Floods (East Sussex)

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st December 2000.

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Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Secretary (Fisheries and the Countryside), Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I know that East Sussex, like a number of areas, has experienced exceptional flooding over recent weeks. Those affected by these extreme circumstances have my full sympathy, as the hon. Gentleman knows, given the debates that we have had on the issue.

Following the autumn floods, the Government immediately made available a further £51 million to accelerate river flood defence works. This is on top of the extra £30 million announced in the summer spending review. Moreover, we are examining with the farming organisations the scope for changes in national and EU scheme rules which would help farmers affected by flooding. My colleague received a positive response at this week's Agriculture Council to just such a request.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Is the Minister aware that some farmland at Iford in my constituency has been continuously flooded since 12 October, and remains flooded to this day? What is worse, the farmers affected have to pay a drainage rate for the so-called services of a useless 40-year-old Environment Agency pump at Rodmell which is not doing its job. Is he aware that grassland is being killed off, with all the implications that that has for livestock units on those farms? Notwithstanding the steps that he is taking, which I welcome for the future, what practical steps can he offer my farmers now to help them out of the present situation?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Secretary (Fisheries and the Countryside), Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

These are extreme conditions—we have had the wettest autumn for 230 years. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that some farmland has been flooded for long periods, and in some cases has been repeatedly flooded because of changes in the rivers. We are examining the way in which the regulations laid down by the European Union work, particularly in relation to area payments for arable crops. We are trying to make sure that there is maximum flexibility in the application of those regulations, to assist farmers in the present circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been discussing these matters with the farmers organisations to see whether we can do anything else to provide support.