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Flooding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:43 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Labour, Newport West 3:43 pm, 4th March 2020

It is a real privilege to stand here today at the Dispatch Box following in the steps of my lovely predecessor, the late great Paul Flynn. Paul came to this Dispatch Box slightly later in his political career, and he maintained that the box was just the right height to prop him up. I can also confirm that it is just the right height for me to hang on to, to stop my knees knocking.

I reiterate the words of condolence expressed by my hon. Friend Luke Pollard, the shadow Secretary of State, when he opened the debate. Our hearts go out to the families of those who lost their lives, and we send our deepest sympathies to them and to all the communities affected by the floods caused by Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge.

This has been an interesting debate, and I thank all Members who joined our call for action from this Government. Colleagues across the House and from all parties have raised concerns here in the Chamber today, and out there in their constituencies over recent weeks. The debate has given us a chance to bring together those views, stories and experiences.

My hon. Friends the Members for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) and for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) spoke movingly about the ongoing fear of flooding and the problem of escalating insurance premiums. My hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell), for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and for Reading East (Matt Rodda) made the eminently sensible suggestion that we need to look upstream to develop solutions to the flooding occurring further downstream.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali) requested that funding be released immediately to assist their constituents. My hon. Friend Emma Hardy gave us an insight into the Lagoon Hull project, and my hon. Friend Mr Morgan spoke about the need to protect important heritage sites from floods. My hon. Friend Holly Lynch and Craig Whittaker were clear that they want tier 1 status for their part of the UK too.

My hon. Friend Jonathan Reynolds talked about specific flood issues such as blocked culverts and the ensuing damage. My hon. Friend Stephanie Peacock highlighted the ongoing and regular issues of flooding and the problem of the match funding formula, which works against our poorest communities.

A number of Government Members said that we do not need a review; we just need to get on with things. I say to them that a review is not a public inquiry. It is different, and it has a different remit and function. We need to learn lessons and get things right for the future as the disastrous effects of the climate emergency become more and more evident. That is why the motion calls for a review.

I commend Holly Mumby-Croft for her maiden speech. Her passion for her home town and its steelworks is evident. As the Member representing another steel city, I look forward to working with her to protect the UK steel industry.

Beyond the walls of this Chamber, our world and our planet are experiencing a dangerous, unpredictable and evident climate emergency. We can no longer sit by and watch the world burn, communities flood and people die. I say to Ministers and all the Members sitting behind them that it is now time to get a grip. It is now time for them to show leadership and demonstrate to the families of those who lost their lives, their livelihoods, their homes and their cherished memories and belongings that they care, will do their job and will do what is necessary to save lives.

It was good to hear from the Secretary of State what has been done so far to prevent the flooding and which areas have been spared this time, but too many have not been spared, which is why we want this overarching review to learn the lessons and prepare for future potential flooding events.

The Secretary of State outlined the numerous individual reviews undertaken over the last decade, which highlights just how piecemeal things have been. We need a complete UK-wide review. We do not want an inquiry; we want a review. This should not be party politically difficult. It is essential to allow the people of all parts of the UK to recover from the floods and prepare with certainty for the future. We need to act now.

It is clear, though, that action is an approach that the Prime Minister seems to apply only to a general election campaign. I am sorry to say that he has been missing in action, unlike his Secretary of State. He had no time to visit Rhondda or Pontypridd—no time for York or Calder Valley, or the many other communities affected up and down the country—but this is all about choices. He chose to fly to the Caribbean for a holiday paid for by someone from somewhere. He chose to disappear to his grace-and-favour mansion. He chose to hide in the flat in Downing Street, rather than get down to the Cabinet Office briefing room and give the country the leadership we need. The one thing we now know about this Prime Minister is that when the going gets tough, he does not get going. He goes missing. What a disgrace and a blatant abdication of his responsibility to this country and its people.

We know, as my hon. Friend Beth Winter eloquently stated, that austerity has had and continues to have a devastating impact on our environment and natural world. The lost decade of Tory and Lib Dem cuts to local authorities in England, and also to organisations across the country such as the Environment Agency, has seriously undermined our ability to tackle the environmental crisis and deal with the impact of the climate emergency.