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Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire): At his meeting on Thursday, will the right hon. Gentleman urge Railtrack to have an extensive local advertising campaign so that commuters may know how long it will take to do this vital work and when the rail timetables will be restored to normalcy?
Mr. Prescott: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which I have made constantly to the Vice-President and others, about how America must lead the way in these matters. The Americans have committed themselves to targets; however, it is one thing to do that but another to achieve them, particularly where the use of oil and energy is concerned. Still, we have to continue with the arguments. Some people said that the Americans would not sign up for anything, but they did. Now we must ensure that the policies are implemented. That is what The Hague meeting is about.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about getting Railtrack and others to give more information. I went to my railway station on Sunday to find out about the trains on Monday morning. There was a big queue, but only one person was giving advice and selling tickets. I should have thought, given the crisis, that more people would have been available at the stations to give such information. We have asked Railtrack to report on that on Thursday. People are entitled to know what is happening and what is causing problems--not knowing leads to frustration, and we intend to try and end that.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I join my hon. Friends the Members for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) in congratulating my right hon. Friend on his tremendous work in taking a lead in Kyoto. Now that it is clear from nearly all the scientific evidence around the world that climate change is real and is here to stay, we must redouble our efforts to improve public understanding of some of the issues so that people can use direct measures to reduce their energy consumption. We need to improve the debate about the future of power generation in this country to ensure that we do more and more to improve our contribution to the future of Kyoto protocols.
Mr. Prescott: My hon. Friend makes important points. Perhaps we could start here, by reducing the temperature in our offices and in the House of Commons. That would be a step in the right direction. With regard to power and energy efficiency, our climate change levy is designed to do precisely that.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Speaking for a constituency that floods each and every year, I suggest that prevention is better than cure. We will not deal with the problem simply by building higher and higher walls.
Mr. Prescott: I support the hon. Gentleman's idea, and we will look at it seriously. It is not just about building banks--the rise and fall of water is so great--but about how much water is getting into our waterways and whether we can manage the system more effectively. I think that we can, and it means looking again at planning and building regulations and other things that need to be considered to manage the situation properly, and we intend to do that.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Is it not the case that the real cause of these extreme weather conditions has very little to do with housebuilding in Kent and far more to do with 100 years of burning fossil fuels such as gas, coal and oil? Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that, when the Government consider their future policy on fuel duty, the principles of the Kyoto protocol and the tough targets on CO 2 emissions will underpin that policy?
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): For my constituents in Folkestone, the considerable disruption and inconvenience caused by the weather were aggravated by the closure of the M20 motorway for use, yet again, as a lorry park under Operation Stack. Now that Kent county council has identified alternatives to the motorway for this purpose, will the Government take action to put an end to a state of affairs which, for my constituents, is quite unacceptable?
Mr. Prescott: It is difficult to deal with such problems unless the lorries can be moved on. That is probably the best way to deal with the matter. I am prepared to listen to other ideas, although it is hard to think what they might be. I support the action.
Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central): My right hon. Friend referred to the many homes built on flood plains. Bearing in mind our current knowledge, does he think that those who, contrary to the advice of the Environment Agency, build homes on flood plains, bear some responsibility towards those whose homes flood? Might that responsibility include making a contribution towards compensation?
Mr. Prescott: The Environment Agency has objected to building on flood plains in relatively few cases. Our new planning guidance, which I mentioned in my statement, will make it clear that our preference is against building on flood plains and that the approach has to be scaled in different ways, because there are many different types of flood plain. For example, although Holland is one entire flood plain, houses can be built everywhere because the appropriate investments are made to deal with water dispersal.
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman suggested in his statement that 0.2 per cent. of a local authority's annual budget should be allocated for contingencies and emergencies. If that is correct, what plans does he have to upgrade or modify the guidelines that are issued to local authorities to ensure that they have adequate contingency and emergency plans in place to deal with such events?
Mr. Prescott: That is a fair point. In such situations, we make statements in the House but the reality is that people may have to spend weeks drying out their homes with heaters or pumps. I learned many lessons in Stratford, and I shall take up the points that the hon. Gentleman made in my discussions with local authorities.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): What immediate action will the Deputy Prime Minister and the Environment Agency take to ensure that, the next time there are heavy rains, we can keep open the M25, the A3, other motorways and main trunk roads, and railway lines? It is his responsibility to offer protection against flooding. What will he do to ensure that my constituents can get to work and school next time that there are heavy rains, although they could not do so this time?
Mr. Prescott: It is becoming increasingly clear--I referred to this earlier--that roads, including the M25, were flooded because inadequate pumps were used in an attempt to save money. The right hon. Gentleman should consider whether he covered every eventuality when he was in government. On the railway system, it is certain that inadequate investment for a couple of decades at least--more, I think--resulted in the failures that we are trying to deal with today. It is a pity that he does not show a bit more humility.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): The Deputy Prime Minister earlier said that he had had to travel a lot recently. Does he accept that there is a link between increases in air travel and global warming? Will he note that there is no tax on air fuel and that the present system wastes fuel? What ideas will he take to the Netherlands next month to secure an international agreement on that, and what proposals do the Government have to regulate the current waste of air fuel and its environmental consequences, and on the polluter pays principle?
Mr. Prescott: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important point. We have argued the international case in all the national and international arenas. All nations need to reach agreement--we need a global agreement and a global solution. Although that matter is not in the Kyoto agreement, we are pressing the case very hard.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for the sympathy that he expressed for those, including the hundreds in my constituency, who have suffered great loss in their homes and of their possessions because of flooding. Will he join me in paying tribute to the Epping Forest district council
If the Secretary of State is right about the fact that flood alleviation schemes are not suitable for the more severe weather conditions that he has predicted, will the Government give us more money to provide more efficient schemes?