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Cross-party committee to quiz Environment Agency

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson (centre) on his visit to the Somerset Levels in January. Photo: PA

Members of a cross-party committee of MPs will get a further chance to question the Environment Agency and Environment Secretary this afternoon about the recent flooding, particularly in Somerset. The DEFRA select committee will later produce a report into their respective handling of the crisis.

This may be the last public appearance by the controversial head of the EA, Lord Smith, who's been heavily criticised for his half-hearted support for dredging rivers on the Levels, and an article at the height of the crisis which implied there were choices between "front rooms and farmland" when it came to flood protection.

Lord Smith at a news conference on the Levels in February. Credit: PA

The last time the committee looked at flooding was on January 22, when Paul Leinster from the EA was still reciting the Agency's official line that dredging the rivers Parrett and Tone would have only limited impact. Exactly a week later, on the 29th, the Prime Minister surprised everyone by effectively overruling that advice, and announcing that dredging WOULD take place. It duly started this week.

Mr Leinster is also giving evidence this afternoon - it will interesting to hear what he feels now.Later the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson will also appear - he's likely to be questioned about funds for dredging in future years, and a tidal barrage across the mouth of the Parrett, to stop the silt being pushed back upstream again.

Paul Leinster from the Environment Agency with London's mayor Boris Johnson. Credit: PA

The winter crisis on the Levels rattled the government and only when the Prime Minister took personal charge did bigger pumps arrive, along with "money no object" financial support, and the commitment to dredge. Farmers and residents want to ensure - as does the DEFRA select committee - that that momentum is not lost.