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House of Commons

Thursday 18 November 2004

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Flood Defence

2. Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): What the anticipated time scale is for changes to local flood   defence committees; and if she will make a statement. [198954]

The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): As you know, Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is unable to attend questions this morning, because she is attending the Anglo-French summit.

Subject to the necessary parliamentary procedures, the local flood defence committees in England will be revoked from 1 April 2005.

Mr. Francois: I thank the Minister for his reply, but is he aware that in Essex we have a perfectly good local flood defence committee that is not broken and does not need fixing? Given that recent events in the north-east clearly demonstrate that amorphous regional bodies are unloved and have little popular support, will he review his decision to merge us with Norfolk and Suffolk, and instead allow the Essex local flood defence committee to continue in the foreseeable future?

Mr. Morley: I have thought carefully about the changes to the regional flood defence committees. Without doubt, there is general support for moving to a single-tier flood defence committee, and the argument concerns the most appropriate regional scale. Regional structures are, indeed, the most efficient. I know the Essex local flood defence committee very well. The hon. Gentleman brought a delegation to see me, and I have had many connections with its members over the years. I went to Essex and talked to them, so I am familiar with the interest that elected Members in Essex take in their work. I very much hope that that expertise will continue under the new structure. A powerful argument was made to have a single flood defence committee for the Anglian region as a whole. I accept in part the validity
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of the hon. Gentleman's argument. The region is the only area to be divided into three regional flood defence committees, thus reflecting the point that he made.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): May I remind my hon. Friend that after the devastating floods in York in November 2000, the Government came up with substantial additional funding for flood defence? Because of the separate small committees around Yorkshire, however, counterpart funding from the local authorities did not materialise, as some areas did not think that they were at risk of flooding and did not want to contribute. I warmly welcome the steps that the Government have taken to ensure that all areas contribute equally to flood defences. Flood defences serve upland areas, because the water drains away from them through areas that are at risk of flooding.

Mr. Morley: I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making. Indeed, he made it powerfully in the debate about adequate resources for the Yorkshire regional flood defence committee. The changes that we have implemented, including the block grant to the Environment Agency, will address many of the concerns that he has so ably expressed.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Will the Minister pay tribute to Councillor Ray Howard, who is a major player in the Essex flood defence committee? What is his assessment of the effect on flood defences in Castle Point of the additional 4,000 houses that the Government are forcing the town to build?

Mr. Morley: I am more than happy to pay tribute to Ray, whom I have met on a number of occasions. He has enormous experience in flood defence matters and I hope that he continues to make a contribution. As for proposed developments, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we have revised planning policy guidance 25, which requires careful assessment of new developments in relation to flood risk. The condition of flood walls, continued investment and potential risks to life and property will feature very strongly in any future planning proposals in the hon. Gentleman's area.

Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester) (Lab): What assistance can my hon. Friend's Department give with the better co-ordination of activities of highways authorities and water companies in tackling the growing problem, particularly in urban areas, of flash flooding?

Mr. Morley: Yes, it is a major problem. In the floods of 2000, 40 per cent. of the flooding was from non-river sources and was caused, for example, by blocked drains on highways. The issue is being addressed by the Environment Agency, as well as by the regulator in the periodic review, PR 04. Matters such as sewer flooding are a major concern for many hon. Members on both sides of the House, but I hope that my hon. Friend will take that work into account.

Climate Change

3. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): What recent research she has commissioned on the impact that climate change is having on the environment. [198955]
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The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The annual report of the global atmosphere research programme for 2002–03 outlines research activities on the impacts of climate change. The report is available on the Department's website, but I will arrange for a copy to be placed in the Library for the benefit of hon. Members.

Richard Ottaway: The Government are rightly making climate change a priority of their G8 presidency next year, if they win the election. Given that we are missing our targets on renewables, combined heat and power output is down, the energy efficiency commitment has been downgraded and, worst of all, carbon emissions are rising, should the Minister not put his own house in order before he starts to lecture the rest of the world? Does he think that he will hit his 2010 target for CO 2 emissions and, if so, will he set out very clearly how he expects to achieve that?

Mr. Morley: We have set out precisely how we intend to meet the climate change programme. While I do not dispute that there are challenges, this country's record on climate change is the best of any of the G8 nations. The UK is rightly seen as a leader on this issue. We are expanding the percentage of energy from renewables, and we are making progress on the introduction of carbon trading, which we pioneered. I believe that the 2010 target is achievable.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon) (Lab): To do more on the renewable energy part of the agenda, can my hon. Friend give some help to one of the farmers whose land partly covers my constituency and who has been growing renewable crops for 10 years, but has not sold a single twig? He has been given almost £1 million of potential grant from the Government, which shows their commitment to the issue, but he is having serious problems getting his business off the ground. Will my hon. Friend talk with his colleagues in the DTI to get this farmer the help that he needs?

Mr. Morley: As my hon. Friend rightly recognises, considerable funds are available for bio-energy and biomass energy. That includes giving support to the installation of equipment—generators, combined heat and power systems and central heating systems— that can use bio-energy. One significant development that has considerable potential is the co-firing of biofuel by coal-burning power stations such as Drax. That could present a long-term opportunity for farmers and a way of reducing carbon dioxide from coal-burning power stations.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): As it is universally accepted that there can be no effective solution to the problem of climate change without the wholehearted participation of the United States, why has the Prime Minister made so little effort to use his unique relationship to persuade the Americans to sign the Kyoto treaty?

Mr. Morley: That is not the case. At the recent meeting that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had with President Bush—he was the first leader to meet the newly elected President—climate change was one of
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the issues on the agenda. However, I do not think that people should delude themselves that the Americans—the President and Congress—have set their face against ratifying the Kyoto agreement. That does not mean that achievements cannot be made by reducing domestic emissions and investing in new technologies. Several US states are interested in introducing carbon trading. California and the north-west states are members of a group known as the climate group, which was launched by my right hon. Friend. We have a great deal of connection with those elements in the US who want to go further than the current Administration, and we should encourage them to do so.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of the recent flood maps produced by the Environment Agency, which predicts as a flood threat the river Calder, which runs through the Sellafield nuclear plant. Does he agree that it would be foolish to back nuclear power as the saviour technology in combating climate change if one of its main sites, and the site where any new nuclear reactor is likely to be built, is under water?

Mr. Morley: It certainly would not benefit anyone to build nuclear power stations in areas that are a major flood risk. That is taken into account at existing sites. The issue of nuclear power is being addressed in our energy White Paper. We have no current plans for nuclear power. We believe that there is considerable potential for renewables and new technologies, and that those will probably bring a better return than the huge investment that would inevitably be required for a nuclear power programme.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The Minister's Department is doing its best to make climate change a priority, both internationally and within the Government, but does the Minister not feel a little unhappy when the rug is pulled from underneath him by the Prime Minister, who last month overruled the Department by sanctioning an increase of almost 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to be emitted under the EU emissions trading scheme? How can that be described by the Secretary of State in her press release as good news for the environment?

Mr. Morley: The Prime Minister's opinions should not be presented in such a simplistic way. The DTI has carried out detailed modelling of emissions by UK industry. That modelling did not exist before and is quite complex and sophisticated, but the final figure is a 5.2 per cent. decrease on business as usual, which is one of the biggest decreases in the whole of the European Union and takes us way beyond our Kyoto target—the only EU country to achieve that.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): In our response to climate change, the Department's recent consultation, "Making Space for Water", emphasises two separate challenges: one is preserving a finite and valuable resource; the other is protecting people from unexpected flooding. Can my hon. Friend confirm that land management practices in the future will be a vital way of meeting both those challenges?
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Mr. Morley: Yes, I can confirm that. A range of management practices have to be put in place. They include developing whole river basin catchment plans, so that we have a much better understanding of the issue and a more integrated and holistic approach to water management.

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