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Volume 554: debated on Thursday 6 December 2012

10. What representations he has received on his Department’s response to the recent floods; and if he will make a statement. (131735)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her letter on behalf of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, making representations on my Department’s flood response. I will reply in due course. During my visits to Northampton, Exeter and Kennford, I have also had a number of useful representations from the people affected, emergency services and local councillors.

I am grateful for that reply. A ministerial visit to North Yorkshire would be most welcome. We have experienced flooding for the second time since September. I would like to join the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) in what she said about drains. What has been a feature since 2007 is surface water flooding—clean water mixing with foul water, coming into people’s homes. The SUDS—sustainable urban draining systems—regulations need to be adopted as a matter of urgency, as 2014 is simply unacceptable. I think the British public expect DEFRA to act as a matter of urgency.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) visited York recently, and we fully take on board how people have been affected. The question of getting water away is very relevant, and the Environment Agency is quite clear that drainage channels have to be kept free for flow, but for the real emergencies such as those we have had, the priority has to be protection of life and serious damage to property. The question of the SUDS regulations is complicated, which is why we are intending to bring them in in 2014. I am happy to discuss that with my hon. Friend outside the Chamber.

One of the most pressing and important long-term responses to the challenge of flooding is the protection of those 200,000 home owners who will be left without insurance, leaving their homes unmortgageable and unsellable, if the Minister cannot get a deal. The Association of British Insurers has described discussions on flood insurance as “stalled”. Will the right hon. Gentleman be able to lay out calmly what he believes is the last acceptable date for a deal?

I would like to reassure the shadow Minister that the talks are not stalled. We have had detailed discussions on a regular basis with the ABI—before I came into office in September and since. I am not going to put a date on it, because we want to get to a system that improves on the current statement of principles. To repeat what I said earlier, we want something that is affordable and as comprehensive as possible but which is not a burden on the taxpayer. We intend to carry on these detailed negotiations, but I cannot conduct them in public.