Emergency Statement: Yorkshire Flooding

Before the drudgery of daily work begins, Members may convene in the Chamber to discuss any manner of motion that is brought before the House. Likewise, this is the opportunity for Ministers of the Crown to address the House.
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Anne Blakesley
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Emergency Statement: Yorkshire Flooding

Post by Anne Blakesley »

Mr Speaker, I beg leave of the House to make a statement on the Government’s actions in response to the recent flooding in Yorkshire.

Mr Speaker,

I would like to begin my statement by taking a moment to remember those that lose their lives during the recent flooding in Yorkshire.

Mr Speaker, recently, upon receiving information from the Met Office regarding flooding in the regions of Yorkshire and East Anglia, the Government initiated a series of emergency procedures designed to mitigate the risk of flooding in areas expected to be impacted. It is my duty to report, Mr Speaker, that the interim analysis conducted suggested these measures saved countless lives and prevented a significant amount of property damage. Though we prevented a great deal - lives were still lost, homes still destroyed. There is much to be done to improve preparation and resilience in the United Kingdom.

These floods, Mr Speaker, represented a perfect storm - as it were. Efforts undertaken to improve resiliency in the natural environment - by planting trees, for example, to take up water from the soil and increase the ability of the ground to absorb water - were ultimately irrelevant. The ground was frozen. This created a situation where the arsenal of flood defences and flood mitigation measures developed in the region were not fully functional and were overwhelmed. The threat of winter flooding is one that must be taken more seriously and built into our resiliency measure planning. The new Flood Prevention Agency will take the lead in developing and deploying such resiliency measures.

However, while the government’s actions did mitigate a great deal of the potential damage, we are left with the reality that between £450-550 million in damage was done in Yorkshire. Of that, approximately £200 million was uninsured property or property in defined flood plains. Mr Speaker, in light of these realities, I am able to make two announcements. First, the Government will be releasing £200 million to be administered as part of a scheme to repair the damage to uninsured structures. Second, the Government will be extending £150 million in low-interest loans to the involved insurance companies to ensure that they have the liquidity necessary to pay out the amounts that they are owed.

Mr Speaker, no family will be left uncompensated following these floods.

Second, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a series of announcements regarding flood prevention. The reality is, Mr Speaker, that the cuts made by the Coalition to flood defences were never fully recovered. Savage cuts that put hundreds of thousands at more risk for flooding. Mr Speaker, the Government takes the threat of flooding seriously and I am pleased to announce that we will reverse that today. In 2008, following the historic 2007 floods that gripped the United Kingdom, the Pitt Review found that the a £800 million-a-year flood defence budget, in 2010 terms, was "about right". Mr Speaker, the cuts imposed by the Coalition - which I admit were not restored in last November’s budget - were dramatically below that number. Therefore, Mr Speaker, I am announcing that the Treasury will release £600 million from the Reserve to bring flood defence spending in line with the recommendations of the Pitt Review - following adjustments for inflation.

Third, Mr Speaker, I would like to discuss the vital role of local government in combating flood risk. One of the primary responsibilities of local authorities is the monitoring and maintenance of drainage, Mr Speaker. Unfortunately, as a result of dramatic cuts to local government budgets since 2010, local governments did not have the resources necessary to effectively maintain drainage - significantly increasing the risk of flooding in communities. Mr Speaker, to assist in resolving this, the Government is authorising £250 million to be released to local authorities in high risk flooding areas to conduct emergency maintenance on drainage. Additional measures will be announced to maintain financing to local authorities by the Flood Protection Agency.

Finally, I should like to discuss the issue of flood reinsurance. Under the terms of the Water Act 2014, the Government maintains legislative authority to, in partnership with insurers, develop and roll out a flood reinsurance scheme. While these discussions were initiated, they were never completed by the Coalition and, subsequently, these discussions were never rolled over to the government of the former Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, the Government will be finalising the necessary statutory instruments for a flood reinsurance scheme and will present them to the House in the near future.

Mr Speaker, the extent of flooding in the United Kingdom is the result of dramatic underinvestment since 2010. Underinvestment that a great many in this House voted for with glee. Mr Speaker: that changes today. Between the historic investments made by this government today and the long-term establishment of a dedicated flood protection body in the United Kingdom, we will be more prepared for floods in the future. We will be a more resilient nation. And we shall act to ensure that tragedy felt by the families that lost loved ones over the past month is not felt by other families in the United Kingdom.
Dr Anne Blakesley PhD DCB MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer | Energy and Environment Secretary
Labour Party | Hackney South and Shoreditch
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Dylan Macmillan
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Re: Emergency Statement: Yorkshire Flooding

Post by Dylan Macmillan »

Mr Speaker,

I would like to prefix my response to this statement by joining the Right Honourable Lady in taking a moment to remember the 34 people who have lost their lives as a result of the flooding, the whole of the United Kingdom stands with their families and our thoughts and prayers go out to the affected. I would also like to pay tribute to the emergency services, army reserves, and residents for their quick and decisive action which made a threat to life situation far less devastating than it would otherwise have been, having been on the ground myself in the area I know first hand the grit and resolve of the people and responders, truly they are the best of Britain.

Mr Speaker I would further like to thank the Right Honourable Lady for an advanced copy of the statement as is customary.

Mr Speaker these floods were a once in a generation event, a perfect storm as the Right Honourable Lady says, it is clear that the situation was at risk of spiralling out of control so I would like to begin my remarks by thanking the government for their swift and decisive action. There is no point opposing for the sake of opposition, a swift response was necessary to save lives and a swift response is what we received. Equally the Conservative Party support the £200mn grant and £150mn loan schemes to ensure that no family is left behind by these floods. They are good short term measures that will provide clarity and peace of mind for many in the region.

But Mr Speaker short term measures will not be enough in future. £1.2bn in emergency spending has been authorised by this Statement but when the Budget came around the Government chose to prioritise the numbers Mr Speaker. Additional funding could, as was done so by the Tory Shadow Budget, have been provided ahead of time but because the Government were running up against their deficit reduction target it was rejected. The flood defence budget was frozen, the Environment Agency's budget was frozen, in short Mr Speaker there was no plan and no thought of what might lay ahead. Again in this statement Mr Speaker the Government are chasing old figures, figures that are already 7yrs old and that have been left behind by governments of both parties. The Chancellor wants to apportion blame, I do not, I want to look to the future and to build a better flood defence system that deals with the short, medium, and long term, a long term plan for a long term problem. Mr Speaker to this end I will ask the Chancellor a handful of simple yes/no questions.

Mr Speaker, in the short term will the Government commit to working with insurance providers on Flood Re schemes in a more constructive manner than their "discussions" with other industries and the zero hour contract situation? Will these discussions rely in any part on threats as has been the case in the energy sector and with zero hour contracts?

Mr Speaker, in the medium term will the Government commit to matching the Conservative Party's long term spending plan of £2.2bn in flood defences and flood prevention measures, equivalent to £550mn in additional funding per year in a full parliament? Will this funding be bound up in the red tape outlined by the Flood Prevention Bill with additional levels of bureaucracy being levied by national government on local councils seeking local decisions?

Finally Mr Speaker, in the long term will the Government join the Conservative Party in committing to plant 30,000 hectares of new trees to assist in water drainage not only from surface runoff but also to prevent build up of excess water in the water table? Will the Government match Conservative Party policy and legislate for a 25yr Environmental Plan which puts flood prevention and mitigation at the heart of a multi-decade multi-government plan for our country and environment?

Mr Speaker these floods must represent a watershed moment in British politics. Flooding is a 21st Century problem which should not be afflicting the sixth largest economy in the World. To tackle such a large problem will require concerted effort not only from this Government but from the one after it, and the one after that, and so on. We need a plan which tackles every facet of the problem. The immediate term was dealt with admirably by first responders, volunteers, and central government reducing the damage and the loss of life to a minimal level. In the short term I look forward to hearing the plans outlined by the Chancellor's discussions with the insurance industry, I hope they are more constructive than other discussions this Government has had with business and will happily vote for them if they are in the national interest. In the medium term we must continue to invest, reversing the Government's decision to freeze funding and investing up to or over £2.2bn in flood prevention and mitigation over the course of this Parliament as has been championed by this side of the House. Finally Mr Speaker in the long term we need a plan which unites every element of government policy, tackling climate change, embracing green flood prevention measures, and providing a 25yr Environmental Plan which puts the environmental impact on humans at its core. Mr Speaker when it comes to flooding we can live in the past or we can plan for the future, the Conservative Party wants to plan for the future and we will support the Government should they wish to join us in doing so.
Dylan Macmillan
MP for Chelsea and Fulham: 2010 - Present
Leader of the Opposition

MP for Kensington and Chelsea: 2005-2010
Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs May - Dec 2015
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence May - Dec 2015
MoS for Justice 2005-2010
Chair of the Justice Select Committee 2010 - 2015
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