Provision for flood management must get through parliament now or risk delay post-election

The Flood and Water Management Bill could “get lost” in post-election legislative overload, the minister in charge has admitted. Huw Irranca-Davies, parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), said the threat made it “imperative” to get the bill passed in the autumn.

Speaking at an ABI debate at the Labour conference in Brighton, he said: “The risk is with the legislative timetable. The new government, of whatever colour, suddenly has a whole new batch of other commitments to deliver on.

“This government has made it absolutely clear that we have to deliver on it. [Environment Secretary] Hilary Benn has made it clear. That is why we have a high degree of confidence going into the autumn that we can do it. That is why it is also imperative that, whether we have the large consolidated bill in the autumn or the shorter bill that delivers the key aspects, we get on and do it.”

Irranca-Davies, in charge of helping guide the bill through the parliamentary process, stressed that the talking time was over.

He said: “I know that the DEFRA committee asked ‘Should we take a little bit longer?’ [We’ve had]12 months with the Pitt review, we’ve had the consultation, we’ve been in further dialogue through the summer, we’ve had good support for the general approach. We need to get on and deliver it, otherwise there is always a risk it will get lost somewhere further down the line.”

The Flood and Water Management Bill, set out in Sir Michael Pitt’s independent review of the 2007 summer floods, proposes giving local authorities more powers to deal with flooding, reducing the impact and likelihood of floods, improving water quality and reducing red tape for water and sewerage companies. It has passed consultation stage but there is still debate over final details.

AXA chief executive Philippe Maso said: “It would be a tragedy if we had to wait for another parliament to pass this bill. Given the perils we know about and the perils we do not know about, the time is now for taking responsibility.”