It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my hon. Friend Rachael Maskell, who is also an extremely able former shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She has done well in securing such an important debate. Both she and Kevin Hollinrake have shown a great talent for making a pitch, which any salesman would be rightly proud of.
My hon. Friend has highlighted how the lives of families and business people in the beautiful and historical city of York have still not returned to normal after Boxing day 2015, and she made an in-depth case for the Government to support the research by the University of York to improve moorland management.
I do not want to repeat all that my hon. Friend has said, as she spoke with her usual eloquence and passion, and laid out the evidence to back up her argument very clearly; I would say the same of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. Surely, therefore, the Minister can see that the case presented by my hon. Friend makes sense, especially as the Government have already invested £l million to fund the first phase of the research. I am confident that the Minister can make a case to her Department and the Treasury, particularly because there are so many benefits to be had from the study, perhaps most importantly and immediately for the people of York and the businesses based in that great city.
Following their national flood resilience review, the Government said their 25-year environmental plan would introduce catchment measures to minimise flooding. That was seven months ago. Similarly, in response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s report, “Future flood prevention”, which was published last November, the Government said they supported a catchment approach, alongside engineered defences, and that such an approach would be at the heart of their 25-year plan. The Government also agreed that is important to build up more evidence to support the catchment-based approach.
Unfortunately, here we are at the end of this Parliament and we are still waiting to see the 25-year plan, which is of little comfort to those who live in areas prone to flooding and who have to face flooding on a regular basis. I personally have never had to face flooding, but I know people whose homes have been flooded, so I know how important it is to get work done in the right way at the right time to alleviate flooding and mitigate its impact. It is of great importance.
Can the Minister say what progress has been made on the Cumbria Pioneer project, which the Government believe will be an important step in understanding the value of catchment management in larger catchment areas, as well as influencing the development of good practice and innovative solutions? Will those solutions include taking local knowledge into account, which would prove invaluable as well as helping to build the confidence of communities, who often feel that the value of their experience of flooding is not taken fully into account?
At the end of this Parliament, I hope that the Minister can give Members and the public more reassurance than has been the case hitherto, especially as the Government have failed to take forward any key recommendations from the EFRA Committee’s report.
“we need to look at the whole river catchment.”
She also said that we need some quick fixes to reassure “nervous” communities, as well as investing in long-term solutions. In addition, she said:
“we need to stop talking about flood prevention. We cannot prevent flooding, but we can manage it and make our communities properly resilient.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 622, c. 71.]
No one could fail to agree with that and as this is the last Westminster Hall debate of this Parliament, perhaps a good parting gesture from this Government would be for the Minister to agree to the request from my hon. Friend the Member for York Central. I am sure that the Minister will answer my suggestion favourably and I now await her response with eager anticipation.