The Environment Agency continually reviews the condition of its assets. Its target for 2011 is for 97% to be at or above target condition.
The statement of principles agreed between the Government and the insurance industry is due to expire in 2013, yet many of the remaining issues, following the summer floods in 2007, are to do with the adequacy of insurance cover for homes and business properties. What assurance can the Government give the House that the statement of principles will meet the requirements of the insurance industry and that Government expenditure will remain at the level expected until 2013?
On the latter point, obviously I cannot prejudge the comprehensive spending review, which will be announced on 20 October. However, my hon. Friend will know, from the coalition document and our Department’s structural reform plan, the priority that we are giving to such matters. Under her chairmanship, the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will look closely at the issue. I have met with the Association of British Insurers, and I believe that my hon. Friend is joining us next week—or in the near future—for a summit with the insurance industry to talk about such matters. I assure her that the statement of principles is an absolute priority, and 2013 is a date very much in our minds. We want to ensure continuity in the future, because of the uncertainty for the 5.2 million households at risk from flooding.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) on her elevation to the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. I know that she will do sterling work. She and the Minister will know that, even with the massive investment in flood defences in recent years, including existing plans to protect another 200,000 homes by 2015, we will need to double investment over the next 25 years just to keep pace with climate change. In the short term, therefore, will the Minister at least maintain our existing commitment to protect more homes, year on year, over the next five years?
The hon. Gentleman knows the comprehensive spending review process well, and I cannot change what I have just said to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right, however, and he knows the problem that we face. I am pleased that we are spending more this year than ever before, and I very much hope that that can continue. I am also pleased that the Environment Agency is ahead of the game in protecting 160,000 houses, against a target of 145,000. I have been looking at the flood implications of coastal erosion on the east coast, and I have seen what a massive problem we have there. I was enthused by some of the innovative local ideas for accessing more funding, and I hope that we can expand on them, not only in areas of coastal erosion but in regard to flood alleviation and resilience schemes elsewhere in the country.