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Volume 525: debated on Thursday 17 March 2011

8. What measures her Department is taking to ensure its preparedness to respond to major flooding incidents. (47201)

Last week, Exercise Watermark took place, which was the largest civil emergency exercise ever held in the United Kingdom. It successfully demonstrated the ability of Departments, emergency services, local authorities, communities and voluntary organisations to work together to deal with a range of devastating flooding scenarios. We will learn lessons from the exercise and publicise them to the House.

I welcome the Minister’s exercise in flood prevention and working through all the different systems. However, in my constituency, Sandwich—one of the most beautiful medieval towns in the country— faces huge flood problems. Will the Minister update us on what the defence scheme is and when it might be implemented?

Sandwich was included in the original draft list of schemes going ahead next year, so I specifically asked why it was not in the programme. I understand that the reason was that we could not guarantee that the scheme would start in the coming financial year. However, I am happy to meet my hon. Friend—and perhaps also Paul Carter, the leader of the taskforce looking at regeneration in her constituency—to discuss how hopeful we can be about the scheme progressing in the very near future.

This is a key issue in my constituency, which was badly flooded in 2007. Why have the Government decided to ignore the Pitt recommendation that flood investment should enjoy an above-inflation settlement each year?

We are taking forward all 92 of the Pitt recommendations—well, certainly 91 of them. The question of flood funding has been raised frequently in the House. We have protected capital funding works over and above all other areas of activity because we recognise that that is an absolute priority for the future.

This Department has taken the biggest hit across government, and flood defence spending has been cut by 27%. The Pitt review did indeed recommend Exercise Watermark. It also recommended that flood defence spending should be increased above inflation year on year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) said. Will the Minister tell us what lessons have been learned from Exercise Watermark? What does he say to those communities who thought that their flood defences were going ahead but now find that they are not? Can he guarantee that they will be able to access universal flood insurance after the statement of principle ends soon?

We have had many discussions on this matter. The 8% difference between the last four years’ spending on capital and the next four years’ spending shows that this is a massive priority—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) knows that continuing with this tired old riff is 180o away from the facts. We are working closely with the insurance industry to ensure that we can move beyond the statement of principles after 2013. The lessons from Exercise Watermark are being learned and will be learned in the future.