Flooding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:59 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 12:59 pm, 4th March 2020

Flood Re has resulted in some improvements—the hon. Gentleman is right about that—but it does not insure homes or provide cover for homes built since 2009, and he will know that it does not include support for small businesses, so there are huge holes in the scheme that need to be filled. We need a scheme that works. At the moment, Flood Re is not delivering as was originally intended for all affected communities. The Government are carrying out a review of the Flood Re scheme, and I urge Ministers to encourage it to report quickly, because we need the Flood Re scheme to work properly to ensure that there are no gaps in it.

The reason that we are calling for a review today is that the flood waters will, we hope, soon subside and the camera crews will pack up, but as the media agenda moves on, the damage, disruption and destruction of the floods will remain for those communities that have been affected. It will take many months for those communities to recover, but we know from past floods that it will actually take many years for the damage to be undone, for payments to be received and for the mitigations to be put in place. That is why a lessons learned review is so important.

We know that the Prime Minister was missing during the floods, but he now has an opportunity to create a lessons learned review to learn the lessons of what has happened. However, he has decided against doing that. We know that the Conservatives’ political choice to implement a programme of brutal austerity over the past 10 years has made the fight against the climate crisis so much harder. The Environment Agency has again and again asked for extra money—£1 billion a year just to mitigate the impacts of floods and defend our communities. We need long-term structural change if we are to combat future floods, including restoring nature in uplands, ending the rotational burning of peatlands, implementing proper catchment area management strategies and building proper flood defences where appropriate. All these changes need genuine funding and a long-term plan.

But it is not just the Environment Agency that has been cut; our local councils have too, and our fire and rescue services. There is a regional disparity in the cuts for fire and rescue services as well. Across England, 23% of our firefighters have been lost in Tory cuts since 2010, but West Yorkshire, where some of the most severe flooding has happened, has lost over a third of its firefighters in austerity cuts. I know that my hon. Friend Grahame Morris has raised this issue directly with Ministers before, but I would like to invite the Secretary of State to look again at whether fire and rescue services need a statutory duty around flooding, as they have in Scotland and Wales.

It is also important that we look at the effect of the flooding on our farmers. That includes considering short-term actions such as a derogation of crop diversification and a reinstatement of the farming recovery fund to mitigate the damage that flooding has caused. The Secretary of State came unstuck at the NFU conference and answered concerns about the three-crop rule very poorly, but there is now a genuine opportunity to help farmers by using the powers that he already has to support them. In the long term, we need to ensure that our farmland is used sensibly to prevent flooding and to restore the ability to keep more water upstream.

We also need to recognise the need for change on match-funding. I have raised this matter before. Poorer communities should not be asked to match the same as wealthier communities, because we know that in that situation the wealthier communities have their flood defences funded and the poor ones do not. My hon. Friend Rachel Reeves has raised this in relation to her city time and again, but she has still not had a satisfactory answer. The Budget next week is an opportunity for Ministers to fund flood defences properly. I would like to see the Budget used as a climate budget to recognise the true scale of the climate crisis and have funding directed accordingly. I suspect we will not have that, but I hope there will be some mention of flooding. I hope that funding will be directed at those communities that are currently under water and that a long-term plan is put in place in relation to this.

We have our criticisms of the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, for failing to act with the seriousness that the climate emergency requires, but setting that aside, we have before us in this motion a modest proposal to learn the lessons of the three storms and to conduct an independent review into what happened. We owe it to those communities that are currently under water, those that have been flooded and those that are repairing the damage from the storms to listen to them and to do everything in our power to learn the lessons to ensure that it does not happen again.

I say to every Tory MP whose communities are under water and who votes against this modest ask that I wish them well on their return to their flooded communities. I wish them well in explaining why a review into the lessons learned will not be happening and why they voted against it. I wish them well in explaining to the people whose homes and businesses were flooded why they are denying them a voice. I wish them well in that, because they have the chance today to vote for such an independent review, and for those flooded communities, that will be a very modest ask as they scrub their floors to clean up the sewage that has come through the pipes, as they repair their homes and as they work out how to restore the stock in their businesses that have been so damaged. For them, this is a modest ask, and it is something that should be supported by everyone in this House. I hope that Tory MPs will reflect on this before they back the Government’s amendment to not learn the lessons of the flooding incidents. I hope that, as a Parliament, we can come together on this. I hope that the warm words that will be no doubt come from the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box in a moment can be added to with the action that is so desperately needed. I commend this Labour motion to the House.