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Mr. Morley: Yes, my hon. Friend is right again, although many of the levies raised by the regional flood defence committees, which are responsible for the day-to-day management and upkeep of flood defences, were specifically for this financial year so that some of those maintenance issues could be addressed.
There is considerable regional disparity. Some regions are extremely good but in others, such as Yorkshire, a high percentage of defences are classified as "fair" or "poor". However, I do not want to give the impression that to classify a defence as "fair" means that it is in immediate risk of falling down--that is not the case. Furthermore, only a small number of defences are classified as "poor". Nevertheless, we need to deal with those issues.
I accept that we need to consider whether we are committing enough resources for flood and coastal defence overall. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that a study is under way to examine whether there should be even further increases in investment in flood and coastal defence. That study is linked to research that we have commissioned into the possible effects of climate change.
If there is a change in weather patterns due to climate change, with more extremes of weather of the kind that we experienced during the past winter, we must plan ahead for that. That means committing additional resources and examining what they should be, as well as considering the implications of the possible impact of changed weather patterns. That is being done.
We are also reviewing the funding arrangements for flood and coastal defence--the mechanisms, rather than the global sums. That report is due to be published in September. I can thus reassure my hon. Friend that a great deal of work is being done on flood defence.
We are holding this debate on one of the warmest days of the year thus far; the sun is shining so perhaps this is not the kind of day on which people think about storms, floods and coasts, but we have to keep planning for them. I assure my hon. Friend that the issue is constantly in the back of my mind. At MAFF, we constantly think ahead about a long-term strategic approach, such as that recommended by the Select Committee. Of course, when I see the sun shining at present, all I can think of is that the foot and mouth virus is clearing up, so that cheers me up no end.
My hon. Friend mentioned soft defence. He might be interested to know that, as part of the response to the autumn floods, I have approved the appointment of an independent expert engineer from the Institution of Civil Engineers. His remit is to consider innovative ideas that might inform the way that we approach flood defence schemes. I met the committee concerned and made it very clear to its members that they should not feel restrained by current or traditional thinking in relation to hard engineering, and that they should embrace the idea of soft defence as part of sustainable flood and coastal defence schemes. Indeed, a combination of the two might be used. I am sure that the members of the committee do not feel restrained in their thinking.
My hon. Friend made a powerful case on behalf of his constituents tonight. I understand their concern, and his concern, to see progress and to see the results of the investments that we are making and the reviews that we are conducting in relation to flood defence. I am pleased that work is being done in relation to the sewerage problem, which was one of the key factors in the flooding of the area. The reports will be published in the course of this year, and I am sure that there will be a continuing debate about the nature of our flood defence schemes and the appropriate level of commitment.
As a Government, we recognise that we may be moving into a period of climate change. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has said many times that the floods that we experience should be taken as a wake-up call to the dangers of global warming and climate change. I very much hope that President Bush heeds that wake-up call in relation to the need for a global approach to climate change.
I can assure my hon. Friend that we recognise that there are implications for investment for the long term, and that we will make that investment for the long term, for the defence of his constituents and the people of this country.