§ 4. Dr. Kim Howells
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met representatives of the local authorities and water companies to discuss the effects on Welsh commerce of repeated flooding in urban centres.
§ Mr. David Hunt
As the hon. Gentleman knows, on 4 December I visited Pontypridd and Tredegar to see for myself the difficulties being faced by many people as a result of the flooding. I took the opportunity to meet representatives of the local authorities and the National Rivers Authority.
§ Dr. Howells
Does the Secretary of State agree that for far too long the rivers of industrial south Wales have been treated as little better than open sewers? The sewerage systems serving the communities along the banks of those rivers are mainly of Victorian vintage and in heavy rain they discharge back into the streets causing misery to households and threatening the livelihoods of many of our commercial centres. Will he recognise that rebuilding those sewerage systems and reconstructing the waterways of Wales is a great civil engineering project that the Government should take seriously? It would provide a great focus for jobs in south Wales, help to reinvigorate the heart of our commercial centres, and lift the fear of flooding.
§ Mr. Hunt
As the hon. Gentleman says, that is money. Since 1979 my Department has grant aided £34 million worth of flood prevention works in Wales. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will pay tribute to Welsh Water for the way in which the quality of our water has improved. Welsh Water's investment programme is now running at £500,000 per day. Of course there is still a need for schemes to be presented. As the hon. Gentleman knows, my 8 Department does not have power to carry out the works, but it has power to grant aid schemes. I hope that some imaginative and innovative schemes will be presented so that we may address them from the point of view of grant aid.
§ Mr. Roger Evans
My right hon. Friend will appreciate the recent problems in Monmouth town. Can he add to what he said on the last occasion and make a statement?
§ Mr. Hunt
With regard to investment and the Bellwin rules, authorities incurring expenditure on eligible works have to submit their initial claims by 1 March. Three authorities—Blaenau Gwent, Rhondda and Cynon Valley—have told my Department that they will be able to make eligible claims. I understand that the remaining authorities' expenditure is below the threshold. I am awaiting a further report on the flooding in Monmouth and will obviously look carefully to ensure that such flooding can never happen again.
§ Mr. Murphy
Does the Secretary of State accept that the Bellwin formula applies to spending after flooding and that much misery and hardship could have been avoided if proper preventive measures had been taken in the first place? Will he undertake to carry out a survey of river banks in Wales that are most at risk and ensure that the survey will involve special funding by the Welsh Office to our local authorities and the National Rivers Authority?
§ Mr. Hunt
As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), my Department does not have power to carry out the works, but we have the money to grant aid those who have such powers. I have already said that since 1979 the Welsh Office has grant aided £34 million in making sure that those projects can be taken forward. I have been given evidence from within my Department that if those works had not been carried out Wales would have suffered much worse flooding. Of course I am interested in any other schemes to prevent further flooding, especially in certain parts of Wales. The hon. Member for Pontypridd knows what I have said about Pontypridd and I undertake seriously to consider any schemes that are put forward.