We estimate that to date a total of more than 1.3 million properties have been protected from flooding during the flood events since the beginning of last December.
That answer will bring great satisfaction to those whose houses have been protected as a result of improved flood defences, but does the Minister accept that the critical issue now is to ensure that more houses are given that protection in future because of the terrible events going on in this country at present? What commitment do the Government have to continue the work of improving flood defences to protect people’s homes?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that, thanks to the efforts of the Environment Agency and all the money that has been invested, many homes have been protected, as I set out. It is crucial that we do more, however, which is why we are investing £2.3 billion in the next spending period and we announced £344 million last week for schemes that will go ahead in the next year. It is also why we are working hard on partnership funding and making the case locally to bring forward schemes that would otherwise not have been funded.
Until the implementation of Flood Re, which is planned for summer 2015, the insurance industry has voluntarily agreed to abide by its commitments under the 2008 statement of principles, which means that insurers will not decline to cover those who already hold flood insurance with them. In practice, that means that people who are already covered by an insurer will be able to continue to access flood insurance from that insurer until Flood Re comes in.
The crucial measure that we are taking forward is the implementation of Flood Re and the Water Bill, which is being debated in another place. On the first part of my hon. Friend’s question, we have investment plans to improve protection for at least 465,000 households by the end of the decade.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question, but there are no massive cuts in the number of people involved in flood protection. The Environment Agency, like all other agencies and Departments across government, is having to use resources more efficiently as we seek to sort out the financial mess that the previous Government left us. However, its chief executive has said that he is prioritising important front-line services, and I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to all the work that it did over December, Christmas and the new year, which it is continuing now, to protect people and keep them safe.
Does the Minister accept his Department’s climate change risk assessment that up to 1 million more properties, including 825,000 homes, are likely to be at risk of flooding by 2020? If he does, why is funding for flood protection £63.5 million less in the current year than in 2010, even after last week’s budget changes? What is the implication for the Government’s Flood Re insurance scheme, which the Committee on Climate Change has warned him does not factor in the impact of climate change at all?
The view of Lord Krebs’s sub-committee on Flood Re is being debated in another place. I have been ensuring that, as Flood Re goes forward, it takes account of extreme weather events and factors involving climate change. As I have set out, the Government will be investing more in flood defences than any previous Government, given our spending review deal on capital investment. In the first four years of this Parliament, we have spent more on flood defences than the previous Government did in their last four years in office.
Farmers and others in Burrowbridge to whom I spoke last night are extremely grateful for the generosity of those farmers from the other side of the country who have sent forage to help feed their animals, and also very much welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday of an extra fund for farming that will help them to redrill the land and get it back into a productive state. Does the Minister have any more details about that scheme, how it will be applied and what the process will be?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and colleagues in Somerset for all their work in representing their constituents, and I look forward to the next meeting of the action group, which I hope he will be able to attend. The farmers have suffered a great deal since their land has been inundated, and I echo what he said about charitable efforts to help them. The fund announced by the Prime Minister will set aside money to improve the land to bring it back to the condition that we would like to see it in, and details on how to apply for that will be published in due course.