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Volume 767: debated on Monday 7 December 2015


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in another place. Since my right honourable friend’s Statement, the Lancaster electricity substation has failed and every effort is now being made to restore power as soon as possible. The Statement is as follows.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the impact of storm Desmond and flooding in the north of England.

As the House will know, this weekend has brought some enormously difficult and extreme weather conditions, and I would like to begin by expressing my deepest sympathy to those who have been affected in all parts of the United Kingdom. I would also like to commend the emergency responders, volunteers and the Environment Agency, who have been working tirelessly throughout the weekend, often in horrific conditions. People have come from all over the country, as far as south Wales, Lincolnshire and Somerset, to help. I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to their work, and the generous community spirit of those who have been offering food, transport and even beds to neighbours.

Over the course of Friday 4 December it became increasingly clear that storm Desmond would bring an exceptionally high volume of rainfall across the United Kingdom. The Environment Agency responded by mobilising its people and assets, moving temporary defences and pumps to north-west England through Friday. On Saturday morning it became clearer which counties would be impacted and that we would see very high levels of rainfall that evening. Therefore, the Government mobilised a full national emergency response. At midday on Saturday I held a cross-departmental meeting to assess the projected impacts, shortly followed by the mobilisation of 200 military personnel and supporting assets, including making available a Chinook helicopter. Local commanders were able to call upon more than 50 high-volume pumps, as well as specialist tactical advisers and rescue boats from around the UK, adding to more than 200 emergency responders already on the ground.

My honourable friend the Floods Minister travelled to Cumbria on Saturday to ensure that the emergency responders on the ground got all they need. He has remained in the north-west throughout. On Saturday night we saw an unprecedented amount of rainfall. More than a month’s rain fell in one day. During Saturday night main rivers all across Cumbria exceeded the highest levels ever recorded. There is a mark on the bridge in Carlisle showing the flood level in 1853. The 2005 flood was half a metre higher than the 1853 flood, which was the highest on record until then. This flood was half a metre higher again. It was 0.6 metres higher than previous records in Kendal, 0.7 metres higher in Keswick and 0.3 metres higher in Appleby.

Although more than 8,000 properties were protected by our flood defences, by Sunday morning more than 3,500 properties had been flooded across the country, with the majority in Cumbria. In Carlisle, more than 2,000 properties flooded. More than 600 properties flooded in both Kendal and Keswick, with more than 200 in Appleby. Flooding was also seen in Northumberland, with more than 60 properties flooded at Hexham. Some 55,000 properties lost power in Lancaster following the flooding of the electricity substation. Transport was severely disrupted, with roads closed across the north-west and bridges damaged. The west coast main line was suspended.

Tragically, I can also confirm to the House that there were a number of weather-related fatalities, with a number of incidents caused or exacerbated by flooding or poor weather. I am sure the House will want to join me to express our deepest sympathy to their families and friends. It is a tragic reminder of how dangerous these conditions can be. On Sunday morning I chaired a cross-Government COBRA meeting to ensure the emergency responders on the ground had all the resources they needed and to address immediate issues, including the threat to the power supply in Lancaster and Carlisle. I spoke with gold commanders in the worst affected areas during the day to ensure they had sufficient national resources to deliver their emergency plans.

The Prime Minister chaired a further COBRA meeting this morning and is visiting the affected areas today. I am pleased to confirm to the House that progress is being made on recovering from some of the impacts. The number of homes affected by power outages has been reduced to fewer than 5,000 following restoration of power at Lancaster substation. Electricity companies are working around the clock to restore power as soon as possible. Transport remains disrupted across much of the area. Many roads remain closed and will need to be repaired. The west coast main line remains suspended between Preston and Scotland, and service is unlikely to be restored until Wednesday at the earliest.

The Government will continue to ensure all resources are made available to support recovery from this flooding. COBRA will continue to meet daily to oversee recovery efforts and I will be travelling to Cumbria and Lancashire after this Statement to continue to ensure we are doing all we can to help those affected. I know local communities will want to know what action Government will be taking to support the recovery phase. I am pleased to confirm to the House that my colleague the Communities Secretary will shortly be opening the Bellwin scheme for local authorities affected by floods, and that 100% of eligible costs will be met by Government. We will be announcing support schemes in coming days.

Since 2009 we have invested £45 million in new defences in Cumbria, but we will need to reflect on any lessons we can learn from this extreme weather event. In the last Parliament there was a real-terms increase in investment in flood defences and in this Parliament there will be another real-terms increase in spending. We are investing £2.3 billion in 1,500 schemes throughout the country that will protect 300,000 homes. The spending review has also confirmed we are protecting flood maintenance spending throughout this Parliament, as well as capital spending.

I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing our sincere sympathy to those affected by this weekend’s extreme weather conditions. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to do everything we can to support those affected”.

I commend this Statement to the House.

My Lords, I join the Minister in passing on our condolences for the very sad loss of life reported in Cumbria. We wish to offer our compassion and support for all those whose lives and livelihoods have been damaged by the recent floods. It is sometimes hard for us to fully comprehend the scale of the ongoing trauma and pain being experienced by these communities, but our thoughts go out to them.

I also join with the Minister in thanking all those working for the emergency services, the local councils and the Environment Agency. They have responded to the challenge with speed, calmness and efficiency. The priority in the next few hours and days must be to make people safe and to return essential services to full working capacity. Clearly the latest news about the Lancaster substation is a particular cause for concern, so our response will involve the need for co-ordinated action across local authority, energy, transport and health services.

I welcome the statement from the Minister that the Bellwin scheme will be applied to give local authorities some helpful financial relief, but can the noble Lord clarify what additional financial help will be given to other essential services such as transport and health to make up the shortfall caused by these events?

There is also a personal crisis being experienced by thousands of householders and businesses. Many of these individuals have only just put their lives back together after the previous floods. There have been countless stories about individuals waiting years to receive the insurance money that they needed to rebuild their lives. I know that the noble Lord promised to look into this issue when it was raised last week by my noble friend Lady Symons, but, given the events of recent days which have underlined the urgency of this issue, I hope that the noble Lord will commit to a summit of the insurance companies to see what can be done to speed up the process of reimbursement.

Sadly, we also know that the new government-sponsored insurance scheme, Flood Re, will not come into effect until next year, so can the noble Lord say what if anything can be done to prevent the insurance premiums for properties in the affected areas rocketing in the mean time? As we know, the Flood Re scheme applies only to domestic households, but the flooding of town centres has brought its own heartbreak to local businesses. Many of them have spent years building up their businesses, so it is a matter of compensation not just for lost stock but for all of those customer relations which have made their businesses a success.

If we are not careful, these businesses will simply pack up, and, in doing so, they will rip the heart out of those communities. Can the noble Lord give some hope to those businesses that they will receive all the necessary support to help them stay and rebuild? In particular, can he update the House on the expenditure from the repair and renew grant which was meant to provide grants for flooded homeowners and businesses after the previous events of the past few years? Figures published earlier this year show that only 1,680 claims were met, despite the fact that more than 11,000 properties were flooded during the winter of 2013-14. Of those, the average payment was £1,666, which is much lower than the £5,000 maximum.

Meanwhile, the Government’s Farming Recovery Fund, which promised £10 million to help flooded farmers restore their land, has paid out only £2.8 million, with another £2.3 million in the pipeline. Is the Minister content with the limited scale of these payments—and, if not, what else is he doing to make sure that the money is put to the use for which it was originally intended?

Obviously we need to take all necessary steps to make amends for this disastrous event, but ultimately that is not the point. What everyone caught up in this crisis really wants to know is why it happened and what is being done to make sure that it does not happen again. The Prime Minister has again pledged support and financial aid for those affected by the floods, but the track record of this Government tells a different story. We are dealing with the aftermath of a disastrous decision by the incoming coalition Government in 2010 to downgrade flood defences as a priority. In one year alone, the coalition slashed flood spending by more than £100 million. So, despite the money now being pledged for capital expenditure on flood defences, we are spending less than we were in 2009-10. In addition, the Government are preventing the Environment Agency from carrying out long-term planning on flood maintenance by restricting its budget to year-on-year announcements. Will the Minister agree to revisit the allocation policy and give the Environment Agency some longer-term certainty about future expenditure?

The mistake we have been making so far is to concentrate on flood defences rather than on the wholesale countryside management that contributes to these problems. In particular, we should be paying greater heed to upstream river management. We know, for example, that trees absorb water much faster than grass, so it should be a priority to reforest upland areas. Equally, we need to ensure that rivers are encouraged to flow and meander more slowly, if necessary flooding adjacent farmland. We need to address the impact of the CAP and the single farm payment to ensure that they are not offering perverse incentives to clear land that would otherwise trap water and prevent flooding. Moreover, we need to intervene to prevent farming practices such as overploughing, which cause rapid water drain-off. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could confirm that these policies are being co-ordinated to ensure that we make the best use of scientific evidence on these issues in the future.

Finally, we will not have a serious strategy at the heart of government until the Government fully embrace the fact that extreme weather events are the result of climate change. The Government have been repeatedly warned by the Committee on Climate Change that these catastrophic events will become more and more common, and that they require a whole-government response. The fact that the Paris talks are taking place is an opportunity for our Government to show real leadership by committing to a low-carbon economy and investing in low-carbon technology. Perhaps the noble Lord could take this opportunity to update us on the Government’s proposed offer to the Paris talks. Ultimately, we are not going to overcome the impact of extreme weather simply by building higher defences. We need to address the fundamental causes, and I look forward to the noble Lord’s response.

My Lords, I hope that the right reverend Prelate will forgive me, but it is traditional that the Front Benches of the two parties have the first 20 minutes.

My Lords, I add from these Benches that our thoughts and prayers are with those who are affected at this very difficult time, and we offer our thanks to those who are helping them. After the severe flooding in Cumbria six years ago, some £134 million was made available to the UK by the European Union fund for major natural disasters. It is very welcome news that the Bellwin scheme is going to be opened imminently, but, given the scale of the clean-up, the need for temporary accommodation and the need to rebuild vital infrastructure after the record-breaking floods in the north of England, can the Minister say on this occasion whether the Government will be applying to the European Union Solidarity Fund in order to help these devastated communities?

Perhaps I may add from these Benches that I welcome what the noble Baroness said about an update on the climate change negotiations in Paris. It is important that we do not forget at this time of personal tragedy the wider implications of these events, which are occurring far too often.

My Lords, I thank both noble Baronesses for their comments on what is overwhelmingly a personal tragedy for many families, and obviously the fatalities are a great upset to so many people and communities. One thing that has come across strongly is the way in which communities have come together, as noble Lords would expect, to help each other. The other point raised by both noble Baronesses is the extraordinary and exceptional way in which the emergency services from across the country have come together to help. I acknowledge their comments in this regard, and it is something that we should all acknowledge.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, raised a number of points, and if there are matters of detail that I do not cover, I will be in touch with her. Looking at the investment both in capital and maintenance, it is interesting to note that from 2005 to 2010, there was an investment of £2.7 billion in flood defences. In the last Parliament, it was £3.2 billion. We now have a six-year programme involving a £2.3 billion investment in 1,500 schemes. The maintenance budget has also been protected and that is very important. We obviously have lessons to learn from what happened in Cumbria and other parts of the country.

However, there were a number of key points to which I must respond. A major one was insurance, because, clearly, this is going to be a matter of considerable concern to householders and businesses. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, is absolutely right that this came up in exchanges with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. I understand that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State at Defra met the Association of British Insurers recently and, because the Communities Secretary will deal with the recovery element of this, there will be a meeting of the insurers imminently. However, the department is in regular touch with the Association of British Insurers to discuss not only the situation in Cumbria but beyond, and the industry’s responses.

We are assured that the action taken by insurers—we will work closely with them and make sure that this is the case—includes arranging and paying for temporary alternative accommodation or, for businesses, temporary trading premises; drafting in additional claims staff; prioritising elderly and vulnerable customers; doing all they can to ensure repairers are available to start repairs as soon as it is safe to do so; and making interim emergency payments to support flooded customers. Insurers are aware of the need for prompt payment but the need clearly is for the waters to recede before damage can be assessed. Therefore, I assure the noble Baroness and your Lordships that both the Secretary of State at Defra has already had discussions with the ABI, and that the Communities Secretary will take this forward as we ensure we get into a proper recovery situation.

On repair and renew, I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and I need to compare our statistics. My understanding is that more than £24 million was granted for repair and renewal to 6,000 households and businesses who were flooded in 2013-14. My understanding—and therefore we must compare our information—is that on the farming recovery fund all claims were met in full. I think we need to ensure that we both have the right figures in front of us but I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this matter.

The other point was on farming practices. Clearly, we need to think very carefully about how we work with farmers who are going about their business and looking after their land to make sure that we achieve the best for the environment. We need to think, too, about the way in which farmland can be included, not only the protection of properties but also of agricultural land, which is so important for the production of our food. I mentioned in Questions last week the example of the slow the flow project in Pickering—I am conscious my noble friend Baroness McIntosh of Pickering may be in the Chamber. This is an important way of proceeding: looking at the use of land and how we work with the farming world to ensure that floods can be accommodated. While we should be mindful that farmland is valuable—it produces a crop—there may be certain parts of the country where we should be working together much more strongly to ensure that we slow the flow. I am a great tree planter. The planting of trees and the way in which we farm alongside watercourses are all going to be important.

Climate change is clearly an area which is of particular importance when, for instance, the Environment Agency is considering how best to work on our behalf to get the right results with the right investment to secure the best overall result. All flood risk management schemes are required to take into account climate change during their design and construction. The Environment Agency also produced its long-term investment scenario study in December last year, which sets out national long-term investment scenarios for flood and costal risk management over the next 50 years and includes adaption to climate change. Therefore, that is also going to be very important.

Clearly, important discussions are taking place in Paris. It is important that we are all responsible custodians of the planet in our generation. We need to have a result that ensures that the planet can—we hope—be better restored, and that there are ways in which we can work together with all countries. We need to do our part in this country but also we need to ensure that around the world there is recognition that many aspects of the way in which we live need to be addressed. I think what the noble Baronesses both raised about changes in climate is important in the way in which we deal with flooding.

The statistics on the floods and the levels of the rivers in Cumbria are extraordinary and unprecedented. A rain gauge in Cumbria in Honister recorded rain of 13.4 inches. This is the scale of what happened and the reason why many of the defences, which were above the level of the previous floods, were over-topped. If there is any positivity to come out of this, it is that those investments enabled fewer properties to be flooded and bought time for us to help the evacuation, the informing of the warnings and getting people away. I am sorry, obviously, that these flood defences held but were over-topped, but when I looked at the statistics for the level of rainfall and what the rivers and the defences had to cope with, it is quite extraordinary what the people of Cumbria had to withstand over the weekend.

My Lords, in the almost 40 years that I represented Worcestershire in the House of Commons flooding was one of two issues that came up the whole time. Does my noble friend accept that you cannot hide flood water? If you build barriers in one place, particularly on a river, and keep out the water in a particular place it is quite likely to be pushed on to another place. That happened continually in my old constituency. Upton-on-Severn was always flooding and was almost a national treasure for that at one point. Once we got that sorted out the whole lot went down to Tewkesbury and flooded that out. Therefore, when people call on the Government to spend more money on barriers, I hope he will bear that in mind.

My Lords, my noble friend has great experience of the flooding in his constituency and we have all seen the difficulties when many residents and businesses on the River Severn have been so affected. It is important to note that in Cumbria all the flood storage reservoirs were utilised—at Carlisle, Wigton, Longtown, Kendal and Penrith—and, indeed, the flood basins at Garstang and Catterall on the River Wyre were immensely valuable in preventing more properties being flooded. Therefore, how we stall water or how to slow the flow are things that we need to look at more rigorously.

My Lords, I live only a short distance from Honister, and indeed from Cockermouth, and not far from Keswick, and I was at home during the weekend. The situation is hard to overdramatise. Obviously I could speak at great length about the experience but I will not. Suffice to say that we cannot thank the volunteers and the specialist services enough. They worked tremendously hard; they were very prompt in their arrival; and they worked effectively.

However, we cannot overemphasise the resilience of the people. I do not want the House to be under any illusion. There is a great deal of despondency in the area about how seriously the situation is taken. First, for a long time, ever since the last major incident, there has been scepticism about whether all the money was being spent to good effect and whether what was done was sufficient. Secondly, people had anticipated and discussed—I have heard them over the years—that because it was not enough it would create new problems. Indeed, this has happened. There were predictable knock-on effects from some of the defence work that was done, which aggravated the situation just along the road, or just down the way, or wherever. That has to be considered very seriously. In other areas, the work was just useless because the floods completely overpowered it. There is a lot to be examined about the effectiveness and how far public expenditure was put to good use.

Thirdly, there is the impact on people. There will be trauma for a long time to come with consequences for the health service and others. While the resilience of the people is magnificent, there will be others who are completely broken, which will place a heavy demand on the psychiatric as well as the physical aspects of medicine. I bring these points to the attention of the Minister.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for raising these points today. Absolutely, volunteers came from all parts of the country to help the people of Cumbria. I know there is a very strong flood warden system in Cumbria and I acknowledge, because of the resilience of those communities, that somehow they will get through it but it is going to be very difficult and very painful. I realise that and we need to take all these matters extremely seriously. As the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have said, we need to learn further lessons from this. Obviously, there is the whole issue of river systems, and the way in which we deal with these enormous flows of water is absolutely crucial.

My Lords, I apologise to the House and in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the Minister for my earlier ill-timed intervention. I add an expression of my compassion and sympathy, and the assurance of my prayers, to all those whose lives and livelihoods have been affected and particularly to the families of those who died.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle lives in Keswick so has seen for himself the terrible problems caused by these storms. I know that the House will appreciate that he cannot be in his place today. In the past 10 years we have seen in Cumbria three so-called once-in-a-lifetime flooding events. Does the Minister believe that there may be a category problem here, and that some redefinition may be appropriate? Further, will Her Majesty’s Government reassess not only how they categorise these events but prepare for their apparent more frequent occurrence? We have heard of the help given by some of the flood protection measures that are in hand, but does the Minister believe that reconsideration of present flood prevention measures is not just needed—that is the reflection and learning that the Statement mentions—but urgently needed when we see so graphically the results of this particular circumstance?

Finally, will the Minister confirm that, alongside short to medium-term flood prevention measures, these ghastly events have surely confirmed the vital significance of the deliberations in Paris on climate change for a deep-seated change, so that floods and such awful events occur, if not never, certainly less frequently? Meanwhile, I know that Christian churches of all denominations are working alongside the huge number of volunteers, and we welcome that.

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. I think that all Members of Parliament from Cumbria are in their constituencies and I am not surprised that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle is in his diocese.

The definition of how we deal with and approach what continue to be unprecedented circumstances is a difficult one. All I can say is: having seen the scale of the rainfall, I hope that what we saw over the weekend remains unprecedented. The point is that lessons always have to be learned when we have such emergencies. We need to look at the flood protection measures. As I said, very considerable sums of money are being spent not only on capital projects but on maintenance, but we clearly need to continue looking at whether they are the best value for money and whether they secure the best safety, which is obviously paramount for people. There are lessons to be learned and, as I have already mentioned, the deliberations in Paris on climate change are clearly of huge importance.

My Lords, I must declare an interest as I was born in Carlisle, I live in Cumbria, and I have property and business interests that have been damaged by these floods. However, they are nothing compared to the misfortune that has fallen on the head of a number of other Cumbrians, many of whom for the second time have been flooded out of house and home at the beginning of a wet and cold winter.

Over recent years the Cumbria Community Foundation, of which I am vice-president, has had a lot of experience after the various floods and the foot and mouth outbreak in distributing money to those who need it. The crucial lesson that you learn is that you need money up front for distribution now. In response to this flood, I understand from the net that the foundation has already raised £100,000, and I ask the Government whether they will make a contribution for immediate distribution to those who are in desperate immediate need of help. I should like to suggest a minimum of £1 million.

My Lords, I know of my noble friend’s connections and strong affinity with Cumbria and the communities there. I am sure that the Cumbria Community Foundation is an excellent local charity but obviously it is not in my gift to make such a donation. However, I can say to him that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defra announced in her Statement that the Government will look over the coming days at what further steps they might take in support of those affected. I will ensure that his suggestion is put forward.

My Lords, as a former Member of Parliament for Workington, Cockermouth and Keswick, in expressing my sympathy I declare an interest as the convener of one of the flood action groups in Cumbria, occasionally meeting with the Environment Agency and United Utilities officials.

A lot of money has been spent on flood alleviation and resilience projects. However, none of the authorities concerned has been prepared to spend money on the big-ticket projects that are necessary if this unprecedented and unpredictable scale of flooding is to be avoided in future. Will Ministers now consider upstream storage, even including new reservoir projects, pump-primed with state money but ultimately transferred to the private sector? Will they consider the urgently needed re-engineering of outflow valves on the dam at Thirlmere? Will they consider statutory month-by-month limits on water asset management at Thirlmere? Will they consider the removal of the Gote Bridge in Cockermouth and the Greta Bridge in Keswick and their replacement by single-span bridges that stop the blocking of water flows? Will they consider strengthening the course of the River Derwent below Cockermouth, to remove some of the meanders, as raised by my noble friend on the Front Bench? Can we have a complete ban on housing development on the west Cumbrian flood plain? Finally, can we have a review of the coverage of Flood Re, which is now exposed as fatally flawed, as thousands of people will find that they are not covered, even under the new scheme when it is introduced?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for raising those important issues. I will take his comments back, with some of his detailed points on upstream storage, re-engineering, water levels at Thirlmere, bridges, and the use of reservoirs and other places to keep water back when we can. The whole area of water asset management is clearly going to be important. On housing, the planning guidance on new development has been very clear. I will look into the particular point about Cumbria, but well over 95% of new housing is now not built in flood-risk areas. The noble Lord and I had a conversation about Flood Re after Questions last week. I am looking into the particular point of long-term leaseholders: I hope I can at least help to address this situation.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Statement. Storm Desmond was clearly an act of God and resulted in flooding of biblical proportions. No matter what preparedness there was, I would defy anybody to find any flood defences that could have protected all the properties. I greatly regret the loss of life and damage to property.

When my noble friend looks at the role of insurance companies in rebuilding homes, will priority be given to developing greater resilience and lowering insurance claims where householders look to increase and improve the resilience of their properties? I declare an interest, as referred to in the register. Also, the first seat I fought was Workington and it is a delight to follow in the footsteps, in this House, of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I support his bid to have a review of the Flood Re categories, particularly for businesses, farms and leasehold properties. There is also the vexatious issue of those on low incomes who cannot afford contents insurance. What regard can we have for them?

Will my noble friend respond to the concern of farmers who will have lost livestock and the use of the land through contamination by these floods and those in 2009? Will he recognise the role of farmers and drainage boards in clearing minor watercourses to allow the flood waters to recede in events such as this? Will he look to introduce novel means of financing future flood defences by levering in private funding? It is in the interests of insurance companies, and water companies, to fund major flood defences in future. If the Minister can be part of that debate, the whole of Cumbria and the United Kingdom will benefit.

My Lords, my noble friend spoke about the flood defences. I have now studied this: the extent of the rainfall was so extraordinary that the defences held but were overtopped because of the exceptional levels. However, we obviously need to look at where we can best devote our resources. It is very important that insurance companies work with policyholders: we want remedies there. Greater resilience is going to be very important. There are all sorts of ways in which we can start to encourage people, particularly in areas where flooding is a possibility or even a probability. I should have declared that I am a farmer myself. I therefore recognise the importance of the farming community working to maintain ditches and watercourses going through their property. It is important that we work closely with them, which is why we have regular meetings with the National Farmers’ Union and farming organisations. My noble friend asked about further funding. Partnership funding is going to be very important. It plays a significant role and may well help us ensure that there will be other sources, in addition to the £2.3 billion of government funding, to fund working closely with local communities to get good results.

My Lords, I declare an interest, because I have a house four miles south of Cockermouth which, according to neighbours, has been flooded. I was not there—

I have two short questions for the Minister. First, will he encourage people against non-permeable structures? Secondly, because electricity supply is so important, will he discuss with the electricity companies and National Grid protecting their substations from flooding?

My Lords, the noble Lord rightly mentions how we can best prevent flash flooding in particular. It is important that the policy guidance should be that developers and householders do not concrete everywhere. On the electricity grid, it is also essential that we protect our infrastructure. We are working on this.

My Lords, as the Minister will be aware, the last time Cockermouth was badly flooded, in 2009, it took a long time for the town to get back to normal and some of the businesses had to struggle very hard to survive. When he meets the insurance companies, will he make reference to the fact that it is partly a matter of being covered and partly a matter of the cost? I fear that some businesses and householders in places like Cockermouth will be charged so much to reinsure that they will not be able to afford it. Could he please get them to be sensible about this and not slap up the charges? Last time there were floods, my insurance went up six or sevenfold.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point, which I will feed back. The best thing everyone could do is support Cumbrian businesses next spring and summer. That would be a gesture of support for the great communities of Cumbria, which is a tourism Mecca for so many.