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Volume 554: debated on Monday 26 November 2012

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on flooding.

The House will be aware of the exceptional rainfall that has been experienced over the last few days, and will also be aware that as a result some areas across the United Kingdom have been flooded and others continue to be at risk of flooding. The Environment Agency currently has 197 flood warnings and 291 flood alerts in place in England and Wales.

Tragically, three people lost their lives over the weekend. Two were men whose cars were caught up in flood water in Somerset and Cambridgeshire, and the third was a woman who was killed in Devon by a falling tree. I am sure that the whole House will wish to express its profound sympathy to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones.

Heavy rainfall is not unusual at this time of year. However, we experienced bands of low pressure over the weekend, bringing often intense rainfall on catchments that are now saturated. Areas in the south-west of England, Wales and the midlands received 20 to 30 mm —over an inch—of rain in most places, and up to 50 to 60 mm—over 2 inches—fell in 24 hours elsewhere. Persistent rain will continue to affect much of northern England, south-east Scotland and north Wales today.

As a result of the rain, there has been significant river and surface water flooding in Cornwall, Devon, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, the midlands, Yorkshire and Wales, and there is a continued risk of significant flooding in parts of north-east England and north Wales. More than 900 properties have been flooded, of which up to 500 are in the south-west, more than 200 in the midlands and more than 100 in Wales. A great many people have been evacuated, and the numbers may well increase given the further rain forecast for today and early tomorrow.

The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), visited Malmesbury in Wiltshire on Sunday, and saw for himself the damage caused by the flooding to homes in the centre of the town. I visited Northampton on Friday and Exeter and Kennford earlier today, and saw some of the devastation caused by the flooding there. I spoke to families who had had to leave their homes with their children in the middle of the night, and people who had flood water a good way up their walls. I really do want to praise the local Environment Agency and council staff, because this was a real example of partnership working in action.

I also feel desperately sorry for the residents of Kempsey, in Worcestershire, whose properties were flooded when the local pumps failed. The Environment Agency will be carrying out a detailed investigation into what happened.

Many areas, such as the Somerset levels, have experienced significant flooding of farmland. That has had a major impact on local farmers, who have lost grazing land and crops. In Somerset, which is still an area of serious concern, the Environment Agency is already working with the community to review the floods that have happened during 2012, and to consider how flood water could be better managed. The flooding has also disrupted road and rail networks. Many roads were closed, particularly in the south-west, in Solihull, across north Yorkshire, in Gloucestershire—including the M5—and in other areas, including County Durham and Teesside.

The main concerns for Network Rail have been the routes between Exeter and Taunton and between Exeter and Yeovil. The route between Exeter and Taunton was badly affected, with parts of the track under 2 feet of water. Buses have replaced trains in a number of areas. Some routes have reopened, although there may still be delays to some journeys. I saw some of the damaged track for myself, and since my visit I have discussed these issues with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

I extend my sincere thanks to the many people who responded so magnificently to these events. They include staff of fire, ambulance, police and other rescue services, local authorities, the Environment Agency, the voluntary sector and local communities. I appreciate how hard everyone has been working, and how difficult it is for those whose homes and businesses have been affected. I assure the House that the Environment Agency and its local emergency partners, including local authorities, are working round the clock and doing all they can to prevent flooding in areas currently at risk. My officials have been working closely with other Departments throughout the recent events.

Protecting our communities against flooding is a vital priority for the Government, and I am pleased to say that over the past few days nearly 50,000 properties have been protected by recently built flood defences. The Environment Agency issued flood warnings to over 93,000 properties, and such warnings are often crucial in giving people time to protect their properties or move precious belongings to somewhere safe. More than 1.1 million households have now signed up to the Environment Agency’s flood warning system, and I encourage others at high flood risk to do the same.

Nationally held flood rescue equipment was deployed to support local partners in Devon and Cornwall; six high-volume pumps were used and four boats were deployed, managed locally by the fire and rescue service national co-ordination centre. As flood waters recede, we will move into the recovery effort, which will need support from across central, regional and local government, as well as from businesses and voluntary organisations. I know that local communities are pulling together as recovery operations begin in earnest.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be activating the Bellwin scheme of emergency financial assistance to help local authorities with the immediate costs associated with protecting life and property in their areas. The scheme will reimburse local authorities for 85% of their eligible costs above the threshold. Government officials will also discuss recovery arrangements with local authorities in the areas affected.

The recent flooding has been a tragedy for those affected, and I finish by paying tribute to the wonderful community spirit that I, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, and Members across the House have witnessed as communities rally round to support people in need. I shall, of course, keep the House informed of any further significant developments.

I thank the Secretary of State for his update.

I begin by paying tribute to the emergency services that worked to evacuate homes, rescue those who were stranded and keep people safe this weekend. I echo the Secretary of State’s thanks to staff of the Environment Agency and local councils who worked all weekend—and throughout the night on Saturday—clearing rivers and ensuring that flood defences were activated.

Hon. Members from across the House will wish to send their condolences to the family and friends of the three people who tragically lost their lives. With two months’ worth of rain set to fall in the north of the country today, we are not yet in the clear. The communities affected face months of disruption and upheaval. People who were cleaning up after the July floods have been flooded again, and some have been flooded more than once this week. Pubs that were looking forward to their busiest period are throwing out carpets and cancelling bookings.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs classes areas as being at low, medium or high risk of flooding. Have this week’s floods triggered the medium-risk threshold that activates the Cabinet Office civil contingencies secretariat? Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many schools, roads, railways and businesses have been affected across the country so far, and how many people have been evacuated? How many acres of productive farmland are under water, and what estimate has he made of crop losses to farmers?

The Secretary of State mentioned the Somerset levels, which rely on drainage boards. The Environment Agency, however, is already consulting on changes to flood management, pump houses and maintaining river courses. Will he guarantee that those operations will be protected in future? What contact has he had with the Department for Education to ensure that children whose schools have been flooded continue to be educated? What contact has he had with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on the recovery effort? Is he aware that there is no statutory obligation on fire services to respond to flood events, and does he share my concern that the current round of cuts to fire and rescue authorities, particularly in metropolitan areas, is reducing our resilience to flood events in future years?

The Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman), told the House in a written statement in June that central Government would cover 100% of local authority costs under the Bellwin scheme, yet today the Secretary of State has announced that just 85% of their costs will be met in the case of the latest floods. Why is that?

Councils have just one month after a flood incident to lodge with the DCLG a claim for reimbursement under Bellwin. However, Bellwin covers only the costs of immediate action to safeguard life and property, such as evacuation and rehousing, not the capital costs of road repairs. Just three of the 20 areas flooded last summer have reached the Bellwin threshold to receive any money at all from the Government. Have the Government made any payments to those three councils for the costs of the June and July floods? If, as I suspect, they have not, when can councils expect that money?

What measures has the Secretary of State put in place to help the other 17 councils whose claims did not meet the Bellwin threshold? Whether the Government cover 85% or 100% of the costs, their failure to help 17 of the 20 councils affected in the summer is no help at all. What funding will he put in place for major capital expenditure on damaged roads?

After the 2007 and 2009 floods, the Government set up the flood recovery grant as a one-off payment to councils to help households seriously affected by the floods. This Government have chosen not to help communities in that way. Why is that?

What support will the Government give to those who are under-insured or uninsured? The answer has to be more than warm tweets from the Prime Minister. As we move from response to recovery, flood-hit communities are growing more and more anxious about the availability and affordability of flood insurance. The Secretary of State’s predecessor told the House in June that

“we are at an advanced stage in intensive and constructive negotiations with the insurance industry”.—[Official Report, 25 June 2012; Vol. 547, c. 26.]

Yet the Association of British Insurers has stated today that a deal on the future of flood insurance has “stalled”. We were promised a deal in the spring, and then by July. It is now November. What has happened? If the deal is not done by the time of the autumn statement in just nine days, the risk of people being unable to insure, mortgage and eventually sell their home will rise exponentially. We must not have whole communities blighted because the Chancellor refuses to negotiate in good faith. When will he get a grip on the issue?

We know that every pound invested in flood defences saves £8 in costs further down the line, yet this Government have cut capital spending on flood defences by 30% from the 2010 baseline. They are spending less on flood defences now than we were five years ago in 2007. As a result, 294 flood defence schemes have been deferred or cancelled. Will the Secretary of State resist any pressure from the Treasury to cut flood defence spending in the next comprehensive spending review?

Last Monday in Westminster Hall, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), told Members that

“while the flooding incidents of this summer were locally significant, we did not witness the devastating effects of previous years.”—[Official Report, 20 November 2012; Vol. 553, c. 93WH.]

Communities that have been devastated by flooding should not have to listen to Ministers telling them that their experience is not nationally significant. Today and this weekend, we have once again had a reminder that floods are the greatest threat that climate change poses to our country, and flood-hit communities deserve not to have to go through that terrible experience again.

I thank the hon. Lady for echoing my tributes to the Environment Agency, councils and all those who have worked so extraordinarily hard in recent days. I thank her also for expressing her sympathies to those who have lost relations and friends.

The hon. Lady asked detailed questions about the picture on schools, roads and crops. It is too early to tell, because the current weather is carrying on, and I think we had better review those questions when it settles down.

The hon. Lady mentioned local councils. We are co-ordinating the matter carefully and meeting DCLG on a regular basis, including on the subject of fire services. She mentioned the Bellwin scheme, which we have continued in exactly the same vein as the previous Government. There is a 0.2% threshold, and we have said that we will pay up to 85% of costs. We will keep that under review and keep assessing the situation as it develops.

The hon. Lady mentioned flood insurance. Today’s story is complete nonsense. The first meeting I had on taking office was with the ABI. We have had constructive and detailed discussions with it since, and there was a senior level meeting as recently as the end of last week. I am looking forward to receiving the ABI’s latest suggestions. We are determined to arrive at a replacement for the statement of principles that provides universality, is affordable and does not put a major burden on the taxpayer. I would like to remind the hon. Lady that the statement of principles covers 2003 to 2013, and we inherited absolutely nothing from the previous Government on this issue.

The hon. Lady mentioned spending on flood defences, and there is a complete canard about this reduction; our reduction is 6% over the whole spending round compared with what Labour spent over its spending round. I would have thought that she would have been pleased that our partnership scheme is really working, and a range of schemes that were just on the threshold and did not make the cut will now go ahead. In the last major incident, in 2007, 55,000 homes were flooded but this time the figure is 5,000 to 6,000. That is still traumatic for those households, and I repeat that my real sympathies are with those affected. I stress that we are continuing with a major programme of flood defence schemes to reduce the number further.

Today’s tragedy is truly of national proportions, but the response has been so much more effective after the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 came into effect. Will the Secretary of State revisit the damage done in September to the roads and bridges in north Yorkshire, which has now been made 10 times worse today? Will he also examine the impact on the community of operating theatres potentially closing at the Friarage hospital in Northallerton, as well as of school and road closures? There is something the Government could do to ease the impact of surface water flooding: introduce the regulations on sustainable urban drainage long before the deadline of 2014, which marks a huge delay from what was originally proposed.

My hon. Friend mentioned various local issues relating to schools and roads, and I can tell her that we are meeting colleagues in other Departments on a regular basis. As the local MP, it is appropriate that she should raise those issues with those Departments, but I am happy to discuss them with her separately. On the issue of sustainable drainage systems, we intend to have an implementation date of April 2014, but this has turned out to be extremely complicated and we will have to work this out in detail to make sure we get it right.

Will the Secretary of State, together with his colleagues in government, examine the case for making targeted use of flood recovery grants for those in the most unhappy of circumstances?

I am very happy to look into that. If the right hon. Gentleman would like to write to me detailing a specific example, I am happy to take it up.

Not only are hundreds of homes in Cornwall flooded now, but they were flooded two years ago. What plans does the Secretary of State have to ensure that flood insurance remains affordable and available for communities such as mine in Cornwall, that have been devastated again and face the risk of not being able to get insurance?

We are clear that we want to arrive at a scheme that is affordable and is as comprehensive as possible, but that is not a burden on the Treasury. This is a real conundrum and we are determined to find a solution. We hope that we will find something that is better than the existing statement of principles.

The Secretary of State talks about something that is not a burden on the Treasury, but no country in the world has a free market in flood defences, as he knows very well. However, I thank him for coming to Exeter today and, through him, his Minister, for keeping in touch with me by phone over the weekend. The Secretary of State will know that Exeter narrowly escaped a flooding disaster over the weekend. It tops the south-west Environment Agency’s list of priority schemes for upgraded flood defence. The city and county councils have come up with money to help fill the shortfall left by his Government’s cuts. Will he now get together with the Environment Agency to come up with a scheme urgently, so that Exeter is safe in the years to come, given the greater threat of climate change?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and his question. I pay tribute to his constituents, who have rallied round magnificently in very difficult circumstances, particularly all those in the services whom I met today. I met his council leaders and stood on the bridge looking at the scheme, which has protected 6,000 properties in the heart of Exeter. We should pay tribute to that scheme, which is most effective. I was interested to learn that councils are thinking of taking up our offer of a partnership and are working with the Environment Agency, topping it up and making a scheme that is targeted at the local requirements. Such schemes will be decided on in the coming months.

Those who have suffered terribly from flooding in Cornwall are uppermost in my mind. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the partnership between the emergency services in Cornwall, which do such a magnificent job, and the Environment Agency in particular, which introduced, with the Government’s help, a new programme that defended many homes and businesses in Truro from flooding?

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Environment Agency and everyone in those different services and councils who have worked so hard on the ground and made an enormous difference.

The Secretary of State quite rightly praises the work of the emergency services. What will we do going forward given that fire services in places such as Tyne and Wear are having their budgets reduced by 35%, 1,500 local authority workers in Gateshead have been sacked and the Environment Agency in the north-east faces a 20% cut in resources? How will we manage these situations then? When will he stop putting ideology before practicality?

We have provided £2.5 million to fire authorities to help on this issue. Under very difficult circumstances—I do not want to make tiresome political points, but we inherited them from the previous Government—we have managed to hold up the investment in flood defence schemes. We are looking at a 6% reduction over the whole spending period compared with that over the previous spending period, which under the current circumstances shows the priority we are giving to these schemes.

Will my right hon. Friend carry out a full investigation into why maintenance is not always done properly, as that causes most of the flooding in my constituency? Will he also ensure that the Bellwin thresholds work for small county councils as well as for large ones?

Several Members have raised the question of keeping drainage channels clear. If my hon. Friend has specific examples, I urge him to take them up with his local officers in the Environment Agency, who understand the matter. If he does not like that, perhaps he will grab me directly after the statement.

Many people in my constituency trying to renew their yearly household insurance policies, which include protection against flooding, are now having difficulties because the statement of principles expires in seven months’ time. Does the Secretary of State not agree that the closer we get to June 2013 without an agreement, the more people will be left without that vital insurance or with paying a much higher premium through no fault of their own?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We want a solution to this conundrum, which is why we have been meeting the ABI regularly and why we are determined to get a good solution. There is no point in rushing into a scheme that will not work. Getting a balance is a difficult conundrum and we are determined to get it right.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. He is well aware of the effects flooding has on my constituency. Is it not time to develop a national strategy to ensure that the culverts, ditches, drains and waterways are regularly maintained and cleared? Is it not also very important to stop building houses in flood risk areas? Will he assure me that no inspector appointed by this Government will force councils such as Tewkesbury to build houses where it is inappropriate to do so?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right—making sure all those channels are kept clear is part of the management of them. In recent days, we have seen complete and total saturation of the land and no matter how clear some of the channels have been kept, there has been nowhere for the water to go. He is quite right to mention the channels—several Members have raised that point with me—and I will talk to the Environment Agency about it.

Hull had 14,000 homes affected by the flooding in 2007 and the former Secretary of State said to me on the Floor of the House:

“I am proud that we have found a way forward with the insurance industry that, above all, guarantees that universal and affordable insurance remains available to all, including to her”—


“constituents.”—[Official Report, 25 June 2012; Vol. 547, c. 30.]

Was she correct or incorrect to say that?

We are quite clear as a Government that we want to come up with a scheme that is affordable, as universal as possible and not a burden on the Treasury. We are working towards that, as was my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman), my predecessor.

I am grateful that the Secretary of State mentioned the Somerset levels and glad that the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), is in his place. One of the problems the levels have had is that successive Governments have refused to spend money on the pumps that are brought in to try to clear them, and they are having to be brought in more and more. Will the Secretary of State, after the statement, please look urgently at upgrading the pump system across the Somerset levels, which cover my constituency and that of my hon. Friend?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I took a train through the levels this afternoon on my way back, and they looked like the Irrawaddy in spate. I must say that it is a huge challenge for any pump system to keep that huge volume of water clear. If he would like to write to me, I would be more than happy to take the matter up with local Environment Agency officers.

I note that the Secretary of State did not answer part of the question on development on floodplains. Developers in Formby and Lydiate in my constituency want to build on farmland that often floods. Will he ensure that the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government do not prevail in their desire to force through development in areas, such as my constituency, that already have a significant problem with flooding?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the chance to clarify this. The national planning policy framework is absolutely clear that development should be located away from flood risk wherever possible.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the consequences of the current flooding is the impact on transport links? The train I took to London last night was slightly delayed due to flooding, but severe disruption in the east midlands followed. Will he confirm that he is of course liaising with colleagues in the Department for Transport on the matter?

I am happy to confirm that at official level we are working and talking with Department for Transport officials on a daily basis. One of the first calls I made after leaving Taunton today was to the Secretary of State for Transport, who had already been on the case to get the Exeter line reopened. We hope to see services resume tomorrow.

Unpredictable weather events are one of the main consequences of climate change. Does the Secretary of State not understand that if he continues to resist the scientific evidence and refuses to take sensible policy measures to prevent climate change, his successors for years to come will have to come to this House to make statements such as the one he has made this afternoon? [Interruption.]

I wish I had such extraordinary powers. The fact is that we have to react and adapt to the weather, and that is what the Government are doing.

In recent months, and this weekend, constituents of mine have woken up to flooding. Today, loss assessors are visiting constituents in the village of Saxton and bridges are still closed in Cattal. On Saturday I visited a Kelfield farmer, Richard Bramley, some of whose land is in a floodplain designed to help protect the village of Cawood. Thankfully, the flood defences worked, but Mr Bramley has lost more than £50,000-worth of crops. As flooding is becoming increasingly frequent, does the Secretary of State agree with Mr Bramley and me that the management of the water system does not appear to be keeping pace with changing weather conditions?

That is why we are putting this huge sum of money into flood defence schemes and encouraging partnerships with local government and, on the ground, with individuals and farmers, such as the one my hon. Friend cites, working with local drainage boards and councils to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach.

I would like to thank the Secretary of State for not blaming Opposition Members for the weather and join him in paying tribute to the emergency services, especially the fire and rescue services in the north-east, particularly in Durham and Teesside, who have been doing such a terrific job. Does he share my concern that in areas such as my constituency we are gradually losing resilience due to cuts in front-line fire and rescue budgets at a time when floods are becoming an increasingly common phenomenon?

I was in Northampton on Friday and talked to the senior fire officer there. I echo the hon. Gentleman’s congratulations, as have we all, to those in the fire service and others who have been working so hard. The reaction I got from Northampton fire brigade was that they have been thoroughly involved in evacuating a number of people, and I am sure that we will see the same sort of dedication in the north-east.

May I join the Secretary of State in mourning the deaths of the three people, particularly the gentleman in Chew Stoke who was washed to his death in spite of the very valiant efforts of the fire brigade to rescue him? May I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who has assured Bath and North East Somerset council that it will be given every help following the floods? May I raise an issue that has been brought to my attention by constituents who are concerned that silt is not being dealt with because of esoteric wildlife issues, and ask whether this policy will be reconsidered?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments and wholly endorse them. The issue of keeping watercourses clear has been raised by other Members. I am absolutely clear in my own mind that the purpose of these watercourses is to get water away, and I will be discussing the issue with the Environment Agency.

The Secretary of State dismissed the discussions between the ABI and the Government on flood risk insurance as utter nonsense. He said categorically that the Government face a conundrum. Perhaps he can tell the House what that conundrum is.

I am glad to clarify my earlier comments if the hon. Gentleman wants me to. What I said was nonsense is the concept that the talks had stalled. Only at the end of last week we had, at the most senior level, a very constructive meeting with the ABI, as has been going on in recent weeks. We are quite clear—I will repeat this again—that we want to get to a system that is affordable, that is as comprehensive as possible—

I will explain the conundrum to the hon. Gentleman if he will stop interrupting. We also want a system that is not a burden on the Treasury. That is not an easy series of demands to meet. We are absolutely determined to keep working in a constructive manner with the ABI, and we are currently waiting for it to come back to us. However, no doubt to the hon. Gentleman’s disappointment, I am not prepared to negotiate on the Floor of the House of Commons.

Having been hit particularly badly earlier in the year and now with these floods, North Yorkshire county council is very worried about capital expenditure not being included in the compensation scheme. Will the Secretary of State arrange for civil servants in his Department to have a direct conversation with the council, which is having trouble getting an answer on this?

Probably the best thing would be for my hon. Friend to have a meeting with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to go into the detail of the case.

What consultations is my right hon. Friend having with local councils and the Highways Agency to ensure that existing roads that do not have sufficient surface water drainage capacity will be made a priority for investment?

As I said, we are having daily meetings with other Ministries such as the Department for Transport. I talked to the Secretary of State for Transport this afternoon, and we will continue in that vein. If my hon. Friend is concerned about a particular road, he should write to the Secretary of State to take it up directly with him.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for his reassurance on the renewal of the statement of principles. On 11 June this year, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton were severely affected by flooding, with hundreds of homes flooded following 36 hours of intense rainfall. West Sussex county council, as the lead statutory authority, is about to publish a detailed report into the implications of those floods. Will he ensure that Southern Water is encouraged and enabled by the regulator to allocate all the capital that is needed to upgrade surface water drainage systems so that weaknesses in the current system are strengthened and people can feel safe in their homes?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point—the key role played by water companies, which have an absolutely essential task in managing water. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury and I will be happy to discuss the particular case that he mentioned.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for this morning visiting Kennford, a small village in my constituency that has been overwhelmed by the flooding, and affording me the time to discuss the situation with him? Will he join me in thanking in particular Martin Weiler and his team at the EA, who have done such extraordinary work in the village in reassuring people, providing information, and so on?

I am sorry that my hon. Friend could not be there in person, but I much appreciate him ringing me in the car as I arrived. I would like to pay tribute to Martin Weiler, his team and all those from the Environment Agency whom I met and spent time with when I went to Kennford. I want to stress how completely awful it was to see those houses in Kennford. There was a thick black line about three feet off the ground, everything in people’s downstairs rooms was completely wrecked and all the electrical appliances were gone. All of that happened in an extraordinarily short amount of time—people were hit by the rapidly rising water over the course of about an hour on Saturday evening. It was shocking and I pay tribute to all the local agencies that I met, the local councils and the local community for how they are pulling together.

I thank the Secretary of State and Ministers for keeping us informed by phone about the problems. I have had flooding in Bampton, Tiverton and Cullompton, and the canal has broken its banks at Holberton. Feniton has now flooded in 2007, 2008 and 2012. One of the problems is that, although the local authorities have resisted more houses, the inspector has allowed them, despite flooding in the village. We need to ensure that inspectors have the same views on flooding as the Government and local authorities.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s constituents, who are stoic under these very difficult circumstances. I stress that the NPPF is absolutely clear on this: it is the intention that developments should not happen on floodplains. He is absolutely right to raise the issue and he should bring it to the attention of all those involved in planning locally.

One of the biggest challenges for residents in Calder Valley who suffered from flooding over the summer is ongoing insurance for both business and residents. On the scheme to replace the statement of principles to ensure there is affordable insurance for those properties most at risk, will the Secretary of State update the House on whether the Government will consider assisting the industry by providing a temporary overdraft, to be paid back with interest, for the proposed not-for-profit scheme, which, of course, would not be a burden on the taxpayer?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for trying to tempt me into negotiating in public but, as I have said many times today, we are involved in a long negotiation with the ABI. We had a very constructive meeting at senior level last week, are waiting for its counter-proposals and I am afraid that I cannot go into the sort of detail that he has asked me to on the Floor of the House.

Given your first-hand experience of this flooding, what advice would you—sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker; I mean the Secretary of State—give to those who seek to build on floodplains?

I am not sure what plans you have, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I would strongly advise all those who are considering developments around the country to look very hard at the NPPF, which says that developments should not happen on floodplains wherever possible.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and, in particular, his concern for residents in Worcestershire who have been flooded. Worcester city suffered badly in 2007 but, partly as the result of improved flood defences, I have yet to hear of a home being flooded there and hope that that will not happen. My constituents are concerned about their ability to get insurance, as are local businesses. May I offer my strong support to the Secretary of State in his attempts to get a deal with the insurance companies as soon as possible?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was in his city on Friday evening at a dinner for one of his parliamentary neighbours and discussed the issue with people who may have been constituents of his. He is right that we have to work through this negotiation and get a good deal on insurance that is satisfactory to all parties.

In addition to those that the Secretary of State has already praised, will he mention South West Water, the transport companies, which have done a great job today, and, crucially, the local media? Will he also address the public concerns in Devon about the resilience of our infrastructure, particularly Cowley bridge, which controls rail in and out of the county to Paddington, the Clennon valley pumping station in my constituency, which deals with most of the sewerage in Torbay, and roads throughout Devon that were cut off from the rest of Devon at some point over the weekend?

I went to Cowley bridge to look at the damage to the railway line and I am pleased to say that it will be mended by tomorrow, which will be a triumph for those involved, because I was told that something like 200 tonnes of aggregate had shifted. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise a number of detailed issues, and they will have to be worked through by local councils and agencies. I was impressed by the resilience of all those affected by events in recent days and I have every confidence that they will see their way through this situation.

West Worcestershire has had the benefit of six new flood defence schemes since 2007. They have protected 360 homes and more than £8 million has been spent on them. Sadly, the Kempsey pump failed on Sunday morning, and I pay tribute to the engineers and emergency workers who came out in the middle of the night to fix it. When the investigation discovers the cause of the incident, will the Environment Agency seek compensation from the manufacturers of the pump, and how will it get that compensation to the home owners whose homes were flooded? How will the situation resolve itself in the long term in respect of the insurance for those homes?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the situation in Kempsey. It was sickening that, according to my knowledge, the pump failed at 4 am. The scheme was designed to protect 70 properties, but 20 of those were damaged. A detailed investigation into what happened is taking place. I congratulate the Environment Agency on getting the pump going again. I believe that it had tripped out. There will be detailed results from the investigation and we will take the matter further when we see them.

I congratulate and thank the agencies in Gloucestershire for dealing so well with the various transport challenges and the localised flooding. Will the Department consider further attenuation schemes, which have some attraction in my constituency?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. During my train journey back from Taunton today, I saw graphically the extraordinary volume of water that has landed in such a short time. The areas that have been set aside as soaks have become completely saturated. He is right that having such small-scale schemes down the road can be very helpful and we will certainly look at that.

What discussions is the Secretary of State having with his colleagues in the Welsh Government, given that the management of Welsh rivers has a profound effect on the risk of flooding in England?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Rivers do not respect political boundaries. We are keeping in touch with all Ministries and Government agencies.

I thank the Secretary of State for coming to the House and informing us in such detail of what is happening and what he has been doing over the past few days. Flooding is occurring on the embankment in Wellingborough. Northamptonshire’s fire brigade and local councils are doing an excellent job. Like other Members, I ask the Secretary of State to look again at the issue of building on the floodplain, because regional spatial strategies forced councils to have residential homes in areas where they opposed them.

I went very close to my hon. Friend’s patch on Friday and saw the scheme that worked incredibly effectively in protecting Northampton town. The Nene was tamed. He rightly says that the huge wet area was saturated. I saw a permanent caravan site that had been badly flooded and a large number of people had been evacuated. I pay tribute to all the agencies in his area that I met: the Environment Agency, the police, the fire service and the local council. He is right that it is completely barmy to build on floodplains. I want to drill it in to everyone who is listening that the NPPF makes it very clear that that is a bad idea and that it should not happen.