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I regret that I cannot say anything about families and insurance. It is far too early for me to say anything about what has happened in the past three days in that respect. I understand that, in the area that has been flooded in central England, fewer properties have been affected than in the north a few weeks ago and that there is a greater propensity for properties to be insured in that part of the world. I do not have specific figures. I saw some graphs and charts early this morning, but it is too early to say at present.
The floods in central England are, by current calculations, worse than those in 1947. What is more, in 1947 they came in winter when one expects flooding, with the rain and the snow off the hills. Here we are in the middle of summer, when one cannot reasonably expect all this. This was not rain coming off the Welsh hills down into the Severn; it was six and a half inches of rain dropping across central England. London got a taste of it on Friday, but that was nothing like what fell on the rest of the country.
As for warnings, I fully accept what the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, said, but I can remember standing at this Dispatch Box a few months ago, giving a report about the fact that we had had no rain in April. I was assuring the House that the reservoirs and aquifers were full and that we did not foresee having standpipes. I was got at in the Corridor outside by noble Lords saying, Youve really put your head on the block there, sonny. Are you really sure well have enough water?. Some of the forecasts were of a long, dry, hot summer. With no rain in April, we were thinking there would be serious troubleand then we end up with the wettest June on record. I fully admit that all kinds of warnings have been given, but with what happened on Friday, no warnings and no amount of work following them would have assisted. I understand that the barrier at Upton upon Severn could not get there; if it had been there, it would have been overwhelmed this time, unlike the last time it was used. I appreciate that that is no comfort to the people in Upton upon Severn.
I am not in a position to go into detail about the National Audit Office report. It was a follow up to the one in 2001; it was checking, and the Public Accounts Committee took advice from the noble Baroness and others. I think that it has yet to report.
The key aspects of the emergency are supplies of clean water and electricity. Your house being flooded is one thing, but no waterin the taps, for the toilets, to wash withand no electricity is serious. This is of the utmost importance. In the mean time, the companies are supplying water to locations which everyone will know.
I reinforce what was said in the Statement. People should first contact the Environment Agencys floodline and, above all, they should listen to their local radio station. National radio stations are no use for local information. I was caught on Friday, like a lot of others, and Radio Oxford and Radio Gloucestershire gave me, and all the thousands I was stuck with, massive amounts of good, practical information. That is used by the police to feed information to people so that they can react. People should look in on neighbours they may not have seen, help out with the water situation and give comfort. If the electricity is off, they should make sure that before it is switched on again, things are safe.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I intervene as a former chairman of the National Rivers Authority, the predecessor body to the Environment Agency. As there are photographs of Tewkesbury in practically every newspaper today, I might add that I was married in Tewkesbury Abbey to a Tewkesbury girl.
I join those who have expressed sympathy for everyone who has suffered the appalling disaster of having their homes flooded. But in my view, it is very unwise, even forperhaps especially forMembers of Parliament rushing to score brownie points with their constituents to criticise public bodies such as the Environment Agency without knowing all the facts. Having had to deal with situations during my time, although not quite as bad as this, I offer my congratulations to the Environment Agency on the sometimes heroic work that it has carried out and the conscientious way in which it has done so. While we may, when we examine its record, find that some mistakes were made, I think its overall performance has been entirely to its credit.
My noble friend Lady Byford spoke about the condition of assets and asked what pressure had been put on the Environment Agency to put its house in order. I am afraid that I would put the question rather differently: what pressure has been put on the Government to put their house in order in funding the Environment Agency, not on the capital budget, to which the noble Lord referred in some detail, but on the maintenance budget? My understanding is that the Environment Agency pressed hard for additional funding for the maintenance of existing facilities.
When people look at the performance of the Environment Agency, they are understandably unaware of the many areas where flooding has been avoided because of the work that has been carried out in constructing schemes. I cite, for example, the Thames, where flooding would have been much worse but for the construction of the project there.
Probably the most important single lesson to come out of this is that you must build neither housing nor infrastructure in the flood plain. That is primarily what we suffer from; we will have more flooding of this kind until that lesson is learnt. As I am being urged to sit down at this point, I may rise to press that point again when we come to the housing Statement that will follow.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, because I can remember when he left the other place to chair the National Rivers Authority. He is quite right that it is unwise to hurry criticism. Plenty of people can be subject to criticism in due course, after we have had a mature look at what has happened. I reinforce his tribute to the water engineers and the electrical engineers, who have worked their socks off anyway, particularly in emergencies. They are the people on whom we rely and they are doing a very good job.
The noble Lord mentioned the maintenance budget. To the best of my knowledge, flooding in less than 1 per cent of areas is as a result of a structural failure of flood defences. Even the NAO found that the flood defences that are in place are maintained to a very high level. There has been structural failure in only about 1 per cent of flooded areas. Those defences in place have worked extremely well, although I accept that there are not enough of them.
The Lord Bishop of Sheffield: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his Statement. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, who is sitting beside me, and I are between us responsible for a fair amount of the flooding, so some people would like to think. However, they happen in our patch. I therefore pay tribute particularly to the others who are not often named. If it were not for volunteers, our society would collapse at times like this. I think of St John Ambulance, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and so on. It is important that tribute be paid to them, who are helping at this very moment. I have just come from the headquarters of the St John Ambulance and there is hardly anybody there, because they have all shot off to do what they can.
Perhaps I may make a point from three weeks experience of the flooding. We are beginning to pick up some of the pieces in Sheffield and look towards what might happen in the future. On Friday evening of this week, it will be the Forfeit Feast in Sheffield, where the Master Cutler hosts a reception and a great feast for the Lord Mayor of London and others. The Master Cutler has a small business, built in the flood plain, but several feet above the record level of any flood damage in the history of Sheffield. He has lost in his small business all his 150 motors, which have to be dismantled and dried out. He does not know when he will get back in business; the likelihood is that he will not. Therefore, his small business and many others will go under. Sheffield Forgemasters has lost £20 million already through lost business. Coupled with the strength of the pound many manufacturers in our part of the world will perhaps be permanently damaged by what has happened in the past few weeks. It is my hope that, in these emergencies, the Government will think well enough in advance about what might happen.
Ministerial statements are made for the information of the House, and although brief comments and questions from all quarters of the House are allowed, statements should not be made the occasion for an immediate debate.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for emphasising the work of the third sector and others who are not part of the third sector but are just good neighbours. Half of Gloucestershire turned up on Friday night, well past midnight, at the schoolI cannot remember its nameat Junction 9 of the M5. It had all its doors open and people were bringing clothes and bedding; there were not many chairs but the place was warm and dry. The motorway was jammed and it was dark, so you could not see what was happening. But there has been a massive contribution from the sectors. I cannot comment on businesses. Some of them are insured and some are not; some will be covered and some will not; some of them have past experience and some have not. These issues must be reviewed and we must learn the lessons.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I shall follow the injunction of my noble friend Lord Evans of Temple Guiting. I declare an interest as a resident of the city of Worcester and a member of Worcestershire County Cricket Club, which will sadly not be playing again at Worcester this season.
I have two points. First, will the Minister extend his very welcome comments about the devotion of the emergency services to those public servants such as the employees of county councils, who have worked almost without break for the whole weekend? I have heard accounts this afternoon of county council employees working for 36 hours continuously to deal with the crisis in Worcestershire and of the staff of a special school who stayed with their pupils through the night because there was no other way in which to look after them.
When we come to review the lessons from this awful weekend, could somebody please look at the flood defences on the River Severn, particularly upstream? This is not the first time that the Severn has flooded and it is certainly not the first time that Worcestershire cricket ground has flooded, but it is the first time that we have had anything on the scale that we have seen over this weekend. Could some form of permanent barrier be put in place to deal with this sort of situation in future?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for emphasising the work of local government staff. It is true that local government probably knows more about its areas than any other bodyalthough, when one flies over those areas or looks at the pictures in the papers, one cannot quite see the boundaries of one authority and another because it is all covered in water. But it is truepeople did not go home but stayed at their posts over the weekend to do their public duty. If there is an interest to be declared in this regard, I should say that I pay my council tax to Tewkesbury Borough Council.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, has anything been done to get huge supplies of bottled water to the area? That was not mentioned in the Statement, but there was a report on the radio this morning that none of the supermarkets or the other shops in the area had
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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I shall check on this for the noble Baroness, but nobody has indicated any shortage of supply of bottled water. Shops may have run out, but I refer to water authorities getting water to the areas. What is in the supermarkets is a different issue. The bowsers will be filled by the tankers, and there are supplies from the water authorities, as I understand it.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, if the flooding continues, the Thames estuary will become vulnerable if there is a particularly high spring tide. Has any work been done on anticipating that, apart from listening to local radio?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am just hoping that the barrier will work, as it is the one flood defence that we have. It is old and it is sinking and it does more work than was planned, so we must look at that for the future. The noble Viscount is quite right: the Thames is going to rise. The surge of the Thames at various locations is yet to come.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
The noble Earl said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 238KBB, 238KCA and 238LF.The Minister may be glad to have reached Part 14 of the Bill, if only because the end of her marathon stint in Committee is in sight. I would also not be surprised if she were to view the change of subject matter as a welcome shift of focus. From these Benches, we look forward to a constructive debate on patient and public involvement, although these matters arouse considerable concerns and difficulties in the minds of many of us. I am sure that she will, in her customarily helpful way, do her best to try to reassure us, but I suspect that in some cases that will not be easy or straightforward.
I start with a group of amendments designed to pose a simple question. The Minister will know from our debate at Second Reading that, in the eyes of many of us, the over-riding defect of this part of the Bill is that it appears to have been put together by a cryptologist. From reading it, it is impossible to decipher what on Earth it all means. The Minister clearly knows what it means and we may think we know as a result of all the background material and Explanatory Notes.
As a starting point, it is worth asking this very simple question: should not part of the aim of all legislation, including this Bill, be to be comprehensible in its own right? We understand that, arising from the Bill, there will be new bodies called local involvement networks or LINks. It is understood that the function of LINks will be analogous to that of patient forums, except that the LINks will extend to social care. Certain members of LINks will be authorised to perform certain functions. While the exact form and membership of LINks will be up to local determination and, therefore, are not to be laid down in the Bill, we can safely say that LINks will, at least, have members.
But when we read the Bill, what do we find? We find that we are led around in a kind of dance, the aim of which is to go to fantastic lengths to avoid making any sort of descriptive reference to local involvement networks, to avoid any mention of their functions or powers and to omit all reference whatever to the fact that they are supposed to have members. Instead, in Clause 222 we have arrangements, along with activities. We do not have members of LINks; we have people. LINks are not even given any powers. The powers of LINks are only visible, as it were, in the mirror because they take the form of other people having duties in relation to LINks. Indeed, LINks are not bodies at all. The only clue as to what a LINk is comes in Clause 223(2), where we are told:
That reference to a person is the nearest we ever get to a definition of a LINk in the Bill. But who on Earth refers to a network as a person? A person is not a word that makes any sense in this context at all; it may make sense to a lawyer, but who in the ordinary world can understand it? I do not think that any of this language is helpful. I ask the Minister why we have this rigmarole. Why can we not have, as the amendments propose, a definition of a LINk, however loose, on the face of the Bill, together with clear statements about its functions?
There is a serious point here about accountability. Many of us will have seen the press report last week telling us that the Government intend to reduce the number of central targets for the health service and to make local bodies responsible for setting their own targets. That is fine, but what follows is more local accountability, and patient and public involvement in the planning and delivery of healthcare is a terribly important part of what we mean by local accountability.
What are the mechanisms for delivering it? As far as I can make out, it is not even going to be a contract. The arrangements referred to in Clause 222 are arrangements not with a LINk but with somebody
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In her letter of 9 July, the Minister confirmed that we cannot prejudge what LINks will look like. As with a creature from Lewis Carroll, we may know a LINk when we see it, but we cannot, for the moment, define one. Whatever LINks seem to be, we see from the Bill that they will not have functions. If we cannot define a LINk and it does not have functions, the obvious questions arise. How will it be able to enforce its rights in law and, from the opposite perspective, how will people be able to enforce a complaint against a LINk about what it is or is not doing, and on what legal basis?
I do not know whether the Minister can give us any satisfactory answers to all that. The point is not just that the Bill is vague but that it does not appear to deliver a sound basis for what most of us think patient and public involvement should truly be. I beg to move.
Baroness Neuberger: I support very strongly the words of the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Since I think that we agree on everything, I just want to add a little more weight to what he has said. Perhaps it is good for the Minister to hear that, across the Cross Benches, the Conservative Benches, the Lib Dem Benches and some of the Labour Benches, we are united in some of our concerns about this part of the Bill.
When we first saw the Bill, many of us were deeply concerned because we could not find any clarity in it; we could not work out what it really meant. However, as the weeks have passed, we have learnt more about, for instance, what the early adopters of the LINk model were doing. I was truly shocked that they were given a set of objectives that asked them to focus on particular aspectsthis is from evidence that was given by Meredith Vivian to the Health Select Committeewithout a clear list of duties.
It went on to recommend full trials of LINks to assess the practical requirements for running them. Indeed, it listed evidence from Elizabeth Manero of Health Link, suggesting that a model for LINks would be the best practices of the patient forums, where a core group will perhaps run the LINk,
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