HC Deb 03 February 1965 vol 705 cc1064-6
17. Mr. Braine

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much money has been authorised for expenditure on the maintenance of Canvey Island's sea defences during the year 1965–66; whether any additional capital works are envisaged; and whether he will make a statement on the state of the island's defences.

Mr. Hoy

Recent events are causing the Essex River Board to review its estimate for expenditure on maintenance in 1965–66 but this will be at least £4,000. Capital works envisaged include works on revetment for which £5,000 has already been approved and engineers are considering the possible expenditure of about £118,000 for the improvement of Hole Haven Creek wall.

On 20th January the sea defences withstood an unusual and very strong onshore gale. Parts of the sea wall were damaged but the river board promptly carried out first-aid repairs. I am assured by the board that there is no cause for anxiety about the condition of the sea wall and I have no reason to question this assurance. The board recognises the special importance of these defences and of the need for continuing vigilance to ensure not only that the works are maintained to a high standard, but also that further works are carried out whenever required.

Mr. Braine

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I originally wrote to the Minister about this matter on 30th November? Is it not quite scandalous that, in a matter touching the safety of 18,000 of my constituents, the right hon. Gentleman should have taken over two months to reply?

Further, is the hon. Gentleman aware that the storm on 20th January tore 90 holes in the wall? It is true that the river board moved with tremendous speed but subsequently the chairman of the board complained that his labour force had been reduced because of delays in the hon. Gentleman's Department. Is the hon. Member aware that the local authority did not receive a tidal warning?

In view of the importance of this matter and the tragic events of 11 years ago, will the hon. Gentleman inject a little responsibility and energy into those concerned?

Mr. Hoy

What the hon. Gentleman said is quite unfair to my Department. The river board is the responsible authority for carrying out that work. All the repairs to the wall have to be carried out by the river board. My Department comes into it only if grants are required for new work. If we interfered with the responsible authorities, the hon. Member would be the first to complain.

Sir J. Maitland

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Waverley Report specifically recommended that grants should be available for maintenance? In the interests of public safety and the considerations envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), which apply to other parts of the coast, will the hon. Gentleman reconsider the question of helping river boards to carry out their very heavy task of maintaining the banks?

Mr. Hoy

I do not doubt that that is what the Waverley Report recommended but at present the only grants available are for new works. The question raised by the hon. Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) presents a different aspect. Perhaps he will put it on the Order Paper, when I will be happy to consider it.

Mr. Braine

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply and the fact that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has not been completely frank with the House on this matter, I beg to give notice—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is essential that hon. Members giving notice should adhere to the traditional formula and not introduce into it matters quite inappropriate to the notice.

Hon. Members