Since 2003 the Environment Agency has spent more than £200 million on flood risk management in East Anglia. Future funding needs will be considered in the 2007 comprehensive spending review and prioritised for individual areas on a national basis.
Is it true that the Environment Agency has warned Ministers that a £24 million cut in next year’s budget will not only compromise its ability to deal with major fly-tipping incidents, but seriously undermine its sea and flood defence programme, thus putting at risk tens of thousands of houses in East Anglia? On Monday the Secretary of State said that climate change was for real and that he would do something about it. On Thursday he is cutting the budget of the one agency that can make a difference. Is that not ironic and, dare I say it, downright hypocritical?
The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. We have not set a budget for 2007-08 for the Environment Agency. We are at present considering the budgetary situation. I fully accept that, as a result of having to find £200 million, there had to be a reduction of some £14.9 million in the Environment Agency’s budget for the current financial year, but we have not touched the capital budget for flood and coastal defence. Indeed, that budget has gone up by 35 per cent. in real terms since 1996-97. That shows a Labour Government’s commitment to investing in flood and coastal defence and protecting people.
As my hon. Friend is aware, I take a keen interest in flood defences not only in East Anglia but in my constituency. I am pleased to hear that there will be no cuts in the capital budget for flood defences, but will my hon. Friend seriously consider increasing the amount of money available? I would not want any other city to go through the problems that mine did.
I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in these matters and he will appreciate that we must take decisions on flood defence budgets as part of a comprehensive spending review. I repeat that spending on flood and coastal erosion has gone up by 35 per cent. in real terms since 1996-97, so the money has been going in. As a result of that, some £4 billion has been invested. That shows that the Government are taking seriously our commitment to protect our citizens who may be affected by flood and coastal erosion.
The Minister knows that the Environment Agency has estimated that the number of people at “high risk from flooding”has already nearly doubled in the past decade to1.5 million, and that the figure could increase to at least 2.3 million, thanks to climate change. Will he explain to the House why, if the risk is increasing so dramatically, budgets have not kept up, despite the increase in the capital budget, which we welcome, and why he is cutting the budget for flood defences in the current financial year, despite telling the House earlier this week that climate change was the most crucial issue that we face?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises and welcomes the increase in the budget for flood defences that has taken place since 1996-97. The number of people at risk has risen as a result of better information. Some of those who have been identified as at risk were previously at risk but were not included in the figures. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is a serious matter. We have an agreement with the Association of British Insurers that we will protect another 100,000 homes over the period 2005 to 2008, and I can confirm to the House that we are on target to do that.