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Mr. Howard rose--

Mr. Spellar: Defence Secretary Cohen also said that Operation Allied Force in Kosovo revealed huge disparities in the military capabilities of NATO members. It showed that significant new investment was necessary to improve NATO's ability. He said that the European Union's proposals to develop a 60,000-man rapid reaction force will allow Europe to deal swiftly and effectively with local challenges to security when NATO itself is not engaged militarily.

Mr. Soames: When will the hon. Gentleman answer the question? Who will be responsible in EU military operations for writing the rules of engagement, and what will be the role of DSACEUR in the command structure?

Mr. Spellar: The European Union will be working with NATO's military planning capabilities. [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is so resistant to the idea of working with allies. In NATO, we regularly work with allies. There is a tendency among those on the Opposition Benches not to want to work with any other country. They do not want to work with Europe--they did not even want to work with Australia over East Timor. Australia has been our ally for decades, coming to our aid any time, yet the Tories gave it the brush off.

Mr. Quentin Davies rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. We cannot have so much shouting. [Interruption.] Order. The Minister has the Floor--he is entitled to shout, but no one else is.

Mr. Davies rose--

Mr. Spellar: Let us deal with the reality. This is a move to enhance NATO's military capability, working with NATO. At the Birmingham NATO informal conference, Secretary Cohen indicated the support of the United States for this initiative. Then, last week, he rightly identified problems which, if they arose, would create difficulties. Equally, he indicated that the United States supports the European security and defence policy.

Conservative Members may wish to take the hermit approach of bewailing the state of the world. The Government, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are working with other countries to enhance NATO's capabilities. That is the future of defence, and that is why the Conservative party will stay in the past.

Debate adjourned.--[Mr. Pope.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.


Motion made,

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Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

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Flooding (Lewes)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Pope.]

10 pm

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): I welcome the opportunity to raise an issue of great and continuing importance to my constituents, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is aware, given the aftermath of the floods and the problems that are apparent.

As the Minister attended the debate that I initiated on 25 October, he does not need me to tell him of the major problems in Lewes and elsewhere in the south-east--including in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith)--and in towns such as Uckfield and Alfriston. People were evacuated from 400 houses and many have still not returned; the retail and business centre suffered significant damage. Even businesses that were not damaged have experienced a 50 per cent. drop in trade because people have not been coming into Lewes to shop.

The disaster is not merely localised in Lewes; it is national. If it had happened in the United States, for example, it might have resulted in presidential action under US legislation. That has not occurred in this country. A national disaster calls for a national response, but we have not seen that--even with the best will in the world on the part of the Minister.

I am grateful to the Minister for visiting Lewes so quickly and for his continued interest. His Cabinet colleagues have also shown an interest and I do not doubt the Government's sincerity and good intentions in trying to help people in my constituency. We have had plenty of tea and sympathy, but--I do not want to be aggressive--we need hard cash to deal with the problem; we cannot do it all ourselves. That is the strong message that my constituents want to give the Minister.

We have received some Government help: an indication that an extra £51 million will be spent on flood defences for the whole country over the next four years. The Environment Agency has noted, however, that £55 million will be needed for Sussex alone.

It is not even certain that the money allocated for flood defences will get through. The Minister may be aware of a meeting of the flood defence committee in Sussex only last week, when the Environment Agency's request for a 15 per cent. increase was rejected by the committee, which allocated only 10 per cent. An Environment Agency news release states:

That is the last thing my constituents want to hear; it adds insult to injury. After all the devastation that they face, we are told that essential work that the Environment Agency wants to carry out cannot be funded. If it cannot be funded even now, when will it ever be funded?

I welcome the fact that the Government have asked the Environment Agency to undertake a study of the Ouse and the Uck basin so that we can understand exactly why the problems occurred and assess what needs to be done. That is absolutely right. The agency is working on that and a report should be ready by the end of January. That is the right response from the Government.

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We need a further response from the Government to follow that up. Will they undertake to fund the works that the Environment Agency recommends for the Ouse and the Uck, or will the scheme gather dust until the next flood? That is my key question to the Minister. Will he review the arrangements for responsibility for flood defences to which I and other Members have drawn the attention of the House, and which were referred to in the report of the Environment Sub-Committee? Those arrangements do not work; they are ludicrous. As recently as last week, one body was making a request while another refused to grant it. Those arrangements need to be changed.

My constituents want other lessons to be learned. What the Government can do above all else is give an undertaking or guarantee so far as possible, given the powers of nature. I accept that nature has an impact that cannot be gainsaid. Nevertheless, my constituents want an assurance that, so far as possible, the necessary work will be done.

There is some concern about the predictive ability of the Environment Agency. It clearly did not anticipate the extent of the flooding in Lewes. People in Lewes are increasingly concerned about the perceived inadequacy of the warning system. The Environment Agency issued a severe flood warning at 11.10 am on the day of the floods, but, for one reason or another, it was not communicated to the majority of the population. That may not be the Environment Agency's job, but the fact remains that people were not aware that that flood warning had been issued.

In my view, there is no substitute for low-tech solutions involving sirens and loud hailer announcements in the town, but that was not done. Perhaps the broadcast media should be required to interrupt their programmes, whatever they are, to warn people that a severe flood warning has been issued. I believe that no such requirement exists, so I should be interested to hear the Minister's response to that point.

The Government have made much of the support that they provide under the Bellwin scheme. The Prime Minister has said that 100 per cent. of local costs will be met. In the previous debate that I initiated, the Minister told me:

My information from Lewes district council today is that its claim was submitted early and in due course, but there still has been no written acknowledgement of the process time for its claim. If that is true, it is outrageous and unacceptable and, frankly, there is no excuse, given the strong commitment that the Minister has made. I have no doubt that he wants the claims to be deal with quickly, but that is not happening and he needs to ask his civil servants why.

The county council has told me that it has submitted a £6 million bid under the Bellwin scheme. It is concerned that it will get nothing like that amount, for reasons that I gave in the previous debate. The Bellwin scheme does not take account of all relevant factors. It assumes an excess of £100 per building in insurance terms, when the excess is actually £105. Will the Bellwin scheme be remedied for the current claims to ensure that the Prime

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Minister's wish that 100 per cent. of local costs will be met, or will the flawed formula be applied, in which case local authorities will receive nowhere near 100 per cent?

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