Flooding: Military Assistance

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 17th March 2014.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 2:30 pm, 17th March 2014

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of military assistance provided to civil authorities during recent flooding.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

The MOD’s ongoing support to the civil authorities has been significant and achieved real effect on the ground, with a peak of about 5,000 personnel from all three services available to provide everything from sandbagging to aerial reconnaissance. We provided assistance to nine county councils and five unitary authorities. We are now in the recovery phase, with 220 service personnel still engaged. Once the task is complete, we will work with the civil authorities to assess in detail our armed forces’ contribution to the overall national response and to look at how the contribution of the armed forces to civil resilience can be enhanced and accelerated in future emergencies.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I bring to the House’s attention the honourable membership of the Institution of Royal Engineers that I hold because I am a Member of Parliament for a constituency with Royal Engineers in it. Will he join me in congratulating the Royal Engineers on their work across the country, not only in helping to fix the problems, but in being involved in the emergency checks, which means that we are able to get around the entire country in just a matter of weeks?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Royal Engineers on the role they have played. There is a continuing detachment of Royal Engineers inspecting thousands of flood defences around the country, triaging them so that the Environment Agency can target its specialist engineers on those most at risk.

Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston

One reason why civil authorities may be reluctant to call in military assistance is the full costing regime in the MOD. Has the Secretary of State considered introducing a marginal costing scheme, which would make that interaction easier for all the parties concerned?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Lady is understating the case—one of the reasons most certainly is fear of what the costs will be. The MOD’s position is clear: we would like to do more to support the civil authorities, and we want to make sure that the defence budget is neither advantaged nor disadvantaged from doing so. That implies a full marginal costing recovery regime, and

I have written to my colleagues at the Treasury suggesting that we look at a change to the regime to make the situation much clearer to the civil authorities in advance.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

May I add my congratulations to RAF Linton-on-Ouse and the neighbouring Royal Engineers who have helped in both the vale of York, and Thirsk and Malton during previous floods? On the funding, I understand that one reason why civil authorities were slow to take up the offer from the military was precisely the issue of who was to pay. Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House from which budget the payment will be drawn?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

In almost all cases—perhaps I can say in all cases—the net additional cost of military operations that is recoverable from authorities that have lead responsibility under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 will be 100% funded under the Bellwin formula, in accordance with the statement that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made to the House about the increase in the percentage recovery rates to 100% to cover this emergency.