Flooding

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 22nd October 2007.

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Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative 2:45 pm, 22nd October 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will bring forward the increased spending allocations for flood defences from 2010-11 to 2008-09.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, annual government spending on flood and coastal erosion risk management will rise to a minimum of £650 million in 2008-09, £700 million in 2009-10 and £800 million by 2010-11. These figures are the minimum that we propose to spend in each of the coming years, but it is too early to determine whether these will be the final allocations or whether it will be possible to go further.

Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I would like to declare an interest as chairman and chief executive of an insurance broking organisation. My industry has suffered losses approaching £3 billion following the recent flood damage. Will the Minister ask the Government to think again about this, otherwise I am afraid that there could be further problems with regard to the provision of insurance cover?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I can say only that I have exactly the same brief as I used last Tuesday. The figures and, indeed, the Question, are exactly the same, and the answer regarding insurance companies is also exactly the same. We are working with the Association of British Insurers and we are meeting the statement of principles. Indeed, the figure that I have given for 2010-11 is more than the Association of British Insurers was asking for before the recent floods. These are minimum figures, but there is some doubt about whether more can be spent in the first two years. Just chucking money at this will not necessarily solve it if you do not get value for money. We have a planned increase in expenditure and it is being done in line with the insurance industry.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

My Lords, if the Minister is talking about value for money, does he recall a Written Answer that he gave me in the summer to the effect that the United Kingdom has spent some £63.8 billion on meeting unnecessary water purification directives from Europe? Does he not agree that, if we had not wasted that money, he might be in a better position to look after our flood defences now?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, purifying water is always a good thing. Since 1996-97, we have spent some £4.5 billion across England on flood risk management and flood defences, so I do not think that I have to be at all defensive with the noble Lord.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, has any thought been given to making grants available to people who have suffered flood damage to build their own flood defences in the same way that the Government give grants for loft insulation and things of that type?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, between 2005 and 2008, around 100,000 dwellings in this country are going to get better flood defences as part of the programme, but there are some areas where it is incredibly difficult to do this on a grand scale. Individual schemes are about, but I do not know whether there are grants as such. Programmes are in place, particularly to defend the infrastructure. Some 5,000 infrastructure projects to provide better defences are being surveyed at the moment. However, as I say, there are some areas where this is difficult to do and a one-off solution may be required.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Whip, Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, given the floods that took place earlier this year in the south Midlands and Yorkshire, when will the Environment Agency provide the Government with a comprehensive report covering what happened and how we might come up with a detailed strategy to make sure, in the most cost-efficient way, that those types of floods do not happen again. We need a factual look at what happened and how we can prevent this in the future.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, an independent review chaired by Sir Michael Pitt is going on at the moment, but I do not have the date on which the report on the lessons learnt from the flooding is due. While I do not know about all areas of the country, I should say that in the south Midlands over six inches of rain fell in less than 24 hours. With the best will in the world, our flood defences and the water courses would not have been able to deal with that. It happened in the middle of the growing season and caused considerable damage. More damage was caused to land in the south Midlands and more damage was caused to property in the north of England. The report is independent; people are giving evidence and we look forward to receiving it in due course.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, one of the features of the summer floods was the vulnerability of key public services, such as electricity, water and sewerage. Can the Minister assure us that the protection of these vital installations is being given the highest priority and will he say who is paying for the work?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for that question because it gives me the chance for the first time to pay tribute to the people who protected that sub-power station at Walham. The fact is that all we ever saw on television—this is not to knock them at all—were the Army and the police. But it was Environment Agency staff who got the equipment because they spotted what was happening at that station a few hours earlier; it was they who got stuff from a store that was used elsewhere and worked their socks off. They were, of course, assisted by the Army in completing the exercise to protect the sub-power station. I know that thanks are not always given, because the Environment Agency is not classed as an emergency service, but it certainly was one in protecting that sub-power station at Walham.

As I said in answer to a question at the end of last week, the Environment Agency has identified 5,000 infrastructure sites in England and Wales as having a probability of flooding greater than one in 75. I will not list them all, but they include sewage works, schools, health centres and power stations. Work is going on to assess these. It is for the users and owners of those properties to ensure that they have adequate flood defences—that is their prime responsibility—but the Environment Agency is overseeing this because we now have the list.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in rural Perthshire—

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, did the Minister read the reports in this weekend's newspapers that the projections show that the population of this country will be 75 million by 2051? Many, many more houses and other infrastructure buildings will be required if that happens to be the case. Will he assure me that the Government will resist all the additional pressures to build on flood plains?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming, Food and Animal Welfare), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

Well, yes, my Lords. I am not going to comment on the potential increase in the population either of the planet or of the country, because that is a sensitive matter, although frankly it is not discussed enough. However, the issue raised by the noble Lord is important. Unlike two or three years ago, the Environment Agency is now a statutory consultee and, again unlike a couple of years ago, if the Environment Agency says that a local authority is about to give planning permission on a flood plain and points to risk, Ministers now have the power to call in such planning applications.