HC Deb 04 November 1968 vol 772 cc482-5

Mr. Ellis (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will make a statement on the serious flooding which occurred over the weekend.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Anthony Greenwood)

There was flooding in York and the Department was in touch with the city council through our regional office yesterday and this morning. About 150 houses were affected and a few people had to be found temporary accommodation. The city welfare department had no difficulty in coping with the problem.

Officers of the corporation have been meeting, and know well the help which is available from Government sources. The Department is arranging for heaters to be made available for drying out houses. The level of the Ouse is now falling and no further danger is expected. There was some flooding also in other places, but the police report that this affected relatively few houses.

Mr. Ellis

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when we have such occurrences as this, and this is the third recently, the weather warnings are the responsibility of the "Met" office, which is Ministry of Defence; flood warnings are the responsibility of the local river board, which is Ministry of Agriculture, while responsibility for contacting and warning households is that of the police, who come under the Home Office? Finally, he is called in only at the stage when it is a question of clearing up the mess. Does he not think that the time has arrived when we should have one Minister co-ordinating all the actions of the various Ministries?

Mr. Greenwood

The important point was the amount of warning which the river authority was able to give. The authority was able to give 36 hours warning on this occasion, which seems to be reasonably satisfactory.

Mr. Graham Page

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the grave public concern felt at the repeated floodings recently, and the feeling that the Government and the public bodies concerned are acting, in a rather piecemeal way, without any well-considered plan as the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question showed? Does he recollect that on 24th October he said, in reply to a Question, that when his Departmental inquiry was complete he would issue guidance to local authorities?

Would he consider putting that in a White Paper for the House to consider, so that we may discuss and debate this as an overall national policy, instead of dealing piecemeal with local matters?

Mr. Greenwood

The Government have undertaken research into the long-term causes of flooding, which is being conducted by the Department of Education and Science. As for the lessons to be drawn from the recent floods, we shall be issuing very shortly a circular to local authorities giving advice in the light of recent experience. That circular will be available to hon. Members.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents are deeply grateful for the immediate offer of help which was made as soon as flooding affected their homes yesterday? Is he also aware that they expressed some anxiety over the fact that this is the second time that the river has risen to 14 ft. 6 ins. this year and that this is an almost unprecedented situation?

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the pattern over recent years has shown a continual number of floodings with an increasing height of the river? Will he agree that this seems to be caused not so much by the weather as by better drainage in agricultural areas? Does this not require an overall national policy, and would he set up a Departmental committee to consider the implications of such a policy?

Mr. Greenwood

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for what he said about the feeling in York. I immediately asked for contact to be made with the Lord Mayor, to offer any necessary help.

The question of flood prevention is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to that Ministry is with me and will no doubt have noted the point of my hon. Friend.

Sir D. Renton

In view of the division of responsibility among various Departments, and the obvious improvisation which has had to take place during many of the floods this year, is it not time for the House to consider the matter in a full debate, in Government time?

Mr. Greenwood

No one would welcome a debate on this more than I should, provided that right hon. Gentlemen opposite ask for it through the usual channels.

Mr. Leadbitter

Does not my right hon. Friend consider it difficult to reconcile the firm indication that the Government gave earlier, that they were trying to find a solution, with the fact that there are now two new Departments since he last answered my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis)? Are there not too many people involved? Can we have an assurance that, in the short term, we will get round to the question of providing compensation?

Mr. Greenwood

The question of floods is a long-term question which cannot be settled in a matter of weeks. The real test was the speed with which local authorities could be given help if they require it. I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon), who represents the city most affected, that it was perfectly satisfied with the provision made by the Ministry.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Following the flooding in the South-East at the end of September, the Minister of Defence told me, in the middle of October, that the "Met" Office would be issuing "flash" warnings in future when rainfall was sufficient to bring about flooding. Could he say whether the people of Yorkshire received those "flash" warnings from the "Met" Office?

Mr. Greenwood

Bearing in mind that the people of Yorkshire got 36 hours warning, I do not think that additional "flash" warnings were necessary. The police had the matter completely in hand.

Mr. Farr

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for parts of the city and County of Leicester this is the second time that they have been flooded within three months, and that they are now looking for rapid and effective action by the Government before winter really begins?

Mr. Greenwood

The question of flood prevention is for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will pursue that with the appropriate Minister.