The Government published their response to the Pitt review last December. It set out what we had already achieved and what we needed to do to implement the remaining recommendations.
We published the first progress report in June 2009, and it showed that further good progress had been made across the board. The next progress report will be published in December.
Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways to stop houses being flooded is to stop building them on floodplains? If he agrees, why have the Government presided over building so many houses on so many floodplains?
Ultimately, the hon. Gentleman knows about the progress on the review of planning policy guidance note 25 and that approximately 98 per cent. of developments follow the Environment Agency’s recommendations. I am slightly disappointed that he has not remarked on the doubling of investment under the Government for flood defences since 1997.
The Pitt inquiry states that the public utilities should be protected—the fresh water, electricity and waste water plants. That was especially a problem when Carlisle flooded. Has satisfactory progress been made on that?
That is an important point and I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that we set up a new Cabinet Office team to ensure that critical national infrastructure—for example, power stations—is properly protected from flooding. If we are lucky in what may be in the Queen’s Speech—we can never second-guess it—there is an imperative under the Labour Government to get on and deliver the legislation that will give further protection to homes, businesses and infrastructure.
This Cabinet Office team was meant to meet last year and report by the spring on a national audit of all critical infrastructure at risk. Why has it failed to do that?
I am pleased to report that that work is well under way. Every time we stand at the Dispatch Box, Conservative Front Benchers harry the Government to do more. They simply ignore what has been done—the £9.7 million awarded to 77 local authorities with the highest risk and potential for surface water flooding; the £5 million currently open for bids to deal with well-known local flooding problems; the £1 million for training, data and other tools for local authorities; and our work on flood forecasting. Sometimes it would pay to stand up and recognise the work that is being done.
As a native of Gloucestershire, I saw at first hand the devastation caused by flooding in the Tewkesbury, Gloucester and Cheltenham area. I hope that the Minister agrees that measures to ensure that that never happens again should be introduced as a matter of urgency. What prospects are there of a suitable Bill in the Queen’s Speech? What assessment has my hon. Friend made of securing all-party support to get it through as quickly as possible?
I assure my hon. Friend that we are very keen to get on. I welcome the fact that at a conference run by Marketforce and the Institute of Economic Affairs as recently as 15 October, my Opposition Front-Bench colleague said that
“we are concerned that a Bill may be dropped from this final session altogether. The Government will have serious questions to answer if, two years after the Pitt report, there is not only no legislation for the water industry but also nothing to address the urgent problem of flooding.”
I can tell my hon. Friend that, through consultation on the draft Bill and through our work, we are keen to get on with it. We cannot presuppose the contents of the Queen’s Speech, but I hope that, on the basis of what I have said, we will have full, solid and cross-party support to deliver the protection that we need for homes and businesses.
May I ask about the property-level flood protection grant scheme? If householders take measures at their own risk in advance of the survey, which is part of that procedure, is it the case that they cannot be paid retrospectively for the work done? That seems unfair. It is no good waiting until it rains before taking the measures needed to protect one’s home.
My understanding is that that is a matter for local authorities, many of which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, have applied and bid for the funding. However, I am more than happy to write to him with details to clarify the point that he has raised. It is important, and when people take responsible approaches to their properties’ resilience, that needs to be recognised, but I will write to him.