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Does my noble friend accept that what the Derwent Valley, and in particular Keswick, where I have a home, need is for Thirlmere Lake, which supplies water to Manchester, to be placed at the heart of a new flood alleviation programme for west Cumbria-enforced by the Environment Agency, which has the powers-a programme which requires redesigned, increased capacity water release valves on the dam at Thirlmere; reconfigured spill arrangements; an end to United Utilities resisting reductions in water levels on the dam in high rainfall periods; and an end to the delay in the funding of flood protection measures on west Cumbria rivers, in particular the Greta in Keswick? The people of Keswick are fed up with the dithering of United Utilities, which defends the Thirlmere water assets for its shareholders while it is the people of Keswick and west Cumbria who are paying the price.
I place on record my profound appreciation of the work of all those in west Cumberland who have given so much time over the recent days in helping everyone in the community. In particular, I thank the Prime Minister for coming to west Cumbria to give the reassurance that he did to the local people.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the generosity of his last few remarks. As for the earlier part of his contribution, I know that he has enormous and detailed knowledge of that area of the country gained from his long years as a Member of Parliament. It may not be unparalleled, but it is certainly not paralleled by mine. I am therefore not in a position to go into the same degree of detail as he did with regard to Thirlmere Lake and the proposals
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With regard to United Utilities, my noble friend may well have justified criticisms on the issue of Thirlmere Lake, but I think he will appreciate at this time the extent to which the utilities have responded to the crisis with prompt and effective action in so many cases. My noble friend may therefore be asking me to consider a matter for the future, but not the immediate future.
Lord Judd: My Lords, as somebody who lives extremely near to Cockermouth, I thank my noble friend for having repeated the Statement and place on record the appreciation of the local community for the way in which the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister so speedily visited the area.
Does my noble friend agree that it is difficult to exaggerate the trauma of finding the main street of Cockermouth turned into a river eight feet high and moving at 25 knots, and the way in which it smashed into shops, sweeping their contents into the street and causing immense economic havoc? Does he also agree that, in the face of such an onslaught, the courage and resilience of the local community have been outstanding? As my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has just said, the teamwork and courage of those operating in the rescue services demand the respect and gratitude of us all. Of course, the tributes to PC Barker are immensely important in this respect, as are our feelings for his family.
Will my noble friend accept that, while there are short-term demands, the most trying and difficult period will be when the television cameras have gone, and the years it will take to reconstruct and psychologically to restore the community from what has happened, and that solidarity and sustained support over those years will be crucial? Can my noble friend assure us that the Government will be second to nobody in making certain that this support is forthcoming?
I had a long conversation with the leader of Allerdale council this morning. He emphasised most strongly the disruption of transport in the area. Children have to travel as far as 30 miles to their local school and people in some cases face journeys of up to 80 miles to get to work. With bridges down and others threatened, there is an urgent need to restore the transport system not only for human needs but also for the economic well-being of the community.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I am aware that he knows the area intimately and is able therefore to appreciate fully the devastation that has been wrought. I think that all of us who know Cockermouth at least for being the birthplace of William Wordsworth realise what a tragedy it is that the devastation has occurred in that particular town. It highlights the fact that the Lake District is one of our prime tourist areas and that the restoration of its facilities is therefore enormously important to everyone.
I am grateful to my noble friend for emphasising the issue of transport. He is absolutely right that the devastation wrought to the bridges and, therefore, the
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I have been reassured that access to a main hospital is guaranteed. That is a tribute to the emergency services and to all those who have worked so hard to make this possible, because we all recognise the desolate circumstances that people would be in if the breakdown of communications meant that anyone who was seriously ill or in real need of hospital treatment could not get into Carlisle hospital. I understand that that situation is resolved.
Lord Tordoff: My Lords, as one raised on water from Thirlmere-and I have never enjoyed better water in my life-and who met his wife in that part of the world some 60-odd years ago, I find it particularly horrific that this situation has arisen.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, raised the question of Bailey bridges. Do they still exist? How many have we got in the country? There will be an awful lot of Bailey-type bridging required in this period, but that is only a temporary measure. The existing bridges are very often not piled. They are Victorian structures and the scouring of the water has completely undermined the piles of many of these bridges. Are the Government aware of the likely investment necessary to provide new bridges? I do not think that the existing bridges can be repaired in many cases. What will be the cost of building new bridges to replace not only these but the ones that are still standing but are in danger of being brought down in subsequent flooding?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who is also very knowledgeable about the Lake District. It is the case that 10 bridges have been closed, six of which have collapsed, so none of us can underestimate the challenges that lie ahead. As I said earlier, the Army can give some help-and we will see what help that can be with regard to the limited bridge capacity. I do not have the figures for how many bridges there are, but of course they have that capacity-it goes without saying. This is a major problem. As the noble Lord said, the permanent restoration of bridges is the challenge. He is absolutely right that the particular architecture of Lake District bridges is such that they have suffered very severe damage. I was astonished to learn that it is not only that water is pressing at the base of the bridge or sweeping the bridge away. Water lifts the bridge and destroys it, because of the way in which the superstructure rests. That indicates how very significant damage can be done by torrents of water going through the rivers at the rate that has occurred this past weekend.
Lord Sheikh: My Lords, it must be appreciated that not every householder or owner of a business will be insured. The Minister referred to the point made by the ABI. Are we giving any consideration to providing financial help to householders and owners of businesses who are not insured? That result would be long-lasting.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Some people will not be insured, despite the extent to which that issue was emphasised after the floods in 2007, when a considerable number of people found themselves in distress because they were uninsured. Of course we will look at the question of support for those in greatest need, but I know that the noble Lord, with his great knowledge of the insurance industry, will appreciate that we look to that industry to be prompt in its response to those whom it can help.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Will my noble friend seek to establish why on the day before the floods, at a time when Cumbria was on flood alert, the River Greta was allowed to drop more than one metre when it should have been running at full spate and releasing water from Thirlmere, thereby easing the subsequent flooding problems in west Cumberland? Will Ministers seek to establish what the position is on this important matter?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a highly technical question. I have not had time to work my way through the issue sufficiently to give my noble friend a categoric answer, but I take fully on board the point that he has made and the issue will be examined.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, although the volunteer emergency services have done very good work, I wonder whether there are enough of them and whether the Government ought to be expanding their number and their training.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I imagine that we can never have enough support in those terms. We are well aware of the fact that a whole range of the emergency services always look for support. I am thinking in this instance of the RNLI, which has often pressed for the resources that are necessary for its work. On this occasion, it is clear that they have all co-operated and done a wonderful job. There has been wonderful leadership from the chief of police with regard to the emergency services, the co-operation has been of the highest level and we should recognise that achievement.
Lord Judd: My Lords, there has been reference to the insurance issues that have arisen in this disaster. Is my noble friend aware that one of the big anxieties among the local population is whether some people will ever be able to insure their houses again and whether insurance will be available? Will he assure the House that the Government will get together with the insurance industry and others to look at this problem, which is an acute worry for people in that situation at the moment?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government are all too aware of the risk of flooding. That is why we have in place the legislation that we are proposing, why we commissioned the Pitt report and why we have learnt the lessons of 2007. My noble friend is right that the issue of insurance is an important dimension of this situation. He may rest assured that the Government are fully seized of the importance of the matter.
Lord Woolf: My Lords, I return to the debate on the Address on home, legal and constitutional affairs. I begin by declaring two interests: first, as the former chairman of the inquiry into ethical conduct at BAE Systems; and, secondly, as a former chairman of the financial markets law committee at the Bank of England, whose task is to identify legal uncertainty. I should also mention a further capacity where I have an interest. Lord Chief Justices, for a considerable period now, have pleaded that the Government should cease their incessant legislation that affects the criminal justice system. When we have so little time available in this Session, it is a matter of regret that we have yet another Bill in that sphere. From a purely practical point of view, for those working to deliver justice in this country, whether as magistrates or senior judges, the torrent of legislation is causing problems of a severe nature.
I turn to the new Supreme Court. A member of that court will, within a very short time, have to retire at the age of 70. He is one of the first judges to reach the final Court of Appeal in this country and be subject to the new age limit. I would have hoped that, as part of the constitutional considerations that led to the Bill dealing with that subject, it would have been possible to include a short statutory provision indicating that, at least for judges who reach that seniority, the retirement age should be 75. The distinguished former Lord Chancellor who was responsible for bringing in the change in the law to reduce the age to 70 is on record indicating that, so far as that category of member of the judiciary is concerned, the present situation is unsatisfactory. It cannot be right that a judge who at the age of 68 should be decided by a new appointments commission to be fit to join our final Court of Appeal should, only two years later, be what I and others have described as "statutory senile".
I now consider two Bills, one of which, the Bribery Bill, has already been referred to. Despite what I said about the torrent of legislation, like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I regard this Bill as long overdue and one that certainly should have been included in the Queen's Speech. The Bribery Bill does, as is recognised, what has been needed for at least 20 years. Its absence has made this country the subject of serious criticism from many of the most respected independent international bodies working in this field. They have suggested that that absence indicates the unwillingness of this country to join in the global fight against corruption, which is holding back development in many parts of the world. It is hoped that the time available will ensure that this piece of legislation reaches the statute book so that its provisions-the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has referred to them, so I do not need to mention them again-will make it clear that we have the powers needed to enforce the law of bribery in respect of acts that occur not only in this country but abroad as well. Furthermore, it makes it clear that acquiescence can be the basis of a criminal offence.
Finally, I turn to a Bill that at first sight may seem rather inappropriate, considering the title of this debate. I refer to the Financial Services Bill, because in my view its provisions relating to the possibility of forfeiting the salaries of bank employees raise constitutional issues. As the Bill is drafted, the delegated legislation provisions-they appear in a form with which we are unfamiliar-give powers to the Financial Services Authority to take action that could interfere retrospectively with the private contractual rights of employees without providing any backing for that in primary legislation. I submit that this is not an appropriate use of delegated legislation. In my experience the provisions are unprecedented and should surely have been the subject of very careful consideration.
The relationship between an employer and an employee with regard to salary is a matter of great importance to the individual concerned. If interference in that relationship of the sort contained in the Bill is to be undertaken by an authority, it should be done only through very clear and specific provisions contained in primary legislation. We are told that the rules may,
However, we are not told how and when this is going to be done. The powers will enable the FSA to make rules that authorise it to take action that is clearly penal in nature. As arrangements that lead to the payment of bonuses normally cover a continuing situation, there is clearly a risk that they could be retrospective in effect. I suggest that this aspect of the Bill needs careful examination, particularly in view of the fact that there is no provision in the Bill to enable action taken to be subject to any form of appeal process and that any resort to the courts would have to be through judicial review.
The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, in this briefest of parliamentary Sessions, among the most important things on which we need carefully to reflect are the constitutional issues raised in the gracious Speech. Noble Lords have had a number of opportunities to debate the issues raised in the Government's White Paper on Lords reform. We on these Benches wish to continue to participate wholeheartedly in these debates, bringing to them an unswerving concern for the flourishing of our national democratic institutions, particularly for the effectiveness and reputation of Parliament when the allowances issue has had the most damaging and devastating effect on public confidence. In this responsibility, we shall seek to build on the important work of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, now retired from these Benches, during his membership of the Lord Chancellor's cross-party group. In his response to the White Paper last year, he enunciated on behalf of the Church of England several principles which bear repeating. First, any reform of this House should not lead to any reduction in the legislative powers or functions of the current
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It will fall partly to me, as the newly appointed convenor of the Lords Spiritual, to take on the mantle from the right reverend Prelate and to remind your Lordships from time to time of the fundamental principle that national constitutions are the property of the nation, not only of the Government of the day. That sound principle suggests that changes to our constitutional arrangements should follow a period of discussion, with a view to establishing a measure of support that is not narrowly based. It also suggests that, in the few remaining weeks before a general election, an overhasty attempt to establish fixed positions on the wider issue is unlikely to provide a basis for wise decision-making. Nor is it likely that greater political wisdom will necessarily or automatically derive from the greater electoral authority that a wholly elected second Chamber would command.
We may feel that his concerns have been mitigated somewhat in recent years by the growth of judicial review, the Human Rights Act and the more zealous scrutiny exercised by this House. Nevertheless, the massive weakening of the powers of local government, allied to successive Governments' tendencies to use Parliament as a legislative production line in which legislation is routinely guillotined, is little less than scandalous. That is why the Church of England, in its response to the document The House of Lords-Completing the Reform, wrote in 2002:
"Given the 'complementary' function of the Second Chamber in relation to the role of the House of Commons, we believe that an important test of its distinctiveness should be its ability to enrich the parliamentary process and our national discourse".
That is the acid test for our future debates. Will reform lead to a more effective revising Chamber? That must be very doubtful if, as seems to be inevitable, a wholly or mainly elected Chamber comes under the control of the party machines.
I am glad, therefore, that every recent document on Lords reform includes reference to the Government's support for the established position of the Church of England. It is from that position that we on these Benches will wish to draw attention-from the tradition that we represent of the legitimacy and the limitations of government. Government is limited by the existence of other human authorities-the church, the family and the individual-and by the means at its disposal. Therefore, some of the wisdom in our parliamentary institutions is needed to act as a constant reminder of the core question confronting every politician every day: what is the unique role of government in society and how may it better discharge that role on behalf of its citizens? In the bear pit of political campaigning, the scramble of coalition building, the twists and turns of policy-making and the complexities of managing
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"The aim of your Lordships' House has always been to provide a wise check and balance for the nation using the diversity of skills and experience in revising legislation, delaying ill thought out or hasty legislation, being deliberative and acting as a bastion of democracy by not allowing a party in government to extend its life beyond the timetable set in the Parliament Act. That is the role of this House. Your Lordships' House has always been in the interests not just of democracy, but of that higher freedom which supports our values and the culture of this nation".-[Official Report, 13/3/07; col. 580.]
Lord Rooker: My Lords, without any conspiratorial intent, I, too, will address the constitutional aspects of reform of your Lordships' House as a means of strengthening Parliament against the Executive. In some ways the House seems reluctant to change; and yet, long before I came here, the House was four or five years ahead of the other place in the televising of Parliament-something for which credit has never been given.
How do we change anything here? There is no mechanism for a Member or Members to seek change, and I am reliably informed that the Procedure Committee is not the route to change. I have a few small suggestions. My initial point, which underpins them all, is that we should try change. We could adopt all my suggestions for six months or a Session and, if they do not work, we could reverse them.
My first suggestion concerns Question Time. It must be better managed and we must complete the process of change that started some time ago. Four Questions in 30 minutes can put a Minister under real scrutiny compared with the Commons: it is almost like a mini-Select Committee. However, self-regulation militates against this. Long-winded supplementary questions off the subject, long-winded supplementary answers and arguments over who asks supplementaries are all negative and to the advantage of the Executive. In addition, it must be unique for a Parliament anywhere to have the referee of any dispute on the government Front Bench.
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