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Flooding

Volume 584: debated on Thursday 17 July 2014

6. What steps the Government have taken to respond to recent flooding; and if she will make a statement. (904924)

The Government committed around £560 million to support those affected by the recent flooding. This includes an extra £270 million, to which I have referred in a previous question, to repair and maintain critical flood defences. We are helping households and businesses through the repair and renew grant, council tax and rates relief. Farmers and fishermen are receiving funding for repairs through existing schemes. We are supporting businesses through a £10 million hardship fund.

In my constituency, surface water flooding is a big problem. Will the Minister tell us what he is doing to ensure that councils, the Environment Agency and the water companies work together to protect communities such as those in my constituency, especially as councils and the Environment Agency have faced very significant cuts in their budgets?

I know the hon. Gentleman recently raised the flooding in Maghull with the Environment Agency. Watercourses and rivers are the responsibility of the agency, but surface flooding, as he said, is the responsibility of the lead local flood authority. I have been talking to the Local Government Association about chasing all councils to ensure that their plans are in place, so that we can be as reassured about surface flooding as we are about other forms of flooding and that all the procedures are in place.

On one of the hottest days of the year, flooding may seem a dim and distant memory, but the effects are ongoing in Romsey. Not a single Government Minister has yet been to my constituency to see what needs to be done. Will my hon. Friend care to visit Romsey to see for himself the work that desperately needs to be undertaken to safeguard the town from future flooding events?

Ministers have undertaken a great number of visits across the country and I would be happy to join my hon. Friend in a visit to her constituency. She is right to point out that we are experiencing some hot weather, which brings its own challenges, but we also have the threat of storms over the weekend, so we are keeping a close eye on what might result from them.

I thank the previous Secretary of State who, in his last few days in office, confirmed to me in writing that the Department will in future publish statistics on flood protection expenditure as official statistics. Will the Minister inform the House when that change will take place and whether, crucially, it will be before the next election, so that we can have clear figures?

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) was able to write to the hon. Gentleman to reassure him about that approach and I am pleased with the welcome that the hon. Gentleman has given it. We have debated the matter on many occasions. We will now discuss how that change will come in and will introduce it as soon as we possibly can.

Will the Minister arrange for the Secretary of State to maintain the closest possible contact with Somerset colleagues about Somerset? In particular, can we have an early meeting to discuss the two outstanding issues: the sluice on the Parrett and the Somerset rivers authority?

As my hon. Friend knows, both the previous Secretary of State and I took a close interest in what happened in Somerset and made several visits there. I know that the new Secretary of State will also want to do that. I am sure that she will meet him soon, as will I.

The Government’s response to the winter floods was slow and chaotic. Four months on, parliamentary answers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs show that, of the £10 million pledged by the Prime Minister to Somerset farmers, only £403,000 has been paid out, and only £2,320 has been paid out to one fisherman in the south-west. The Prime Minister has gone from “money is no object” to “out of sight, out of mind.” What will the Department do to ensure that people get the help they were promised?

I first want to correct the hon. Lady’s misapprehension. The money is not only for farmers in Somerset; it is for farmers across the country. We have received applications from the north and the east, and from other counties in the south-west. Those applications are being approved. Applicants will be paid once the work is carried out, so unless she wants to interfere in those farming businesses and tell them that they must carry the work out in the next week, we will have to wait until the work is actually carried out before we can pay them.