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We are all aware of what the Thames barrier does to protect London, but whole swathes of our eastern coast are unprotected by such great engineering works. It is crucial that the Government should not seem to be protecting only London; they should protect all who are vulnerable to sea flooding.

I hope that the Minister will reassure the House that the gross mismanagement by DEFRA of rural payments—the single farm payment fiasco—was a one-off and that the Department is now managing its budget.

Mr. Anthony Wright: The hon. Member has made some valid points about the ABI report and the cuts and I concur with his comments. Does he agree with me that the 10 per cent. per year growth suggested by the ABI should be forthcoming? What is his position, and does his party accept that commitment to year-on-growth?

Gregory Barker: I understand the ABI’s point of view, but because of where we are in our policy process
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I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a clear answer. The commitment may be more than 10 per cent. or it may be less, but we certainly understand the rationale for it. Well before the next general election, we will produce robust plans that will be fully funded. There will be no repeat under the next Conservative Government of the sort of fiasco that we saw at DEFRA, with knee-jerk cuts being made to vital services.

I hope that the Minister will reassure the House that DEFRA is back under control and that there will be no more robbing Peter to pay Paul. We cannot afford to ignore the risk of flooding.

10.46 am

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Conway. I congratulate the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) on securing this debate. I appreciate the importance of coastal flood risk to his constituents and his concern that it should be managed effectively.

The hon. Gentleman was right to start and end his speech by referring to the Stern report on the need not only to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions but to adapt to climate change. I welcome the debate; it is timely in view of our current active policy development in that area, particularly in the context of climate change.

The problem of coastal flooding is serious and challenging. We estimate that £130 billion of assets and 1 million homes are at varying levels of risk from sea and tidal flooding; and events in other countries—for example, in New Orleans last year—have graphically demonstrated the potential for loss of life.

Ever more people are aware of the threat posed by climate change—and, I hope, of the Government’s success in reducing domestic greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels. We are one of the few countries to have met that Kyoto commitment; in fact, we have almost doubled it. However, no matter how successful we are in tackling climate change, we are locked into a certain amount of climate change by past emissions. That will increase the problem of flood risk over the coming century, both inland and on the coast.

Bob Russell: Will the Minister give way?

Ian Pearson: Not in view of the time, as I need to answer the detailed comments made by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness.

A number of hon. Members pointed out that, both on the coast and in tidal rivers, we have the key problem of the rising sea level. We recently revised our estimates of sea level rise, and we encourage operating authorities to factor it into their decisions on future defences. Those estimates recognise that relative sea level rise—including the effect of land tilt—is likely to accelerate from between 2.5 mm and 4 mm a year, depending on location, to between 13 mm and 15 mm a year by the end of the century. Clearly there are significant uncertainties, but current guidance is based on the best available science.

We need to manage and adapt to that increase in risk. The coastline has always changed over time, and it will not be sustainable to try to hold the line against flooding and erosion everywhere—something that hon.
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Members seem to accept. We are supporting a large capital improvement programme, with many projects to reduce flood risk on the coast.

I shall deal with hon. Members’ comments on budget matters in a moment, but I emphasise that current projections are that we will exceed our target of reducing the risk to 100,000 households both on the coast and inland between 2005-06 and 2007-08. However, we need to look at a range of options for managing flood risk in order to make the best use of public resources and to avoid burdening future generations with the cost of maintaining unsustainable defences.

The current review of shoreline management plans is intended to develop the sustainable strategic direction for each coastal length. The review also aims to look ahead over the next 100 years and to take into account climate change and the impact on sea level rise. Public consultation will be a key part of the review, which was a point raised by the hon. Gentleman. I can confirm that all shoreline management plans will be in the public domain and all plans should be completed by 2010—obviously some are at a more advanced stage than others.

In addition to the large investment increases of recent years, we are engaged in a thorough review of policy further to develop a broad range of responses to the cross-government “making space for water” programme. Operating authorities will have to take some difficult decisions in cases where defence against the sea may not be sustainable in the long term. I recognise that there can be social justice issues associated with the decision-making process and we are looking at ways in which such communities can be helped to adapt to a changing climate.

The Environment Agency is considering realignment possibilities and how we might promote the environmental benefits that would accrue from that—for example through our high level stewardship scheme. On the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright), I can inform him that agri-environment funding is available at the moment to landowners who make their land available. Realignment can produce some good habitat benefits in terms in salt marshes and improvements to biodiversity. I went to Aldbrough recently, just north of the Humber, which is a great example of a management alignment scheme. By allowing occasional flooding of a thousand acres of farmland, a high level of protection is provided for people in the Humber and the Humber estuary area. At the same time, a wonderful marine environment has been created.

We have just consulted on proposals for the Environment Agency to have a strategic overview of sea flooding and coastal erosion risk management. Whatever role we decide the agency should perform following that consultation, I expect it to work in close partnership with local authorities in relation to long-term planning strategies and in determining and delivering works programmes. I plan to announce conclusions on that in the spring.

The hon. Gentleman and a number of other hon. Members raised the issues in the recent ABI report.
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Clearly, we are well aware of the report and I would not want hon. Members to think that detailed work is not taking place on that. The Environment Agency is already looking at the key locations identified in the report. For example, as part of its Thames estuary 2100 project, the agency considered the management of flood risk in London and the Thames estuary over the next 100 years. On the Humber estuary, we are considering the agency’s strategy proposals for£1 billion of investment, again, over the next 100 years. I am aware of the ABI’s call for more funds to be made available and recently met ABI representatives to discuss Government commitments associated with its statement of principles. I can confirm that we are on target to exceed commitments that we made to the ABI as part of the statement of principles.

Martin Horwood: Will the Minister give way on that point?

Ian Pearson: I only have a short time left.

Including projects to reduce coastal erosion, many of which also protect against flooding, investment in coastal projects will be more than £110 million this year—some 40 per cent. of total capital investment. Further large sums will be spent on maintenance and operations. We recognise the need for investment along the east coast, but that must be prioritised in a national context.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness also raised the issue of internal drainage boards. I recognise the valuable contribution of IDBs to flood risk management in low-lying areas of the country. As part of our commitment to managing the flood risk management service as effectively as possible, we want to ensure that all boards, as public bodies, are efficient and accountable. We also wish to ensure that in delivering flood management and their other responsibilities, all boards are representative of the interests of the drainage rate payers and of wider interests. We engaged consultants last year to review those issues and their conclusions were published on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website in March. We are working on an implementation plan that I expect to announce in the spring.

We have transferred responsibility, as the hon. Gentleman will know, for higher-risk water courses from local authorities and IDBs to the Environment Agency. We will consider arrangements for the agency to have an inland strategic overview of flood risk management as well as on the coast. For some IDBs that may not be viable and they will need to be amalgamated with other boards, but there are no plans for them to be subsumed into the Environment Agency. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he seeks on that.

Local authority expenditure on flood and coastal erosion risk management, including the levies they pay to the Environment Agency and IDBs, is supported by a revenue support grant from the Department for Communities and Local Government. The hon. Gentleman raised that issue and I recognise that there are concerns that expenditure is not fully supported. We will consider that alongside other pressures as part of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.
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However, when setting levies, we expect IDBs to engage with the levy-paying councils about the affordability of work programmes. Local authority representatives on boards should then communicate that affordability to their councils in relation to the IDB’s decisions.

Over the past 20 years, more than £100 million has been invested in sea defences along the Lincolnshire coast, which have provided protection for much of that coastline against tidal events with an annual probability of one in 200 or greater. An additional £17 million is planned to be invested over the next three years. I can also confirm that the Environment Agency intends to continue beach recharge using dredged material, which will help to protect the hon. Gentleman’s constituency at a cost of around £5 million a year. I recognise that further work is needed to improve protection in Boston as is set out in the Boston combined strategy. The work will be prioritised, but I understand the Environment Agency is hoping to start next year.

A number of hon. Members raised the issue of cuts to the Environment Agency budget and I have spoken about that before. We do not take delight in making cuts, but like other Departments, we have to live within our budget. It is not just the Rural Payments Agency that has created this problem; it is a result of other budgetary pressures. I can confirm that the capital budget has not been cut and that there will be a minimum impact on the agency’s ability to respond to serious flooding.

Development in the Thames Gateway was also mentioned by a number of hon. Members and I think that some of their comments were ill-judged—I hope on reflection they agree. Most of the Thames Gateway areas are afforded a level of risk protection higher than anywhere else in the country. The Environment Agency has worked closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Greater London authority, the London Development Agency, the Thames Gateway London Partnership, other local delivery vehicles, local authorities, and developers to ensure that new developments in the Thames Gateway take account of flood risk. People need to recognise that substantial work is taking place.

The Environment Agency is already a statutory consultee—we are not simply in discussion with it. We hope that planning policy guidance note 25 will make further improvements to ensuring that developments take place only where flood risk is at a minimum level. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) raised a point about development plans in his constituency. The Environment Agency objected to the development yet, as he said, the planning inspector allowed it to go ahead. I hope and expect PPG25 to allow for such cases to be raised with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, which would provide additional powers to ensure that there is not inappropriate development in the future.

It is important to recognise that the Government are addressing the issue of coastal flood risk in a number of different ways. There have been substantial budget increases since 1997 for flood and coastal risk management—up by 35 per cent. in real terms. Of course, there are always pressures on the Government to do more, and we will endeavour to make further progress.

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11 am

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): This debate was originally scheduled for the end of the previous parliamentary Session, but could not take place because of the Prorogation of Parliament. I am delighted and grateful that Mr. Speaker has selected the subject for debate today. In many ways, the issue is even more pressing now, these few weeks later, for Airbus and the many hundreds if not thousands of not only my constituents but those of my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Dr. Naysmith), and other hon. Members present who represent other places where Airbus is based.

By way of preface, let me say that Airbus is a success story. When, as they do from time to time, aeroplane manufacturers go through turbulent times—if people will pardon the expression—it is easy for some of the bad news stories to gather momentum and for the context of what a success story Airbus is to be lost. It was a pleasure to see the Minister at the Airbus plant at Filton on Monday. I am grateful to her and to my constituency neighbour for enabling me to take a full part in that visit. She will have found that Airbus has a great deal of which to be proud. It might be worth saying one or two things about that, just to set the context for my remarks. Although I will be talking today mainly about civil aircraft manufacturing, the A400 military transporter is an important part of the work at Filton. The Minister saw for herself that manufacturing process in action, and I will ask her particularly detailed technical questions later about the manufacture of the wing, just to see whether she was listening carefully.

Joking apart, the order book for Airbus contains more than 2,000 aircraft. Again, it is important to have that context. Those 2,000 aircraft will fill the production lines at Filton for more than four years, so there is a good forward order book, which is a source of great encouragement to all of us who represent Airbus areas. This year alone, the company will have delivered 430 aircraft to the market, which is its highest number ever. In a sense, therefore, we are in a period of growth and the future looks very positive for the company. Indeed, more aircraft than that are planned to be delivered next year. The global market share varies from year to year, but even by the end of this year, which has not been the best of years, the market share for Airbus is expected to be more than 40 per cent. of the global market. Not many British or European companies can say that they have a 40 per cent. share of a very substantial global market.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate on what is obviously a very important subject at what is a very important time for the company. He has painted a picture of how Airbus has done over the years and what a success story it is, but will he join me in saying that it has also been a success story for the Government and the investment that has gone in? Let us take the A320, for instance. For every £1 invested by the UK
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taxpayer, £2 has been paid back, and there have been royalty payments on top of that. If only we could say that about every Government investment over the years, it would be a great story.

Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I will come on to that issue, because there is sometimes the portrayal that when parliamentarians of all parties urge the Government to support the aerospace industry, there is somehow a request for a handout. As the hon. Gentleman suggests, the reality is different.

Let us consider the employment impact. The company says that it has 13,000 permanent and contract employees in the United Kingdom, of whom 5,000 permanent staff are based at the Filton plant in South Gloucestershire. Those 13,000 jobs indirectly generate probably 10 times as many—perhaps 135,000 UK jobs throughout the supply chain, including a large number in the south-west, which is a key centre of aerospace excellence.

The A380—I do not think we are allowed to call it the super-jumbo, but people will know what I mean—has attracted some troubling headlines recently, but it is worth remembering that more than £7.5 billion of work on the A380 has been placed with UK companies so far and that the first A380, despite the talk of delays, will be delivered within 12 months of today. Singapore Airlines will have an A380 by October next year, 13 will be delivered the following year, 25 the year after that, and at full production in 2010 we will be talking about four aircraft a month. That may not sound much, but when people see the size of these things, they realise that that is one huge output.

Putting a more positive perspective on some of the concerns about the A380, as recently as 26 October Qantas announced that it had placed firm orders for eight more A380s. The chief executive of Qantas said that that increased the airline’s commitment to 20 aircraft, to be delivered over the period from 2008 to 2015. He said:

Despite some of the difficulties that there have been, there is still a lot of confidence among airlines in what is a unique product. The company is trying to tackle the problems caused by the delays, through what it calls its Power8 programme. That is a cost-saving programme aimed at reducing overheads and being more lean and efficient. Clearly, the company is trying to get its own house in order, and we must welcome that.

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