should be a statutory obligation on some organisation. In this case we suggest that it should be the environment agency which must provide flood warnings in time for appropriate action to be taken.

Therefore, I press the Minister to say what the Government's plans are in relation to providing flood alerts and warning the public of impending flooding. I beg to move.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I lived for the first 20 years of my life on Chiswick Mall, which is flooded in part at virtually every very high tide. I lived in a house to which it was impossible to gain access when the tide was high, thus, I fully understand the desirability of having flood warnings.

However, giving flood warnings is in some ways an unscientific and unreliable business. Within the past two or three weeks, we have had a surge on the Severn whose extent was not forecast even one or two hours before it occurred. The wind changed direction and the level rose about a metre above what had been reasonably forecast even an hour and a half earlier.

There is a problem in dealing with the matter. One must be cautious, therefore, about creating a duty which might impose obligations which cannot be fulfilled. Of course, it is desirable that the environment agency should play a major role in providing flood warnings, though the agency itself depends on other agencies to obtain the information on the weather, tide and so on.

A working group involving the NRA, MAFF and representatives from the Home Office, the police and local authorities, has been reviewing for some time the issue of flood warning systems. One of the problems that we face in the future is that there is a growing reluctance among chief constables and police authorities to carry out the duty of knocking on people's doors.

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That poses a problem because there is no way in which the agency will be adequately equipped with people who can do that. I note that the amendment does not require the environment agency to go down the road of individual warnings. It suggests that the warnings should be provided by the agency to local authorities and other bodies defined by the regulation.

A problem exists, because there is no doubt that, with all the financial difficulties that confront them, local authorities and police forces are reluctant to carry out the duties. The problem is not only to provide accurate warnings but also to have satisfactory arrangements which can be carried out through a number of organisations. The NRA has always accepted that it has a major role in operating flood warning systems. At present it passes the information and warnings to the police, who then alert local inhabitants, local authorities, the emergency services and so on. The NRA also issues media bulletins on flood events. Two pilot schemes are being run at present to examine the feasibility of the agency having a properly defined lead role.

The amendment raises a perfectly proper issue but I suspect that it imposes too rigid and confining a duty on the new agency. I hope that the Government will consider some form of requirement that is at least flexible enough to respond to the realities of the real world, in which we must face uncertainties. Otherwise there is a danger that the agency would incur legal obligations which could be costly and lead to court action.

There are other difficult issues to be resolved. For example, if the agency is to have an arrangement for doing as suggested, where will the money and resources come from? Would they be raised by precepts from the flood defence committees on local authorities? I do not know the answer to that, but the mere fact that one is bound to ask it suggests that complex issues need to be addressed. It is right for them to be considered by the Government, but I do not believe that they can be covered by passing such an amendment on this occasion.


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