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Commons Chamber

Volume 463: debated on Monday 23 July 2007

House of Commons

Monday 23 July 2007

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Renaissance in the Regions

Renaissance in the regions is transforming England’s regional museums. More than 13 million visits were made to renaissance hub museums last year, of which 3.7 million visits were made by children.

May I first congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment to his new post, and add that I am sad that my good friend the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) is not on the Conservative Front Bench? Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the north east regional museums hub, which with Government support has generated record numbers of school visits to museums throughout the north-east, including Beamish open air museum in my constituency, which received 43,000 school visits last year? Will he take time out of his busy schedule to visit Beamish museum and the north-east museums hub to thank them for the tremendous work they are doing on behalf of the museum service in the north-east?

I would be delighted to visit Beamish with my hon. Friend and to see the work being done in the north-east. The £1.4 million that has been invested has enabled us to treble the number of visits by children, and Beamish is only one of the many world-class cultural attractions in the north-east. Thanks to the money that has been invested over the past 10 years, culture in Britain is truly world class, and my goal is to make sure that it stays that way.

May I welcome the Secretary of State to his post and say how much I am looking forward to him and his Ministers visiting Stonehenge? One element of the renaissance in the regions programme is to do with archives of museum and archaeological material. Will he look into the problem in the English Heritage and Department for Culture, Media and Sport project for archives in the regions, which has ground to a halt causing a crisis in access to archaeological and museum archives?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised that matter in previous questions. Funding for local archaeological services is primarily the responsibility of local authorities, but we are looking into the matter and I would be happy to meet him to discuss any specific concerns he might have.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post. I am sure that he is as enthusiastic about access for his constituents to museums and libraries in Manchester and the north-west as I am about such access for mine. However, is he aware that the renaissance in the regions programme is successful not only because so many young people are visiting our museums and libraries but because many of them come from non-traditional museum and library-visiting homes? Can we ensure that money is in place in the future to enable the programme to continue?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are still in discussions on our spending review settlements and it would be brave to make a commitment before that is decided. However, I can say that I share his strong support for renaissance in the regions. It is not a one-off project; we intend it to be ongoing. It builds on our other great successes in museums policy, such as our free charging policy which is being imitated by the right-wing Government in France—although, it appears, not by the British Opposition Front-Bench team—and is being followed with interest around the world.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box, although I should add that I am also sad that the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) has departed from the post. He is a young man of great promise, and I am sure that he will do well. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of recent Culture, Media and Sport Committee warnings about rumoured cuts to renaissance in the regions funding. Will he assure the House that he will heed those warnings, particularly as we learn today that per capita lottery arts funding in England has fallen to its lowest level ever—a full £1 less than four years ago, and four times lower than in Scotland and eight times lower than in Wales?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, overall lottery revenue has been declining, which explains the situation he describes. We intend renaissance in the regions to be an ongoing programme. It is a successful project and the Select Committee said that it provided the Treasury with an example of an ideal programme to be funded. I am sure that such comments will be taken on board, but we cannot make any announcements before the spending review.

Last Saturday morning I visited Bolton museum and art gallery, where I met one of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s constituents, Frances McIntosh, who pointed out that the portable antiquities scheme will run out of funding at some time in the future. Will my right hon. Friend consider the funding of that scheme, because I saw on Saturday morning—part of national archaeology week—that it does excellent work in engaging children in archaeology?

That picks up on the point that was being made by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. I am committing myself to lots of meetings, but I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that.


2. If he will make a statement on the Government’s policy on the casinos proposed under the Gambling Act 2005. (151096)

I set out my next steps in the written statement that I gave on Monday 16 July. I have written to the 16 local authorities recommended to license a large or small casino to confirm their continued desire to do so.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. In September 2004, the Government stated that their approach to casinos would secure protection of the vulnerable and ensure that new, regionally significant casino developments delivered optimum tourism and regeneration benefits. What has changed since that statement, and why was that new-found prudence not mentioned by the Prime Minister and other Ministers when they voted for up to 40 new regional casinos?

I am slightly confused, because I thought that the Liberal Democrats opposed that policy. Perhaps there is a split between the Liberal Democrat spokesman for London and the Front-Bench spokesman on this issue. Our policy is clear: we have listened to the concerns expressed in the House and in the other place and, as the Prime Minister said, the right thing to do is to see whether there are better forms of regeneration than a regional casino. We will be looking at that over the summer and will report afterwards. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman to reconcile with his Front Benchers, with whom he obviously disagrees.

My right hon. Friend will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and I have both read his written statement very carefully. It is important to put it in the context of the Prime Minister’s remarks at Prime Minister’s questions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why the super-casino has been such a major issue in my constituency has been the need for a major and significant economic regenerator that sustains instead of just building new infrastructure? Will he give me an assurance that the issue of a sustained economic regenerator will be central to his considerations this summer?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I gather that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who has responsibility for sport and licensing will meet him later this week to discuss that point. Regeneration will be at the heart of those considerations. As my hon. Friend knows, the taskforce looking at his constituency and council area has already met and is due to report shortly. It has been looking at exactly that issue.

Can the Secretary of State enlighten the House as to why, only a week or so ago and from that Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister changed the Government’s policy on casinos at a stroke? Was not the Prime Minister present at Cabinet meetings that endorsed the 888 principle?

It is sensible to listen to what Parliament says. Concerns were expressed in this House and in the other place: we listened to those concerns. I know that the hon. Gentleman was a great supporter of the policy, so he must be very disappointed, but the policy that we have announced is right. We will listen to the concerns that are expressed.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his position. He has a personal interest in the arts and culture, although I fear that with him behind the roulette table, the country may learn that it is unwise to gamble everything on red.

Was the Cabinet consulted on the decision to cancel the super-casino or was it taken from the comfort of a large, soft No. 10 sofa?

There was a proper process of consultation around Government. The Prime Minister and I took the decision together after discussions with colleagues in the Cabinet. It was exactly the right process for taking that decision.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position on the Front Bench, as part of his meteoric rise. I also pay tribute to my predecessor. I am looking forward greatly to working with her in her new role and I could not have greater respect for her. I also pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s predecessor, for whom I also have great respect. He made the one cardinal mistake in today’s Tory party of actually having a policy. I am sure that that is not a mistake that the hon. Gentleman will repeat.

I think that the answer is that the Cabinet was not consulted on the decision to cancel the super-casino. Is not the confusion that many local authorities now feel about the policy partly caused by the fact that on the one hand we have No. 10 briefing that the Prime Minister is against casinos in principle, but on the other we have the Secretary of State’s statement on 16 July that his Department wishes to support local authorities who want to use casinos as a regeneration tool? What is his policy on casinos, or is it the case that the Government’s left one-armed bandit does not know what its right one-armed bandit is doing?

The hon. Gentleman should listen to the answer, because I gave him an exact answer, which was that Cabinet colleagues were consulted, and the decision was taken in absolutely the proper way. However, the interesting question is, “What is his policy?”. I have been listening to him for the past few weeks and I have absolutely no idea. Does he agree with his shadow Chancellor, his leader and his predecessor, all of whom said that it was the right decision that the casino should to go to Manchester? Is his party in favour of regional casinos or not?


I am pleased to tell the House that VisitBritain and tourism industry leaders have reported only a negligible impact on tourism, with few booking cancellations.

The firm and effective response by the police and security services did much to reassure domestic and overseas visitors. Likewise, the fact that many high-profile televised events went ahead in London, such as the Diana tribute concert, the Gay Pride march and the Tour de France—in Scotland, there was also the T in the Park festival—did much to reassure visitors.

Portsmouth is the historic home of the Royal Navy and is held in great esteem and affection by many people from all over the world. We have many naval heritage and service heritage sites, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, both national and international. What advice would my right hon. Friend give those visitors in this time of heightened national security?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I would advise them to go to Portsmouth because, as she said, there is an enormous amount to see, including HMS Victory, the Mary Rose and Charles Dickens’s birthplace. Of course, to ensure their security we give constant advice on security levels. We in the DCMS work with the Home Office and others to ensure that we give proper advice to all those who provide tourist attractions.

May I welcome the Minister and the entire new Front-Bench team to their posts? However, the Minister will be aware that security incidents do affect tourism, and there was, for instance, a 7 per cent. drop in visa applications following the 7/7 bombings. In those circumstances does not tourism need more support, not less? Will she therefore explain why the Government have cut the funding to VisitBritain, with the loss of 80 jobs, downgraded the role of the chairman of VisitBritain and delayed yet again the publication of the tourism plan for 2012?

In fact, 2005, which was an extremely difficult year, saw a growth in tourism in London. It is really important for all hon. Members to realise that when there are terrorism threats and security threats, we should not overplay them at the expense of British industry in general and tourism in particular.

The funding for VistBritain is £50 million, which is much more than when we came into government. Across the public sector, about £300 million goes into supporting tourism, and, of course, the private sector plays a role.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the short delay in publishing the tourism strategy for the Olympics. It is absolutely appropriate, with a completely new team in the DCMS, that we feel that we own that document. I have already had discussions with the industry, which feels perfectly at ease with the fact that the document will be published in September.

Will the right hon. Lady make sure that her Department gets across the message that London is open for business—particularly the west end of London, although the same applies to suburban London, as I am sure that she would make clear? Our theatres, museums, and galleries, as well as a vast array of retail outlets, are very much open for business and very much need tourism, both international and from within the UK.

As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, London is the No. 1 international destination for tourists, and we need to maintain that and ensure that it is sustained in the future. However, we also want to ensure that visitors to London take advantage of the many other tourist attractions right across the UK, so that the benefit is felt by all regions of the country.

Although the Minister says that there is relatively little change in inward tourism, the fact is that, no matter what measures are taken to deter people by making it more difficult to fly, the numbers increase. The fact is that our seaside resorts are crying out for more tourists. Will she take note of the Select Committee report that identified poor transport links as the real problem of getting people into British seaside resorts?

The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that the balance of trade deficit remains a growing one, and we need to address that issue constantly and properly, to encourage more inward-bound tourists and to ensure that more people stay in the UK and enjoy the many attractions that we have here on their holidays. As he knows, in my previous job, I took a particular interest in ensuring the regeneration of many of our seaside towns. I will maintain that interest in my current job. Although he alluded to one issue—transport infrastructure—there are many others, and I look forward to working with him and others who are affected by the decline in tourism at seaside resorts to ensure their proper regeneration, so that they, too, can enjoy the prosperity that the rest of Britain enjoys.

Music Studios

4. If he will discuss with ministerial colleagues increasing Government spending on music studios accessible to young people. (151098)

With my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, we have asked the former Live Music Forum chairman, Feargal Sharkey, to work with key music industry figures, local and regional government and other potential partners to explore what funding opportunities might exist to establish a network of music rehearsal and performance spaces across the country.

I am delighted to hear that announcement from the new Secretary of State. In Wrexham, the energy, enthusiasm and talent of young people has been harnessed excellently by Wrexham youth service and a studio has been opened. It is hugely successful, engaging young people and creating bands for the future. Of course, bands are one of the UK’s greatest exports. I am delighted that he has appointed Feargal Sharkey, who opened the Wrexham studio, to take that forward. Will he please encourage as many hon. Members as possible, from both sides of the House, to get involved with young people and to encourage the opening of studios in their constituencies?

I am very happy to do so, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for helping to bring the project to Wrexham, which will lead the way in rehearsal spaces and has shown the great advantage that they can have, both in giving young people something positive to do and, we hope, in creating successful bands in the future. We are looking forward to working with the music industry to ensure that more such spaces can be opened around the country and that they can provide technical and creative expertise to help the industry to grow.

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. He may be aware that Luton Youth Music is quite wonderful, quite superb, with hundreds of young musicians playing music of all kinds. Nine days ago, the Luton Youth Jazz orchestra was judged to be the best youth jazz orchestra in the country at the national youth music festival in Birmingham. May I invite my right hon. Friend to visit Luton to talk to the young musicians and, indeed, the adults who service them to find out what facilities the young musicians would like?

How could I resist? We will ensure that we visit Luton, as well as potentially the constituency of every other Member who is in the House today, and I look forward to doing so and seeing whether Luton can be one of the places that successfully bids for one of those rehearsal spaces.

PE Lessons

5. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families on provision of physical education lessons in schools in the last 12 months. (151099)

The Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport work jointly to deliver the national school sport strategy. Eighty per cent. of children in school sport partnerships now do at least two hours of high-quality PE and school sport a week. Both Departments will continue to work closely to develop the plans to offer all children and young people five hours a week of sport.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but I notice that the title of his colleague with whom he will hold discussions is the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. In those discussions, will he also consider the facilities that are being made available to families, so that parents can join their children in physical education? Will he also ensure that any good practice that is developed will be discussed with Ministers from the devolved Administrations, so that we can have a programme that benefits the whole United Kingdom?

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s warm acceptance of what we are trying to do, and I assure him that this really is about participation and ensuring that schools and community sport come together and that, with the £100 million that we will spend, we really do increase participation in sport.

Does the Minister accept that, although physical education is good for all young people, and perhaps also for quite a number of adults, team sports in schools are particularly important? Team sports can inculcate discipline and a sense of working together. Team spirit and team sports are critical. What emphasis is the Minister—[Interruption.] I know that we can have a lot of sport in here today. What emphasis is the Minister placing on team sport?

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman is taking the idea of team work and competition seriously. Obviously, he can talk to members of his Front Bench about how he can do that within the Conservative party, although I think it will be difficult. On the serious point about competition in schools, over many years competition has been seen as a dirty word. It is important to make competition a key element of inter-school and intra-school sport. The announcement last week will help to do that. Clearly, a lot of work has to take place with the national governing bodies of sports and the schools associations, but if we are united, we will see a sea change in competitive sport, which will bring benefits in terms of team work, competition and individual development.

It was welcome to hear last week about the additional support for sports in schools, but in real terms it will mean about £3 extra per child per year for children in our schools. That is against the backdrop of a 50 per cent. cut in lottery funding for grassroots sports. Is the Minister confident that sports teachers will be able to deliver on the Prime Minister’s promise of making participation in sport a new British characteristic?

I hope that I do not detect that the hon. Lady is decrying the Olympics and the proper funding of the Olympics. She is right to make the point about the £100 million. It is additional money, on top of the money that is spent on school sports anyway. A great deal of that money will go towards coaching, the development of coaching, and the competition managers who will assist teachers. I am confident that the money will be well spent and that it will deliver what we all want to see: increased competition and participation in school sport.

Community Amateur Sports Club Scheme

6. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the community amateur sports club scheme; and if he will make a statement. (151100)

The community amateur sports club scheme has, since its introduction in 2002, seen 4,380 clubs register and Deloitte estimates that that has saved more than £19.7 million for community sport through mandatory rate relief and gift aid. However, I believe that this represents a small percentage of the clubs that are eligible for CASC status and I encourage hon. Members and local authorities to publicise the benefits of the scheme as widely as possible.

As my hon. Friend knows, I have taken a keen interest in the matter since I introduced my ten-minute Bill in 2000. The Government caved in two years later and included the provision in the Budget. It has been worth about £19 million, but is he aware—he hinted at this—that that probably involves only about 10 per cent. of the clubs that are eligible for the scheme? The form is probably one of the simplest that the Inland Revenue has ever produced. Will he work with local authorities, in particular—because they have the ability to push the message to sports clubs in their areas—to ensure that people know that there is a tax benefit, money is available and the process is easy to undertake? He should encourage everybody up and down the country to play their part. I encourage Members to try to write to every sports club in their area to achieve wider coverage.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for supporting the initiative. He started the whole thing off with a ten-minute Bill. That has resulted in support for community sport. He is quite right: we think that there are about 40,000 clubs that could get involved and they could see savings of £60 million. There is a leaflet available in the Department and I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will ask me for a copy. He is right that we need to speak to local authorities. My predecessor wrote to them, but we need to do that again. This is an opportunity for money to go back into sport very easily and quickly, and I hope that Members will support that.

May I add my congratulations to the Minister and his colleagues? If he really wants to achieve what he has indicated that he wants to achieve, should he not talk to his colleague in charge of schools? What would do more than anything else to improve community sport throughout the country would be a restoration of the days when all schools had teams—many teams—and most schools had playing fields as well.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my post. With your indulgence Mr. Speaker, I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), who was the longest-serving Minister for Sport and did a tremendous amount of work in that role. I am happy to do the job. There has never been a better time to be the Minister with responsibility for sports. May I put on record my congratulations to Mr. Padraig Harrington for winning the British Open yesterday? That was a tremendous feat.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right: we need to develop competition in school sports and we are doing that through the investment of the £100 million. He is quite right that, as the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) said, that brings advantages such as team work. We have put in place a much more rigorous way of dealing with the sale of school playing fields. I am pleased that last year there was a net gain of 35 playing fields, so we have arrested the decline in numbers.

British Film Institute

The Government are firmly committed to protecting and increasing access to the British Film Institute’s archive. Of the £16 million a year that the BFI receives in grant in aid, it invests £6.2 million specifically in the archive.

After the Tory by-election candidate selection a few weeks ago turned into a Southall farce, we now find that the Ealing comedies and other films of that era may decay into dust for want of central finance to copy and conserve them. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is a real problem of paramount importance?

I certainly agree that the BFI archive is a national treasure. It is arguably the finest film and television archive anywhere in the world and I assure my hon. Friend that it is safe in our hands.

Will the Secretary of State undertake to do what he can to ensure that films, particularly drama productions, depicting regions across the United Kingdom that receive funding from his Department continue to do so? Will he also ensure that they are not filmed in central Europe—that has been the experience of many companies in Northern Ireland—but in the regions that they depict?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have recently introduced a new tax break to ensure that we can do exactly that. It is available both to people from Northern Ireland and to all the nations and regions in the country. It has been a great success for the film industry and for tourism, because it has attracted people to this country to visit the places that feature in our great films, so we are doing exactly what he suggests.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to one of the most exciting jobs in Government. Some of us who contributed to the document, “A Bigger Picture”, which remains the most comprehensive review of the British film industry, and which supports the Film Council, still think that the British Film Institute has an important role, not least because of its responsibilities for preserving the film archives, which represent some of the best material, not only in Britain, but in the world.

That is right, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s role in producing that policy document and in reforming support for the film industry in this country. That work has been a great success and that is to his credit. He is right to say that the archive needs to be supported and protected, but obviously we cannot make any announcements ahead of the spending review. It is right that we not only protect the archive, but modernise the way in which it is used. The BFI has introduced important proposals, such as proposals for ensuring that it is made available online, and I know that many schools are already using that facility all around the country. We need to protect what we have and ensure that there is wide access to it.

Sport England

9. What discussions he has had with Sport England on the potential contribution of sport to community regeneration; and if he will make a statement. (151103)

I have had no discussions on that subject, although my predecessor and officials have had discussions with Sport England.

Sport plays a key role in a number of areas of community social regeneration. Sports projects can have a significant impact by breaking down barriers and providing positive opportunities for people to mix with others. Sport can help reduce crime and antisocial behaviour and increase people’s levels of trust and community involvement.

Does the Minister think that Sport England should play a more mainstream role in regeneration and that it should build up our communities, and work together with other bodies on issues of health, crime reduction, and the education of our young people? Does he feel that its image, which is dominated by the blazerati who seem to corner a lot of the money at a national level, needs to be changed so that youngsters at a local level can enjoy sport not only for its own sake, but for the wider benefits that it brings through regeneration?

First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend, with whom I have played sport—cricket or football—on numerous occasions. I know his sporting prowess. He hits the nail on the head when he suggests ensuring that Sport England get involved in community regeneration. I know that he will shortly meet the chief executive of Sport England, Derek Mapp, to discuss what is going on in Nottinghamshire. He knows that the sports participation rate in Nottinghamshire is low, and I am pleased that he chairs the local strategic partnership to help develop and increase participation. Nobody knows better than I, a former Home Office Minister, the impact that sport can have on reducing reoffending and diverting people to other routes. I am sure that Sport England will take up the challenge, and I look forward to working with it and with my hon. Friend to deliver on participation.

Music Industry (Copyright)

As the Department for Culture, Media and Sport sponsors the creative industries, the music industry has raised the issue of the copyright term for sound recordings most recently in discussions that were held in the context of our creative economy programme. The policy responsibility for copyright issues, however, rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

The Minister will be aware of the profound sense of disappointment in the music industry that musicians alone are not to receive the same type of copyright protection as other artists and creators in the creative economy. It also seems that the economic case for rejecting term extension has been blown out of the water by consultants LEGG, who conclude that term extension would be good not just for musicians, but for the industry and for the economy. I welcome the Minister and her team to the Dispatch Box. Will she do the right thing by UK musicians, look at term extension again and ensure that our musicians get the same protection as other artists and creators?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question and look forward in my new role to hearing him play in MP4. On the issue that he raises, the research evidence is extremely mixed. He knows that Gowers undertook a review, and the Europeans have undertaken a review from Hugenholtz. I am told that the Gowers review involved five Nobel prize winners and many well known academics. The important thing for the music industry is to ensure that in the changing environment in which it must survive, there are proper business models which will enable individual performers, composers and all those who are involved in the music industry to get a proper return for their creative investment in that industry. That is what I shall be turning my mind to, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in that exercise.


The Minister for the Olympics was asked—

Risk Management

20. If she will make a statement on the progress of the monitoring and risk management arrangements for the 2012 Olympics. (151114)

The Olympics is a risky project, by definition. It is the biggest public sector construction project in Europe and must be completed by the fixed deadline—on Friday, it will be five years to go until the opening ceremony—so risk management is a key part of the arrangements for delivering the 2012 games at every level of its operation. In developing the approaches to risk management, we have built on best practice from previous games—what to do and what not to do—and have looked at best practice in relation to other large projects. Staff are being recruited, particularly from terminal 5, to the delivery authority, the organising committee and the delivery partner.

I welcome the Minister to her new role. The lack of strong progress monitoring and risk management arrangements identified in the Public Accounts Committee report presents a real risk to good causes which have already been hurt by the diversion of £1.7 billion worth of funding, a figure confirmed by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office. Can the Minister confirm that any future slippage will be funded from the contingency fund and not by further raids on Olympic legacy projects, such as participation in sports or the arts?

I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities, and suggest that before he makes claims about the National Audit Office report, he reads the report carefully. There is a clear recognition by the NAO report published at the end of last week of the scale of risk involved in the project. That is a statement of fact. Building a project of such a size to a fixed deadline is, by definition, risky. That is why we have put in place the means by which that risk is mitigated. The scale and effectiveness of risk management is one of the many reasons why the president of the International Olympic Committee recently said that we were further ahead in our planning than any other city has ever been.

To paraphrase earlier remarks, there has never been a better time to be a sports lover in this country, thanks in no small part to the exemplary work of my right hon. Friend. As we strain our ears towards the sound of the starting pistol in 2012, we must look at infrastructure. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as is the case with any major construction project, the level of risk will reduce as the development of the Olympic park progresses? Will she give an update on progress on the Olympic venues?

Yes, I am delighted to do that for my hon. Friend. Progress has been made on approving the design of the aquatic centre, and companies have been shortlisted to build it. Last week, we announced the design team, which will be led by Hopkins Architects, to build the velopark, which Chris Hoy, one of our gold medallists, has said he expects to be the finest velopark in the world. Planning for the Olympic stadium has moved to the next stage, and the Olympic Delivery Authority has signed a memorandum of understanding with Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd for the development of the stadium. As everyone knows, McAlpine was responsible for, among other great projects, the magnificent new stadium at Arsenal.

I welcome the Minister to her role back at the Dispatch Box, and I also welcome the news about McAlpine. However, is there not a risk management issue? As one newspaper has put it:

“Britain is facing a huge skills shortage that could undermine the success of the Olympics.”

We know that we need thousands more electricians, plumbers, bricklayers and many others. What progress is being made to implement the necessary training to ensure that we have sufficient people with the relevant skills, so that we are not later held to ransom by unscrupulous contractors?

The right hon. Gentleman has identified an important point. One aspect of the legacy that we intend for the Olympic games, quite apart from the success in building the games on budget and to time, is to change that part of London, which is characterised by local people as having very low levels of skill and therefore high levels of unemployment. Local people will have skills as a result of the job opportunities created by the Olympics. A large number of initiatives are already under way, led by the Mayor and the Learning and Skills Council, in order to develop the skilled work force that the Olympics will require in every single respect, with a particular emphasis on increasing the skills of people through, for instance, the pre-volunteer programme. That will enable us to achieve two things: first, we will achieve a higher level of skill in east London; secondly, we will ensure that the skill match between people’s skills when they look for work and the skills needed by the Olympics means that the Olympic park is constructed to budget and to time.

The London-Tilbury-Southend line franchise of c2c terminates or is renewable before the Olympics. Will the Minister tell us what she intends to do to ensure that that line receives the appropriate investment to make it welcoming and to maximise mobility in and around the Olympics? What will happen?

I am happy to examine the extent to which that line will serve the Olympic park. The Olympic park and the area around Stratford will benefit from an unprecedented level of investment in new transport infrastructure, with 10 new rail services and other public transport links, including, of course, the channel tunnel rail link, which will be an important part of the infrastructure. Much of that major investment is specifically because of the Olympic games, and I will write to my hon. Friend about the point that he has raised.

Departmental Reorganisation

21. How she expects the recent departmental reorganisation to affect the delivery of London 2012; and if she will make a statement. (151115)

As I have said, with five years to go, the Olympic programme now moves into the next phase of delivery. It will require intense ministerial oversight and scrutiny of the building programme, as well as an increased focus to ensure that the resources of the whole of Government are mobilised and focused on delivering on the five legacy promises that were announced last month. These games are arguably the most ambitious in terms of legacy—a point commented on by the International Olympic Committee, which said that the legacy ambition of the London Olympics would serve as a model for future games. That is why it is important to have a dedicated Minister for the Olympics and why I am delighted to be that Minister.

I congratulate the Minister on her new appointment and thank her for her kind reply. A recent Public Accounts Committee report said that it was important that her Department had a plan of

“what needs to be decided, when and by whom.”

Does she share the concern of many people that the reorganisation in her Department has blurred the lines of responsibility, and what does she propose to do to allay those fears?

I do not accept the fears that lie behind a perfectly legitimate question. The important thing is to set out clearly the facts and how the divisions of responsibilities will work. I am responsible in Government for the Olympic games. There is a large level of public investment—62 per cent. of the overall provided-for budget will come from the Exchequer—and it is important that that is properly safeguarded. The division of responsibilities is clearly established and was set out last week in a written answer. We have very much followed the precedent of other successful cities in ensuring proper Government engagement at the proper level of ministerial oversight.

First, I welcome my right hon. Friend to her renewed responsibility for the Olympics. Whatever the framework within the Department, which rightly has to oversee the project, it is crucial to recognise that she has, in the Olympic Delivery Authority and in the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, absolutely first-class teams of professionals who are well capable of delivering an exemplary Olympics. Will she ensure that they are allowed to get on with the job so that we are the success that most international commentators believe that we are, and will she not be swayed by the frankly unfocused and sometimes rather outdated criticisms that we hear from the Opposition and from certain quarters in this building?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is entirely legitimate to question and challenge the progress of the Olympic games, but it would not be right for people to lack confidence in the team in place at the ODA, who are widely recognised as world class. Unlike many of the armchair commentators and more sceptical contributors to the debate, they have built towns and cities, whereas those armchair commentators have probably not even built a garden shed.

I was about to start by welcoming the right hon. Lady back to her old job in the new Ministry. As she is aware, the Olympics enjoy cross-party support, and we wish her well. However, may I take her back to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara)? Could she explain to the House, very simply, why the Government think that it is more efficient to put the budget holders and civil servants in one Department and the Minister in another than to put them all in the same Department together?

We think so for two reasons. First, realisation of legacy is absolutely critical to the wider responsibility of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and secondly, it is one of the aspects of the Olympic bid that defined our programme as being different and more ambitious, whether in relation to the scale of the cultural Olympiad or, as mentioned in earlier exchanges, the sporting legacy.

It is not just a matter, as most countries recognise, of becoming a world-class sporting nation in terms of elite performance, but in terms of participation and of sport in schools. Those arrangements are within the custody and oversight of the DCMS, but there is a further aspect to the legacy ambition that relates to transport and other infrastructure. There are issues relating to security and the use of health services during the games. That dual reach—

Public Accounts Commission

The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—

Comptroller and Auditor General

27. What progress has been made in developing the new system for overseeing the expenses incurred by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the performance of his duties. (151088)

The Public Accounts Commission met on 11 July and agreed a system of oversight for expenses incurred by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the discharge of his functions. The new arrangements are set out in the Commission’s 13th report.

While I and other Members from the east midlands were on a nightmare journey to Westminster via a Midland Mainline train with standing room only, and King’s Cross-St. Pancras station was closed, the head of the National Audit Office was purring from home to work by chauffeur-driven car at the public expense, using a perk that is not even recorded in NAO accounts. Can the feisty Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee get a grip on this flagrant exploitation of the public purse by the Comptroller and Auditor General; otherwise, Sir John really will think that in this Government, there is one born every minute.

I do not think that those remarks do the hon. Gentleman, who is Parliamentarian, or should I say Back Bencher, of the year any credit. The fact is that Sir John Bourn has done an outstanding job in Parliament on behalf of the taxpayer for many years. It is also important that we preserve the independence of the National Audit Office. The car referred to by the hon. Gentleman is provided by the NAO for its work, and it is used by the Comptroller and Auditor General for that purpose. As he well knows, the Commission, in the light of recent public concern, has put a transparent system in place, by which an external auditor—the chairman of the NAO audit committee—will be briefed in advance on planned expenses. He will discuss them with the Comptroller and Auditor General, and if necessary, with the Chairman of the Commission. These expenses, in turn, can be discussed in public with the Commission. I believe that we have a transparent system.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—


28. What the average stipend for clergymen in rural parishes was on 1 July (a) 1997 and (b) 2007; and if he will make a statement. (151089)

The average stipend for incumbents in rural and urban parishes alike was £14,510 at 1 July 1997, and is projected to stand at £21,060 at 1 July 2007. By way of a statement, we agree with the hon. Lady’s view that parish churches and their congregations are at the heart of rural life. That is why we seek to appoint appropriately remunerated stipendiary priests where possible.

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that answer. Has the average stipend kept up with the cost of living? Moreover, will he take away from this afternoon’s exchange that we hold in the highest regard those rural clergymen who are serving a record number of parishes each Sunday? In times of crisis, such as the current flood emergency, and also during the recent BSE disaster, they work beyond the call of duty, which should be recognised.

The hon. Lady has often expressed her frustration at the difficulty that rural parishes sometimes have in attracting stipendiary priests. I commend her for continuing to put that point of view, and also for drawing the attention of the House to the work of priests in flood areas.

In response to the hon. Lady’s more technical question on the cost of living, I should point out that the national stipends benchmark for 2007-08 is £20,980. This was an increase of 2.5 per cent. on the previous year’s benchmark, compared with a projected increase in average earnings of 4.3 per cent. for the year. As the hon. Lady will know, the stipend forms only part of the remuneration package of the parish priest.

Does my hon. Friend believe that there should be a rate for the job in such appointments, and does he have any figures about whether female incumbents receive the same as male incumbents?

My hon. Friend may like to know that stipends are fixed each year by the Central Stipends Authority, after careful consideration with dioceses, and the figures reflect what the dioceses can afford. The idea is that stipends should be adequate to enable clergy to discharge their duties without financial anxiety, flexible enough to allow the Church to put clergy where they are best deployed, and equitable to avoid impeding clergy mobility. That applies to male and female clergy.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—

Fixed-term Parliaments

The Electoral Commission advises me that it has not held any recent discussions on fixed-term Parliaments.

That is rather disappointing. Former Prime Minister Blair promised the electorate in 2005 that if he was re-elected he would serve for a full term. The current Prime Minister has not called a general election, despite that promise. Would it not be appropriate to note that, with a fixed-term Parliament, that sort of political deception could not occur?

The Electoral Commission recognises that other elected bodies, including local government, the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, are elected for fixed terms. However, the commission believes that the question whether fixed terms should be introduced for the House of Commons is a matter for the Government of the day, and, ultimately, Parliament, to decide. It would not be appropriate for me to reply on behalf of the Speaker’s Committee to my hon. Friend’s specific point.

Many of us believe that the case for a fixed-term Parliament, rather than reliance on the whim of a Prime Minister, is unanswerable, but I doubt very much whether it is a matter for the Electoral Commission rather than the political system. There is, however, a desperate need for the Electoral Commission to be strengthened so that it can perform a much stronger regulatory and monitoring role. Is that transition to a stronger role now well in hand?

Yes, there has been change in emphasis in the Electoral Commission, which is reflected in the corporate plan for 2007-08, which was laid before the House of Commons in May 2007. The report stated

“some areas of our work will assume less importance in terms of resource allocation in the future. Rather than taking a lead role in public policy development, we will contribute our expertise and experience to inform new legislation and offer independent evaluation of the Government’s own policy initiatives.”

Thus there has been an evolution in the role of the commission.

As the new Prime Minister has indicated that he would not want to go to the country without consulting Parliament—he made that very plain as one of his first utterances in the post—would it be appropriate for the commission to initiate a dialogue on the desirability of fixed terms, as there are many, on both sides of the House, who believe that they are a sensible solution?

The Electoral Commission does not believe that that is an appropriate matter for it to become involved in, but I have no doubt that the points made by my hon. Friend will have been heard at the commission, as indeed they will have been heard by the Government.

List Votes (Disregards)

30. What steps the Electoral Commission is taking to assess the effect on voter turnout of the disregarding of list votes cast for candidates elected in constituencies in the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales. (151091)

That is very unfortunate, because when I cast my vote for the Labour party in the north Wales regional list at the National Assembly elections, that vote has no consequence, as it is not counted; it does not result in the meaningful casting of a vote on my part. It is irrelevant for me to take the action of voting, and in my view the commission should look at the issue to decide whether there is a disincentive for individuals to vote. Is not that exactly what the Electoral Commission should look at?

The additional Member system was introduced, for the Welsh Assembly elections, the Scottish Parliament elections, and elections to the Greater London Authority, by Parliament at the initiative of the Government in 1999. It includes the D’Hondt system of alternative counting, on which I have made myself an expert in advance of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but the commission takes the view that it would not be appropriate for it to make an assessment of the merits of different electoral systems. It believes that that is Parliament’s role.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—


32. What the policy of the Church Commissioners is on broadcasts from cathedrals and churches; and if he will make a statement. (151093)

The commissioners themselves do not have such a policy. However, by way of a statement, church buildings play a central part in the community and the Church welcomes the wide range of uses to which its buildings are put, as long as they are not contrary to its teaching and do not conflict with its mission.

I understand that the General Synod debated the issue two years ago, but there is no agreed policy on how church buildings, particularly cathedrals, can and should be used for film making and other types of broadcasting. Given the recent controversies about the use of church buildings and places of worship, is it not time that the Synod set down an agreed policy?

The Synod has just met and will hold its next meeting later in the year. I shall be happy to put the hon. Gentleman’s point to its representatives, but I am sure that he will agree that, whether on television, radio or the internet, regular broadcasts from churches and cathedrals allow a wider audience to keep in touch with one of the treasures of our national life, particularly at times of national joy or grief. Many come together through the broadcast of special services.


With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the serious flooding that occurred over the weekend.

A band of rain swept across central and southern England on Friday, developing into intense rainstorms. In 24 hours, up to 160 mm or 6½ in of rain fell. With already saturated ground, this water rapidly entered rivers and drainage systems, overwhelming them. Transport was severely disrupted, with the M5 and M50 affected and train services unable to run. Many local roads remain closed and the public are advised not to travel in the worst-hit areas. The most serious flooding has been experienced across central England, particularly in Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. I must emphasise that the emergency is far from over. Further flooding is very likely, as the Thames and the Severn fill with flood waters from within their catchments. There are currently eight severe flood warnings in place, covering the Severn, the Thames and the Great Ouse in Bedford, while 50 other flood warnings are in place across England and Wales.

We believe that up to 10,000 homes have been or could be flooded. Our thoughts are, of course, with all of those whose lives have been so badly affected by the floods. In addition, up to 150,000 properties in the area including Tewkesbury, Gloucester and Cheltenham have lost, or risk losing, mains water, following the flooding of the Mythe water treatment works at Tewkesbury. This loss of water supply is serious and we do not expect houses to have service restored for some days. Severn Trent, the water company, is making provision for some 900 bowsers to be deployed and refilled by tankers for those people without mains water. The company reports that about 240 bowsers are already in place, and priority is being given to hospitals and vulnerable customers. Precautionary notices to boil water have also been issued in Sutton, Surrey, following rain water getting into treated water storage.

Electricity supply is also a concern. A number of local electricity sub-stations have been affected by flood water, and about 45,000 properties have lost power, including at Castle Mead and Tewkesbury. A major national grid switching station at Walham, Gloucester, remains under threat, which could result in 200,000 or more additional properties losing their supply. That would have a knock-on effect on water supplies. Yesterday evening, armed forces personnel were drafted in to help fire service and Environment Agency staff erect a kilometre-long temporary barrier around the site and start pumping out 18 in of flood water behind the barrier. So far those defences are holding, but the water is still rising, so it is touch and go. If the station does flood, the national grid will be used as far as possible, but properties in the affected area will lose power. Contingency planning is under way to ensure continuity of essential supplies and services.

Last night, the Prime Minister chaired a meeting of COBR, and today he visited Gloucester. Other ministerial colleagues and I have also been to see the problems first hand, in my case visiting Worcester, Evesham and Gloucester yesterday. I am sure that the whole House will wish to thank the emergency services, the armed forces, staff from the Environment Agency, local councils and the utilities, and others for the way in which they have worked together in implementing the emergency plans. I would also like to thank the local communities for their huge effort in helping each other.

Because this emergency continues, I would ask the public to listen out for flood warnings, particularly on local radio stations, to contact the Environment Agency flood line on 0845 9881188, to respond to advice about evacuation and, of course, to look out for neighbours and anyone who might be vulnerable as a result of flooding or the loss of their power and/or water supply. People should not go into flood water and children should certainly not play in it. Even 6 in of fast moving water can knock people off their feet, and the water will often be polluted or hide dangers.

As the waters recede, the clear-up will begin. The revised Bellwin rules will assist local authorities in the areas affected to cover the immediate costs of dealing with the flooding and its aftermath, and the Government will now look at the further support required for these areas. We will also increase funding for flood defences to £800 million by 2010-11, as I informed the House on 2 July.

Finally, the review that I have set up to learn the lessons from the floods of this summer will, of course, look at what has happened over the past three days. I have decided that I will ask an independent person to oversee the review. I will keep the House informed of developments.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and join him in extending our sincere sympathy to the many thousands of people whose homes have been flooded, whose lives have been turned upside down, and whose business premises have been wrecked by the floods. People have had to endure miserable and frightening experiences such as being stuck in their cars overnight, waiting to be rescued from flooded buildings, or camping in temporary accommodation. And, as the Secretary of State said, the problems are not over yet. I also join him in paying tribute to the emergency services, including the Royal Air Force, the fire and ambulance services, local councils and all those who have worked tirelessly in very difficult circumstances to cope with those miserable events.

I have said before that we are not interested in playing a blame game. The extreme weather events that led to the current floods, as well as to those in the north of England last month, are not the Government’s fault. They are a humbling reminder of the awesome power of nature. What matters is that everything feasible that could be done to respond to the threat of flooding and to the flooding events themselves was done, is being done and will continue to be done.

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that sufficient action was taken by the relevant bodies following the Met Office’s severe weather warning, which was specific to the M4 and M5 corridors in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, last Wednesday? The Met Office deserves to be congratulated on this occasion for being absolutely spot-on, but did timely and helpful information filter down to the public in the areas concerned? Chief fire officers have commented on institutional confusion between the numerous agencies involved in dealing with floods. Does the Secretary of State agree that there needs to be a much clearer line of responsibility for flood prevention and tackling emergencies?

Is the Secretary of State aware that, three years ago, the Government undertook to extend the powers of the Environment Agency to include flooding from drains and sewers by the end of 2006? Will he tell us what has happened to that initiative? There are reports that the Environment Agency was unable to install vital flood defences because they were stored too far away from where they were needed and got caught in the general chaos that made the roads impassable. Can the Secretary of State confirm that that was the case? If so, does he regard it as acceptable?

Huge numbers of people are currently without mains access to fresh drinking water and power. Will the Secretary of State tell us what measures are being taken to ensure that vulnerable people are getting a fair share of access to bottled water? Will he comment on reports that Severn Trent has said that it may take a week or even two to restore fresh water supplies in the Tewkesbury area? Surely it must be possible to speed that up.

I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s remarks about the efforts to maintain the security of the Walham electricity sub-station. I understand that, were it to fail, it could plunge a further 600,000 or so people into darkness.

Will the Secretary of State clarify who in Government has overall responsibility for dealing with this crisis? There were reports in the press at the weekend that the Prime Minister—it is good to see him in his place this afternoon—had personally taken control of the situation. Will the Secretary of State confirm that?

On 2 July, I welcomed the announcement that spending on flood defences, which was cut last year, was to receive an extra £200 million in 2010-11; but is there not a case for making that extra money available now? Is there any good reason for the delay?

As the Secretary of State knows, I have previously raised the issue of uninsured losses. I accept that it is still too early to make an accurate assessment of the scale of the problem and how it may affect small businesses and people on low incomes. However, one sector likely to be hard hit is farming. Tens of thousands of acres of arable crops such as wheat have been destroyed and crops like potatoes are rotting in the fields. What consideration has the right hon. Gentleman given to the financial losses to the farming sector and to their implications. I am pleased that the inquiry will be led by an independent person and I look forward to hearing more about it.

Looking ahead, all the scientific evidence suggests that severe weather events are likely to continue increasing in frequency and ferocity. That is consistent with climate change.

Will the Secretary of State hold urgent discussions with the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Transport about the priority accorded by local authorities and the highways agencies towards the mundane but essential work of properly maintaining drains and culverts?

While the right hon. Gentleman is talking to the Communities Secretary, will he raise the possibility of extending the Bellwin scheme to cover capital spending programmes arising from flood damage? Local authorities are understandably very anxious to obtain reassurance from the Government that the medium and long-term costs of reconstruction and repair will not fall only on their local residents. He might also point out to the Communities Secretary that although there is broad agreement that more affordable homes are needed, nobody will thank the Government for building homes that are subject to flooding and are uninsurable—least of all the people who move into them.

Finally, all our thoughts are currently concentrated on relieving the plight of the victims of these dreadful floods and on preventing further disasters as the tide of water moves westward. We want to offer our support to the efforts of the Government and their agencies to deal with the imminent dangers, just as our local councils are working in close partnership with them on the ground. However, the Secretary of State will know that, once the waters recede and people begin the long process of rebuilding their lives, many searching and awkward questions about the adequacy of the systems in place in this country to deal with emergencies will remain to be answered.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman both for his appreciation of the efforts made in response to this emergency and for the spirit in which he made his remarks. I would like to pick up the points that he raised.

First, yes, the Met Office warning was pretty clear, but as the Gold Commander told me yesterday morning in Worcester, we do not know precisely which river catchment systems the rain will fall into until it actually happens. That certainly applied in respect of the M5 and the M50. We should bear it in mind that these are relatively new motorways, built to try and accommodate the removal of surface water. That shows one of the lessons that we have to reflect on as we design such roads in the future.

The hon. Gentleman referred to institutional confusion, but I have to say that in all my discussions, including at meetings that I have chaired and talks with the Gold Commanders in Worcester and Gloucester, I have not found any institutional confusion at all. The system in place is the Gold Command system, which has complete oversight of what is required in the areas covered. The emergency response has included the evacuation of people, bringing supplies in and providing help and support—such as offering shelter even for some motorists who found themselves trapped because they could not travel on Friday evening. All of that happened precisely because of the arrangements that have been put in place.

On the two barriers, it is the case that temporary barriers for Upton upon Severn and Worcester could not be deployed because of traffic congestion. In the case of the Upton upon Severn barrier, I am advised by the Environment Agency that even if it had been deployed, it would have been over-topped because of the weight of the water. In the case of Worcester, it would have protected about 30 homes. I accept that one of the lessons that needs to be learned is that if there are temporary barriers, they ought to be stored in a place that will enable them to be put up quickly. I will take that thought away with me.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point on the availability of water supplies. Local authorities, together with the water company and, indeed, the general public, all have a part to play in ensuring that everybody who requires water will have it made available to them. On the Mythe water treatment works, I have asked the very question that the hon. Gentleman put to me of the chief executive of the Severn Trent company when I spoke to him late yesterday evening. I have said that we will give any assistance that he requires to get access to the Mythe water treatment plant once the water level falls so that the work of repairing it can happen.

On the Environment Agency, there has been, as the hon. Gentleman knows because we discussed this last time, no cut to the capital budget. Some feasibility studies were held back for a bit because of the reduction in the budget, but that has been made up this year. It has had no effect at all on the response to the flooding over the past month. The additional funding that I announced to the House will come on stream. The precise details will be announced once the comprehensive spending comes out. It will have to take account of the fact that as those feasibility studies come in place, there will be a programme of capital works that the Environment Agency itself will want to fund.

I am acutely conscious of the distress caused not only to members of the public because of what has happened to their houses and businesses, but to farmers. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the steps that I have already taken to lift the restriction on accessing water-logged land, which applies until the end of this month—I will review it in light of the current weather conditions—and to enable farmers to ask for access to set-aside land for grazing or foraging in the light of the damage caused to their crops, although many of them are still under water.

As for looking ahead, the whole question of surface water drainage is a big one. The truth is that we are dealing with a system that has been in place for more than 150 years, and the surface water drainage system was not designed to cope with the unprecedented rainfall that we have been seeing. The most important lesson we can learn is that as we build from now on in we ensure that drainage can accommodate the flow of water that we currently see.

As for the Bellwin rules, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that they were extended in response to the flooding that took place at the end of June. Those extensions were applied by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Saturday to the local authorities affected. Capital work—repairs to possible damage to bridges and other structures—will be a matter for the individual Departments that are responsible for agreeing capital funding and approvals to discuss with the relevant local authorities.

Finally, a lot of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised and the questions that I and others have got about what can be done better in future will be picked up by the review. I am grateful to him for welcoming the fact that an independent person will oversee it.

We also wish to express our sympathy to all of those affected by the floods. They are severe and there has been an enormous amount of hardship caused for many, many people. We also wish to join in the congratulations offered to the emergency services and, indeed, to join in the pride that the House should rightly feel in their dedication and devotion to duty.

An independent review of the lessons to be learned from these events is surely welcome. Will the Secretary of State also confirm that he intends to proceed with the strategic overview for the Environment Agency of all flood risks, which the Government announced in March 2005? There is a confusion between what has been a good set of co-ordinated responses through Gold Command by the emergency services and the much less clear response of the agencies responsible for the prevention, forecasting and warning of flooding. After all, that commitment in March 2005 was before the revolving ministerial door in the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs took its toll. Ministers should now proceed with this.

Is it not crazy that the responsibility for preventing floods and for protecting us against flooding remains split between councils, water companies, the Highways Agency and the Environment Agency, all of which operate on different assessments of risk? Perhaps the Secretary of State will clarify that point.

Drainage is assessed as adequate when it deals with one-in-10-years events; river flood defences are expected to be proof against one-in-100-years events. When will the Department insist that those be brought into line, while, we hope, clearly taking account of what is happening because of climate change? When will the Department ensure that there is a proper map of drainage and sewerage systems that are poorly maintained or otherwise inadequate?

It is already clear that official assessments of river flooding are now woefully behind reality. For example, the new £23 million flood defence on the River Chelt at Cheltenham was meant to be proof against events once in every hundred years, yet it has been over-topped not once but twice in three weeks. On that reckoning, either the Environment Agency has to redo its sums or Cheltenham need not expect another flood for 200 years. Will the Secretary of State now review all existing provisions and future ones as, clearly, the greater likelihood of flooding means that many more schemes will pass the Government’s investment threshold?

The Prime Minister, whom I am delighted to see in his place, has to take particular responsibility for the Government’s flood failures, as he was the person who cut the flood defence budget by £14 million last summer. There is no point in saying that the capital budget was not affected; those are weasel words. The truth is that the overall flood defence budget was cut and effecting feasibility studies meant that capital projects are likely to be delayed. If he doubts that, I suggest he talks to some of the people involved with the flood board in Yorkshire and Humberside.

The local flood boards were asked only last month to plan for real-terms cuts for the next three years. Even after the Yorkshire floods, the Treasury conceded only that the flood defence budget should be boosted in 2010—as the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) said—while saying nothing about the next two years of the spending plans.

I heard the Secretary of State say that we should wait for the comprehensive spending review, but surely the urgency of the situation demands that we get some clarity about the Government’s intentions earlier than that. Is it not time that the Government recognised the urgency of the threat posed by climate change?

On the last point, the Government certainly realise the scale of the threat from climate change. One cannot attribute a particular incident to climate change, but it is clear that the climate is changing and that human activity is causing that. We are likely, the scientists tell us, to see extreme weather events with greater frequency. We are talking about a huge excess of water here; in other parts of the world, there are droughts. That is the future with which the whole world must deal.

On the strategic overview, I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees that the sensible course of action is to reflect on that in light of the review that will be undertaken, which will need to look at a number of the points that he raised, of which I am aware. On the different bodies that are responsible for drainage systems, it is surely right and proper that each body that maintains the asset should have the responsibility of ensuring that it is in an appropriate condition. We must ensure that we look at how all the different pieces connect because surface water drainage may be the responsibility of the Highways Agency, the local authority or some private landowner. We will have to reflect on that as part of the review.

On the over-topping of the defences, even the best defences have been over-topped. As we speak, the new defences at Gloucester Quay, built some years ago, are about 4 in away from being over-topped. Everyone is waiting anxiously to see whether the peak will be reached without breaching that defence or not, but that is the result of investment that has already been made. There are new defences at Kidderminster, Newport Pagnell and Towcester and the new Jubilee river has been brought into play. It is, in effect, a flood relief bypass for Maidenhead in particular. It has not stopped all flooding in Maidenhead, but it has resulted in some pressure being taken off the Thames.

On the flood defence budget, I simply say that it was £300 million a year about a decade ago, that it has risen to £600 million and that it will rise further to £800 million. Le me also repeat that what happened to last year’s Environment Agency budget has not affected the capacity of the EA or the defences to deal with the current flooding. The money was restored and, as I told the House two weeks ago, we will significantly increase it. We need to do that because of the weather that we now have to deal with.

Order. I am mindful that many Members wish to contribute, but I am also aware that there are two further statements to follow and the main business of the House. I therefore request that Members ask only one supplementary question. If they are also answered briefly, more Members will be able to ask questions.

May I first thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for visiting Gloucestershire? I also pay due regard to the emergency services, and to my neighbours in Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Cheltenham who have obviously suffered more than I have in Stroud—although my visits over the weekend to properties made it clear to me that the situation in general is miserable.

On local co-ordination, it is a nice idea that we can rely on amateurs to open sluice gates and people to take seriously their riparian ownership, but it takes only one failure for the entire system to go wrong. I ask my right hon. Friend to look into that matter, and the operation of inland drainage boards. We could learn lessons from such investigations, and improve the effective, speedy, local action that is required in circumstances such as those we face.

I am very happy to be able to say to my hon. Friend that that is one of the issues that the review will look into.

Although the Prime Minister has just left the Chamber, I wish to thank him for visiting the affected area this morning and to say that I entirely agree with his conclusion that we need to update the infrastructure. We also need to stop building houses on or near floodplains and to ensure that drains are clear and that emergency measures can be undertaken rather more quickly than they were on this occasion.

Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the people of Tewkesbury for showing great strength during this terrible time? My constituency has been absolutely devastated. Only yesterday I personally helped people in wheelchairs leave their flooded flats—some properties might not have been given the right priority. Questions on such matters are perhaps for the future, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the most pressing task is to ensure that there is no loss of life and no injuries, and will he make sure that agencies have all the resources they need?

I certainly join in the hon. Gentleman’s thanks to all his constituents for their efforts and his expressions of sympathy to all who have been so badly affected. I know that this is a difficult time. From the beginning of the crisis, I have said to everyone I have met who is in charge of the emergency response that they should let us know of any further resources that they might need. I also ask the hon. Gentleman and all other Members—I met some on Saturday evening—to contact me about all relevant circumstances or events in their constituency because I want to make sure that every support is given.

In terms of floodplains, there will be an announcement on housing development to follow, but let me say that we strengthened in 2001 and then again, and more significantly, in 2006 the advice on that through the planning policy statement. It is clear that local authorities must now take into account flood risk in taking decisions on planning applications and the EA now has a statutory right to be consulted—it is the expert on flood risk and it will express its view.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. The situation in Oxfordshire is very serious, and in Oxford it threatens to get worse as the Thames rises. Will he take note that the message I received from elderly evacuees at the Oxford United stadium reception centre, and from others I spoke to on my visit, is that the emergency response in Oxfordshire has been very effectively co-ordinated by the county’s emergency planning officer, the statutory agencies and volunteers, and moreover that the steps being taken are reassuring people who are desperately worried?

My right hon. Friend mentioned a review. I welcome the fact that it will be independent. Will he give the House some idea of the time scale it will work to, as it is important that the right lessons are learned?

I am glad to hear that from my right hon. Friend’s perspective the emergency response has been so effective. That does show the benefits of the planning that has been put in place and the structures that are operational. I hope that an initial report from the review will be available by the end of the year. The emergency phase comes first, and then looking at some of the longer term lessons from the clean-up. It is important, however, that we have a first look as quickly as possible, and that is what I will ask the independent person to do.

What is the point of having flood defences that are not used when they are most needed? That was certainly the case at Upton upon Severn, despite what the Secretary of State says—and much to the distress of my constituents who are still stranded there now. Will he ensure that the Upton mistakes are part of the remit of the independent review that he has announced?

As I have already said to the hon. Gentleman, the Environment Agency very much regrets that in those two cases it was not able to get the temporary barriers through, although—as he heard me say a moment ago—even if they had been erected, the advice I have had from the agency is that it would not have made any difference, because they would have been over-topped in any case. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point: if there are temporary barriers, it is important that they are capable of being put up. I undertake that we will look at the situation to ensure that that does not happen again.

When natural disasters of the severity that we have witnessed over the past few weeks occur in other parts of the world, the British public are extraordinarily generous in their offers of help. Can my right hon. Friend say if he is aware of arrangements to receive and harness offers of help from the British public, and will he give some consideration as to how the Government can encourage and support individuals and organisations to offer money, time and even temporary accommodation to people at this difficult time, in addition to whatever insurers and the Government are doing?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the natural human response when other human beings are in trouble, which is to extend a helping hand. In the case of the flooding that we saw in Yorkshire and Humberside, several funds were established to provide support to those who lost everything. It is early days in the present case, but I am sure that local communities will want to take the same sort of initiative to provide support to people who have lost a great deal. We would encourage them to do so.

As for physical assistance, one of the benefits of the planning that has been put in place is the way in which emergency services from other parts of the country have come in. I talked to fire crews and other crews, and the system works well, especially for boat rescue. One of the most impressive things that I saw yesterday was at the new fire control centre in Worcester, which is co-ordinating the boat rescue facilities from around the country, including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and other fire and rescue services, to deploy them where needed to bring succour and support to people who have suffered so much.

I thank the Secretary of State for his visit yesterday to my constituents in Evesham, a town that has had its second dramatic flooding event in only nine years, and for enabling me to join him in his visit to Gold Command at Hindlip hall in Worcestershire. We were able to discuss issues of mutual concern and to congratulate the emergency services on the remarkable job that they have done in Worcestershire. I join him in saying that the co-ordination in the county was outstanding. However, the rain of course fell on the boundary of two if not three Government regions, and we also heard concern expressed about a problem with cross-regional co-operation. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the independent review will take proper account of the cross-regional issues, which could make a big difference to future flooding events?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words and for the time that he spent yesterday morning, in addition to all the work that he and many other right hon. and hon. Members have done to support their constituents. He raises an important point, and, as part of the process, some of the new national arrangements have come into place. However, we need to ensure that if an emergency falls in an area that does not fit neatly in Government office regions or the Gold Command structures, the right people meet together to make things happen. That is another lesson that we need to learn.

Will my right hon. Friend take into account the experience of the residents of Moresby close in Swindon, whose homes first flooded in 2004? Ever since my election, I have been working with them to try to get Thames Water, the local council and the Environment Agency to work together to find a solution to the problem of the culvert that frequently floods their houses. Together, we helplessly watched sewage bubble up through the drains and lap at their garages on Friday. It was not pleasant, and solving this problem has taken too long. Can my right hon. Friend ensure that the independent review makes the agencies work together faster?

I cannot promise that the independent review will look at each individual case of flooding risk in that way, but as I indicated in answer to an earlier question, it will look at the broader point of ensuring that there is a co-ordinated overview of what the different agencies need to do.

On 16 September 2004, as the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), will recall, the Select Committee requested a White Paper from the Government giving details of how they would deal with the type of extreme event and flooding that we have now experienced. In the light of the non-appearance of that White Paper, may I ask the Secretary of State to ensure that when the independent review reports and the Government make their response, that response has the status of a White Paper?

I will reflect on the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises. What I am most interested in, and what I know that he is most interested in, is ensuring that the lessons, once learned, are applied so that we can deal even more effectively with such emergencies in future. Certainly, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 has helped to put in place arrangements that several hon. Members have said are working quite well, and we have to ensure that we get on and make the right things happen once we know what we can do better in future.

My constituency is about to be flooded for the second time in four days. On Friday there were serious problems with surface water flooding, as the drainage culverts simply lacked the capacity to cope with the increased volumes of water. Tonight, the Thames in Berkshire will burst its banks, causing misery for hundreds of families. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the drainage systems are upgraded to increase capacity and that more money is spent on flood defences where they can make a difference?

As my hon. Friend will have heard, we certainly will be spending more money on flood defence. Let me also say that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), is going to visit Reading tomorrow. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) raises an important point about surface water. In part, the problem is a consequence of the fact that more land has been tarmacked over and paved over, so there is nowhere for the water to go when there is flash flooding. That is a lesson that all those with responsibility for surface drainage have to take on board.

May I also congratulate the emergency services and everyone from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Gold Command and even BBC Radio Gloucestershire for their contribution to making the crisis in Gloucestershire less serious than it would have been? I also thank the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister for the personal interest that they have shown. However, may I ask the Secretary of State to ask the Environment Agency to extend its inquiry to the June floods in Cheltenham? May I also ask him to include in his own review some examination of why so much damage was done in Cheltenham in areas of relatively high ground close to culverts and drains? In one case, a stream that was normally a few inches deep rose 15 ft and inundated nearby homes.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his words, and for his thanks. I will ask the Environment Agency, in reflecting on those lessons, to respond both to me and to him.

In Sheffield we had our floods three weeks ago, and one of the sites that I visited at the invitation of National Grid was the Neepsend transformer station, which was flooded, leaving several thousands of homes without electricity on a rotational basis. Furthermore, if the Ulley dam had burst its banks, the Brinsworth transformer station could have gone down, which would have left whole sections of Sheffield and Rotherham without electricity for several days. Could I have an assurance that the Secretary of State will ask the review to look at the vulnerability of our electricity supply system and the lack of back-up when a transformer system goes down?

My hon. Friend makes a really important point. One thing that is very clear as a result of these recent events is just how vulnerable is the ecosystem of utility services—if I may use that phrase. One bit goes out, and there is a knock-on consequence; the power goes, and it is not possible to pump the water. By definition, water treatment plants need to be by a river because that is where they get the water from. The Mythe plant has not flooded before, as far as I am aware—I asked the chief executive about that last night. The plant is raised on the side of the river, but, even there it was overwhelmed. Looking at what arrangements are in place in future to ensure that utilities can be protected from this kind of event will be an important part of the review.

In the cost-benefit analysis of flood defence work, one of the crucial factors is, quite rightly, the probability of a flood taking place. In my constituency we have had two “one-in-30-years” floods in the past nine years, and that is common, certainly in the west midlands. I wonder whether the Secretary of State can assure us that in his review, that formula will be reconsidered, because projects that did not look viable on a one-in-30-years basis may well have a very considerable positive value on a one-in-10-years basis.

I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that I should be very content to ask the review to look at that very question.

May I look ahead some hours and days, and ask what is the prognosis for managing the build-up of water in the Thames as it comes through areas such as Runnymede, Spelthorne and Elmbridge, hits Teddington and goes beyond that into the tidal area of the Thames, past this building and into my own area on the Thames estuary? Can we have some reassurance that those waters can and will be managed, and if not, what is being done to alert the various authorities, both in the non-tidal Thames and in my area of Essex and opposite in Kent?

Clearly, those managing the watercourses, the river and the defences in place will do their best to ensure that flooding is minimised. Clearly, the existence of the Thames barrier, which protects a large part of London which is, of course, built on a floodplain, will also help. Below the Thames barrier things are more difficult. Further up, one of the things that the Thames barrier could do is to close up to allow some further relief for the water to pass down the system, to try to take the pressure off the Thames in its upper reaches.

In Herefordshire, particularly, and in Worcestershire, these summer floods are the worst in living memory. My own car was flooded, and I had to carry my daughter to safety on my shoulders through chest-deep water. The Secretary of State asks for suggestions about what could be done. The people of Tenbury Wells in my constituency have been flooded three times, twice in the past week. I do not know what the answer is for them, but I do know that he can look again at his plans for the single farm payment, because the fields that are flooded were full of crops, and if he could get at least 80 per cent. to the farming community before Christmas, he would have a tremendous impact on what is going to happen to the rural community.

I understand. I am sorry to hear about the personal circumstances that the hon. Gentleman, like many members of the public, found himself in. With the single farm payment, because of what has happened in the past, as he will be aware, what I am most anxious to do is to ensure that the targets that we have set are met. The worst thing would be to set targets that might not be achieved. But I have said that in the autumn, as we see what further progress is being made by the Rural Payments Agency, we will look into whether further targets can be set, but I do not want to do that until I can review the situation.

May I take this opportunity, since I know how many Members, particularly Opposition Members, have been affected, to express my thanks to the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) for the very considerable assistance that was given over the weekend to enable myself and my ministerial colleagues to contact right hon. and hon. Members?

My constituency is not a floodplain, but it has recently experienced two very serious flash-flooding episodes. My right hon. Friend has said that existing drainage systems will be looked at. Will he also insist that those undertaking the review plead with local authority planning departments to regulate properly new developments that link into the existing drainage systems, and please ask them to clean their grids more regularly?

The whole House would agree with the points that my hon. Friend makes, particularly the last one: it is important that drainage systems be properly maintained, because they can become blocked, which affects the flow of water. First, it certainly is the responsibility of local authorities to ensure that when they give permission for new developments, the flood risk is assessed, as I have already described to the House. Secondly, it is clear that in future all local authorities will have to think about whether the current design standards for surface water drainage are adequate.

The Secretary of State referred to the “precautionary boil” notices that have been issued in my constituency. The incident that he referred to took place on Friday, as a result of the flooding of the Cheam treatment plant, and it took 24 hours before a decision was made to issue that “precautionary boil” notice, and a further 24 hours before the message was fully and finally received by all my constituents. Will his review look carefully and closely at what can be done to speed up the decision-making process, not least because by the time that the message finally went out to my constituents, most of the water that could have been contaminated would already have been drunk?

Without waiting for the review, I undertake to go away and ask precisely the question the hon. Gentleman has put to me about why there was a passage of time before the information was made available to members of the public. I shall respond to him directly.

Will the Secretary of State look at why several recent developments of homes in my constituency have been flooded, and will he ask why the Environment Agency did not insist on more adequate drainage and ditches when the developments were being put in place, to protect new owners from that terrible shock?

As the right hon. Gentleman will have heard in answer to an earlier question, we have now given the Environment Agency a much stronger position in the process by requiring it to be statutorily consulted when new planning applications come in. We have tightened the planning guidance—both in 2001 and in 2006—by further strengthening it to make it clear to local authorities that in the end, the planning authority has the responsibility for ensuring that it has weighed up all the risks before deciding to give planning permission.

I am sure that the whole House would like to pay tribute and give thanks to the armed forces, which yet again, at very short notice, have come to the assistance of the civil authorities in an emergency. Sadly, there are far fewer members of the armed forces—both Regular and Territorial—than there were 10 years ago, as a direct result of the policies of the Government and the Prime Minister in cutting the defence budget. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what the units deployed on Friday and Saturday were doing beforehand? Were they on leave—either weekend leave, or leave following a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan? How many were in training for those deadly war zones, to which they may be going soon?

I do not have the information in relation to the forces, but the hon. Gentleman will have seen, as I did, the pictures of the RAF helicopters lifting people to safety—and Army personnel were heavily involved in the rescue operation at the Walham national grid switching station. I will endeavour to find out the information and provide it to him. I join him in paying tribute to the astonishing professionalism, bravery and skill of our armed forces.

My constituency, too, has been hit hard by the floods. Will the Secretary of State ask the independent review to look into whether it is possible to give the Environment Agency a power of veto over proposed developments on the floodplain?

Although the review is going to look into many things—some of which we have added in the course of these questions—I do not think that the whole future of our planning policy ought to be part of that. It should be recognised that we have already given the Environment Agency a strong position in the process, and that ultimately, the Secretary of State has the power to call in proposals, having regard to the advice that the Environment Agency gives.

Some unfortunate households in the Ludlow constituency have been flooded twice, and a small number three times, in the past month. The Secretary of State talked about the Bellwin formula being extended from two to six months, which is welcome. I want to ask him about some significant pieces of public infrastructure, such as the bridge at Ludlow, which has had its span doubled in width as a result of the flow of water. That is going to involve a significant engineering redesign, not just a simple repair, and the current estimate for completion is 12 months. That falls outside the six months. Can he confirm to the House today that it will be covered?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but engineering and bridge works, of whatever nature, fall outwith the Bellwin rules, because those rules cover the immediate emergency clear-up costs. We have extended the time in which local authorities can make claims, because we recognise that the clear-up itself may take quite some time. The issue that he raised would be picked up in the normal discussions between the relevant department and the local authority. If it is a road that the Highways Agency has an interest in—[Interruption.] It is not. Well, it would need to be picked up by the existing systems.

Ahead of the main review, will the Secretary of State undertake to sit down with the farming community and others to look at the possibility of relatively short-term improvements in our water storage capacity—involving, for example, balancing ponds, storage reservoirs and even possibly the planned, as opposed to the recent catastrophic, reversion of arable land to floodplain grassland?

I would be happy to meet representatives of the farming community to discuss those issues, because I am acutely conscious of the difficulties that farmers will face, which have already been raised. The farming community can make a contribution, as we recognise that one of the places where water can go is away from built-up areas, but that can have knock-on consequences on crops that have been planted.

In the second world war people were evacuated from Birmingham to south Worcester and Gloucestershire. We now face a situation in which things may get substantially worse and people may lose access to electricity and water. Emergency planning in Birmingham has considered whether we can evacuate people from Gloucestershire to Birmingham, and we are willing to help. The health of some people may depend on their having access to water and mains electricity. Will the Secretary of State ensure that there is contingency planning, so that if it is likely that people will lose access to water and electricity, they are evacuated to where it is safe, whether that is Birmingham, Bristol or elsewhere—somewhere where they can access clean water and electricity to maintain their health?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he draws attention to the willingness of authorities that have not been affected, and the people who work for them, to extend a helping hand. Contingency planning is already taking place, but I hope that it will not come to that, and that the Walham electricity plant can be protected. However, those with responsibility for managing this emergency are looking at what may need to be done if the worst happens.

The Secretary of State mentioned the Walham national grid switching station, and I support what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) said. Recent events have highlighted the critical needs of our infrastructure with regard to both electricity and water, and the fact that we are vulnerable at certain pinchpoints. We are not vulnerable to weather-related events alone; I am sure that the criticality of our infrastructure needs cannot have escaped the attentions of those who would do us harm. It is probably outside the scope of the independent review, but the Government should review our national infrastructure as a matter of urgency, to establish how vulnerable we are to all sorts of threats, as this event has highlighted may be the case.

The hon. Gentleman is right, and that is why the utility companies are part of the resilience forum structure. But, yes, we need to consider what more can be done to protect crucial parts of our infrastructure from rain, water and flooding.

Will the Secretary of State’s independent review assess the impact of infill development on our communities? Most of the flooding in my constituency was caused not by rivers overflowing but by the impact of water skating off the roofs and tarmac of houses built inside the façade of Edwardian and Victorian housing, whose drainage is not simply good enough to cope.

Two detailed points arise from the experience in Wootton Bassett in my constituency, where homes were flooded in Westbury Park. Wiltshire was badly affected, although not quite as badly as Gloucestershire. My first question is about the planning permission that has already been granted for building not only on floodplains but on the flood reservoir in Wootton Bassett. That would be a catastrophe if it went ahead. How on earth can we reverse outline planning permission that has already been given? Secondly, one of the bodies—

I am not aware of the precise details of the case that the hon. Gentleman has raised, but perhaps he would like to write to me with further details—although the matter probably falls within the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point: people who give planning permission in future should reflect on the consequences of what they have given permission for.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the Environment Agency offices for the whole of the Thames basin are based in Swift house in Frimley, in my constituency. I wrote to the Secretary of State’s predecessor in April to point out that following cuts to his Department’s budget, seven staff members had been let go in the previous 12 months. Many of my constituents who have been flooded out of their homes for the second time in a year will be asking why, at a time of acute climate change, the Environment Agency is laying off experts in flood management and defence.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is advancing the argument that the events that he mentions have had an effect on the Environment Agency’s capacity to respond to the current emergency. Like all parts of Government, the Environment Agency is having to look at using its resources as efficiently as possible. I seem to recollect that when the James review was published, it suggested considerable reductions in funding for the Environment Agency.

Further to the answer that the Secretary of State has just given my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), there is significant concern that adequate resources might not be given to the Environment Agency when it has the new duties of scrutiny of planning, The run-off that was described by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) needs detailed consideration in the planning system, not a nod through. Will commensurate resources and staffing be given to the Environment Agency to allow detailed scrutiny of planning in flood-prone areas?

I know from my discussions with Sir John Harman and Barbara Young of the Environment Agency how seriously they take the responsibility that they now have to comment on those planning applications under the new powers that we have given them, and am I sure—not least in the light of what we have experienced in the past month—that that is exactly what they will do.


With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about housing supply. May I start by supporting the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and joining the many Members of the House who have expressed their sympathy to the thousands of families whose lives have been turned upside down by the unprecedented flooding affecting wide parts of the country.

The Government are today publishing a housing Green Paper on affordable housing supply, setting out proposals to deliver the homes that Britain urgently needs today and for the future. The House should be proud of the huge steps forward that this country has taken in improving housing since 1997. There has been a two-thirds cut in rough sleeping, a £20 billion investment in social housing that has helped lift over a million children out of cold, poor or damp conditions, and economic stability that has given over a million more people the opportunity to become homeowners—but we also need to respond to new challenges.

Demand for homes to buy or to rent is growing faster than supply, and homes are becoming less affordable as a result. Already many first-time buyers rely on the help of friends or family to get a foot on the ladder. It simply is not fair that their chance of owning their own home should depend so much on whether their parents or grandparents were homeowners before them. It is also not fair that children are still growing up in overcrowded or temporary accommodation, waiting for a settled home. Without further action, housing could become one of the greatest sources of social inequality in the next 20 years.

In addition, we need to respond to the challenge of climate change. Our homes account for more than a quarter of national carbon emissions. We must provide greener, better designed housing for the future. As recent events have highlighted, it is vital to take steps to protect all our communities from flooding, and from the consequences of climate change in the future.

In the face of these challenges, we propose strong action. First, we will build more homes to meet growing demand. The level of house building is at its highest for 17 years, but it is not enough. Moreover, without firm action there is no guarantee that growth will continue, as short-term market pressures mean that some developers have slowed starts this year. We believe that a total of 3 million new homes are needed by 2020, and we need to deliver 2 million of those by 2016. This must include new homes in the north as well as the south, as every region is seeing demand outstrip supply. In parts of the north we need additional affordable homes alongside areas of housing market renewal.

Already locations for 1.6 million homes are identified in current regional plans, with up to a further 200,000 emerging in the new regional spatial strategies and in future revisions to them. This includes 650,000 homes in the growth areas such as the Thames Gateway and Milton Keynes. In addition, 45 towns and cities have already come forward with proposals for additional homes over the next 10 years in new growth points. Today we are inviting more councils to come forward to be new growth points, including, for the first time, councils in the north of England. We are also inviting bids for councils and developers to come forward with proposals for at least five new eco-towns.

No one should be in any doubt about the historic scale of this vision. We are proposing the first new towns in 40 years, but with substantial improvements in environmental standards across the board. Further changes are needed to support the delivery of these homes. Providing enough land is vital, and councils need to identify 15 years’ supply of appropriate land for housing, with continuing priority for sustainable brownfield land. We will not change the rules on strong greenbelt protection.

We will introduce additional funding and incentives for councils and communities that are showing a lead in delivering growth through a new housing and planning delivery grant, a new £300 million community infrastructure fund and additional funding dedicated to high-growth areas.

We are consulting on proposals to deter developers from seeking planning permission and then sitting on land without bringing forward new homes. We will also work across the Government to bring forward more brownfield land. I can announce that the Ministry of Defence has agreed to bring forward six sites with the potential for 7,000 homes, including sites at Aldershot and Chichester. The Department for Transport has also identified hundreds of potential sites for new homes.

We will support local councils in setting up new local housing companies with partners to use their own land to build more homes. I can announce that 14 councils have already come forward to support that scheme. They estimate that in their areas alone they have the potential to deliver 35,000 homes on their land, with at least 17,500 of those homes being affordable homes. Better use also needs to be made of empty homes, including those left empty long-term by investors and speculators. Councils already have powers to take action, and we will look at the potential for additional incentives for them to do so.

Secondly, although building more homes is crucial, they must also be better homes and more sustainable homes. In the 1960s, quality was sacrificed in the name of speed, and we must not make that mistake again. Today, our new homes must be part of well-designed and mixed communities with excellent local facilities, which means more family homes as well as parks and green spaces. With the urgent challenge of climate change, they must be greener homes built to the highest environmental standards.

I confirm today that from 2016 all new homes will need to be zero carbon. We are the first country to set such an ambitious timetable, and I welcome the support of councils, green groups and developers across the country who have committed to working with us to make that happen.

As well as helping to prevent climate change, we need to ensure that our homes are resilient to its consequences. Over centuries, many homes have been built in high-risk flood areas, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has set out immediate action to support the families suffering dreadfully from the extreme weather.

Since 1997, we have progressively strengthened the rules on planning to protect homes from flooding, with much higher standards brought in last year. The new rules require councils to consult the Environment Agency, and where the Environment Agency says that the risk is too high and councils persist against that advice, we in government will be prepared to take over those decisions ourselves. We will also look further at what needs to be done to be ready for future challenges. Later this year, we will publish a new planning policy statement, which will require councils to plan more widely for the consequences of climate change.

Thirdly, we believe that a decent home should be for the many and not only for the few. I can announce that we will invest £8 billion in increasing affordable housing over the next three years, a £3 billion increase compared with the previous spending review. That is on top of continuing investment in decent homes, including more than £2 billion on the arm’s length management organisation programme over the next three years.

We have listened to the evidence from Shelter and the National Housing Federation, which says that we need 70,000 affordable homes a year, of which 50,000 should be new social housing. I can announce that by 2010-11 we will deliver more than 70,000 new affordable homes a year. By 2010-11, we will deliver 45,000 new social homes a year with a goal of 50,000 homes in the next spending review. That is a 50 per cent. increase in new social housing over a three-year period, and it will more than double the amount of social housing in a six-year period. We will also deliver 25,000 new shared ownership homes through expanding existing programmes. In addition, we will look to support tens of thousands of additional shared ownership homes through public sector land and local housing companies, and we will set out further details later in the year.

As rural areas face particular pressures, we will set a specific target for increasing affordable homes in rural areas later this year after consultation with the regional assemblies. We want to see more work by local councils, housing associations and the private sector to increase affordable housing both to buy and to rent. We are announcing today the first 10 arm’s length management organisations—ALMOs—and local authority special venture vehicles approved to bid for social housing grant in order to build council homes. We are also consulting on changes to the rules on the treatment of rents and receipts from new homes, which would give councils more flexibility to build on their land, within responsible public finance rules.

We also believe that first-time buyers need more flexible and competitive products. The Treasury is consulting on new ways to support more affordable long-term fixed-rate mortgages. We have also commissioned further work, led by Bryan Pomeroy, on expanding private sector shared equity products, and we will launch new shared equity products next year. In the meantime, we will, from today, offer a new 17.5 per cent. Government equity loan for key workers and other priority first-time buyers.

Taken together, these proposals represent not just the most significant programme of house building for decades but an ambitious, positive response to the growing challenges that many people face in their day-to-day lives. To deliver, we will need a expanded skilled work force, and the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will lead work to expand construction apprenticeships and work with partners in the sector to raise skills.

We know there is no quick fix to the issues that we face: building more homes takes time. However, this must be a shared endeavour. Central Government are today setting a bolder framework for the future, but we will achieve our goals only if those at regional and local levels, in the public, private and third sectors, and in local communities, all play their part in supporting the homes we need. Building the sustainable homes needed by young people today and by future generations is a test of our commitment to supporting people’s aspirations and to achieving social justice. I commend these proposals to the House.

I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of her statement, and I join her in expressing sympathies to all the thousands of victims of flooding in recent days.

The last housing Green Paper in 2000 pledged to be the

“first comprehensive review of housing for 23 years”

and offered

“action to help first time buyers”

and “decent homes for all”. That rhetoric has not exactly been matched by reality. Home ownership has fallen for the first time since records began, numbers of first-time buyers are at their lowest since 1980, housing waiting lists have grown by 60,000, and less social housing is being built every year under this Government than under the Major or the Thatcher Government. The Prime Minister’s higher taxes have made it harder than ever to get on the housing ladder. The Minister cannot deny that the average first-time buyer now has to pay £1,500 in stamp duty, but is she also aware that the average first-time buyer in London pays £8,000 in stamp duty? Meanwhile, her own Department’s research into the Conservative right-to-buy policy praises it as

“one of the most successful housing policies in increasing owner occupation and creating mixed communities.”

However, right-to-buy discounts have continued to be squeezed. Will not her ongoing refusal to offer the right to buy to housing association tenants undermine her own goals of creating a greater social mix within communities?

Today’s Green Paper talks about 70,000 more affordable homes, but why should we trust the Government when their own social homebuy scheme, which is meant to help social tenants to get on to the housing ladder, is failing? On page 82 of the Green Paper, the Minister admits that of 1,400 housing associations, only 78 have offered the scheme. In April this year, she came to the House and told us that only 33 houses had been sold under the scheme. Perhaps she can give us an update today.

We absolutely accept the need to build more houses. [Hon. Members: “Where?”] I will come to that in a moment. We will lend our cross-party support to measures that build sustainable eco-friendly communities on brownfield sites. We welcome the use of surplus public sector land. However, does the Minister accept that with the NHS in London already conducting estate audits with a view to closing hospitals and selling off land, the public will be worried that more homes will come only at the expense of fewer hospitals? Does she accept that her Government’s policies of closing accident and emergency and maternity departments will in any case hinder sustainable growth of local communities?

We heard last week that regional assemblies are to be sidelined, but is not criticism from regional assemblies the real reason why their powers are being seized? Page 30 of the Green Paper says that regional spatial strategies will be reviewed by 2011. Will the Minister promise the House that none of those regional plans will involve the deletion of green belt protection?

In my constituency, we are running a campaign called “No Way To 10k”—in other words, no way to 10,000 houses. However—[Interruption.] Wait for it. We fully back the building of 6,000 houses, and have already undertaken to start building them. It is simply the case that 10,000 will overload our local infrastructure, at a time when the local hospital is being closed. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the local Labour party is wrong to back my campaign.

We are concerned that the Government’s regional building targets are unsustainable. Has the Minister read the Roger Tym report, commissioned by her own Department, into increasing building targets in the south-east? It says that the Government’s building plans will

“have a negative impact on the character of the countryside”

and the green belt. Trunk roads will be unable to cope, leading to congestion, pollution and soaring carbon dioxide emissions—[Interruption.] Labour Members may say, “Rubbish,” but I am talking about the Government’s own report. There will be increased

“pressure to develop in these areas of flood risk”,

so we can expect more flash floods of the type that we have experienced in recent days and weeks.

Yesterday, the BBC reported that the Green Paper stated that it is “not realistic” to prevent development taking place in areas at risk of flooding. Will the Minister confirm that that wording is no longer in the Green Paper, and how does that square with the 2005 agreement struck between insurers and the Government that areas at risk of flood will be insured only provided that the Government limit such developments?

Labour is not planning the eco-towns of the 21st century; it is planning the sink estates of tomorrow. The Conservative party has been responsible for most of the progressive housing policies of the past 50 years. We built more social housing, spread home ownership and created mixed communities. Does the Minister agree that to solve the housing crisis, it is vital to end the ham-fisted nature of top-down, Whitehall-driven targets? Instead, we should switch to the empowering of local communities to build the homes that stand the test of time.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post. I congratulate him on his appointment to the Conservative Front Bench, and his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. He was not here for our oral questions two weeks ago. We wondered where he was—and I understand that he was masterminding the by-election in Ealing, Southall. I congratulate him on that particular result, too. My guess is that some of his colleagues sitting behind him might wish he had taken his parliamentary responsibilities a little more seriously, and joined us in the House instead.

I look forward to debating the issues with the hon. Gentleman; I know that he has a long-standing interest in housing. He referred to his “No Way To 10k” campaign against additional housing in Welwyn Hatfield. I am sorry that his new appointment has forced him to change his website. Before he took up his new post, two weeks ago, it read:

“We believe you cannot build your way out of a housing crisis.”

He has deleted that since, and the website now says:

“whilst building more properties is obviously vital”.

That is a rather rapid turnaround in one paragraph, in the space of just a couple of weeks.

The hon. Gentleman raised a few points, and criticised our record. However, to have lifted 1 million children out of bad housing—cold and damp homes—through the decent homes programme is something of which the House should be proud, and of which his party should feel ashamed. His party left more than 1 million children in appalling housing by failing to deliver proper decent homes, and the council housing improvements that were needed.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Association of British Insurers, which backs the new guidance that was introduced last year, with new, tougher requirements on flooding and planning for flooding He mentioned the Roger Tym report, which was commissioned to inform the planning process. The process needs to be properly informed if sensible decisions are to be taken.

In the end, we must recognise a national collective responsibility to provide for the homes that the future needs. The hon. Gentleman gave us warm words. He said that his party accepted the need for more homes; but will he back 240,000 zero-carbon homes for 2016? Now, across the country, the LGA, house builders, councils and green groups back that target. The challenge for the Conservative party is to back their commitment; otherwise it will be letting down first-time buyers.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of the Green Paper, although as I had 55 minutes to read 128 pages I am sure that I will have missed some of the detailed nuances of policy. I have a few points on which I request clarification.

I want, first, to welcome the intent of the Green Paper. At last, after 10 years, the Government recognise the scale of the housing crisis over which they have presided: with 71 per cent. home ownership—the highest rate in Europe—our market is under-supplied with land and houses and overheated in terms of demand and reckless mortgage lending. We approach the dangers of another wave of negative equity, such as we experienced in the ’80s and early ’90s. Mortgage debt is up 150 per cent., people are falling behind on mortgages at a rate double that of last year, and repossessions have trebled since last year. That is just the start: 2 million people on fixed-term mortgages with low interest rates will experience a hike in rates in the next 18 months. First-time buyers and key workers cannot get on to the housing ladder in 93 per cent. of urban areas. The Minister spoke of the highest rate of building for 17 years, but she failed to point out that that is from a record low base, with the 2001 rate one of the lowest on record.

If the ownership crisis was due to Government neglect, the rented housing crisis is directly due to dogmatic Government policy. In the past 10 years, the Government have ended council house building and starved councils of funds, despite tenants’ choice to stay with the council. Housing associations have managed to build only half the stock that is needed to replace right-to-buy losses, and only about a third of what the Barker review says is needed. The result is that waiting lists have soared from 1 million to 1.6 million.

We welcome the Green Paper’s proposed increases in social housing, but will the Minister confirm that despite all the media trailing by her and by the Prime Minister, the small print means more of the same for the 140 councils whose tenants have democratically chosen to stay with them? Will she confirm that the small print says that any extra money will go to housing associations and 60 arm’s length management organisations, and that just a small number of councils will be able to launch partnerships with the private sector on the basis of special Government selection? Will she confirm that it is still proposed to rob the 140 councils that have retained their housing stock of 75 per cent. of right-to-buy money, and that most of those councils will lose up to an average of 25 per cent. of their council rents, whereas a housing association taking over that stock would be allowed to keep the entire sum? The housing and regeneration Bill is supposed to put tenants at the heart of social housing; why, then, in the Green Paper, is the Minister ignoring and punishing those very tenants for exercising their democratic choice to stay with the council as landlord?

The Barker review said that 56,000 new social houses a year would be needed if we were to make any impact on the growing waiting list for social housing. Currently, housing associations have managed an average of about 25,000 houses a year. The Green Paper proposes an increase, by 2011, to only 45,000. Will the Minister explain such poverty of ambition after all the hype, in the face of desperate housing need?

On sustainability—

Hon. Members: Come on.

Will the Minister say why councils are not allowed to set higher environmental energy standards for private developments, as they are on affordable housing? That gives private developers an unfair financial advantage over affordable builders and produces fewer sustainable buildings. Why is the Government’s aim for all new houses to be zero carbon by only 2016, when a target of 2011 is perfectly attainable in this country and has already been achieved in Germany?

Finally, will the Minister explain why, despite all the talk at other times in recent weeks of restoring democracy and autonomy to local authorities, the Green Paper represents the imposition of yet more central control, with the Government dictating what houses will be built, where, by which councils and in partnership with whom? Why not simply restore autonomy to local authorities? Why not allow them to decide what they will build in their areas and get the benefit from that, and restore financial control to them?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to support the delivery of 240,000 zero-carbon homes by 2016, because it is important to increase housing in this country. He is missing the point on affordable housing. We have set out proposals for 70,000 affordable homes by 2010. That is a substantial increase in social housing and includes councils, too, being able to build homes. However, many areas will find it more cost-effective to do that in partnership with housing associations or private developers. We have said specifically—it is in the consultation paper—that we are approving ALMOs and councils with special venture vehicles to build council homes and bid for social housing grant in order to do so. The important issue is about providing the additional homes that we need. We want the flexibility for housing associations, councils and private developers to be able to contribute to the building of more social and shared ownership housing. Local housing companies offer a great opportunity to do so.

The decent homes programme continues in its current form, and all bar one council have now identified ways of meeting that standard, including as a result of the substantial investment that has gone to individual councils. We have the most ambitious target to get to zero carbon of any country in the world. The target includes standards not only for heating and power, but for appliances in the home. The standards are extremely ambitious. We will need improvements in technology and strong co-operation between local councils and private developers to meet them. They are ambitious standards, but we have a dual aim: to be able to deliver more homes that are both affordable and sustainable. That requires a little hard-headedness, not just the flaky sums that the Liberal Democrats often provide.

Order. I repeat the plea that I made during the earlier statement. This statement is important, but there is a further important statement and the main business of the House to follow. I ask hon. Members to discipline themselves to one supplementary question and a brief response; otherwise, I am afraid that many of them will be unsuccessful in catching my eye.

I am pleased that the Minister has taken up the recommendation that was made by Shelter and endorsed by the Communities and Local Government Committee to increase social rented housing, but I am still not clear about how the Government’s proposals will ensure that social rented housing is provided in response to local needs, particularly in areas where councils are rated relatively poorly and have therefore not been allowed the rights of more highly rated councils.

We are clear that we need to increase social housing in all areas of the country. We are concerned that the level of social housing has not increased in some areas, perhaps in part because housing associations in those areas did not bid for new developments. That is one of the reasons we want local councils to play a stronger role—including through local housing companies and by using their own land—in delivering mixed communities and, potentially, high levels of new housing in their areas.

In addition to the work of housing associations and the partnerships that are possible between housing associations and local councils, we are saying that local councils should be able to build council homes, where it offers value for money to do so. We are identifying certain ALMOs that will be able to bid, and consulting on proposals to enable councils to keep the rents and capital receipts from the new homes that they build. We are opening the next round of pre-qualification to ALMOs that have a two-star rating and to local authorities, so as to widen the number of organisations that can apply, but they will need to ensure that they have the appropriate skills in place to carry out the necessary development work.

This is not about returning to the old council estates. It needs to be about mixed communities and about developing, in partnership, communities that people want to live in. There is a range of different ways of doing that, and we will work closely with local councils and housing associations to take this forward.

But none of this is going to happen if the planning system does not permit it. The Government are making it easier to build conservatories, granny annexes and nuclear power stations, but they are not doing a lot to make it easier to build houses. Would not it be a good start to abandon and rule out definitively their ill-conceived proposals for a planning gain tax, and to concentrate on getting more out of the devil that everyone knows—section 106 agreements—or on moving to a roof tax? At least we would then have some certainty.

I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to the Green Paper proposals that set out a series of alternatives to a planning gain supplement. We think that a planning gain supplement has the potential to raise the most resources for infrastructure while not deterring development, because it is value sensitive. We are prepared to consult on and discuss a range of alternatives before we bring in a planning gain supplement Bill, but we will require councils and other developers to make serious proposals on how they would make those alternatives work. As I have said, we believe that there are advantages to a planning gain supplement.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her announcement and on the Green Paper. I give my wholehearted support to the commitment to expand the housing programme, which will be warmly welcomed by sane people throughout the country. The lesson from the past that everyone should learn is that the mono-tenure estates that we created in the last century—in the owner-occupied sector and in the public housing sector—were a serious mistake. Will my hon. Friend remain adamant about maintaining mixed communities involving a partnership between different providers, and not be tempted by the blandishments of the back-to-the-future Liberal Democrats, who appear to want to take us back to some kind of failed response, which would be a serious mistake?

My right hon. Friend is right. Mixed communities are hugely important in sustaining those areas and providing opportunities for the people who live in them. Establishing such communities was one of the aspirations of the post-war generation, but it did not manage to achieve it. It is crucial that we get those partnerships working, and we believe that there is potential for local housing companies to develop exactly that kind of approach, to ensure that we do not have mono-tenure estates involving unfair segregation, with social housing estates on one side of town and the executive estate on the other.

I, too, welcome the proposals to increase the supply of housing. I note the announcement of a £3 billion increase in the budget for affordable housing. Will the Minister confirm that she was successful in getting all that money out of the Treasury, and that she has not had to raid any other part of her Department’s budget to find it?

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes the increase in affordable housing, and in housing across the board. I know that, as a former housing Minister, he takes a strong interest in these matters. As part of this investment, we are getting greater efficiencies from housing associations—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] In addition to the £3 billion additional public sector investment going into social housing and shared ownership housing, we shall get efficiencies from housing associations, because we believe that many of them are not using their assets sufficiently effectively. We want to ensure that we get better results and better value for money.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there used to be an excellent firm in my constituency called British Mohair Spinners? Unfortunately, it went down the tubes many years ago, but it is good to know that its factory site is now being used to create many apartments, which will be of great use to my constituents. Is my hon. Friend quite sure that firms that are not keen on developing such brownfield sites are being allowed to use greenfield sites only when there are absolutely no brownfield sites left in the area?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to regenerate brownfield sites and the need to require developers to consider them. Local councils must decide how land should be identified in the area, to determine which sites are appropriate and to set their own brownfield targets. PPS3, the new planning policy on housing, gives local councils the flexibility to set their own brownfield targets and to take action if they think that developers are cherry-picking on greenfield sites.

Does the Minister accept that we have a housing crisis because of this Government’s failure over the past 10 years? Paragraph 40 of her policy statement refers to the building of council homes. Will the Minister clarify how many of the 2 million new homes envisaged by the year 2016 will be council homes?

That will depend on the decisions that councils take, including about ALMOs. It will also depend on what proposals they make in connection with local housing companies or bids for social housing grants. What we can say is that we believe that, by 2010, 70,000 new homes need to be affordable and 45,000 of them should be social homes. The proportion of council homes will depend, as I say, on decisions taken by councils, developers and housing associations across the country. We believe that, in many cases, housing associations will be able to bring in additional private sector resources and additional borrowing. We also think that the best results are likely to happen where there is partnership between the different organisations.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that today’s statement provides opportunities for the 13,000 families on my local authority waiting list if, and only if, local authorities take full advantage of the opportunities to ensure decent homes for these people?

My hon. Friend is right that there is a huge responsibility on local councils to do more to improve and increase housing in their areas. We are giving local councils more flexibility and more powers—different options, different ways forward, different ways of using their own resources, different ways of drawing in additional resources either from central Government or from the private sector. We are giving local councils a much stronger role in housing in the local area, but we need them to rise to the challenge and do their bit to deliver the homes that their communities need.

Two weeks ago, Scarborough council’s planning committee refused permission for 300 new homes opposite Filey school because it believed that the main drainage and foul drainage were inadequate. The drainage system overflowed and was proved to be inadequate in the Filey floods last week. Will the Minister use this new planning policy statement as an opportunity to place greater emphasis on the importance of adequate drainage and foul drainage, which are the cause of so much suffering during the current floods?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about drainage. Some terrible events over the last month are due to poor drainage or drainage simply overflowing as a result of the level of rainfall and water. We think that more can be done to improve drainage. There are some good examples, as in the design of Milton Keynes, which had very good drainage proposals ensuring the use of balancing pools into which water can flow. There are also new designs, which improve drainage by providing sustainable urban drainage systems that do not take all of the water into existing mains drains. The hon. Gentleman is also right that there are other ways of using the opportunity of new development—by accessing section 106 money, for example—to improve the infrastructure, including the drainage. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking into a wider range of issues surrounding improving drainage in response to flooding, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are looking into taking proposals forward, not just as part of the new planning policy statement on climate change, but as part of a wider programme of work to deliver more sustainable housing.

In welcoming my hon. Friend’s statement, may I draw her attention to one of the problems in areas such as inner-city Manchester? An awful lot of new houses have been built that it was hoped would be affordable, but the process was frustrated by the speculative buying of many people from this country and outside Britain who bought to let, pushing prices up and putting houses out of the reach of ordinary people? Will she look specifically at that? There is nothing wrong with the rental market, but there is something wrong with speculative purchase, which pushes prices up and up.

My hon. Friend will agree that affordable private rented housing is important, but we need to ensure that it is both affordable and of an appropriate quality. I have particular concerns about some of the investment that is not buy to let, but buy to leave, whereby flats or new developments are left empty as a result of investors or speculators sitting on properties. Local councils should think carefully about using some of their empty homes powers to bring some of those properties back into use. They have the powers to do so, but we are looking at more incentives as part of the Green Paper to support that.

Last December, the Minister and her colleagues endorsed a housing development that would result in the concreting over of 1,500 acres of green belt land in my constituency. Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister promised at that Dispatch Box that such land will be robustly protected. Will the Minister confirm that her previous policy has changed and that that land is now safe, or are we not to trust the new Prime Minister’s promises?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we do not comment on individual planning decisions in the House, but our policy on the green belt remains precisely the same as it has always been. We have made that clear both in the planning White Paper and in the House as part of the Green Paper.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement and the increase in funding for housing. My area has a thriving private sector market, mostly on brownfield sites, and a successful ALMO, which has hugely improved the number of decent homes, but there is still an acute shortage of social housing. Will she ensure that there are new models of working between local authorities, ALMOs, housing associations and funders such as local building societies to assess housing need and secure the models that will deliver those houses for people?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. His local council is under a responsibility to assess housing need in the area, but it needs to draw together different organisations to ensure that it can respond to that need. We are giving councils greater flexibility to do so, and I hope that they will be able to find partners to join them to rise to that challenge.

The Minister set forward the aim of creating more affordable homes, but does she not recognise that there are a number of contradictions in the Green Paper? The standards that will be required—higher standards and new designs and technologies—will involve extra upfront costs. The green spaces that will be required for greener homes and green spaces will involve less intensive land use. All those factors, along with the fact that the £3 billion is not even an extra £3 billion, will make it very difficult to deliver homes that are more affordable and not more costly.

No, the £3 billion is extra public sector funding for affordable housing. On top of that, we will get additional efficiencies from housing associations. That is what allows us to reach the figure of 70,000 additional homes that we will provide. In addition, it is true that we are raising standards at the same time as we deliver new homes. That is challenging to the industry, housing associations and developers across the country. It is an opportunity for us to raise additional resources through planning gain, which can contribute to that. Some of the higher standards, particularly in environmental technologies, will be delivered and will have the potential to deliver economies of scale, which, over time, should drive the costs of those new technologies down. I do not think that we have a choice. We cannot simply choose between quantity and quality. We have to provide both.