John Grantchester on the key dividing issues for the final day of Lords Report on the Water Bill
Today is the second and final session of Report on the Water Bill. During the first session, Ministers made one welcome concession to make the retail market work better, but voted against our attempts to help people struggling to pay their domestic bills. Today, we will call on the Coalition to ensure the Committee on Climate Change play a consultative role in its new ‘Flood Re’ proposals, and make much clearer who is and isn’t a part of the scheme.
The devastating floods this winter propelled the subject of climate change right to the top of the political agenda. The government found itself in an awkward situation, given the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson was allegedly failing to be briefed on its effects, at the same time as removing flooding from his department’s list of core priorities. This difficulty was heightened by an upbraiding from the UK Statistics Authority for the creative accounting that had been used to suggest that flood defence spending was going up when it was actually going down.
This makes it important to involve the Committee on Climate Change in Flood Re, by ensuring a statutory duty for it to be consulted over projections on the number of properties to be included in the scheme. Labour supports Flood Re and we want to see it work, and our amendment today is designed to strengthen and future proof it.
We also remain concerned that the government has not made clear exactly who is in Flood Re and who is out. Ministers have recently asked leaseholder groups to look for evidence about whether or not there is market failure in the provision of insurance to leaseholders. It is essential however that they go further and commit to reporting back to Parliament on how many leasehold and tenanted properties they think will be excluded from the proposals, as well as the cost of including them. If there is market failure in the provision of flood insurance to non-commercial leasehold properties, they must seek to correct it.
Before we reach the flood insurance Clauses today, Labour will also be pursuing a fracking-related amendment. Our aim here is to ensure that those firms wanting to engage in fracking for shale gas and shale oil have adequate provisions and resources in place to clean up any damage to the environment that they cause. At Committee stage, Defra Minister – Lord de Mauley – suggested negotiations were taking place between industry and government but appeared unable to give any further details. Let us hope he is more forthcoming today.
Let us also hope the government is in listening mode. Ministers have already tabled amendments on providing information on transitioning from Flood Re to risk reflective pricing. This is something Labour have been arguing for during the passage of the Bill and we will test whether the proposals are sufficient. But ideally, this will be just one of a number of constructive changes made today to the legislation.
Lord John Grantchester is a Shadow Defra Minister in the House of Lords
Published 31st March 2014