HC Deb 11 January 1978 vol 941 cc1659-61
16. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will set up a special departmental inquiry into the question of giving adequate compensation to householders affected by flooding in the Greater London area during 1977.

Mr. Freeson

An inquiry is not necessary. Local authorities possess adequate powers under Section 138 of the Local Government Act 1972 to spend money or grant loans to alleviate the effects of emergencies or disasters such as flooding.

Mr. Dykes

I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he note that I was suggesting not that central Government funds should be used but that an inquiry might be useful in getting greater co-ordination, in the sense that last year, when there was violent flooding in August, there was a considerable difference in the treatment meted out by local authorities in terms of the size of compensation payments and the number of people compensated?

Mr. Freeson

I am aware that different local authorities place different emphases and hold different views, but, in fairness, I must say that the impact of this kind of emergency was different in different areas, not only between boroughs but within the boroughs concerned. I think that we must leave it to the elected local authorities to make their own judgments on the basis of their local facts as best they can in this matter.

Mr. Molloy

With reference to the floods that hit North-West London last August, can my right hon. Friend say whether, under Section 138 of the Local Government Act 1972, it would be permissible for two tiers of local authorities—for example, the London borough of Ealing and the GLC—to co-operate in making compensatory payments and assisting victims? If so, ought he not to encourage them to act in a civilised, sensible way by sharing the responsibility, instead of bickering stupidly about who should do it?

Mr. Freeson

I should have to ask for notice of that question. I will check the Act in detail to see whether the two tiers could provide assistance jointly, and I will write to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Jessel

Would it not be better to concentrate on preventing flooding rather than on compensation? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Minister of Agriculture why the completion of the Thames Barrier has been delayed for two years from 1979 to 1981, at ever-mounting cost to ratepayers and taxpayers?

Mr. Freeson

So far as I am aware—this is an off-the-cuff observation—the flooding to which the questions have so far referred did not relate to the flood barrier but arose from difficulties due essentially to the overflowing of the River Brent and related waterworks in the North-West London area.

Mr. Anthony Grant

Is the Minister aware that many of my constituents were very adversely affected by the recent floods? Is he further aware that the cost of preventing such floods recurring in the area is astronomic, running into many millions of pounds—quite beyond the capacity of either the GLC or the individual boroughs to deal with? Is there not, therefore, a case for some discussion on this issue, perhaps between his Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, together with local authorities, to see whether special assistance can be given?

Mr. Freeson

Again I speak off the cuff, but my understanding is that the GLC has undertaken, and I believe is still in the midst of, a major review of the implications of the flooding. On the basis of the information available to me, I would not accept the general proposition that the resource requirements for undertaking a programme of works has been, over the past years, or will be, in the future, beyond the capacity of the GLC and the local authorities, especially the GLC. In any case, there is considerable Government assistance by way of rate support grant to annual revenue costs of local authority expenditure.