The work done on flood forecasting is carried out by the Flood Forecasting Centre, which involves collaboration between the Environment Agency and the Met Office. It provides daily forecasts, which are communicated to the public through the web and through telephones, providing flood warnings and flood alerts on a real-time basis.
May I send Chester’s best wishes to the Minister and his constituents, whom I know are overcoming the damage from the flooding so far? Long-term assessments of flooding demonstrate that the risk is becoming greater, and the Government have introduced an insurance scheme to support people in their homes who are affected by insurance issues. Am I right in thinking that the scheme does not include small businesses? In the light of the recent flooding in Cumbria, will the Minister rethink that policy?
I am very pleased that the hon. Gentleman has recognised the work of the Flood Re scheme, which will make a considerable difference, particularly to lower income households. He is correct that small businesses are not currently included. The Association of British Insurers believes that there is no systematic problem in providing insurance for small businesses, but should we discover that that is not the case, I am happy to sit down with him and the ABI to resolve the matter.
The Minister has mentioned low-lying Lincolnshire, yet more and more housing schemes—huge housing schemes—are being forced on us to meet a rising population. Will the Minister responsible for defending the people from flooding remind those in the EU, the Home Office and the Treasury that in one of the most rain-sodden, flood-prone countries in Europe there is a cost to the 300,000 net migration to this country every year? Even if we could afford it, we should not be building houses in the wrong places.
I do not wish to be drawn into a debate on migration, but I absolutely agree that we should not be building houses on floodplains. The Environment Agency guidance on that is increasingly strict, and we are pushing hard to ensure that councils acknowledge and respect that guidance.
In considering flood risk, has the Minister assessed the risk of profiteering in relation to services that are required in the clean-up after flooding? I understand that the cost of skip hire and of estate agent services has rocketed in areas affected by flooding.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: there is a serious risk of profiteering and there is even a risk of criminal activity. Unscrupulous people will turn out and push for far more work to be done in a house than actually needs to be done. The police in Cumbria, Lancashire and Northumberland are focused on that issue. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that, in moments of crisis, we should absolutely condemn anybody who attempts to exploit misery for gain.
My hon. Friend will know that, over a year ago, there was a tidal surge in the North sea that brought flooding to a lot of the east coast, particularly to Norfolk. I understand that there is a tidal surge forecast for Christmas day and Boxing day. Will he update the House on the measures his Department and the Environment Agency are taking in the event of such a surge taking place?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are facing very high spring tides at the moment—some of the highest for 18 years—but we need to take into account the fact that the level of the tides themselves is not the determining factor. The low pressure systems and the wind will also have an impact. We focus very hard on this matter, specifically on that tide on Christmas day. The Flood Forecasting Centre ensures that the forecasts are as accurate as possible, and we have the measures in place to respond.
Flood risk on the Humber remains high following the tidal surge two years ago. With local authorities, the Environment Agency was involved in putting together proposals that it now advises Ministers should be reassessed. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is committed to strengthening flood defences along the Humber, and that, in the forthcoming meeting with Humber MPs, he will have alternative proposals?
I thank my hon. Friend very much for the work that he does for his constituents in arguing for more funding on the Humber. Considerable investment is going to flood defences in the Humber region. Nearly £80 million is going into the Humber—£40 million to the north side of the Humber and £40 million to the south side. Yes, we are looking forward to a round table, where we will discuss every one of those schemes from Grimsby to Hull.