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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: The reason that my name is not attached to any of these amendments is that, when we tabled them, I was not sure what kind of interest I should declare, if any. Since then, that has become plain. Therefore, I declare an interest in that my husband chairs a local flood defence committee and will be doing so when the reorganisation takes place, if it happens.
However, the Bill as drafted and, to some extent, these amendments, are concerned with reorganising the deckchairs when the Water Framework Directive requires a fundamental rethink as to what kind of management committees we have. The Environment Agency's guidance on the Water Framework Directive's guiding principlesin particular, where the timetable is helpfully laid outshows that a work programme for the production of the first river basin
Rightly, the Water Framework Directive will require us to involve a whole new range of stakeholderslandowners, NGOs and planning authoritiesin a quite different way. All those stakeholders will need to have a place in preparing the river basin management plans. Of course, the Environment Agency will simply be able to consult them. But if we had a model of a management committee along the lines of what a flood defence committee now does for flooding but that dealt with all the issues expected of river basin management plans by the Water Framework Directive, we would be in a far better position to deal with river basin issues.
As it is, if we simply reorganise the flood defence committees as the Bill proposes, I fear that we shall again be trailing the requirements of the Water Framework Directive rather than being ahead of them and implementing them in a way that advantages everyone. They certainly could be implemented so that they advantaged the whole range of stakeholders. I regret that the Government have not come up with a forward-looking committee arrangement. This one seems to be rather retrospective.
Baroness Byford: The comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, bring me to my feet. As she knows, I have tabled an amendment towards the end of the Bill which again deals with the Water Framework Directive. Throughout our debates on the Bill over several days I have said that I believe we are foolish not to have taken in the implications of the Water Framework Directive. Although I shall perhaps repeat myself later, I do not apologise for that because it is a matter on which Members of the Committee feel strongly. When we pass the Bill and it goes to another place, it is not likely to come into effect until the summer months. Indeed, as the noble Baroness suggested, we shall then have to make all these arrangements before December.
As the Minister knows well, I object to the fact that I suspect he will turn round and say, "Well, that is fine but it will be done through statutory instruments". Again, I voice my angerperhaps that is too strong a word and I should say "crossness"that that will be the case. When statutory instruments come before the House, we do not have a chance to debate them in the way that we are able to debate business in this Committee now. Therefore, although our lead spokesman on this group of amendments is my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, I felt strongly that I should say again that I believe the Government have it wrong.
Having said that, I know that the Minister will look at me and think "Animal Health Bill". I am not suggesting that we should return to what was done originally, although that is not a bad idea. However, I believe that the Committee should be aware of the
We on this side of the Committee and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, have reflected that in our comments and I believe that other colleagues will feel the same. It is very difficult to talk about one part of a river, one flood defence or whatever when the Water Framework Directive refers to river basins and the implications which arise for everyone from the original river basin. Therefore, I support the comments made by my noble friend and wish to add weight to what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said. I am very concerned that we are not allowing time properly to debate the Water Framework Directive, which is hugely important.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I wish to address Amendments Nos. 175, 176 and 176A and the "non-amendments" which I believe we debated concerning the Water Framework Directive raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer.
Perhaps I may reassure the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, on his concern about the Severn. The Severn Trent is currently a single-tier flood defence committee and it appears to work rather well. It is one of the largest committees and can therefore use its money very effectively. Certainly the consultation that takes place on individual flood defence schemes within the context of a committee, large or small, provides an effective way of hearing the local public voice, and that effectiveness is not necessarily dependent on the size of the committee or the number of people on it. There are many stakeholders in individual flood defence schemes and they all need to be heard.
Two-tier committees are very confusing for the public. What has become abundantly clear during times of flooding is how confused the public are about who is responsible for what. I believe that a two-tier committee system lends confusion to the public. It also adds duplication and cost to a system in which, quite frankly, the most important thing is to spend the money on protecting people and property rather than on elaborate superstructures of bureaucratic machinery. Therefore, I believe that Amendments Nos. 175 and 176, which suggest that two-tier committees should be retained, present a problem.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Before the noble Baroness leaves the matter of flood defence committeesI believe she is intending to move on to the issue of main riversperhaps she will comment on whether she would or would not welcome river basin management committees.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I thank the noble Baroness for reminding me to put that into context. I was intending to do so and am happy to do it now. I believe there is a real dilemma in relation to river basin management committees or river basin
As a result, I believe that issues arise as to how best local people, the public, stakeholders and all other interests will put together their resources in order to deliver satisfactory management of a river basin. That will not be done easily through any committee structure. It will have far more to do with how stakeholders are brought together to develop joint plans and how they are jointly tasked.
If people are worried about single-tier flood defence committees being too large and too remote from local interests, then river basins will be even more so. Therefore, I believe that the Water Framework Directive mechanisms are best taken forward in the way that is currently plannedthat is, through piloting to see what the most effective mechanisms might be.
I want to touch on the issue of Amendment No. 176A and the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, to understand how the system would work. Basically, the amendment would remove the ability to take a block-grant approach to the funding of flood defence. Some real inefficiencies and difficulties are associated with that.
At present, some of the local flood defence committees have such tiny budgets that they are almost imperceptible to the naked eye. Indeed, they are so small that the committees must save for a number of years before they can afford to build any type of flood defence scheme worthy of the name. A flood defence committee in Wales had to build a £10 million scheme in £1 million slices. It was only in year 10 that the scheme provided any defence to the public. What can go wrong in a 10-year phased programme is infinite. It certainly cost more than would have been the case had it been built as a single scheme in an efficient and effective way.
Therefore, the idea of block grants, which allow money to be used flexibly both in terms of geography and the split between capital and maintenance spending, is fundamental if flood defences are to be provided in this country. I give an example: seven local flood defence committees have an annual budget of less than £5 million. To be honest, £5 million does not buy a lot of flood defence these days.
Lord Whitty: We have touched on the point about the Water Framework Directive on many occasions. No doubt, we shall do so again. The directive is fairly wide-ranging and will require major changes over a long period of time. I have indicated what are the boundaries of the Bill. I know that some noble Lords retain the view that we should be transposing the whole Water Framework Directive via the Bill. That is not practical. We should not delay making sensible
Therefore, we should separate the argument about the Water Framework Directive from the argument here. When the directive and the river basin management plans come into effect, clearly the flood defence committees will be among the bodies that need to be involved, but involvement will need to be significantly wider than that. In this discussion there has been some misapprehension as to the current structure. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, and picking up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, the Severn Trent area is a single-tier operation. It is for historic reasons, which are not entirely clear to me, that different water board areas have different structures.
The Wessex Water area, with which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, may be familiar, is a two-tier structure. I think that it has three local flood defence communities. That is a much smaller area than that of Severn Trent, so there is no specific reason why it should be two tier and the Severn Trent single tier. Indeed, of the 10 regional committees only four have a secondary tier. We are trying to tidy up this approach and to provide for a single tier generally. That does not necessarily mean that the single tier is the regional tier; the Bill gives power to subdivide the regional structure, but in a single tier, not a double one. That is the point of Clauses 63 and 64. That gives a greater clarity as to who is responsible; at present there is a certain duality of responsibility, as has been said; and the Bill allows us to create new single-tier committees and to remove the current double-tier structure.
Amendments Nos. 173 and 175 deal with the transition. I can assure the Committee that the existing local flood defence committees will remain in place until such time as they are revoked. The power to create local committees will also remain in the Environment Act 1995. Local committees will obviously be consulted on the new committee structures, so the transition will involve them. The aim of the change in structure is to provide more comprehensive and clear lines of accountability while not losing the ability to include local representation on the committee, as already happens in areas such as Severn Trent.
On Amendment No. 174, the Secretary of State is already required to have due regard to the desirability of appointing members who have experience of, and have shown capacity in, matters relevant to the functions of the committee. We also limit the appointments to persons resident in the area covered by the committee. So there is a restriction in terms of local input, which is bolstered by appointees from local councils who must make up the majority of the committee. Therefore, much of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, already applies.
Regarding minor streams, Amendment No. 176 would make the Environment Agency responsible for every current local authority's ditch, stream and river. The reason for giving the Environment Agency the overall function is that it is responsible for those rivers and waterways which create the greatest flood risk. To give it responsibility for every minor watercourse in the country would divert attention and resources away from the real flood risks. That is not acceptable. While there will be occasions when local authorities have not carried out their functions effectively, most local authorities are able to take action to address local problems. The relationship between them and the Environment Agency needs to allow for that.
Amendment No. 176 in a sense deals with the broadening of the issues. Flood defence committees will definitely be consulted on the wider issues which arise both under the Bill and the Water Framework Directive. Some of these issues are covered by other statutory advisory committees and there is also cross-membership of the respective chairmen. The amendment would blur existing responsibilities.
Amendment No. 176A, tabled by the noble Lord, Dixon-Smith, deals with money. As has been explained, the new system will move from the existing system to a flexible block grant system under Section 47 of the Environment Act 1995. We cannot do that with the co-existence of the 1991 Act provisions, so the Bill will revoke them. The current 1991 provisions require individual schemes to be approved by DEFRA. That is inflexible. The new approach to funding provides for greater flexibility. Block grants represent a major opportunity to streamline existing arrangements and to provide more certainty of funding for the agency in the medium term. Generally speaking, that shift was widely welcomed during the consultation. The formulation of the clauses perhaps does not make that clear, but that is the intention and the reason why we need to revoke those sections in the 1991 Act. I hope that that clarifies to the noble Lord what lies behind that part of the Bill.
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