With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the electricity disruptions as a result of Storm Arwen and how we are working to ensure that power is restored to people’s homes.
Storm Arwen brought severe weather, including high winds of up to 100 mph, rain, snow and ice, causing the most severe disruption since 2005. Many people across the country, but particularly in northern England and Scotland, have been without power for a number of days. Three people have tragically lost their lives in incidents related to the storm. My thoughts—and, I am sure, the thoughts of the whole House—are with those people and their loved ones.
I want to reassure people who are still without power—who are exhausted, worried and angry—that we are all working incredibly hard to ensure that normal conditions return. We have incredibly dedicated teams of engineers, who have been working around the clock to restore the network. The scale of the restoration effort that engineers are facing is enormous. The weekend saw exceptionally strong winds of almost 100 mph, which brought large trees and debris down on to power lines. For example, central Scotland has only seen wind speeds like this twice in the last 25 years. Of course, to add to the complex situation, much of the damage is in remote and hard-to-reach places.
I am glad to say that more than 95% of those affected by the storm—over 935,000 customers—have had their power supply restored so far; I thank the engineers for their hard work and perseverance. However, as of 8 o’clock this morning, there were still 30,000 customers without power. The specific areas most severely affected are: Wear valley surrounding Eastgate and north Northumberland; the north Peak District and the South Lakes areas; and Aberdeenshire and Perthshire in Scotland.
Today, the Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), is on the ground in Berwick to see at first hand the impact from storm disruption. Yesterday, I spoke with the chief executive officers of Northern Powergrid, Electricity North West, and Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks to seek assurance that restoration is happening as fast as is humanly possible. I am satisfied that these operators are sharing their resources through mutual aid agreements, and putting engineers in the worst affected areas.
I am also grateful to emergency responders, who have been working hard to keep people as comfortable as possible by providing torches, blankets and other necessities, and sorting out alternative accommodation where necessary. Officials in my Department are monitoring the situation closely and are in constant contact with network operators to ensure that customers can be reconnected as quickly as possible.
People who are still experiencing issues or who need further support should contact their electricity network operator by dialling 105 from their landline or mobile phone. This will automatically route them to the right operator, based on their physical location. People are also eligible for compensation on which they can find details on the Ofgem website.
For those who continue to be without power, I know their primary question will be “When will power be restored?” I have been assured that the overwhelming majority of those still without power today will have it restored in the next day or two. I have asked operators to provide named contacts for MPs and I will be sharing those with colleagues.
This has been an extremely difficult week for many of our constituents, and I thank them for their fortitude in the face of these extreme weather conditions. When the power is back up and back to normal, we in BEIS will of course be looking at the lessons that we can learn from Storm Arwen in order to build an even more resilient power system in future.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Let me first join him in sending my condolences to the victims who have tragically died during Storm Arwen and to their families. I express my sympathy to all those who have lost power and are suffering during this crisis. I know from my own constituency, where we had terrible flooding in 2019, the impacts of extreme weather and the traumatic effects it has on people and communities. I also join him in paying tribute to the many engineers, volunteers and emergency service workers who have worked tirelessly to step up and help during this crisis.
We have heard heartbreaking stories of outages leaving residents without power, water and light. There are also many reports that the Secretary of State will have heard of residents being unable to get proper information about what is happening and waiting for hours to get through on phone lines. On behalf of the many who have suffered, I want to ask him a few questions. Does he believe that there is enough support for the most vulnerable on the ground while the power outages continue, including the use of emergency generators, and has he given thought to calling in the Army if necessary to help with that process? He said that power would be restored “in the next day or two” for the overwhelming majority. Can he say how many people he estimates will be left without power and how long it will take to restore power for them?
After terrible storms in 2013—the stormiest winter in 40 years that saw hundreds of thousands lose their power—it was said that lessons would be learned, and I want to probe the Secretary of State a little further on three areas in that regard. First, on communications and information, the Science and Technology Committee recommended that the single national emergency number was put in place. The purpose of that number was that people would not just know who to call but could get information promptly. On the calling of 105, which he mentioned, there are multiple reports of it causing enormous frustration to people who are not getting the information. What is his assessment of whether people have been able to get the information, and if not, why not?
Secondly—the Secretary of State drew attention to this—Ofgem recommended in the wake of those storms that district network operators should share resources and personnel in the event of such a crisis. He said that that has happened, but is he satisfied that it has happened right across the DNO network, and at the scale that is required? Can he give us some further information on that?
Thirdly, after 2015 there was a clear sense of the vulnerabilities of the overhead power network, and agreement that the networks would survey the vulnerabilities that they faced and act. Is the Secretary of State satisfied, at this stage, that that has happened, because the continued vulnerability of power lines seems all too apparent?
Faced with the climate crisis, extreme weather events will sadly become all the more common in future. We cannot be this vulnerable in future. There is real concern that some lessons have not been learned, and on this occasion we must face up to those lessons and learn them.
On the situation with regard to the climate change emergency, the right hon. Gentleman and I have very similar views. Clearly Storm Arwen was an event the likes of which we have not seen for, certainly, 16 years, since the records of the DNOs started. We have to be prepared for similarly extreme difficult weather conditions in future and make sure that our system is resilient in that eventuality.
Turning to the right hon. Gentleman’s specific questions, the 105 line is the one number that people are being asked to call; it has been centralised. He is right to say that there was initial pressure. My understanding is that over the weekend, it took people up to two hours to get through, which is clearly unacceptable, but the storm hit and the companies did not have the communication networks, the call centres or the people there to deal with the situation. When I spoke to the CEOs of the companies yesterday, they said that the waiting time has been reduced to 10 minutes to a quarter of an hour. That is what I was told. If people are finding difficulties, they should definitely get in touch with their MPs, Government and also the distributors.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s second point, the North East South West Area Consortium is a very effective means by which the generating companies can share and deploy engineers across different networks. That is very effective, I am told by the CEOs of the companies, but I will have more calls today with local resilience leaders to ensure that what the generating companies are saying is matched by what people are experiencing on the ground, because, as he well knows, there can be a mismatch between the two.
May I echo the words of my right hon. Friend in thanking all those in our emergency services and the local authority workers who went out over the weekend and have been doing so much to support our communities across the United Kingdom that have been affected? I also thank the people in local businesses who have opened their doors to look after those people who are more vulnerable and need support, such as the Fife Arms in Braemar, where temperatures dropped below zero over the weekend and people lost power and water. Lumphanan, Crathie and Corgarff in my constituency remain without power and do not even have access to a temporary generator. Can he expand on his discussions with Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks? What discussions has he had with the Scottish Government to see what the two Governments in this country might be able to do to speed up the response and support those people who are going to their fifth day without any power, heating or electricity in general?
My hon. Friend will accept that we are in an extreme situation. He will also know that I have spoken to Mr Alistair Phillips-Davies, who is the head of SSE. He and I and colleagues in the Scottish Government are apprised of the situation. Generators are being distributed that can take up the slack when important power infrastructure is down, but it is an ongoing situation and I would be happy to engage with my hon. Friend in the next few hours.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. This storm was of incredible strength when it hit us on Friday night, with the north-eastern parts of Scotland and England being especially in the full face of the gale. SSE’s storm models predicted between 60 and 100 high-voltage faults. In fact, it has sustained more than 500 high-voltage faults, with more than 1,000 instances of damage to its network. Sustained winds with gusts in excess of 90 mph were, unusually, from the north-east, affecting trees that do not normally have to yield to those winds. It has resulted in colossal tree damage to the network.
I wish to pay tribute to the fortitude and resolve of the many people facing severe hardship on day five without power, some of whom will not get it back today or tomorrow. It is a tremendous disruption to how we live today, and they are to be in our thoughts at this very challenging time for them. Indeed, as of 9 pm last night, 9,500 customers remained cut off from their supply, including 5,700 in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, 1,500 in Moray, 1,400 in my Angus constituency and 570 in Perthshire. This enduring lack of power would test anyone’s resolve, yet it is telling that people remain mindful of the extraordinary efforts of the engineers and support staff of SSE and its industry partners to restore supplies, and power has been restored to more than 118,000 customers. The UK Government have, I understand, said that they are
“on standby to provide further assistance to the Scottish Government”,
but like the Deputy First Minister in Scotland, I am a little sceptical as to what that is. I would be grateful if the Minister could elaborate on what that assistance would be. If it is financial assistance, is it new money or recycled money?
I was in touch with SSE again this morning, and it has assured me that it has engineers from across its network working in the north-east to repair supplies and also engineers from other networks sharing distribution network operator resources. That enormous recovery effort is hampered by the prolonged scale of the damage, which is compounded by the locations of the damage and the types of equipment that have been damaged. I place on record my thanks to the engineers working in all weathers to restore power supplies to Angus, to the council and to other members of the local resilience partnership who have done so much to help to restore supplies and in humanitarian welfare provision.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and pay tribute, as he does, not only to the fortitude of many of his constituents and other people in Scotland, but to the tireless efforts of the engineers, the voluntary staff and the DNO in this instance, SSE, in trying to deal with an unprecedented situation, as he recognised. He was right to point out that it was not only the high velocity but the direction of the winds that posed a huge challenge.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I speak to counterparts across the border in the devolved Administration frequently; in fact, I was on a panel with the Cabinet Secretary yesterday and it is something that we are talking about all the time. We have not specified the amount of money, if there will be any. I do not think we have reached that conversation, but we are in constant dialogue with his colleagues in Holyrood.
In my constituency and further afield, areas such as Alston, Garrigill, Nenthead, Kirkby Stephen, Matterdale and North Stainmore have been hard-hit by the power crisis. Some of those areas have had their power restored, but others are still without power. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the engineers at Electricity North West, the emergency services, councils and volunteers who have been working so hard? Can he assure my constituents and people further afield that everything is being done across Government to support them, to help to restore power and to put in place contingency measures?
My hon. Friend will know that this is a matter of grave concern and focus for the Government. He will also appreciate that Electricity North West has done a reasonable job in restoring power to 95% of people affected, but clearly we want to work harder to make sure that those 6,000 or 7,000 people who are still off the grid can get their power back as soon as possible.
I, too, send my condolences and pay my respects to those who have lost their life in such awful circumstances, in particular to the family of the man who passed away in Ambleside on Friday. At least 7,000 homes in my constituency have been without power for between three and five nights. I am immensely proud of the way that people in our community have stood up to support one another and their neighbours—they know who they are. I am also grateful to those working on the ground for Electricity North West to try to fix the problem as soon as possible.
In my communities and elsewhere in Cumbria, thousands are still without power. They feel forgotten, but they have not been, I hope, by many hon. Members here. Places such as Killington, Garsdale, parts of Coniston, Orrest Head, Ayside, High Newton, Low Newton, Witherslack, Hincaster, Lambrigg, Bowston, Hutton Roof, Crook, Outgate, Haverthwaite, Spark Bridge, Backbarrow, the outskirts of Windermere and others are facing a sixth night without power. Some people are being told that their connection will not be fixed until 8 December—this time next week.
The hardship caused, particularly to the elderly and other vulnerable people is unthinkable, which is why it is massively disappointing that it took until Wednesday for a Minister to come to the House to address the issue. It is not too late for the Government to act, however, so I ask the Secretary of State to task the Army to provide support to the engineers on the ground in Cumbria to speed up fixing the problem; to then use the Army to ensure that the most vulnerable are contacted and moved to emergency accommodation today; and to ensure that every affected community in Cumbria is given generators to provide at least a temporary fix today so that no one has to spend a sixth night in the cold.
We are contacting local resilience forums, listening to them and getting guidance from them as to how best to tackle the situation on the ground. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that Electricity North West has already provided 150 generators. We will task it to see what more can be done to alleviate the extreme stress and challenging situation that many of his constituents face.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Storm Arwen has left thousands of my constituents without power for several days. It has been heartening to see how people in my local towns and villages have come together, particularly in Upper Weardale, Eastgate, St John’s Chapel, Quebec, Wilks Hill and Maiden Law. I also have a secondary school that is still without power, so several hundred children are not getting the education that they need.
I am delighted that the Energy Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), is in North West Durham today. I thank him for his visit and for what he is doing there. He has contacted several local businesses on my behalf.
I will raise a couple of things with the Secretary of State. First, one of my rural surgeries has lost £10,000-worth of flu vaccines due to the electricity going down and the fridges going off, which will affect its ability to roll that out. Can he speak to the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that the supply is reimbursed as quickly as possible? Secondly, some isolated communities have been told that it may be a long time before they can get full electricity. Will he do everything possible to ensure that they are reconnected well before Christmas? Finally, can he ensure that the Government respond positively to any request from the local resilience forum, including sending in the Army if necessary?
My hon. Friend will know that I am keen to engage with local resilience fora and hear from them what is the best way to proceed. He will also appreciate that we are incredibly conscious of the ramifying effects of the storm, particularly in regard to health and education. He knows that I am taking that up within Government. I take the point about isolated communities extremely seriously and I will be looking at that on a daily basis. I will say publicly that being without power until Christmas is simply unacceptable and I will do everything I can to make sure that that does not happen.
I thank the Secretary of State for the statement, but in my constituency, pockets of people remain without energy, including in Ryton, Blaydon, Wylam—the part that is in my constituency—Victoria Garesfield, Coalburns and Byermoor. Six days on, all those places are still without energy and people are anxious and finding it extremely difficult to get through to find out information. Will he assure me that Members of Parliament will have direct lines and contacts so that we can get detailed information to tell our constituents? I thank the workers who have been out there in all weathers trying to reconnect people.
The hon. Lady is right to point out that there needs to be a way for right hon. and hon. Members to engage with DNOs and constituents, and I will look into that. I picked up on precisely the point about communications with the CEO of Northern Powergrid, the DNO relevant to her constituency, and he said that, having had a slow start at the weekend because the situation was completely unprecedented, they are working very hard to make sure that communications are effective. I reinforce the point that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) that we will do everything we can to make sure that the generating of electricity happens long before the dates that are being bandied about for when they should be up and running.
I thank the Secretary of State for the statement and for meeting me yesterday to discuss the situation in High Peak where thousands of homes have been left without power since the weekend, including in places such as Buxton, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Wash, Bagshaw, Sparrowpit, Wormhill, Peak Forest, Chinley, Hayfield and more. I put on record my thanks to the engineers at Electricity North West, as well as to Derbyshire County Council, the local resilience forum, the emergency services and our amazing mountain rescue teams for working to not just reconnect power but help the most vulnerable who have been affected. Unfortunately, some homes are experiencing their fifth day without power. I ask him to commit the Government to do whatever is needed and to provide whatever resources the local resilience forum requests to get power back to everyone in the High Peak.
As I have said to a number of hon. Members today, we are absolutely committed to getting power back. I need to reiterate that 95% of people who were affected now have their power back, but if someone is part of the 5% still without power, that is clearly no solace and will not help them in that situation. It is absolutely incumbent on me and my Department to make sure that we do whatever we can to resolve it.
I also acknowledge the heroic efforts of the engineers and emergency workers in seeking to restore power, and of the communities, businesses and residents across my constituency who have stepped up to support the elderly, local care homes and vulnerable people who have been left without power for five days. However, the Secretary of State has some important questions to answer. When the Met Office issued a red weather warning that there was a danger to life, what steps did he take to move basic resources, bottled water, emergency generators, fuel and blankets to the affected areas? What arrangements were made to consider the deployment of the Army—the Royal Engineers—to identify alternative accommodation and establish community reception hubs for those, particularly elderly people, left without power and in need of support? From where I am and my constituents are, the performance has been lamentable. There has been a complete lack of planning and foresight. I am sure that the whole House would welcome answers to those questions.
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of where we are. He will appreciate that, over many years, we have had local resilience fora, which have acted incredibly speedily and with incredible dedication. They are precisely the organisations that know what the situation is on the ground, and I and my Department have been engaging with the people involved. They are responding extremely effectively to this difficult situation.
Storm Arwen hit my constituency, like many others, very hard. Thousands of homes were left without electricity. Thankfully, that is now down to the hundreds, but those people are facing their fifth night without power. I reiterate requests for the Minister to listen to any calls from the local resilience forums to step up Government support.
On lessons learned, so many of my constituents have come to me feeling really dismayed by the fact that they are being pushed online to get information about what is happening and where support is coming from. However, if people do not have power or broadband, they simply cannot access those services. When the Government look at this, can we make sure that we look at how best to communicate with people who have no access to regular communications channels?
The communication point is fundamental. I have spoken to the CEOs of the DNOs and I am speaking to the local resilience fora; we are absolutely committed to having much, much easier and more fluent channels of communication in future. My hon. Friend will appreciate that this issue will not go away. There will be other incidents, and he is right to stress that we need a more resilient system.
This storm was catastrophic; it had a devastating impact, with destruction right across my constituency and in Northumberland as a whole. This is about not just the power, but the destruction of properties, allotments and houses across the piece. People are looking towards some form of financial support from the Government, because this impacts on many people who have not got two ha’pennies to rub together. They will need specific, targeted Government support.
First, I ask the shadow Secretary—sorry, the Secretary of State; I nearly demoted him there—to consider what extra support can be given. Secondly, on isolation and communication, I have in my constituency an old people’s home that lost its electricity at 2 o’clock on Saturday morning and had it restored on Monday afternoon. In between, the lack of communication was unbelievable. Two people in that home were aged 100 years-plus. There were a lot of people with dementia who were frightened and who could not be moved because it would mean extra confusion. This is not acceptable. Will he look at what measures the Government can put in place to make sure that this does not happen again? Communications are very important.
Just before I sign off, I add what a brilliant job Northern Powergrid, its workforce, the engineers, the volunteers in the towns and villages and the council workers are all doing, pulling together to try to ease the effect of Storm Arwen.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right: Northern Powergrid is working very hard to make sure that people get their electricity back. As I said, 95% of the people affected have got the power back. There was an issue with communication on the weekend, I am sad to say. There was a huge surge in demand and not enough infrastructure—there were not enough people in the call centres—to deal with the situation. We will look into that. As Members from the south-east will remember—although there are not many of them in the Chamber today—we had a power outage on 9 August and we did manage to create a more resilient system. I am absolutely determined that this time we will have a more resilient system on the back of these tragic events.
Thousands of my constituents across the Scottish Borders remain without power today after the catastrophic storm at the weekend. I felt the full force of that storm at home in Coldstream on Friday and Saturday. Many old and vulnerable residents have no power and that has been the case for five days. Like others, I pay tribute to the engineers and council workers who have worked so hard to get people connected, but serious questions remain about the failure of ScottishPower Energy Networks to provide accurate information to residents about reconnection times. There are also questions about the support that the Scottish Government provided to local councils across Scotland. What discussions have the UK Government had with ScottishPower Energy Networks and the Scottish Government about the response to the storm, and what more can be done to support my constituents in the Scottish Borders to get them reconnected?
Some of my constituents in places such as Sherburn Hill, Waterhouses, Bearpark and Low Burnhall are facing a full seven days without heating or electricity. This is a national scandal. I thank the emergency services, the workers, the engineers and all the community groups who have stepped up to help those most in need, but what are the Government doing to help the most vulnerable residents in Durham to get the help that they need—not tomorrow, not next week, but today?
As I said in a number of responses, we are working with the local resilience fora. The job of the local resilience forum, in the first instance, is to find out what is going on and to co-ordinate local responses, and then, of course, the Government are very focused on helping them to get what they need to make the situation much more comfortable than it is.
We have all seen the photographs of the devastation caused by Storm Arwen and experienced it for ourselves—it is absolutely atrocious. When I was speaking to someone from Northern Powergrid a few days ago, they said that it is the worst damage in living memory. I pay tribute to Northern Powergrid, its engineers and all the local authority workers for all their hard work in trying to get this awful damage fixed.
I also thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for the numerous calls and meetings that we have had this week to discuss the damage and what more can be done to support some of the residents who are still without power. In my constituency, unfortunately, the number is still in the thousands. Place such as Langdon Beck, Evenwood and Middleton-in-Teesdale still face an absolute loss of power. However, in times like these, we see the best in our communities as well, with businesses such as Babul’s and Chocolate Fayre providing support to individuals still affected. Support has also been provided by individuals such as Tommy Lowther, Judith Buckle, Kimberley Clarke and others, including Paul Hedley, who responded instantly to calls to provide a generator—it had been sitting in his garage.
I really want the Secretary of State to address that point about emergency generators. After five days of no power, no heating and no light, the smallest things, such as a single lightbulb, a kettle to boil some hot water, a small heater and a little bit of phone charge, can make such a difference to people. What more can the Government, local resilience forums, local authorities and local charities do to work together to find out where these generators are and to get them deployed to some of these communities who could be facing disruption for days, if not weeks?
I thank my hon. Friend for the tireless work that she and other Members, on both sides of the House, have put in to make sure that their constituents are being well represented and to tell us what exactly it is like on the ground. That is how this House of Commons should work and I am very proud of that.
My hon. Friend will know that we are talking with the local resilience fora about generators. The companies—in her case, Northern Powergrid—are making an effort to get generators out to affected communities, and I am getting a regular update on what has been happening in that respect. I am very happy to speak to her, as I am to other Members, about this emergency.
Like other Members, could I add my own thanks for the resilience and fortitude of those who have been left without power for so long and the dedication of the engineers who have been getting them back on grid? I also thank everyone involved in the volunteer response and in the local resilience partnerships.
While the priority has to be about getting those who remain off-grid back on to an electrical supply and supporting those who are not on-grid at the moment as best we can, there will at some point be an examination of how things could have been done better. There is an issue about the resilience of our communication infrastructure as well as our power infrastructure, because broadband went down and mobile phone networks went down, which hindered in many respects, the ability of people to respond. Will the Secretary of State consider, as part of that, looking at the obligations placed upon not just power distribution companies, but telecommunications providers to provide a more secure and robust service in all circumstances, no matter how adverse they might be?
I wholeheartedly agree with what the hon. Gentleman has just said. It is very easy for us simply to come up with a statement and then hope that the problem goes away, but I have made a firm commitment, as we did, as I have said, on 9 August 2019, when there was a power outage and we spent a couple of months, if not longer, having a proper inquiry as to what went wrong. I am confident that a lot of the measures that we came up with then did provide resilience. It is exactly in that vein that I want to approach this very difficult situation. It will not be the case that we will simply walk away from it; we will be trying actively to learn lessons. We cannot abolish extreme weather—well, we can in the long run, but we cannot do it perhaps as quickly as we would like—but we can certainly learn lessons to build more resilience.
Can I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement today and his commitment, as well as that of the Prime Minister earlier this week, including his commitment to provide any support that the UK Government can in Scotland in particular? I would like to associate myself as well with his remarks and those of other hon. and right hon. Members across the House in recognising the Herculean efforts not just of the power companies, but of local communities who have come out in force to support our neighbours, and friends and neighbours around those communities.
In a spirit of helping the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan), the numbers he produced earlier were from I think 9 o’clock last night, but some numbers came out earlier today which show that, from the 9,500 customers who were still looking for power last night, it has come down to 6,400, 3,700 of those being in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, with areas such as Auchnagatt, Forglen, Methlick and New Byth coming on stream overnight. They will be delighted, but of course there are still 3,700 in Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen city for whom that is not much solace, as the Secretary of State said. So can I ask him what conversations he has had with the Scottish Government and the local resilience programmes in Scotland not only to get the power back on as soon as possible, but to make sure that we are focusing on helping the most vulnerable in our communities—those who are not on Facebook or on the internet and who do not have access to the regular updates that we all try to give?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This sort of crisis does not affect everyone equally. There are vulnerable and isolated communities that are particularly affected by this outage and our focus is on that. He will appreciate that the DNO in his area—I think it is SSE—has worked very well in providing support. It is providing accommodation in some instances, hot meals and food, and we are continuing to push that.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his update on the impact of Storm Arwen and my thoughts are with everybody impacted by this terrible natural event. Residents and businesses in Pontypridd were devastated by Storm Dennis in 2020. They were hit by horrendous flooding and, sadly, they are still, even now, feeling the impact of that. Although it is vital that residents and businesses get urgent help in the immediate aftermath, the long-term impacts are still massively impacting these people. Some are unable to get insurance, many have been hit by unnecessarily high insurance premiums and some have not even been pointed to Flood Re. So will the Minister please work with colleagues to look again at Flood Re and ensure that everybody—businesses and residents—can get access to affordable insurance?
I think the hon. Member is right. Many of us across the House have had instances of flooding and extreme weather events over the last 10 years. I myself, in my constituency, had a very extreme case of flooding in 2014 and the issues she raised with regard to insurance and lessons learned are things I am very conscious of. I would be very happy to take this up with her in any subsequent conversation or meeting.
Storm Arwen was an extreme weather event, but we are having more extreme weather events as the climate changes. Already, every winter in this House we have urgent questions and statements on power outages caused by electricity distribution lines coming down, and train disruption caused by electrical lines failing. The long-term fix is to increase the resilience standards of the poles, pylons, wires and connectors on the system. It is not to do with local resilience forums, which are more about responding to crisis; this is about raising the technical standards of the equipment that is deployed. An example is undergrounding electricity lines, which could be as much as 20 to 30 times more expensive than an overhead line, but, especially near more populous areas, that may well be part of the solution. Will the Secretary of State be kind enough to look at the technical standards of the electricity distribution network, because we need to raise those in the face of climate change?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the infrastructure challenges that we are experiencing in extreme weather conditions, which will probably be more frequent given the climate change to which he alluded. He will appreciate that, essentially, a whole new infrastructure not only takes time, but means paying considerable amounts of money, and in the meantime we have to deal with those extreme weather events, so the local resilience forums are very important. He is quite right to say that they do not solve the infrastructure problem long-term, but it is really important that they can act nimbly, because we can improve our infrastructure standards, but we are not simply going to abolish the threat of extreme weather conditions.
The immense disruption caused by Storm Arwen over the weekend demonstrated how vulnerable much of the country is to extreme weather events. Recently, businesses and residents in my constituency were devastated by extensive flooding following torrential rainfall in the space of just a couple of hours. With climate breakdown set to make such events a more frequent occurrence, can the Secretary of State inform the House what steps his Department will be taking in conjunction with his colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to improve the resilience of communities such as Birkenhead to extreme weather?
The hon. Member raises an important point, and he also alludes to the nature of the problem. BEIS is responsible for electricity and DEFRA has been particularly effective in responding to flooding, and he is quite right to suggest that both our Departments are working together, as we do with other colleagues across Government, and are more and more focused on the effects of climate change—and that is what it is—on our infrastructure and our people. We are working together to try to solve that general problem.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I also wish to convey my party’s and my own sincere sympathies to the family of Francis Lagan, who was killed by a falling tree during Storm Arwen in Northern Ireland. Can the Secretary of State outline what support is available specifically for businesses that rely on the internet that may have to wait weeks for its restoration? It was on the news this morning, and it was very clear that businesses in Yorkshire and elsewhere are finding it difficult to reconnect and take bookings. Can the Secretary of State allocate an urgent funding scheme to allow short-term contract mobile hotspotting to take place in the interim—just to help those businesses, as they need it right now?
This is clearly a matter for urgent discussion. The hon. Member will appreciate that, in my role, I cannot stand up such funds immediately. I think a lot of the onus will be on the devolved Administration as well, so I am very happy to take that up with colleagues in Northern Ireland as well as with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.