Mr. Morley: As the hon. Gentleman will know, many of the issues that he raises are the responsibility of the devolved Administration, and the Scottish agencies have been working very hard in this regard. I join him in paying tribute to the emergency services, which have responded magnificently. He will be aware that detailed weather forecasts allowed many public and private sector organisations to take steps to mitigate the storm damage by, for example, cancelling trains and ferries. I understand that flood warnings were given and that the relevant system was activated. He might also be interested to know that as part of that process, the long-range RAF Nimrod planes operating in Scotland moved to Lincolnshire, as the severe winds would have prevented their use. As a result, they are able to do an excellent job in giving support to the fishing boat currently in difficulties to the west of Scotland.
I certainly agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about climate change, which is a reality. The 10 years since the beginning of the 1990s have been the warmest on record, and in the past decade we have had double the normal number of extreme weather incidents. We have to take all necessary steps to reduce the risk to people, bearing in mind that we cannot guarantee that extreme incidents or floods will not occur.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op):
I congratulate my hon. Friend on reacting so quickly by going to Carlisle immediately after the devastation occurred. I echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) said during Prime Minister's questions: we
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must pay tribute not just to all the emergency services, which reacted so quickly, but to the electricity and other industries that also responded rapidly.
There is a dangerwe saw it with the tsunami disaster and we are seeing it here againof imagining that we can deal with such forces of nature, solve every problem and hold back the consequences in Canute style. There is also a danger, and the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) came close to it, as do his party colleagues, of sitting in the comfort
Mr. Morley: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Quite apart from the emergency services, tremendous commitment has been demonstrated in all the flood and gale-hit areas by people from the engineering and other utilities who have worked around the clock unstintingly to reconnect supplies of power and, in Northumberland, water that had been disrupted. I must also mention the voluntary sector, as people from the local communities have come forward and offered their time and support to help the people affected.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend said about the effects of the flooding and I can assure him that, whenever there is such a major incident, once the emergency is over, there will always be a full evaluation of what went well and consideration given to what might require further investment, organisation or structure. I am confident that the Scottish Executive and Scottish agencies will do that. It is important to note that we share our experience; indeed, the findings of the Bye report, following the Northampton flood of 1998, have helped us to deal with the recent emergencies. Those circumstances were English, but the findings of the report influenced the emergency structures and preparedness in all the Administrations. Those contingency plans worked well, as we have seen effective and efficient responses to the current emergency.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): On behalf of Conservative Members, I add our sympathy to the families of those who have died, and to those injured or otherwise affected by the floods and storms, which have caused the loss of houses and property. I also thank and congratulate everyone who has worked so hard to ensure that as much help as possible has been given. That includes the RAF team, and let us hope that the outcome of its search is positive.
This is probably the first disaster that has affected Scotland since the Scottish Executive were set up. Some of the responsibilities are theirs and some are reserved to Westminster, as the Minister acknowledged. People who have lost homes and belongings will need one-off benefit payments and emergency relief. Can the Minister tell us what Whitehall Departments are doing to ensure that those who need such assistance receive it
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quickly? Telecommunications and power are also the responsibility of Whitehall. Is the Minister co-ordinating Whitehall Departments to ensure that those services are restored as quickly and efficiently as possible? Apart from the companies that are working exceedingly hard to restore services, can those Departments do more to help?
Will the Minister tell us whether the Scotland Office has any responsibility in all of this and whether it has sufficient resources to help those in need? Given that the Scotland Office is now part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, are there sufficient staff knowledgeable enough about Scotland to be able to deal with the problems created by the terrible flooding? Given that the part-time Secretary of State for Scotland is in his place next to the Minister, perhaps the Minister will tell us why he, rather than the part-time Secretary of State, is answering.
Mr. Morley: It is a great shame that the hon. Lady feels the need to make a partisan point about such a serious problem as these gales. I can tell her that the Department for Work and Pensions will offer crisis loans to help those made destitute as a result of the floods if they have no assets or resources. She will be aware that the Government have no facility to help with insurable risks, but limited support may be offered to people who are in severe difficulty.
Dealing with the follow-on of the gales is a matter for the devolved Administrations, all of whom have the well-established contingency arrangements that I have described. Those tried and tested arrangements also cover the post-flood recovery period. Many of the other points raised by the hon. Lady are matters for the devolved Administrations. This urgent question relates to the whole of the UK, and touches on matters for which I have particular responsibility, such as the Meteorological Office, contingency planning and climate change.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): May I pay tribute to the work done by the fire and water engineers, who are extremely courageous and, frankly, often very brave in these circumstances? However, the unpalatable and awkward truth is that many of the people affected are either underinsured orheaven help usnot insured at all. Should not the Government hold discussions with the insurance companies about what might be done? Some families face appalling problems because, whether it is their fault or not, they have neglected to arrange insurance. We might think that they should have done that, but they have not.
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes a serious point, and I join him in paying tribute to the utilities engineers. Apart from the commitment that I mentioned earlier, they often work in very difficult circumstances to reconnect services.
Clearly, the insurance problem is a serious one. It is important that people are aware of the need for insurance and that they make sure that their cover is satisfactory. In my experience of these large-scale events, the insurance companies often do their very best to assist people in dealing with problems connected with insurance shortfalls, and with reinstatement. In addition, they advise people about how to rebuild
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properties in a way that will minimise the risk of flooding in the future and the damage that that might cause.
Sue Doughty (Guildford) (LD): I should also like to express my sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who died or suffered injury as a result of the severe weather. I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues are particularly aware of the difficulties faced by people who are without power and who are living in appalling conditions at present. We are very appreciative of the work being done by the members of the emergency, rescue and voluntary services, as well as by the power engineers.
In the small debate that followed yesterday's urgent question, many concerns were raised about climate change, and we must take a more immediate look at that problem. What assessment have the Government made of the capacity and robustness of the power and water utility companies to restore services as quickly as possible in what are becoming increasingly frequent occurrences? Given the events of the past 24 hours, following the Minister's announcement that the Bellwin scheme would be implemented, has he identified any further assistance that the communities involved may require? What review is he undertaking of the impact of building on floodplains? Not only are those buildings vulnerable themselves, but they cause water to be displaced and affect other properties. Will he be requesting the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to change current planning regulations?