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The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, used those concluding words because they are correct. The decision that your Lordships took was to appoint a steering group that would supervise this review on the assumption that a management consultant would be appointed.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I have read your Lordships' debate twice since we resumed on 27th September and I am quite confident that that was the decision that noble Lords reached. I referred to the concluding remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, because it will be perfectly open to the steering group, if it chooses to do so, not to appoint a consultant at all.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, perhaps I may add my support to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. This has been a long and painful saga; indeed, most of us hope that it will come to an end now that a steering group has been appointed. I found the same discrepancy between what I understood the House to have agreed on 27th July and the Written Answer to which the noble Lord referred. It seems that there was a discrepancy, as others have detected. But, notwithstanding that--and in order to be absolutely clear on the matter--it would be right for the noble Lord to repeat to the House what I understand he is now seeking to say; namely, that whatever that Written Answer may have said, the steering group will be free to proceed without a consultant, if it prefers that course of action.
The Chairman of Committees: That was indeed the case. The cardinal point is that noble Lords accepted an amendment to the Motion to delete the name of the proposed, highly qualified management consultant, Mr Michael Braithwaite.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, in accordance with established practice the Environment Agency, local authorities and emergency services joined together in responding to the recent severe flooding in southern England. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me both in paying tribute to their excellent work and in expressing our sympathy to all those personally affected by the recent events.
As regards the financial arrangements, local authorities have statutory powers to deal with emergencies of this kind and are expected to budget accordingly. Where exceptional expenditure is incurred, they may, however, apply for additional financial assistance under the so-called "Bellwin rules".
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am grateful for that response. I, too, express sympathy to all the families who have been affected. I know that everyone in the Chamber shares that view. I also thank the emergency services which the Minister mentioned as they have had a long, hard struggle. We accept that six inches of rainfall in so short a period is exceptional, but flooding also occurred earlier this year. Will the Government review their guidelines on future building in floodplain areas as that is a matter of great concern?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point out the exceptional nature of the rainfall. Between 10th and 16th October this year about twice the average rainfall for October occurred in Kent and Sussex. That gives noble Lords an idea of the extent of the problem. The noble Baroness rightly drew attention to the need for appropriate planning guidance in terms of building in areas that are at risk
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the local authorities which have the immediate responsibility for relief in such situations on the work that they did. However, there is a strategic issue which relates to flood prevention in regard to existing development. Is the Minister satisfied with the existing lines of authority and responsibility in this area? Will she consider that matter in relation to those areas which have been affected? Some remedial action could perhaps be taken to alleviate such problems in the future. However, in order to achieve that it may be necessary to cut across the established boundaries which exist between local authorities, water authorities, water companies and others in order to make sense of the whole issue.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, we shall ask the Environment Agency to undertake a "lessons learned" exercise when this episode is over to see whether there are lessons that we need to learn from it. Obviously, we need to consider prevention, or at least risk reduction because we cannot guarantee absolute 100 per cent protection from flooding. Work has recently been undertaken with that aim in mind, including the construction of the Leigh barrier on the River Medway which featured significantly in the protection of Tonbridge during the recent flooding. The Environment Agency, local authorities and emergency services in the area responded well and coherently as a result of practising their emergency plans during the summer. However, the institutional arrangements are complex. We must consider whether we can improve them.
A seminar took place recently for those involved in flood defence. If we can simplify some of the complexity in this area, we shall do so. On the other hand, such provision crosses boundaries: the emergency services are involved; local authorities have responsibilities for emergencies beyond flooding, and the Environment Agency takes the lead. It is not simple to bring all those services under one heading, but we must ensure that co-ordination takes place.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, for the second time in a week, much against my natural inclination, I have dragged myself to the Dispatch Box. I do so again on the matter of this Government's contempt for Parliament and, in particular, this House. I see that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General is present. I understand why the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is not present; she is in Scotland. I make no comment on that.
This morning the Government approached the Opposition to say that the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, was disinclined to make a Statement to Parliament on the basis that there was not much to add to what was already known and that there would be more and better information tomorrow when he intends to make a Statement. We accepted that. However, within minutes of our accepting that, we heard that Gerald Corbett, the chief executive of Railtrack, had tendered his resignation, possibly at the urging of the Minister. It has been drawn to my attention that a few minutes ago on BBC Radio the Minister encouraged the chief executive to retain his position. He said:
This morning the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, was interviewed on Radio 4. He is quite prepared, and bothers, to get out of bed to speak to the BBC but he cannot be bothered to be accountable to this House. It would not be so bad if the noble Lord did not have personal ministerial responsibility for this matter. He is the Minister for Transport in this House. Why can he not be bothered to come here?
When we had a somewhat similar debate on Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said that it would have been inconceivable for a Statement not to have been given if the House of Commons had been sitting. I agreed with him then; I agree with him again today. This is a slap in the face for this House.