House of Commons
Wednesday 4 March 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Developing World: Business Enabling
The UK Government work in 35 low and middle-income countries to implement legal, regulatory and policy reforms to make it easy for business, including from the UK, to operate. Business-enabling environment reform was also discussed at the UK-Africa investment summit, which secured commercial deals between UK companies and African partners worth more than £6.5 billion.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He makes a good point. The Government are committed to working with our Commonwealth partners to support and deepen intra-Commonwealth trade, to improve the business environments in Commonwealth countries to enable them to be more globally competitive, and to facilitate the economic empowerment of women and young people by providing more business and educational opportunities. He will have an opportunity on Monday to take part in the Commonwealth debate.
Indeed. This is a great opportunity for constituencies across all the nations of the UK. Leaving the EU provides an opportunity to explore the best ways to develop our trade and investment relationships across Africa. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) want to intervene? The trade connect programme, announced at the Africa investment summit, will support African businesses to increase their presence in international markets while supporting UK firms to source products. This will benefit UK customers with more choice and quality and lower prices.
I certainly can. My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are working with African countries to promote mutual prosperity. This incorporates a range of initiatives to increase trade and investment, including a new growth gateway, which will enable businesses to access the UK Government’s trade, investment and finance offer for Africa all in one place.
All of us should be truly proud of our contributions to international development, yet the opening questions demonstrate the dangerous direction in which many in the Tory party are looking to take aid spending. The Department for International Development does not exist to increase the size of our business abroad, and nor is it part of the Department for International Trade. Indeed, the public good will and trust in the Department has been because every penny spent has been on helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. As the Government undertake their integrated review, will the Secretary of State reaffirm the Government’s commitment to a fully independent Department, with Cabinet-level representation, and does she agree that this should not be compromised for quid pro quo deals made to facilitate aid for trade?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Department has Cabinet representation. I just make the point that trade can be and is a key driver for economic growth. It triggers positive changes in a country’s economy, which helps raise incomes in the poorest countries, creates job, lifts people out of poverty and helps countries to move beyond trade dependency.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. I will take an answer from the Minister, but I warmly welcome her to her new position in the Cabinet.
On the Department’s role around investment in developing countries, the International Labour Organisation sets global standards for employment rights. As DFID invests in African nations, will the Minister ensure that those Governments meet international labour standards, if not even higher standards?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that where we have these interests in developing countries we take those rights incredibly seriously. Our network fully engages with them, and this fantastic array of Ministers, who will shortly do some travelling, will ensure that that is the case.
Sustainable Development Goals: Climate Action
Climate action is a priority for the UK Government and the Department for International Development. We have recently doubled our commitment to international climate finance and will spend £11.6 billion over the next five-year period on helping poorer countries tackle climate change. Since 2011, ICF has helped 57 million people cope with the effects of climate change and provided 26 million with improved access to clean energy.
Drawing climate finance solely from the 0.7% will not be sustainable as climate change takes its toll, and drawing from the aid budget will mean cuts for health, education and life-saving measures, so what plans does the Minister have to establish new and additional sources of climate finance?
I absolutely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Finance is critical, but this is about more than just finance. The UK will be hosting COP26 this year in partnership with Italy and, as I am sure he is aware, this will be happening in Glasgow. Tackling climate change is about so much more than just finance; it cuts right across the work that we do in the Department for International Development.
My apologies: I am short on voice today, about which many in the House will no doubt be very relieved. The Government’s 2019 spending review allocated sufficient funding to ensure that the UK can deliver on our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance in 2020-21. Thanks to this Government’s focus on a strong economy, we can deliver on this commitment, improving the lives of millions in developing countries—for example, by giving more than 14 million children access to a decent education, immunising 56 million children and supporting 52 million to access clean water and better sanitation in the past two years alone.[Official Report, 4 March 2020, Vol. 673, c. 8MC.]
I asked that question because in 2013 the Secretary of State tweeted an article that questioned the 0.7% of GDP target and, more recently, she circulated an article by the former Development Secretary saying that the waste of cash on
“vanity projects in far-flung lands”
had kept her awake at night. Can the Secretary of State confirm today that she has changed her mind on this matter and is now committed to the 0.7% target?
I am absolutely committed to 0.7% and I am committed to spending it in value-for-money terms for the British taxpayers who are funding it and, most importantly, to ensuring that we help those countries that are most fragile and most in need of aid and then development, so that they can become strong independent countries themselves. Getting to that point involves doing lots of things, and not necessarily in the way we have done them before. We need to ensure that we have a long-term investment perspective to help those countries to become self-sufficient. I do not want countries always to be dependent on UK and international aid; I want them to be self-sufficient, proud countries that can stand on their own two feet.
Given the likely effect of covid-19 on populations that DFID works with, what plans exist to establish contingency funding to deal with mitigation for those populations and to shift funding to the development of a vaccine, which is a global equity?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question, and for the enormous amount of work that he has done in previous iterations of his posts in this Department and others. He is absolutely right; the challenge of finding a vaccine for covid-19 is something that we are actively involved in, and we have already supported £5 million to the World Health Organisation. I was speaking to Dr Tedros yesterday to find out what other support we could bring, not only in cash terms but in expertise such as the skills of epidemiologists and logisticians, which could help the WHO to drive forwards in the weakest health systems across the world to ensure that they have the support they need.
Is the Secretary of State confident that her Department has sufficient resources to deal with the consequences of the ongoing conflict in Syria, especially given the recent call from the UN high commissioner for refugees for the international support for refugees trapped in Idlib to be sustained and stepped up?
I think we are all continually horrified by the increasing abandonment of any kind of respect for humanitarian law that we are seeing in Syria from the regime, supported by the Russians. I signed off an £89 million package last week to provide more immediate help in that area. The challenge is to get it in, and to ensure that those who are able to deliver that humanitarian relief are able to get in and out safely. The Foreign Secretary was in Turkey yesterday continuing to try to find ways to ensure that those communities are at least able to keep warm and fed while we find ways to really sort out this impossible humanitarian challenge.
Excuse me, Mr Speaker. My cold is a demonstration, if I may say so, of joint working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as it is the Foreign Secretary’s cold, which he has shared, most unreasonably. [Interruption.] We have sent him abroad.
Promoting 12 years of quality education for all girls by 2030 is a personal priority of the Prime Minister’s and of mine. Girls in fragile states are central to this. When girls are educated, societies are healthier, wealthier and more sustainable. The UK is the leading donor to the global fund for education in emergencies, which supported over 1 million children to attend school in 2018.
There is a fantastic charity in Newbury, Afghan Connection, which has built or renovated over 100 schools in Takhar province, where most adult women are illiterate, yet their daughters go to school because the charity has offered separate school buildings and female-only teaching staff. What steps can my right hon. Friend take to support schooling that reflects social and religious sensitivities like this?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the excellent work done by her local charity, Afghan Connection, and I look forward to hearing more about the work it is doing. Perhaps we can join that up.
DFID supports marginalised girls’ access and stay-in-school through strategies such as gender-sensitive infrastructure and pedagogy. DFID supports two girls’ education challenge projects in Afghanistan specifically. The UK is the largest donor to the Global Partnership for Education and to Education Cannot Wait, which supports girls’ education across fragile states.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her previous answers. As a former secondary school teacher, I know first hand the role that education has in unleashing potential, so will she update the House on what steps her Department is taking to support women and girls in fragile and conflict-affected states to ensure that where somebody is born has no bearing on their future potential?
I thank my hon. Friend for his service to education before coming on to the green Benches, and I know that he will support our commitment to educating girls. Girls in emergencies and crises are more than twice as likely to be out of school, so the UK prioritises quality education in conflicts and crises. We are the largest donor to Education Cannot Wait, the global fund for education in emergencies, and bilaterally, we are supporting education for over 600,000 girls in Syria and surrounding countries.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. International Women’s Day is a focal point of the year to celebrate the movement for women’s rights and gender equality, and we welcome her Department’s focus on girls’ education, but does she agree that girls’ education is a basic and universal human right, not something that should be used simply as a means to achieve other ends? Will she commit to implementing a gender-transformative approach across DFID’s work to help dismantle the structural causes of gender inequality?
I agree absolutely that education is a right for all, but especially for girls. We all know that if a girl is educated, that community gains so much more than just that education. That is something that at DFID and across this Government we are absolutely committed to. We are working in a number of areas on gender equality and reductions in violence against girls, and part of the focus that I am going to give to DFID around girls’ education for 12 years is the Prime Minister’s absolute commitment. We will be drawing together all those constituent parts.
I welcome the new Secretary of State and also the fact that this morning marks the inauguration of the Speaker’s chaplain. It is lovely to see her in the Chamber and leading our prayers.
Does the Secretary of State agree that we need much more energy from legislators worldwide? If we are going to tackle girls’ education worldwide, as well as my own World Health Organisation work on reducing road accidents worldwide, can we not get the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and legislators around the world helping Ministers to do the job properly?
It sounds to me like the hon. Gentleman has just given himself a job to help me to draw up the plan that we want to bring together, which is exactly as he mentioned. If the focus is on ensuring that every girl across the globe has 12 years of education, we need to include all those things that make it possible, such as getting to school safely and appropriate sanitation in those schools so that girls can keep attending. I look forward to him coming to help us—
The Secretary of State will be aware of the preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative that was set up in 2012. Does she agree that the initiative needs to be relaunched and shown new leadership in a forthcoming conference later this year?
Climate Change: Water Projects
More than 700 million people do not have enough water every day, and climate change will make it worse unless more action is taken. DFID is supporting poorer countries to understand how climate change will affect water availability and to manage their water resources sustainably. DFID spends about £300 million a year on water, which since 2015 has given over 51 million people across 30 countries clean water or a decent toilet.
Some 800 million people across the world still do not have access to clean water, and clean water is the first line of defence in coping with climate change. We are currently seeing a need for handwashing, for which people need clean water, but the most climate-vulnerable countries across the world have some of the lowest levels of clean water. Only 5% of global climate finance is spent on helping countries adapt to climate change. Will the Minister increase funding for water, sanitation and hygiene projects to tackle the impact of climate change and adapt—
By 2030, 40% of the world’s population will be facing water scarcity unless action is taken, and we in DFID take that very seriously. This year is critical for galvanising global ambition on climate change, which is why COP26 is so important. DFID programmes cover many crucial aspects of water security, but there is much more to do to avert the global water crisis.
Infrastructure in Developing Countries
DFID has over 150 infra- structure programmes, including providing water, roads, electricity, schools and hospitals. This Government established the International Development Infrastructure Commission to accelerate our work in this area.
Infrastructure is critical for economic growth, creating jobs and boosting businesses, but we must also be mindful of the natural environment. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that new infrastructure development in developing countries is sustainable?
DFID is directly investing in infrastructure programmes that will enhance climate resilience in developing countries. Our work is focused on creating the right enabling conditions to direct private finance into low-carbon infrastructure, expanding Africa’s financial markets and unlocking investment through innovative instruments such as green investment bonds.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his passion for Africa. We are committed to working with African countries to boost renewable energy potential and cleaner energy alternatives. For example, the Africa clean energy programme is working in over 15 countries to increase the deployment of off-grid renewable energy.
The Department invested nearly £300 million of taxpayers’ money in the airport on St Helena. Will the Minister update us on whether aircraft can now land and take off from that expensive airport?
The provision of water is essential, and the Department is particularly keen to enable small charities, particularly small British charities, in this sector. If the hon. Gentleman has any particular ideas, my colleagues and I are more than happy to receive them.
We are proud to maintain our manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of our income on international development, helping countries to become economically self-sufficient, free societies where liberal values can flourish. That is firmly in our own interests. The climate change challenges, alongside championing 12 years of girls’ education and tackling preventable diseases, will be our focus. These are global challenges, achievable thanks to DFID investment in world-leading British business, the talent of our innovators, and our world-class defence and diplomatic network. I am determined that the British public’s altruism will be reflected in the outcomes that we see from DFID funding.
The UK plays a leadership role in countries around the world, projecting our values and ensuring that free societies can flourish. Education is a key part of that, so, ahead of International Women’s Day, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that every child gets 12 years of education?
Talent is spread around the world but, sadly, opportunity is not. Twelve years of quality education is a key priority, and I am proud that between 2015 and 2019 we supported 14.3 million girls to gain a decent education, across 70 of our most fragile countries. As another International Women’s Day is before us, we have the opportunity to refocus our energies on making sure that there is not a single girl who is not educated.[Official Report, 17 March 2020, Vol. 673, c. 8MC.]
I welcome the new Secretary of State to her post. She leads one of the most important Departments, which literally saves lives every day. More than 60 countries across the world have reported at least one case of coronavirus, but, as yet, we have not seen a widespread outbreak in sub-Saharan Africa. What immediate steps is she taking to ensure the preparedness of the world’s poorest nations in the event of such an outbreak?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the great challenge is to be able to provide support to those countries where their health systems are weakest, should they need that support. Alongside our colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care, I am working closely with the World Health Organisation to make sure that we can support it with technical skills as well as funding. We have already given £5 million to its initial fund to make sure that it can be as prepared as possible and reach as quickly as possible those countries that will need this.
The situation in Idlib and across Syria has reached a horrifying new level: indiscriminate bombings are killing civilians and humanitarian workers; 1 million people have fled their homes; people are sleeping in freezing conditions; and children are dying. We welcome the Government’s increased humanitarian response, but what is the UK, as a member of the Security Council, doing? When will the Prime Minister play his part to lead diplomatic efforts to protect civilian lives in Syria?
The Foreign Secretary is in the region at the moment, continuing to work with regional leaders to try to find ways to move forward supporting the Turkish communities who are looking after so many displaced people. As I said, we continue to be horrified and appalled by the humanitarian legal breaches that are going on, and we continue to provide support. I signed off £89 million last week to make sure that we can provide support as best we can.
The UK is hosting the global vaccine summit in June, supporting Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to raise at least $7.4 billion towards vaccination for the world’s poorest children. Ahead of the summit, we are convening world-leading British academics, the private sector and civil society in Liverpool to highlight UK research in global health that helps to unlock barriers to ending preventable deaths.
We welcome that report and its recognition of the work the UK is already doing. The report is in line with the Government’s ambition to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths by 2030. We will be publishing a paper shortly setting out how we will work with others to reach that goal.
The coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome and similar illnesses are believed to have been started in unsanitary butcheries in eastern and south-east Asia. What role does, and can, the Department have in producing cleaner butcheries, so that we do not get this transfer from animal to human disease?
Research and development is incredibly important, which is why we have thus far committed more than £40 million. I take my hon. Friend’s question seriously. Through our networks, we can project and promote good practice, and I am sure that that is what we are doing.
The Government are aware of the situation in Colombia and Venezuela. The UK is one of the largest donors to the humanitarian response in Venezuela and the top donor to the Central Emergency Response Fund and Education Cannot Wait. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman in respect of his specific point on policing.
The Prime Minister was asked—
It is now two years to the day since a chemical weapon was deployed by Russian military intelligence on the streets of Salisbury. All our thoughts remain with those affected and their families and loved ones. We will continue to seek justice for them. I am pleased to say that, two years on, Salisbury is back on its feet, focused firmly on the future and welcoming visitors with open arms. I am sure the House will want to pay tribute to the people of Salisbury and Amesbury and wish them well for the future.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
As the Government prepare the nation for the worst of the coronavirus, while working for the best, now is the time to wash our hands and pull together, so does the Prime Minister agree that we need in place a robust plan to cover any significant cash-flow losses for businesses, so that employees and their mortgages, rents and benefits will still be paid? Will the Treasury consider delaying VAT and pay-as-you-earn collection, if need be? Does the Prime Minister agree that, come what may, as we saw during the devastating floods of Gloucester in 2007 and elsewhere recently, Britain will find the strength, perhaps aided by a cup of not-necessarily-Yorkshire tea, to pull through?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We are of course monitoring the situation and are prepared to support individuals, businesses and the economy to maintain economic confidence, quite rightly. Our action plan—our battle plan—points to mitigations that already exist, such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ Time to Pay arrangements, which are available on a case-by-case basis to support firms struggling with payments.
I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating the Prime Minister and his partner on the news that they are expecting a baby. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
I join the Prime Minister in wishing the people Salisbury well. It is a wonderful city and I have visited it many times, and what happened to them was of course utterly appalling. Their safety and security is paramount for all of us.
I pay tribute to all the medical staff and, indeed, expert public servants, here and overseas, who are doing vital work to combat the spread of coronavirus and are looking after those affected.
Yesterday, our part-time Prime Minister finally published the steps that his Government will take to tackle the outbreak of the disease. The strategy broadly has our support, but a decade of Tory austerity means that our national health service is already struggling to cope. Bed-occupancy levels are at 94% and hundreds of our most vulnerable people are being treated on trolleys in corridors. What additional funding will our overstretched and underfunded NHS be given to deal with this crisis?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this Government have put record funding into the NHS and we have pledged that we will give it everything that it needs to cope with the crisis.
It might be for the advantage of the right hon. Gentleman and the House if I update the House on where we are with the coronavirus outbreak. As yesterday’s plan made clear, we are not at the point yet where we are asking large numbers of people to self-isolate, but that, of course, may come if large numbers of people have the symptoms of coronavirus. If they stay at home, the House will understand that they are helping to protect all of us by slowing the spread of the virus and that is what the best scientific evidence tells us. If they stay at home and if we ask people to self-isolate, they may lose out financially, so I can today announce that the Health Secretary will bring forward, as part of our emergency coronavirus legislation, measures to allow the payment of statutory sick pay from the very first day you are sick, instead of four days under the current rules. That is the right way forward. Nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing.
I thank the Prime Minister for that, but I want to ask him a couple more questions on this subject. Is it true, as has been reported, that police forces are likely to become so overstretched by coronavirus that 999 response times will have to be extended and that even investigations into some murders will have to be halted as a result of this?
Under this Government, there are 2 million workers on low pay, many of them women in the care sector who are not eligible for statutory sick pay at the present time. It is not clear whether the Prime Minister’s statement just now covers them or not, and those on social security could face sanctions if they miss appointments and, therefore, they and their families will face terrible hardship. When the Prime Minister brings forward the emergency legislation, will he guarantee that workers’ rights to sick pay from day one—he has just indicated that that will apply on statutory sick pay—will apply to all claimants? Those people who are not currently eligible for statutory sick pay will have to make a terrible choice between health and hardship.
The right hon. Gentleman is raising a very important point. We are, of course, very much aware of the issues faced by the self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts. I should stress that some of them will be entitled to statutory sick pay—[Interruption.] A great many. Others will be entitled to help through the existing system, such as universal credit. We are urgently looking at the application process to reflect on the advice on self-isolation. I think that members of the public have appreciated the way that, hitherto, Members have come together across the Floor of this House to deal with the crisis. I think it would be common ground between us all that we would want to do everything we can to avoid penalising those who are doing the right thing.
The Prime Minister is not being clear about this. The reality is that, if a person is on universal credit or has just been put on to it, they have a five-week wait before they get any benefits. Will he be absolutely clear that nobody—nobody—will have to choose between health and hardship, because it is a matter of public health concern for everybody?
Our part-time Prime Minister failed to turn up on Monday to answer a question about a breach of the ministerial code. In his own foreword to that code, the Prime Minister wrote:
“There must be no bullying and no harassment”.
Will he now commit to an independent investigation into the Home Secretary’s conduct, led by an external lawyer, and commit to a date when its findings will be made public?
Of course, it is right that there should be an investigation into any allegations of bullying, and that is what the Cabinet Office and Sir Alex Allan will be doing. Since the right hon. Gentleman mentions the Home Secretary, let me just remind him that she is keeping this country safe by putting in place record numbers of police officers, she believes in stopping the early release of offenders, and she is bringing in an Australian-style, points-based system to tackle our migration crisis. The right hon. Gentleman would scrap stop and search, he believes in getting rid of our security services and he certainly would not tackle our immigration system.
This is about whether the Prime Minister will release the findings of an investigation into the Home Secretary’s behaviour. I repeat to him that a Government cannot be judge and jury over their own conduct; there has to be an independent element to that investigation. Overnight, further allegations have emerged that the Home Secretary repeatedly harassed and humiliated her private secretary while she ran the Department for International Development. If that is true, it suggests a shocking and unacceptable pattern of behaviour across three Government Departments. On each occasion, tens of thousands of pounds of hard-earned taxpayers’ money has been spaffed up the wall to buy their silence. Was the Prime Minister aware of these allegations about the Home Secretary? If he was, why did he appoint her?
I repeat the point I just made—the Home Secretary is doing an outstanding job and I have every confidence in her. If there are allegations, of course it is right that they should be properly investigated by the Cabinet Office, and that is what is happening. But I take no lessons about bullying from the leader of a party where female MPs were bullied so badly in the matter of antisemitism that they actually left the party, and where the shadow Chancellor has still not apologised for his call for a Member of our party to be lynched.
The Prime Minister said, “If there are allegations”. Is he completely unaware of all the allegations that have been made over the last few days? Is he completely unaware of the resignation of a permanent secretary because of his treatment by the Home Secretary? We have a part-time Prime Minister who barely turns up but is determined a cover up for bullies in his Government. There cannot be one rule for workers across this country, and another for him and his Ministers. His Home Secretary has been accused of repeated bullying and harassment, leading to hard-working staff attempting suicide by overdose, and he has given her his full support. How can the people of this country have faith in a Prime Minister who cannot be bothered to turn up and, when he does, has no shame in defending bullying in his own Government?
That is a question from a full-time neo-Marxist who has failed to stamp out bullying in his own party. I am very proud of the record of this Government, just over the last 82 days. We have taken back control of our borders, our laws and our money. We have got Brexit done. We have set out a new points-based immigration system. We have put more money into people’s pockets through the biggest ever increase in the living wage, and have guaranteed more funding for schools by increasing the minimum funding for every pupil. We have restored the nurses’ bursary, introduced a Bill to set out a record cash boost for our NHS and ensured that there will be free hospital car parking for everybody who attends a hospital. And we are delivering gigabit broadband for the entire country. That is to say nothing of the police we are recruiting. That is just in the last 82 days. We are getting on with delivering the people’s priorities.
I will indeed. Today I will chair the first ever Cabinet Committee on Climate Change, in recognition of this Government’s revolutionary commitments to cut to net zero by 2050—one of the many ways in which the Government are leading Europe and the world in tackling climate change.
Like the Prime Minister, I note the two-year anniversary of the terrible attack in Salisbury. It is important, on these matters and on other crises that we face, such as coronavirus, that, where appropriate, we do stand together.
Coronavirus is causing deep and genuine concern across society. We know that up to 80% of the population are at risk of infection. We must all provide clear, calm and practical leadership in the days, weeks and months ahead. In the past few days, Scotland’s First Minister, the Scottish Government and the Westminster Government have been working closely together to put plans in place to protect all our people. Yesterday, the Governor of the Bank of England suggested that a financial bridge may be available to assist markets through any volatility. If there is a financial bridge for markets, can the Prime Minister tell us: will there be a financial bridge for all workers and, indeed, those who rely on benefits, who should not risk the threat of sanction if they cannot make an appointment?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the excellent co-operation that Scotland and, indeed, all the devolved Administrations have given in preparing the battle plan. Yes, really to recapitulate my answer to the Leader of the Opposition, we will take every step that we can to ensure that businesses are protected, that the economy remains strong and that no one, whether employed or self-employed—whatever the status of their employment—is penalised for doing the right thing.
I thank the Prime Minister for that answer, and I commit my party and our Government in Scotland to work constructively together.
Of course, people are worried about their health, but there are millions of workers who are worried about the consequences for their incomes, their job securities and their families, so I do ask that the Prime Minister give specific guarantees. Certainly, we will work together in the SNP in pushing for emergency legislation. Will he give the clarification that all workers will be fully protected from the first day of sickness, that those payments should be up to the level of the real living wage and that there will be emergency legislation to guarantee that staff who are asked to self-isolate, and their businesses, are fully supported? That is the leadership that is required. I ask if the Prime Minister will commit himself to working constructively with us all to that end.
Again, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the spirit in which he asks the question. He will have seen from my earlier answer that what we are indeed doing is advancing the day, on a temporary basis, on which people are eligible for statutory sick pay from the fourth day to the first day. I think that is the right thing. Again, I repeat that we will support business and we will make sure that we keep the economy strong. No one should be penalised for doing the right thing. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be happy to engage in further conversations with the right hon. Gentleman about the detail of how we propose to do that.
This country, as my hon. Friend knows, leads the world in battery technology. It is a wonderful thing that Cornwall indeed boasts extensive resources of lithium, and we mean to exploit them. I know that there is no more passionate champion of Cornwall than my hon. Friend. I wish him a happy Saint Piran’s day—and Kernow bys vyken!
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She can take it that we will ensure that we abide by the judgment and take account of the Paris convention on climate change, but I do not believe for one second that that will be an impediment to our delivery of an infrastructure revolution across this country.
That is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is working so hard to recruit 20,000 more police officers and to enhance stop-and-search powers. That is why we have set out plans to build more prisons and keep violent and sexual offenders in prison for longer. I am delighted that the west midlands, thanks partly to my hon. Friend’s lobbying, is receiving another 366 police officers.
I can indeed. That is why we are supporting the Ashington to Blyth to Tyne rail line—the start of our £500 million investment in connecting towns whose stations were closed during the Beeching cuts. That is among many other benefits that we will bring to the people of Blyth. I thank my hon. Friend for his support. We are going to repay the trust and confidence of those people by investing in their communities.
I am happy to study the particular case that the hon. Gentleman raises. Universal credit is available from day one—[Interruption]—and I stick firmly to my belief that the best route out of poverty is not benefits but work, and what this Government have achieved is record low unemployment and record gains in employment across the country. Wages are now rising—[Interruption.] They don’t want to hear it, but the truth is that wages are now rising for the low-paid as well.
I learned what a wonderful staff we have in the NHS, and I am delighted to say that Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust will receive £3.7 million seed funding for a full redevelopment, in addition to the £46 million that we are now putting in to its urgent care hub. This is the party of the NHS—delivering on the people’s priorities in Kettering and across the country.
I loathe bullying, but I am not taking any lessons from a party that has presided over systematic bullying and discrimination against those who stick up for the Jewish community and for Israel in this country, and we still have yet to hear a proper apology from the Labour party or from the Labour leadership for what they have done.
The Taliban have resumed their attacks in Afghanistan, and today the US has undertaken defensive airstrikes, undermining the fragile peace deal, which will mean the release of thousands of prisoners and the continued export of opium to fund extremism. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that no peace deal can bypass the Afghan Government, and will he give me his assurances that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with Afghan women, many of whom have already lost their lives just fighting for dignity under Taliban rule?
We of course stand shoulder to shoulder with the Government of Ashraf Ghani, and my hon. Friend is right, by the way, in what she says about women in Afghanistan. It is one of the great achievements of this country, despite all the sacrifices that we experienced in the operations in Helmand, that millions of women in Afghanistan were helped into education, thanks to the interventions of this country, and we can be very proud of what we did.
The hon. Member is raising a very important point. The chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser, together with my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, will be saying a little bit more in the next couple of days about what we are going to do to delay the advance of coronavirus—in Parliament and in other large gatherings. We are still at the containment stage—she will understand the distinction that the Government are making—and when we come to the delay phase, she will be hearing a lot more detail about what we propose to do with large gatherings and places such as Parliament.
My consituent Tom Channon was just 18 years old when he tragically died at the Eden Roc complex in Majorca in July 2018. This incident was totally preventable and avoidable. It came just five weeks after Tom Hughes from Wrexham fell to his death at the same site in similar circumstances. Nothing had been done to make the site safe. An independent surveyor report has pointed to serious health and safety deficiencies, Tom’s parents, John and Ceri Channon, have been campaigning for a criminal case to be brought against those responsible. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister use all his influence to press the Spanish authorities to pursue a criminal prosecution that not only seeks justice for Tom but also sends a clear message to other accommodation-owners in Majorca to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in future?
I thank my right hon. Friend very much for raising what sounds like an appalling case, and I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing our deepest sympathies to Tom’s family and friends. To seek justice for Tom, I am very happy to ask the Foreign Office to begin talks first with my right hon. Friend and then with their Spanish counterparts.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the issue of stabbings and violent crime, which I agree with her are too high and must come down. That is one of the reasons why we are increasing the number of police officers in this country, and, as she will have heard in the House just now, in the west midlands that number is going up by 366 immediately.
The Prime Minister will be aware that, due to coronavirus, demand for air travel has decreased around the world. Is he aware that, due to slot allocation rules, there are perverse incentives for airlines to fly half-empty planes around the globe so as not to lose lucrative slots? Will he seek a derogation for UK airlines from these international rules, if only for the sake of the environment?
My hon. Friend raises a characteristically brilliant point, which I confess has not been drawn to my attention so far. I will look at it, and it certainly seems crazy that planes should be flying simply to retain the slots to which they are entitled, and we will see what we can do.
I do not know quite what the hon. Lady means by excluding EU workers, since there are record numbers of EU workers currently in this country, and indeed more can come until the end of the year, when they can register. I have every confidence that we will solve the issue of social care. We will be bringing forward plans very shortly, which I hope will attract cross-party support, to ensure that everybody gets the dignity that they need in old age and nobody is forced to sell their home.
My right hon. Friend has, with righteous zeal, acted to curb the early release of terrorist prisoners, but he must know that those plans will be put at risk by malign, bourgeois-liberal judicial activists, so will he, in the spirit of our wonderful new Attorney General, agree an urgent review of the legislative means they use to do their work and to put our people at risk and the Government’s plan to tackle that in jeopardy?
It is certainly true that people have been let out far too early, far too often. That is why we are not only looking into stopping the early release of serious sexual and violent offenders, but have already produced legislation to stop the early release of terrorist offenders.
The Prime Minister will be aware of continuing concerns in Northern Ireland among business about the Northern Ireland protocol. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet a cross-party delegation of Members of Parliament representing Northern Ireland and business representatives to discuss his commitment to maintain unfettered access to the UK market for Northern Ireland business?
I have granted leave to the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) to make a personal statement following her resignation from the Government. I remind the House that interventions are not allowed and that there can be no debate arising from such statements.
I want to use this personal statement to place on record what an incredible job this is, and to encourage others, particularly women, who are thinking about public service that they really can make a positive difference.
Since 2010, we have lived through three general elections and three referendums, and I have worked for three different Prime Ministers and even had two tilts at the top job myself. During that time, we have learned a lot. First, there is the value of a punchy catchphrase, from “long-term economic plan”—remember that?—to “take back control” and “get Brexit done”, or as we like to say, “got Brexit done.” But it is the action behind those words that has given us the highest employment there has ever been, a superb Conservative majority, and a free and independent United Kingdom.
I have also learned the value of knowing exactly what you are voting for. For example, colleagues, if your Whip tells you, as a newbie MP, to go through the Aye Lobby and vote for something called the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, just say no. The House has learned a lot about “Erskine May”, from the precise meaning of “forthwith” to the specific purpose of Standing Order No. 24, and even how a Speaker should vote in the event of a tie. But the key lesson for me has been the importance of focusing on your beliefs and behaving with honour whatever the cost. When I arrived in this place, bright eyed and bushy tailed if not strictly youthful after 25 years in finance, my ambitions were for what I called my three Bs: Brussels, banks and babies.
Brussels, or Brexit, started out as an enthusiastic attempt to reform the EU from inside. I set up the Fresh Start project with my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), with support from 200 colleagues. We set out the case for EU reform, but it soon became clear that that was not on offer, and the rest is history.
That time coincided with my first ever rebellion against a three-line Whip, as one of 81 Conservatives to vote for a referendum on EU membership, leading to media speculation that I had told the Chancellor, George Osborne, to—if you will forgive me, Mr Speaker—“eff off”. Well, I can assure you that there is only one person to whom I might be tempted to provide such frank advice, and that would not include any former or current Chancellor, and certainly not any current Speaker. [Laughter.]
My second B, banks, was a personal mission after seeing the damage done by the financial crisis and Labour’s lack of oversight. As a new MP elected to the Treasury Committee, I could hold the banks to account over LIBOR rigging, stop their plans to scrap chequebooks and challenge our brand new rock star Bank of England Governor, as he was described at the time, over quantitative easing and the euro crisis.
City Minister was my first job in David Cameron’s Government, working to introduce new pensions freedoms, setting out the ring-fence for banking groups, arranging for the Post Office to provide banking services on the high street, and recovering over £1 billion from the Icelandic Government after the bail-out of Icesave.
After David Cameron’s excellent win in 2015, I was moved to Energy. With my good friend Amber Rudd as Secretary of State, we rebalanced the needs of the fuel poor with speedy growth in renewables, we announced that coal would come off the grid entirely by 2025, and we kept the lights on through one of the tightest winter energy margins ever. And that was the year of Paris COP21. It is a real source of pride to have joined that global effort to tackle climate change. I wish my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy huge success as COP president when the UK plays host later this year.
The result of the EU referendum in June 2016 is right up there with England winning the rugby world cup 16 years ago and with the look on John Bercow’s face when I told him to apologise for calling me a stupid woman, but it is a bit behind the happiness of my wedding day. Not surprisingly, the leadership election that followed is also forever etched in my memory. My own part in Brexit was always about doing what I thought was best for the UK. Whatever has been said about it, my decision to withdraw from the final two was to give the country the urgent certainty it needed. I am tempted to say something about a mother, but I am just not going there.
As the new Environment Secretary in 2016, it was amazing to set up the huge Brexit project in the Department to deliver for farmers and fishing communities the bright future they were promised, to develop the 25-year environment plan, to ban the sale of modern ivory, to create the first ever litter strategy and to introduce CCTV in slaughterhouses. Those are just a few of the highlights.
Throughout the time I spent in her Cabinet, I fully supported my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) in her determination that Brexit should mean Brexit. During my two years as Leader of the House of Commons after the 2017 election, the challenges of a hung Parliament were so evident right from day one. Delivering pizza was hard enough; delivering Brexit proved nigh on impossible. In spite of that, amazingly we achieved Royal Assent on almost 60 Bills and passed more than 600 pieces of secondary legislation to prepare for Brexit. But like the proverbial swan, while we were gliding on the surface, the business managers were paddling furiously underneath. I pay tribute to each of them and to my superb private office.
When the harassment and bullying scandal hit Parliament in 2017, I was so proud to pull together the cross-party coalition that devised the independent complaints and grievance scheme, with the clear goals that everyone who works in or visits Parliament should be treated with dignity and respect, and that confidentiality should underpin everything.
As Leader of the House, I had one of the most beautiful offices in the Palace; its only limitation was the rat living in my waste paper basket. So when a legislative slot appeared for the restoration and renewal Bill, we grabbed it. Preserving this iconic Palace as the seat of our democracy for future generations will be a huge achievement for all those involved, and I wish them success.
A long-awaited change that I was so glad to introduce was to give all Members of this House the same right as workers across the country to spend time with their newborn or adopted babies, which we did via a new proxy voting system.
Which brings me to the third of my three Bs: babies. As many in this House know, better support for the early years is essential to levelling up, to solving health inequalities and to promoting lifelong emotional well- being. In 2011, I launched the “1,001 critical days” campaign with support from every party in the House, many Members of the other place and almost every early years stakeholder. Frank Field, the late Dame Tessa Jowell and the hon. Members for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) always worked on a cross-party basis, and I am grateful to them.
I set up PIP UK as a charity that would provide support across the country for families struggling with a new baby. I pay huge tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who took over my early years campaigns and charity responsibilities when I joined the Government. He has done a brilliant job for so many years.
As Leader of the House, the former Prime Minister asked me to chair an inter-ministerial group looking at early years and how the Government could provide better support. The team spent a year researching existing provision, from health visiting to breastfeeding advice and from talking therapies to parenting groups, and Select Committees held detailed inquiries into the impact of early years experiences on later outcomes. There is no doubt that a focus on this area could be life-changing for millions.
So resigning as the Leader of the House last summer was a tough decision, driven by my concern that the withdrawal agreement Bill as then proposed, with the potential for a second referendum, would not have delivered our exit from the EU. As Leader of the House, I would have had to bring that Bill forward and I could not in all conscience do so. I was sorry to see the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, the leadership of our country and party once again being challenged by the decision on the EU. No one could have worked harder than her and I feel sure that history will judge her kindly.
In the new leadership election, a number of candidates, myself included—supported by my great friends the hon. Members for Daventry and for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler)—sought to offer a way forward for the country, but after defeat in the first round, I gave my wholehearted support to the Prime Minister. I genuinely believe he is the right person to seize the opportunities that await us outside the EU, and it was an honour to serve as Business Secretary in his first Cabinet.
Brexit readiness was the urgent priority, but setting a new, clear direction for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was top of my agenda. With my ministerial team, we agreed our mission to build a stronger, greener United Kingdom and, to achieve that, our priorities—first, that the UK will lead the world in tackling global climate change; secondly, that we will solve the grand challenges facing our society; and thirdly, that we will quite simply make the UK the best place in the world to work and to grow a business. One key observation I would highlight from my six months in BEIS, and that is that our climate change ambitions are not just about doing the right thing: I believe there is also a huge early mover advantage. UK science and innovation could make the UK green tech sector as big in years to come as UK financial services are today, and I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will seize this opportunity.
The last general election showed that when people said in 2016 that they wanted to leave the EU, they really did mean it, and I applaud the Prime Minister for his single-minded focus on getting Brexit done. For my own part, I will now focus my attention in Parliament on that third B—babies—and I look forward to renewing my passion for giving every baby the best start in life. When the Prime Minister asked me to step aside, he also gave me his word that he would enable me to take forward the early years work, and I am delighted that the wheels are in motion. I heartily congratulate him and Carrie on their decision to do their own bit of early years research—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister did not write it.
I will of course continue to work hard for my fabulous South Northamptonshire constituency, and I look forward to spending some more quality time with my family. It has been an incredible 10 years, and it ain’t over yet. There is no greater honour than to serve community and country, and I will continue to do so with pride.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As there have been further allegations today about the conduct of the Home Secretary, I wondered if you could advise on how Parliament could initiate a genuinely independent inquiry into the conduct of the Home Secretary towards civil servants in her Departments.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of the point of order, but it is not a point of order for me, as she well knows. I understand it is an attempt to raise what is a matter of debate, but it is not for me as Chair.
International Development (Women’s Sanitary Products) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Wendy Chamberlain, supported by Christine Jardine, Wera Hobhouse, Layla Moran, Daisy Cooper, Munira Wilson, Sarah Olney, Alex Davies-Jones, Claire Hanna and Karin Smyth, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to report on the use of official development assistance to increase the availability of women’s sanitary products; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 March, and to be printed (Bill 100).
June Bank Holiday (Creation)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for an annual national public holiday on the Friday nearest to 23 June; and for connected purposes.
I thank my excellent senior parliamentary assistant, Jordan Ayres, for his help with this.
This public holiday will be called United Kingdom Day. In the recent Queen’s Speech, the Government included an employment Bill, which is intended to
“Protect and enhance workers’ rights”
in the UK post Brexit, and one very important issue that the Government should consider when enhancing workers’ rights is that of public holidays. In England and Wales, we have only eight of those each year. We have the lowest number of bank holidays in Europe—Germany has nine; France, Poland and Italy have 11; Greece and Belgium have 12; Austria has 13; Malta has 14; and Cyprus has 17. In the ranking of public holidays throughout the world, the UK is drastically low, at 226th out of 246 countries.
Given that ours is the fifth largest economy in the world, and given that we have world-leading experts on medical research, financial services, aerospace technology, artificial intelligence, electronic systems and much more, it is time that the Government recognised the tremendous work carried out by British people. If we are serious about wanting to enhance workers’ rights, let us at least create one extra bank holiday. Critics will argue that businesses will have to absorb an extra day of paid leave for their workers, but every four years, owing to the leap year, millions of people up and down the country already work an extra day for free on 29 February.
I spent more than 30 years in business, and anyone who has run a business knows that its success is down not to them, but to the quality and productivity of their employees. Companies do not succeed by making workers work as for many hours as possible; they succeed if their employees are happy and productive.
Apart from those in Northern Ireland, there are no bank holidays between May and August, and a bank holiday in June would help to break up that long gap. Workers would have a day off to look forward to, at a time when the weather should be good, which would not only have a positive effect on their health and wellbeing, but be a great boost to their productivity, in turn helping businesses to thrive and prosper.
There are a number of reasons why the Friday nearest to 23 June each year should be the new bank holiday. First, the second Monday in June is Her Majesty’s official birthday. She is the longest-serving monarch in our history, and this would be a fantastic opportunity to celebrate her service and dedication to our great country. Moreover, the Queen was crowned in June. Throughout the intervening time, she has been a steadfast and devoted monarch. It would be fitting to allow the people of the United Kingdom to celebrate Her Majesty’s birthday, all her wonderful achievements, and the way in which she guides the country through all its highs and lows.
Since 2003, 23 June has already been recognised as United Nations Public Service Day, so it is a wonderful opportunity to pay tribute to the fantastic people who work in our public services—those in our national health service, armed forces, police, fire services and schools, and all the many, many others who are unsung heroes. Unfortunately, however, the occasion has barely been recognised in the United Kingdom, and I believe it is time we corrected that. Millions of people devote their lives to public service and make great sacrifices for the good of the country. They deserve our thanks and recognition for their services, and by creating this public holiday, we would be giving them just that.
Of course, 23 June 2016 was the day on which the United Kingdom voted on our membership of the European Union, in the largest act of democratic participation that the country has ever seen—33,551,983 people voted in the referendum. According to the Office for National Statistics, that figure is higher than that of the whole UK workforce. During the referendum, I worked alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) and Councillor Helen Harrison, travelling the length and breadth of the United Kingdom on behalf of the cross-party campaign group Grassroots Out. Whether we were in Glasgow, Newport, Belfast or London, and whether the people whom we met were big Brexiteers or real remainers, the public were energised. Fundamentally, the people of the United Kingdom were engaged. Many felt for the first time that their vote really mattered, and, indeed, many voted for the first time.
Whether those people felt happy or sad about the outcome, nothing in history has invigorated the country as much as that political debate. The outcome of the vote has changed our relationship with Europe forever. We did not do this through revolution, we did not do it through war, and we did not do it through violence. Millions of people did not lose their lives. Instead, it was done peacefully—it was done through the ballot box. I remember the Cameron Government saying, “The people aren’t interested in the EU,” and, “We should stop banging on about Europe.” How wrong could they be?
As for the current Government, they have been quite sniffy about my Bill to create a new bank holiday entitled United Kingdom Day, which has rather surprised and disappointed me. I can understand the former Government’s reservations, as they always saw the UK’s leaving the EU as a duty rather than an opportunity. However, the present Government wholeheartedly believe in it, so my question to them would be, “Why not mark this great democratic event?”
Finally, why do we not we celebrate our United Kingdom? We do not have a day to do so. Many countries throughout the world celebrate their national day with a public holiday. For example, France has Bastille Day, Canada has Canada Day, Sweden has the National Day of Sweden, and the United States, of course, has Independence Day. However, there is no day in the year on which we celebrate the Union of our four great nations as one United Kingdom. I believe that that should be corrected, and that the people of this country should be able to come together and rejoice as one. I do not believe that there is anyone in our great United Kingdom who does not support either the monarchy, the referendum, our public services, or the Union—surely everyone supports at least one of them—but if there is a handful of people who reject all those things, they can always work on United Kingdom Day.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr Peter Bone, Mr John Baron, Sir Christopher Chope, Philip Davies, Dr Julian Lewis, Andrew Rosindell, Nigel Mills, Esther McVey, Graham Stringer, Henry Smith, Sammy Wilson and Mr William Wragg present the Bill.
Mr Peter Bone accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 June, and to be printed (Bill 101).
5th Allotted Day
I beg to move,
That this House notes the damage caused by Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge and expresses thanks to workers from the Environment Agency, emergency services, local councils and volunteers; and calls for Ministers to set up an independent review into the floods, including the Government’s response, the adequacy of the funding provided for flood defences and prevention, difficulties facing homes and businesses with getting insurance and what lessons need to be learnt in light of the climate emergency and the increased likelihood of flooding in the future.
It is a pleasure to move this motion on flooding on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition. Flooding has devastated our communities after three successive storms—Ciara, Dennis and Jorge—each compounding and deepening the damage caused by the storm that preceded it. I start by paying my respects to those who lost their lives as a result of these storms. I also thank all those involved in mitigating and fighting the floods: our fire and rescue service, police, local councils, the Environment Agency, and all who have helped to protect homes and businesses, rescue people and animals from rising flood waters, and reinforce flood defences. The motion thanks them for their service.
The motion also pays tribute to the work of the BBC in keeping communities informed about flooding incidents, diversions and emergency measures. BBC local radio, in particular, but BBC Online as well, have been invaluable lifelines to those communities under water. I hope the Secretary of State will add his voice to mine in thanking them when he gets to his feet.
It would be very easy to dismiss the recent flooding as a freak accident, an act of God, and leave it at that, but we need to take a difficult step and recognise that more could have been done. As the climate crisis produces more severe weather more often, we will be having more flooding more often, so we need to learn the lessons.
As the climate emergency produces more and more flooding, so flooding will become more frequent, and yet the resources for the Environment Agency have been severely cut over the last decade. Does the hon. Member agree we need long-term, not just short-term, funding for the Environment Agency?
The hon. Member pre-empts my speech. It is important that we have a long-term plan for flooding with long-term funding attached to it so that we can protect communities at risk of flooding.
We know that more could have been done to ensure that our fire and rescue services were fully equipped to deal with this national emergency; that more could have been done to put in place long-term flood defences; and that more could have been done to slow down the impact of the climate emergency.
I recently visited a natural flood management project in the Wychwoods, in my constituency, a partnership project with local councils, Wild England and many others, involving flood diversion, wildlife creation, habitat, leaky dams and so forth. It has been very valuable in protecting the villages of the Wychwoods. Is this something we could see much more of elsewhere?
Having more natural solutions to flooding is part of the solution; it is not the sole solution, but it is a very important part, and I will come on to that in a moment.
Our motion makes a very simple ask—one that I am amazed but not surprised that Ministers are running from: that we have an investigation to learn the lessons from the floods, an investigation that will seek to protect more homes and businesses in the future, an investigation that will look at the difficulties people encounter in buying affordable insurance for their homes and businesses and in receiving timely pay-outs, an investigation into what measures are required from Government to fund flood protections and upstream catchment management measures and to resource emergency responses.
When choosing the wording of the motion, the Opposition had two choices: we could have chosen wording that went hard on a part-time Prime Minister who was missing in action throughout the floods, a part-time Prime Minister who refused to call a Cobra meeting and unlock the scale of funding necessary for flooded communities, a part-time Prime Minister who failed to show national leadership when it was required; or we could choose wording that could unify the House in a sensible effort to learn the lessons, calmly and sincerely, from this disastrous series of floods. Labour chose to rise above that partisan debate, which is why every single Member of the House should feel able to support our motion. How is learning the lessons from an incident—in a review of what actions took place, what actions did not work as well as was hoped and of where improvements could be made—not a sensible and proportionate step to take after a national emergency such as the recent floods?
I represent the most flood prone constituency in the country—my constituents are presently under 400 million cubic metres of water. How does the hon. Member envisage this inquiry working with the section 19 inquiries already commenced in my area and in many other flooded areas, given that their purpose is to determine exactly those things.
There will be local inquiries and there will be different agencies looking at their own responses, but we need an overarching investigation into the whole response—the consequences of austerity, the flood prevention measures that could and should be taken, the fact that flooding will become more frequent, and so on. That is what is on the table in the motion today and what I hope hon. Members on both sides will vote for.
In light of the fact that places such as the Calder Valley have had three 100-year floods in the last seven and a half years, does the hon. Member not think that another review would only cost more money and waste more time? We need action. We already have this information. We know exactly what happened in the floods. We had four times the monthly average rainfall in 24 hours.
I agree we need action, but it was action we did not get during the floods. It was action we required from the Prime Minister to call a Cobra meeting that we did not get. It was action to unlock the necessary funding that we did not get. I agree we need action and hope he will support this motion so that we get a lessons learned review that helps Ministers to make better decisions next time and get the action he desperately wants.
The review we are asking for would look at how we learn lessons as a country, how the Government learn lessons and how the work and innovations of local communities can be recognised, but the Government’s amendment seeks to do only one thing: not learn the lessons of the flooding. It would delete the lessons learned review and silence the voices of flooded communities. I want the voices of those communities under water heard in the review we are proposing. I want to hear from the small business owners in Telford whose shops have been flooded about the difficulties they face replacing stock when insurance companies refuse to insure them. I want to hear from the farmers next to the River Severn who fear that their crops will have been destroyed by the water damage in their fields. I want to hear from the homeowners in west Yorkshire who have yet again had to wash dirty water from their homes, wash the smell of sewage from their homes, replace their furniture and carpets and worry about whether the insurance will pay out and how much the premiums will be next year, if they are to be covered at all. I want to hear the voices of the emergency services who have had their numbers cut and cut again by years of Tory austerity. I want to hear from the Welsh coal mining communities who are now living in fear of a landslide from water-sodden spoil tips.
I want to hear from all of them in this review, and yet Ministers have proposed an amendment that says they will not have a lessons learned review, will not look at what worked well and what did not, and will not ask communities what works for them. Every Tory MP who votes against our motion will be doing something very simple: refusing to listen and learn the lessons of the flooding and refusing to improve their response to flooding in a calm and independent manner. Those under water communities, many of which are represented by Conservative MPs, will wonder what happened to their Members of Parliament. When given an opportunity to get the voice of those communities heard, they will have decided to turn against that—that is not leadership.
The hon. Member talked about the role of insurance companies. I chair the all-party group on insurance and financial services and work quite closely with Flood Re. Since it was launched in 2016, Flood Re has been a great example of the Government and the insurance industry working together: 300,000 more properties have now been insured and four out of five properties with previous flood claims can now get insurance at half the price it was before. I am sure he will welcome that fact. It is a great example of the Government working with the industry to help solve this problem.
Flood Re has resulted in some improvements—the hon. Gentleman is right about that—but it does not insure homes or provide cover for homes built since 2009, and he will know that it does not include support for small businesses, so there are huge holes in the scheme that need to be filled. We need a scheme that works. At the moment, Flood Re is not delivering as was originally intended for all affected communities. The Government are carrying out a review of the Flood Re scheme, and I urge Ministers to encourage it to report quickly, because we need the Flood Re scheme to work properly to ensure that there are no gaps in it.
The reason that we are calling for a review today is that the flood waters will, we hope, soon subside and the camera crews will pack up, but as the media agenda moves on, the damage, disruption and destruction of the floods will remain for those communities that have been affected. It will take many months for those communities to recover, but we know from past floods that it will actually take many years for the damage to be undone, for payments to be received and for the mitigations to be put in place. That is why a lessons learned review is so important.
We know that the Prime Minister was missing during the floods, but he now has an opportunity to create a lessons learned review to learn the lessons of what has happened. However, he has decided against doing that. We know that the Conservatives’ political choice to implement a programme of brutal austerity over the past 10 years has made the fight against the climate crisis so much harder. The Environment Agency has again and again asked for extra money—£1 billion a year just to mitigate the impacts of floods and defend our communities. We need long-term structural change if we are to combat future floods, including restoring nature in uplands, ending the rotational burning of peatlands, implementing proper catchment area management strategies and building proper flood defences where appropriate. All these changes need genuine funding and a long-term plan.
But it is not just the Environment Agency that has been cut; our local councils have too, and our fire and rescue services. There is a regional disparity in the cuts for fire and rescue services as well. Across England, 23% of our firefighters have been lost in Tory cuts since 2010, but West Yorkshire, where some of the most severe flooding has happened, has lost over a third of its firefighters in austerity cuts. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) has raised this issue directly with Ministers before, but I would like to invite the Secretary of State to look again at whether fire and rescue services need a statutory duty around flooding, as they have in Scotland and Wales.
It is also important that we look at the effect of the flooding on our farmers. That includes considering short-term actions such as a derogation of crop diversification and a reinstatement of the farming recovery fund to mitigate the damage that flooding has caused. The Secretary of State came unstuck at the NFU conference and answered concerns about the three-crop rule very poorly, but there is now a genuine opportunity to help farmers by using the powers that he already has to support them. In the long term, we need to ensure that our farmland is used sensibly to prevent flooding and to restore the ability to keep more water upstream.
We also need to recognise the need for change on match-funding. I have raised this matter before. Poorer communities should not be asked to match the same as wealthier communities, because we know that in that situation the wealthier communities have their flood defences funded and the poor ones do not. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) has raised this in relation to her city time and again, but she has still not had a satisfactory answer. The Budget next week is an opportunity for Ministers to fund flood defences properly. I would like to see the Budget used as a climate budget to recognise the true scale of the climate crisis and have funding directed accordingly. I suspect we will not have that, but I hope there will be some mention of flooding. I hope that funding will be directed at those communities that are currently under water and that a long-term plan is put in place in relation to this.
We have our criticisms of the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, for failing to act with the seriousness that the climate emergency requires, but setting that aside, we have before us in this motion a modest proposal to learn the lessons of the three storms and to conduct an independent review into what happened. We owe it to those communities that are currently under water, those that have been flooded and those that are repairing the damage from the storms to listen to them and to do everything in our power to learn the lessons to ensure that it does not happen again.
I say to every Tory MP whose communities are under water and who votes against this modest ask that I wish them well on their return to their flooded communities. I wish them well in explaining why a review into the lessons learned will not be happening and why they voted against it. I wish them well in explaining to the people whose homes and businesses were flooded why they are denying them a voice. I wish them well in that, because they have the chance today to vote for such an independent review, and for those flooded communities, that will be a very modest ask as they scrub their floors to clean up the sewage that has come through the pipes, as they repair their homes and as they work out how to restore the stock in their businesses that have been so damaged. For them, this is a modest ask, and it is something that should be supported by everyone in this House. I hope that Tory MPs will reflect on this before they back the Government’s amendment to not learn the lessons of the flooding incidents. I hope that, as a Parliament, we can come together on this. I hope that the warm words that will be no doubt come from the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box in a moment can be added to with the action that is so desperately needed. I commend this Labour motion to the House.
I beg to move an amendment, leave out from “volunteers” to end and insert:
“acknowledges that following the Pitt Review in 2008, local and national response was significantly improved through the establishment of Local Resilience Forums which have led to partnership working and in addition, the Cross Review in 2018 which led to the publication of new guidance on multi-agency flood plans; further acknowledges that following the National Flood Resilience Review in 2016 there were further improvements through the establishment of the National Flood Response Centre and improved weather and flood forecasting capabilities, but recognises that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and that further investment in flood defence infrastructure will be necessary in the years ahead.”
We have had three storms in three weeks affecting our Union, from Cornwall right up to the north of Scotland and Northern Ireland, with winds of up to 70 mph and waves of snow, ice and rain, making this the wettest February on record. Many areas have already received more than double their average rainfall for February. Some have received four times the average monthly rainfall and others have experienced a month’s worth of rain in just 24 hours. Eighteen river gauges across 13 rivers recorded their highest levels on record during, or triggered by, Storms Ciara, Dennis or Jorge. These are records that no one wants to see broken. Even if there are no further significant storms in March, it could still take three to four weeks for water to drain from the washlands in the East Yorkshire area.
These storms at the end of an incredibly wet winter have brought consequences across the country as river systems were overwhelmed. Nothing can diminish the suffering felt across our country in communities affected by recent storms. Experiencing flooding, especially repeated flooding, is traumatic and distressing for the communities affected, and sadly over 3,400 properties have been flooded this February, with significant damage caused.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The Environment Agency is a statutory consultee on all planning applications.
This is a live incident, so I urge vigilance as we monitor the situation and move into a recovery phase. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Environment Agency, local authorities and emergency services, including the fire brigade, which has been engaged extensively, the paramedics and the many voluntary groups that have played a role and, of course, local TV and radio, which have played their part—[Interruption.] And the BBC, which is a great part of local TV and radio.
I have been in close contact with the Environment Agency every single day. More than 1,000 of its staff have been deployed across the country every day, putting up temporary barriers, clearing rivers of debris—a continuing role for the EA—and helping with evacuations where necessary. They have been deployed alongside around 80 military personnel who stepped in to assist in certain circumstances. Wales has also seen significant impacts, with more than 1,000 properties flooded. The EA remains in close contact with the Welsh Government, who are offering aid and support it might need to respond to their incidents. Some Members have expressed concern about the stability of some coal tips. My colleague, the Secretary State for Wales, has been in dialogue with the Welsh Government about this and, following that, we directed the national Coal Authority to conduct an urgent assessment of those tips where there were concerns.
On the point about the coal tips, will the Secretary of State confirm that this is not just a review of where they all are, and that the UK Government will fund the safety of those tips to reassure residents living in fear across constituencies represented by three Members here today, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter)?
I know that the Secretary of State for Wales has had discussions with the Welsh Government. In their discussions last week, there was no request for funds as it was too early to ascertain what help, if any, might be needed, but once that work is concluded by the national Coal Authority, they will be in a better position to know that.
I think the Secretary of State is slightly misunderstanding the point here. This is not about the financial request from the Welsh Assembly to this Government. This is about the tips in constituencies such as mine, where there is significant concern that there may be further movement and greater destabilisation of the slag heaps. That is the responsibility of his Government—the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—and we need to ensure that the Government are doing everything to ensure that the people in my constituency are safe.
That is correct, and the national Coal Authority sits within BEIS. We have directed it to carry out an urgent assessment of those mines.
The area that was worst affected by Storm Ciara was the Calder valley. Hebden Bridge flooded after Storm Ciara, but not after Storm Dennis. Many businesses there have adapted their buildings to flooding, which were back trading after a few days or weeks. The military were deployed to Ilkley in West Yorkshire, where 700 metres of temporary barriers were erected. They also worked in the Calder valley, building a temporary defence and sandbagging properties. The scheme in Mytholmroyd is due to be completed this summer, and further schemes are in the design and consultation phase at Hebden Bridge, Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge and other locations along the Calder valley.
The area most severely affected by Storm Dennis was the Severn catchment. Since 2007, many parts of the Severn have been protected by demountable barriers. Those barriers are deployed to hard standings and permanent pillars along the river bank and removed when the risk of flooding recedes, so that people can gain access to the river for cycle paths and to prevent views from being affected. Those demountable barriers have been particularly popular with communities and have been effective during this most recent episode. While some homes were flooded, the defences put in place have protected around 50,000 homes.
Tenbury Wells was the first place to be affected by Storm Dennis and had previously flooded in October. Soon after flood alerts were issued, community information officers assisted residents in the town. Sadly, the area of Tenbury is not suitable for temporary barrier deployment due to the length of defence needed, significant access issues and the need for pumps to mitigate water seepage on uneven ground. However, in our future programme, we are developing plans to deliver a scheme at Tenbury Wells protecting over 80 homes and 80 businesses and costing in the region of £6 million, and we are seeking partnership funding to develop that phased approach. My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) and the local county councillor have been keen advocates of the proposed scheme and have discussed it with me.
In Selby, where there were concerns about water over- topping a flood retention bank, the Army were on standby but, in the event, Environment Agency and local authority staff deployed 3,000 sandbags to top up the defences, build the bank higher and ensure that there was protection.
Turning now to Shrewsbury and Bewdley, where demountable barriers along the Severn played an important role in reducing the impacts, there are four phases of demountable barriers deployed to protect infrastructure and properties in Shrewsbury, and all were deployed in time for Storm Dennis. In Bewdley, we also deployed demountable barriers to complement the permanent defences and temporary barriers in part of the town. Environment Agency staff were present throughout the flooding, checking those barriers and pumping water back into the river.
I thank the Secretary of State for talking about my constituency, and thank the floods Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), for being there to see the demountable barrier being put up on the very first day. The demountable barriers are one of the finest gifts that one of the best leaders of the Labour party, Mr Tony Blair, has ever given us—in 2001, I think, with an £11 million investment. But the problem for Bewdley remains Beales Corner, on the other side of the bank. This highlights the difference between what is a demountable barrier and what is a dangerous temporary barrier, which gave way and was overtopped. A not-very-good approach was developed at Beales Corner, which is the property-led defences. I do not think they worked in the event of this flood.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I was going to go on to say that the temporary barriers deployed to the Beales Corner area of Bewdley were overtopped by the sheer volume of water flowing through the town. Environment Agency staff deployed pumps to mitigate the overtopping, but eventually this operation was overwhelmed. I know that staff have continually provided updates to residents via local media, with live-streamed videos from site and post-strategic command meetings to inform the public.
It is interesting to hear the individual cases, but does the Secretary of State not accept that it is 12 years since the Pitt review and that it is only another 10 years—less than that period—until we expect and predict that climate change will result in a 1.5° increase in temperature? Therefore, we want not a microcosmic look at individual demountables, but an overview of the strategic difference climate change will make—namely, where can we and should we defend? Where can we not defend? Where do we have to change land use management? Where do we have to have rain water capture in urban environments? Where do we have to have underground tunnels and so on? We need an overall review. We face massive and growing risk. He says, “Oh, let’s hope we don’t have more bad weather.” That is—
I am going to address all those points of review later, but I wanted to take the opportunity, since this does not always happen, to effectively acknowledge some of the great work that has been done on the ground by the Environment Agency and our emergency services.
In Ironbridge, the substructure of the soil along the riverbank sadly does not lend itself to the demountable barriers that were so effective in other towns, but temporary barriers were deployed to contain the water that breached the river bank, with 800 metres of temporary barriers deployed along the Wharfage.
While most effects in the days after Storm Dennis were felt along the Severn, there was further heavy rain late last week, which led to major challenges in parts of Yorkshire, notably around the washlands at Snaith and East Cowick. The washlands are one of the oldest man-made flood defence systems in the country, dating back some 400 years. However, the sheer volume of rainfall meant that they were overwhelmed. We have deployed 48 multi-agency pumps in operation across the Aire washlands, as water levels start to drop, to dewater homes. There is an urgency to this work, since next weekend we will also see peak seasonal tides on the east coast, which can lock rivers. We must therefore use the window of opportunity in the weeks ahead.
The motion tabled by the Opposition suggests an independent inquiry. I am grateful for this opportunity to describe all the other inquiries that we have had on flood response over the last decade or so and what actions have been taken to implement those recommendations. First, the Pitt review, which was alluded to by the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and which followed the 2007 floods, informed new laws better to manage flooding under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. The crucial recommendations of the review regarding flood response led to the establishment of local resilience forums.
I am grateful. A lot of the Pitt review recommendations were implemented in Gloucester at that time and have made a huge difference. My neighbours suffered terribly this year. None the less, not a single home in Gloucester flooded, as a result of good work by the Environment Agency and local councils.
My hon. Friend makes an important point.
Secondly, after the 2014 floods, another review was led by Oliver Letwin. It led to a number of further improvements, including the establishment of a new national flood response centre, based out of the Cabinet Office, to ensure that cross-government decisions on operational matters were taken expeditiously. The review also led to improved flood forecasting capabilities.
Thirdly, because there were concerns that some local authorities were better prepared than others to meet the challenge of flood response, in 2018 the Cross review recommended that every local authority should have a formal plan of action to respond to flood risk in its area.
The substantive recommendations in all three of those reviews have been implemented, and it is because they have been implemented that the response on the ground to these extraordinary weather events has been so effective and rapid. The Government amendment to the motion therefore recognises and corrects what might be an oversight in the Opposition motion, which is to recognise what has been done in response to previous reviews.
The Government amendment also corrects another omission from the Opposition motion, relating to funding. Climate change means that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent.
I am going to make progress and conclude.
We are investing £2.6 billion in flood defences—over 1,000 flood defence schemes to better protect 300,000 homes by 2021. To date, we have completed 600 of those schemes, protecting over 200,000 homes. Were it not for projects such as those, 50,000 more homes would have been flooded in these recent events.
However, there is more to do. That is why the Government have a manifesto commitment to spend even more on flood defence in the years ahead, committing £4 billion in this Parliament further to improve our resilience and our ability to manage such events. The Government amendment, rather than proposing reviewing funding as the Opposition suggest, acknowledges the need for further investment. Our manifesto already commits us to further investment. I hope that this investment will not be opposed by Opposition Members.
We are determined to be ready for the future, and we know we must expect more frequent extreme weather in this country. So as well as investing even more money in flood defence, the Government are committed to leading a global response to climate change through our work around the world. As host of the next climate change conference, COP26, we will urge nations to achieve net zero in a way that helps nature recover, reduces global warming and addresses the causes of these extreme weather events.
I thank the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) for moving this motion and for helping hon. Members on both sides of the House highlight the devastating impact of recent storms on communities across these islands. I support the motion and its ambition to establish an independent review of flooding, which seems to me to be an uncontentious, non-political and constructive approach to a serious issue that affects all our communities.
As many of us in this Chamber will know from first- hand experience of supporting flood victims, flooding has many effects from the horrific effect of sewage backflow to the ever-present anxiety of wondering when the next episode will happen. This affects my constituents in Angus, and we are right across the spectrum in having successful flood mitigation measures installed but also having communities that are still exposed to the full force of the weather. Scoping, funding and delivering flood defence schemes is, of course, a challenging process, as they are, after all, complex civil engineering projects.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as the Secretary of State was unable to do so.
We have funding for a flood defence scheme in my constituency, but one of the barriers is that the Environment Agency does not have enough staff to bring the scheme forward or to offer support. Should this not just be about physical infrastructure but about the Environment Agency having more funding to expand its team?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand if I hesitate to comment on the Environment Agency, as my part of these islands is much more dependent on the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which I am happy to talk up. I am aware of the genuine concern among colleagues about the lag between the establishment of a requirement and the delivery of a system on the ground, which is something a review would wish to consider.
These complex civil engineering projects are usually towards the top end of cost and capital investment in local communities, and any assessment of return on that capital investment should, of course, be robust and realistic. Having said that, there is a risk that, in assessing the value for money of any proposed scheme, we use the narrowest definition of value such as property prices or other one-dimensional and binary judgments.
Planners and government, both local and national, must increasingly consider broader priorities such as employment, cultural and community value, and the value of agricultural land in deciding whether to protect them. Moreover, any assessment that builds a business case for defence schemes on residential property prices and that seeks to use those property prices as the principal determinant will necessarily favour more affluent areas of these islands for investment, rather than considering all areas equally and on their merits.
A much more preventive approach to sustainable flood management and mitigation needs to be pursued, and pursued at pace, if we are to stand a realistic chance of managing weather events that, hitherto, would have been classified as once-in-100-years events but are now apparently much more common. This dynamic endeavour requires government, local and national, to get a grip, provide investment and transact innovation.
Every SNP Member wishes to pay tribute to the first-class response to the recent severe weather in our part of these islands by local authorities, emergency responders, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and, of course, the public who, in all our constituencies, went above and beyond what is reasonably expected of individuals to help protect themselves and their neighbours.
In February, the First Minister of Scotland visited Hawick and the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment visited Newcastleton, two of the most badly affected areas in Scotland. That is in stark contrast to the Prime Minister, who spent the same period of flooding relaxing at Chequers. At such times of crisis, a key role for a leader is to provide confidence to the public and show them that their Government are responding. Boris Johnson has utterly failed that simplest test of leadership.
In Scotland, the SNP Scottish Government will continue to work to support local authorities to deliver the actions that protect our communities and businesses. Again, we come back to planning. Planning work is expected to start on the 42 prioritised schemes. It is recognised that those schemes might not be delivered, but it is important for residents and constituents to understand that they are planned for.
Regardless of where we live, work or legislate, innovation has to take centre stage. A principal element of that has to be upstream aggradation and the retention of run-off, with more appropriate land management strategies that, as a public good, landowners may be rewarded for and that will hold back deluge events from entering our main rivers and tributaries all at once.
Simultaneously, we need to consider planning legislation in all the different elements of the United Kingdom to make sure that, with the increasing pattern of people having smaller gardens or no garden, there are corresponding mitigation measures that will assist in the attenuation of deluges and flood waters.
Tenants and residents need to be protected and, as other hon. Members have mentioned, there needs to be far greater investment in maintenance of the disaggregation of risk in insurance. Quite apart from the physical, tangible elements, anxiety is a cruel master when it comes to flooding, and insurance is directly connected to that. I accept what hon. Members have said about the progress that has been made, but it needs to be built upon and expanded.
Finally, any review must work with all UK environment agencies, including the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, to establish best practice and to foster the innovation we so desperately need.
The constituency in which I live and am proud to serve is the most flood-prone constituency in the country, as it is constituted on land drained by the Dutch some 400 years ago, many of whose descendants continue to live in our area. We are at the bottom of the catchment, so I agree 100% with what the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) says about the need for better management upstream.
We have seen numerous events in recent years, whether the tidal surge of 2013, the flooding of 2010 and 2011 in Goole or the flooding in December, which happened on a smaller scale. Whether in Crowle, South Ferriby or Burringham, or whether in Snaith, Cowick or Gowdall at the moment, we are repeatedly hit by incidents of flooding.
I begin by paying tribute to my constituents and how they are currently responding to the incredible deluge in Snaith and Cowick. I have been involved in flooding for many years as an MP, parish councillor and councillor, and I have never seen the inundation of water that we now see in the washlands of the River Aire.
My constituents are responding in an incredible way. The Snaith church ladies and our wonderful vicar, Eleanor Robertshaw—I sometimes call her the “commie vicar” but we are good friends—have been providing 24/7 support to those who have been evacuated and to emergency service responders, with free food being provided by many businesses, including the Supreme coffee house in Goole. The response of the community has been incredible.
I thank Vicky Whiteley and Snaith and Cowick Town Council, the Snaith sports hall voluntary team and Andy McLachlan of the Cowick and Snaith internal drainage board for their work in supporting my constituents. Andy and I have worked together on many flooding events over the years, and the response from the drainage board has, as ever, been first class. I also wish to thank the fire and rescue service, including those who have come in from elsewhere, from places such as Cheshire and West Yorkshire, and our ambulance service, which has been on hand with permanent resources. I should also thank the very many residents involved, the council staff and the Environment Agency staff. The response has been incredible. We are dealing with 4 million cubic metres of water, or 800 million gallons, still there, in an area below sea level. We are defended by hundreds of miles of defence banks in our area, and getting that away will be a big challenge.
Although we must not be complacent, does my hon. Friend recognise that in some parts of the country there have been successes? In the Carlisle area, through the work of the EA, the councils and the voluntary sector, and the success of the defences, we managed to avoided being flooded this year.
Indeed. We have not wanted for money for defence funding in recent years, including in Snaith, the community that is currently flooded. Only in 2015, millions of pounds of defence improvements were made, through the piling of the Snaith primary defence bank, but that has been overtopped this time, as have our secondary defences, on which we rely to keep us dry. It is true to say that in some places these schemes have worked, and we have a scheme under way in South Ferriby, but the water coming down the catchment in this latest incident has been on a scale we have never seen before, just as the 2013 surge then was.
I agree with some of what was said by the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard). He is a nice guy, one of my favourite shadow Secretaries of State. Some of the others are a bit bonkers, and I know that he agrees with me on that. I agree with much of what he said about the need to review certain things, but he then went on to try to make some cheap political points about what is going on at the moment. There are things we need to do differently, but I am not convinced that diverting millions of pounds, which could otherwise go to flood defences, to a massive inquiry is necessarily the best way forward. I will say something on that in a moment.
What we need now in my constituency is immediate funding, into the future, to look at what we can do for the defences that have been so overrun on this occasion. After the 2013 tidal surge, additional funding was made available to the communities in my area that had been devastated by that surge to allow them to take immediate defence action in the year or two afterwards. That was outside the normal funding rules, and we benefited from that in Reedness, which was overwhelmed in the tidal surge, with immediate action to shore up and improve the defence there. So may we please look at that issue?
May we also look at the funding for the section 19 inquiries that are already under way. My local East Riding of Yorkshire Council, because it has faced so many incidents in recent months, is now engaged in about four or five different inquiries, and funding that is a huge challenge for the local authority. A section 19 inquiry into the flooding in the Snaith and Cowick washlands is under way, but we need funding for that. The recovery of costs is also an issue. Heating Snaith priory church has already cost the church about £700 to £800, and possibly more. We are all doing what we can to get donations in for that, and the Bellwin scheme might cover it, but there are direct costs here to the town council and to the church and sports hall—voluntary organisations—for the costs they have borne in being open 24 hours a day and providing support to those who have been evacuated.
Business support is also an issue. I served on the Committee for the Flood Re Bill. Indeed, in 2013 I had to leave the Committee because of the flood warnings in place in my constituency, including warnings for my own house, when that tidal surge hit. We need extra support in terms of business insurance. I do not have time to say everything I wanted to stay, but I beg that the national funding formula is looked at. We are at the bottom of the catchment and we get everybody’s water; that water is coming to us, whether we like it or not. Although the current formula provides us with the best defences and highest standards, it is not taking account of the number of properties we have versus the risk we face. We need a change to that. We also need to look at the EA’s role in flooding and whether we need a separate body. We need to examine the Flood Re scheme. We need to fund the national flood resilience centre, in my area, the bid for which is with the Government—I have talked about that before. Finally, we need to look at planning and at maintenance.
It is extremely good of you to call me, Mr Deputy Speaker, so that I can say a little about the issue of flooding, why it has been so important to my constituency and how it has affected us, and add my unequivocal voice to the call for more resources for this area. I also wish to say that there are some legal, technical issues that the Government need to address in respect of flooding and the management of waterways.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), who described the conditions in his constituency and how flooding affects it. I therefore wish to say a bit about the geography of my area. The towns of Stalybridge, Hyde, Dukinfield, Mossley and Longdendale are on the eastern side of Greater Manchester, at the border with Derbyshire. We are where the land has begun to rise; the great moors of Wild Bank, Harridge Pike and Hobson moor are in my constituency. People might recall that two years ago there were wildfires in that area, which tells us of the volatility of the weather patterns we are now receiving.
When we have these occasions of unprecedented rainfall—it seems to be unprecedented rainfall more often than not—the water comes down from those moors with a violence, intensity and power that has a severe impact on the communities based around those moors. In 2016 in particular, when we had severe flooding, areas such as Hollingworth, Millbrook and Micklehurst were incredibly badly affected, and not just in terms of flooding; in one case, a property was almost washed away. This is not just about flooding; it is about land and property being destroyed by the power of the floods that have hit those areas. The impact and burden on people of severe flooding is unparalleled and hard to compare with other things. One constituent told me that they had been flooded once before and so every time they are faced with significant rainfall—obviously, that is a feature of our weather patterns in Greater Manchester—they just stay up at night waiting to be flooded again. That trauma and worry—the emotional as well as the financial burden—is extreme. We have to be doing more to ease that burden on our constituents.
Since 2016, there has been a significant response in my area. I know that colleagues will talk today about how they have not had any resources at all, but we have had investment in my area. The Environment Agency has spent more than £1 million in Mossley, and my local council has spent more than £650,000. This has meant we can have things such as large screens that we can put across culverts to prevent them from getting blocked. In some cases, tunnels have been built to manage the water run-off on to highways. In one case, a culvert has been repaired and it is now monitored by CCTV 24 hours a day. However, constituents ask the reasonable question: will these measures prevent this from happening again? Of course, none of us can give that assurance, so perhaps a better question would be: has everything that could be done been done? I do not think we are there yet, so although we have had investment in my area, I know it is not enough and therefore that we need more across the country. If we multiply the investment in my area by the number of constituencies in the country, that tells us quickly that we do not yet have the level of support going into this that we all want to see.
On mitigation of climate change and flood risk, the restoration of peatland is very important, and I know that the Government are committed to that. The burning of peatland by the grouse shooting industry is damaging, and businesses that counteract good measures have to be addressed. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important to engage with industries that are counteracting climate emergency measures?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. Grouse shooting is a business in my constituency. I am not sure how much proportionality one can put on what she has described compared with other measures, but this has to be part of the conversation, because many expert analyses have identified it is a factor. Therefore, it has to be looked at.
Austerity has also been an issue in this—that cannot be denied. I have seen it affect my constituency in two specific ways. There are 44,000 road gullies in my borough of Tameside and austerity has, in effect, meant that we went down to having one gully machine and just two highway engineers. That is in no way sufficient to cope with the gullies that need to be unblocked to make sure that we are as resilient as can be. We can perhaps now look to increase that provision, but the false economy of cuts, particularly to local government, should never have got us to that position.
I also think we need to refer to planning enforcement. New homes were mentioned in the Front-Bench contributions. My understanding is that new homes should not make any area more at risk of flooding, but there are severe issues in this country as to whether planning measures are met and whether we have the resources to enforce the measures that the Environment Agency wants to see put in place if the plans go ahead.
Finally, will the Minister respond to a specific point about legal responsibility for waterways? I understand the division of responsibility between the Environment Agency, lead flood authorities—basically councils, in areas like mine—and landowners, but I am not sure that it is right to strictly define landowners as responsible for culverts, or covered waterways. Many of my local towns expanded rapidly at the time of the industrial revolution, and there are not good records from that time. Sometimes we do not even know the exact path of a culvert through an area. Conveyancing should reveal that, but let us be honest: often it does not.
I have one particular case in which a culvert collapsed during the 2016 floods—we do not know whether that contributed to or was caused by the flooding—and residents of one block of flats built on the parcel of land through which the culvert runs are now being held responsible for costs that could reach more than £1 million. There are 90 flats in the development, but that would still be a substantial cost. That is not fair for the people in Bramble Court in Millbrook. It is not the right way to manage the risks. I am told by the Environment Agency that we do not even know who is responsible for some culverts. Yes, we need resources, but the legal definitions and responsibilities also need attention from the Government.
In 2007, my constituency was badly flooded: three people tragically lost their lives, many lost their water supplies, quite a lot lost electricity and many people were out of their homes for 12 months, living in caravans. It was a desperately difficult time. Since then, a lot of good work has been done in various parts of my constituency, which has certainly helped, but nevertheless we have been flooded many times since, including in the last week and last November.
I wish to highlight two particular things that I feel really should be done. The first is relatively simple: we should clear out ditches more regularly and maintain drains better than we are, and we ought to consider whether we should dredge all rivers, because I understand that that has helped enormously in some areas of the country where it is done. We ought to revisit that policy.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. As he will know, the River Severn has flooded terribly in his constituency and mine. Does he agree that the Government need a more holistic approach to managing the whole of the River Severn, from my constituency right down to his?
I thank both my hon. Friends for those interventions, with which I agree. I must move on quickly because of the shortness of time.
The other issue that I wish to raise is house building, or any kind of building, in flood risk areas. It is causing an awful lot of trouble. In my constituency, the current joint core strategy proposes a 50% increase in the number of houses in the council area where I live. Not only does that increase mean that green-belt land is seriously compromised, but we have a lot of flood risk areas. The building of that number of houses in my area will cause an awful lot of misery for very many people.
I am concerned about our approach to building in flood risk areas. The Pitt report of some years ago was somewhat compromised: it said that yes, flood risk areas should be avoided, but it also said they should be avoided unless there was a need for a certain number of houses. I do not think that that compromise is necessary, because when somebody is flooded for more than a year, they really do not want to see more development in their area.
I am rather concerned about how the Environment Agency makes its assessments. It uses maps that in my view are not always accurate—they do not always reflect the flood risk in an area—and it talks about frequencies, but the frequencies of flooding have changed, with flooding now much more frequent than it used to be. Who knows where that trend will go in future?
We have heard it said that we do not really build in flood risk areas any more; we absolutely do. I have shown the Secretary of State a photograph of an industrial digger preparing land in my constituency for houses—and the digger is stood in water. Around 2,000 houses are going to be built on that land, which is already sodden and far too wet. It is a matter not only of whether the houses built on that land will flood, but of water displacement—will building on that land cause flooding for people in other areas? It is a serious consideration. Just this week the Environment Agency said that
“it isn’t always possible or practical to prevent all new development in flood risk areas”;
well, that is going to cause an awful lot of problems for very many people.
We really ought to revisit the policy. I know the driver behind it—I know that this Government and successive Governments have wanted to provide homes for people. I joined the Conservative party during Margaret Thatcher’s time, and one of her great policies was on home ownership, with which I entirely agreed. Home ownership is a fantastic aspiration, but we need to be careful about where we build houses. Building houses for the sake of it will not actually make them more affordable. We risk compromising the green belt and building in flood risk areas for no actual benefit to some of the people who are looking to buy houses.
I referred to the site in my area where an industrial digger is sat in water; that is at a place called Twigworth and Innsworth, where permission has been given not by the local council but by the inspector. The inspector looked at the application in December 2017 and should have rejected it, but the fact that the Environment Agency did not object to the development did not help. Everybody who lives in that area knows what a problem it is going to cause. I shall name one person who knows what a problem it is going to cause: David Cameron. In February 2014, he visited the area. Why? Because the road was completely blocked because of flooding and the fields where the development is now taking place were flooded. He declared then that building should not take place in such areas. What has gone wrong?
I pin no blame at all on the new Secretary of State—he is brand-new to his position and I wish him well—but I ask him to revisit the existing policy on assessing whether land is suitable for development. The surgery that I did at the weekend was very busy, full of people coming to complain about overdevelopment. I think the one message that they would like me to give to the Secretary of State is that we should review the policy before it is too late. Once we have built on land, we cannot unbuild on that land.
My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour and I have recently discussed whether there were possible solutions in building more capacity in the Welsh hills to hold back water from the Severn. That would also give the Government an opportunity to ask Severn Trent Water to transport some of the water by pipe down to the areas in the south-east that suffer from a lack of water. Does my hon. Friend agree that that could be a useful contribution, saving his constituency and mine from being flooded?
My hon. Friend and neighbour makes a good point. Back in 2007, it was not only the water that fell in Tewkesbury that caused the problem; it was also the water that came down from Wales. I pin no blame at all for that on Wales—I would not dare with you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker—but my hon. Friend makes a good and serious point with which I agree.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), who spoke powerfully about his local area and made some important points about planning.
Last November, my community was hit by severe flooding that caused devastating damage to Barnsley, and across South Yorkshire. Over a 24-hour period, more rain fell than was expected for an entire month, causing mass disruption and damage. I pay tribute and give thanks to the blue-light services, the local authority, the Environment Agency, and the community groups, volunteers and local people who responded. My constituents now need assurances that everything is being done to protect their homes, businesses and community spaces from future floods.
One month ago, I led a Westminster Hall debate on flooding in South Yorkshire, voicing the concerns of people from my area. I called for investment in flood defences to make our region more resilient to flooding, and for the Prime Minister to make good on his commitment to convene an emergency summit on flooding in the north of England—he made that promise during the general election to the Mayor of the Sheffield city region, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis). I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge his work on this issue.
Since November, Barnsley and its surrounding areas have been hit by two more storms, leading to more flood damage. Community groups are unable to meet owing to waterlogged and damaged venues. Indeed, one of the local football clubs, Worsbrough Bridge FC, still does not have a pitch to play on. Action is needed urgently if residents and business owners from my community are to feel safe and secure in the homes and businesses for which they have worked their entire lives.
The Government need to commit to giving short-term financial support to help those affected and to fund recovery efforts. Right now, flood victims are relying on the goodwill of their neighbours to get them through this flooding crisis. More than half a million pounds has been donated by members of the public, local authority groups and community organisations to the South Yorkshire Community Foundation. The fact that the Government will only match fund this is outrageous. They have undercut efforts to help communities, households and businesses to recover. This is despite the fact that the Mayors of Doncaster and the Sheffield city region have said that £3 million is needed.
I am proud to live in an area with so much community spirit. The generosity of my neighbours and friends, while not unsurprising, deserves recognition. This Friday, I am meeting the Low Valley flooding group, which comprises residents who have joined together to help each other and to look at what can be done to prevent future flooding. Flood victims need more funds now so that they can rebuild their lives, and the burden should not fall on the victims. In addition to short-term financial aid, we need sustained investment to protect homes and businesses from future extreme weather events.
I wish to start by saying how disappointing it is again to see a great opportunity lost in this Opposition day debate. The Opposition have, basically and plainly, just failed to ask the right questions. We do not need an independent review to know what happened in the floods. Most MPs whose constituencies were flooded this time, and many times before, know exactly where all the water comes from in their constituencies. On top of that, we had four times the monthly rainfall in just 24 hours. The information is already there; all a review would do is waste more time and more money.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The managed solution to these problems will come from not an independent review, but the implementation of flood catchment management plans, which were first launched in 2007. Many of them have still not come to proper fruition. Those plans will inform the six-year funding period, but no inquiry will deal with that. We need to get the flood catchment management plans and some of their solutions actually delivered.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I shall cover a number of those points later in my speech.
It is for those reasons that I will not be voting for the Opposition’s motion but, just to show balance, I must say that the Government amendment is also a great opportunity lost, and is of no comfort or consolation to the thousands of people who have had their properties flooded—in many cases, yet again.
First, I wish to mention the Government response. In 2015, when the whole of the north of England was hit by flooding, the Government were quick to announce a support package for each of those affected by floods, whether homes or businesses. Given the scale of the devastation, Cobra was called and a package was announced in the first few days. This time, as the initial Storm Ciara damage was limited mainly to just the Calder Valley, Cobra was not called, which I do not have an issue with, and no package of support was triggered. The next nine days were like pulling hens’ teeth. In trying to get a response from Government, and after speaking to virtually every Department in Whitehall, it was discovered that the package comes from four or five different Departments.
I will not. I am sorry, but I have too much to say.
All Departments were sympathetic, but none was able to trigger the package without the other. I also discovered that there was a package, but that the flooding of 1,187 properties in the Calder Valley on its own does not qualify for support, because it does not hit the criteria. Will the Secretary of State agree to look at and amend the support package so that we can have an off-the-shelf package that is automatically triggered for any constituency that suffers the devastation of flooding? Under such an arrangement, no constituency would be left waiting for nine days ever again.
I want to make it very clear that we do have three fully funded hard flood defence projects in the Calder Valley—one is partially completed and two are waiting to start. We also have a series of works beyond those projects. Treesponsibility and Slow The Flow are two fabulous charities. One has planted thousands of trees and has plans to continue planting trees around the catchment, while dozens of volunteers work with Slow The Flow on the leaky dams in the moors above. Grips are being blocked as part of moorland restoration in partnership with Natural England and landowners. Yorkshire Water has trialled reducing reservoir levels during times of heavy rain, but it will take a change of legislation to mandate that to happen. Hopefully, that can happen through the Environment Bill, with the amendments that my neighbour, the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), has put forward.
We have set aside money to build holding ponds, but only four have been managed to be built. This is all good stuff, but we are just toying with it. If we are serious about mitigating the risks of flooding, we need to do much, much more of this type of work in the catchment.
I have a number of asks for the Secretary of State. First, can the Calder Valley be elevated to tier 1 status, like the City of London? That would ensure that an annual sum of money would be allocated for a wider catchment plan both to slow the flow of water coming off the moorland and to protect areas further downstream, such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy).
If the Government are not prepared to raise the Calder Valley’s status to tier 1, will the Secretary of State consider a series of pilot schemes for catchment areas across the country? I am talking about six catchment types that all have very different needs. That would require a commitment to annual funding for wider catchment plans, which could initially be developed over a five-year period. These pilots could form a wider strategy for the rest of the country so that we could start to manage flooding much closer within the catchment than at present, rather than consistently reacting to flooding.
I also ask that the wider catchment plan is given to the local authority to manage, as that is where all the local knowledge is held. Farmers were telling me back in November that the moors were sodden and that we would be in real trouble if the rains continued.
My final point is on the Environment Agency. Nobody can deny that it has done a brilliant job on the ground during the floods and on preparing people in the lead-up to them. The response has been much, much better than we experienced in 2012 and 2015. The issue, however, is in the amount of time that flood defence schemes take to implement. The upper Calder Valley has just one main road in and out. The one road has been down to a single lane for three years, while the scheme in Mytholmroyd is still under construction. We have had three years of people sitting in traffic at peak times for over an hour to travel just a couple of miles. The Mytholmroyd scheme was still not complete for the floods last month and, to rub salt into the wounds, the schemes for Hebden Bridge and Brighouse have not even started after four years. The Environment Agency will say that the schemes have to be done in sequence but, according to local water engineers and experts, that need not be the case. My final ask is that the Secretary of State puts pressure on the Environment Agency to get those schemes finished before the threat of our next major flood.