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DSDA Longtown

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I have now approved, effective from 1 August 2007, the early closure of the non-explosive (NE) elements of the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency (DSDA) site at Longtown.

Under the Future Defence Supply Chain Initiative (FDSCi) the MOD assessed a range of options for managing and operating the defence supply chain to reduce costs of ownership, while maintaining or improving service levels and enhancing operational capability. The selected option included plans for the withdrawal of all non-explosive storage from DSDA Longtown by mid-2009.

Since the announcement, work has been undertaken to design a stock relocation plan that will reposition Longtown non-explosive (NE) stocks to other retained DSDA sites. The stock relocation plan has matured and, as a consequence, it is now clear that DSDA has the opportunity to bring forward the planned Longtown NE closure date to the end of July 2007.

The proposal to withdraw NE stocks from Longtown early will affect 62 staff. Approximately 350 staff will be left at the site. Additional staff will be required for the ammunition box task (refurbishing ammo boxes), which transfers from the NE to the explosives business at the site on 31 July 2007. As a consequence there will be no early release scheme or compulsory redundancies.

I recognise that the early withdrawal of NE stocks from DSDA Longtown will not be a welcome prospect for those staff who stand to be affected. DSDA is, however, confident that it can manage the changes without recourse to compulsory redundancies through
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a combination of the transfer of staff to vacancies on the Longtown explosive site and by releasing staff on fixed term appointments.

Consultation with the trade unions has been completed and there were no substantive matters raised that preclude implementation. On this basis I have decided to fully implement the change.

Operational Effectiveness

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I am today announcing a number of initiatives which will enhance our operational effectiveness.

The 1998 strategic defence review identified the need to have robust strategic lift capability to ensure success on operations and we subsequently leased four Boeing C-17 Globemaster aircraft. Our experience of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has reinforced this judgment and last year we announced our intention to procure these aircraft at the end of their lease in 2008 and also to procure a fifth C-17 aircraft, which will enter service in May 2008. We now intend to purchase a sixth C-17. The aircraft, which can be delivered in 2008, will be a significant boost to the UK's strategic airlift capability and will provide greater robustness in our ability to transport troops and equipment quickly to wherever they are needed.

As part of the NATO-led international security assistance force mission in Afghanistan, we are deploying on a rotational basis with our Canadian and Dutch allies, a 2 Star (Divisional level) Headquarters in command of Regional Command (South) (RC(S)) based in Kandahar. We are also responsible for providing HQ Multi National Division (South East) in Basra, Iraq. In order to meet these temporary demands we have decided to augment the forces’ command structure, and will temporarily establish an additional 2-Star deployable HQ. It will be based in York and will be known as HQ 6 Division, with a core of 55 Service personnel, drawn from existing structures. We will keep our planning assumption under review but currently we assess this HQ will be established until 2011.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agency Annual Reports

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): The following Annual Report and Accounts 2006-07 were laid before Parliament yesterday.

Copies of each report are available in the Libraries of the House.

Private Sewers Transfer

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): On 22 February 2007 the Government announced that existing private sewers and lateral drains, connected to the public sewer in England, should be transferred into the ownership of the nine statutory Water and
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Sewerage Companies. The announcement followed an extensive review of current ownership arrangements.

The Government undertook to consult on a range of ways transfer could be implemented and to examine how the proliferation of new private sewers could be prevented.

I am pleased to report that a Consultation Paper “Consultation on Private Sewers Transfer - Implementation Options” was published yesterday. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of the House and can be accessed on the DEFRA website.

Climate Changes Agreement

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): I am pleased to announce today the publication of the report of the third target period report for the Climate Change Agreements (CCAs). Copies of the report have been placed in the House Libraries.

Climate Change Agreements are working—securing a saving of 16.4 million tonnes of CO2 in 2006, 7.3 MtCO2 more than the minimum signed up to in their agreements.

We have seen continued improvement across all sectors in Climate Change Agreements, with nearly all facilities having their Climate Change Levy discounts renewed. Businesses have found more opportunities to improve energy efficiency, and they should be congratulated on their commitment and innovation to meet and go beyond a challenging set of targets.

However, there is no room for complacency. Although almost all sectors have improved their energy efficiency performance, and most have saved energy overall, it will be increasingly tough for many businesses to keep meeting their targets unless they find new and additional opportunities to save energy.

Overall, 32 out of the 49 sectors covered met their targets outright, and in a further 10 sectors all the facilities had their Climate Change Levy discounts renewed.

In total, 99 per cent of facilities (9830) were recertified through meeting their own targets or because their sector met its target. 461 facilities left the agreements or did not report, probably due to closure. Another 23 were decertified because they failed to meet their targets.

Update on Flooding

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): Even before this month is over, we know that England will have experienced the three wettest months to the end of July on record, with at least twice the average rainfall. Many people from the south-west to the north-east of the country are still suffering from the effects of the extreme weather of the past six weeks, and I wanted to continue to update the House before recess.

Earlier this week, the most pressing issue was the potential flooding of the Walham Switching Station in Gloucester. I am pleased to say that due to the magnificent efforts of the armed forces, Environment Agency, Fire Service, Transco and others who worked
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so hard to maintain the temporary defences, power continued to flow. I can also report that a stronger, although a temporary, protective structure will be put in place as soon as possible.

Nearly all the properties that were without power have had power restored, and everything possible is being done to connect the power to remaining properties as quickly as possible.

The key issue in Gloucestershire is now the supply of water. Mains water for sanitation purposes should be restored today to the Tewkesbury area. However, this will not be drinkable and residents will be advised of this. Drinking water will still be available from bottled supplies and bowsers. Every effort is being made to restore the water treatment works at Mythe as soon as possible, and I pay tribute to the work of all those on the site. As of 9am today 140,000 households are still without piped water and this will remain the case for some days to come. Through established collaboration arrangements with other water companies, Severn Trent Water now have over 900 bowsers and tanks in place. The refilling operation is now the priority, and at Severn Trent's request the army is now helping with this. Tankers from the army and from the brewing and dairy industries have been brought in to add to the tankers which the company itself has provided, and offers of tanker help are still being received. I am extremely grateful for the co-operation that we have had from the dairy, food and drinks industries in making vehicles available. The military and supermarket groups helped to deliver 2.5 million litres of bottled drinking water yesterday and 3 million litres are planned for today.

We take for granted a plentiful supply of clean water and Members will know how difficult it is when this is not available, particularly for vulnerable people. Whilst local authorities and other agencies have done an excellent job to date identifying and providing assistance to vulnerable people, I would ask everyone to continue to help those less able to help themselves. There have been some outstanding examples of community co-operation and we must not let isolated instances of more selfish behaviour detract from this.

The absence of piped mains water, and the continued presence of flood waters, pose potential risks to public health. The Health Protection Agency has issued advice which covers both the dangers associated with entering flood waters, and how best to deal with sanitation without mains water. I urge people in the affected areas to listen to this advice.

Although priority is being given to the public, the welfare of animals is of course also important. The interruption to water supplies is posing difficulties for some livestock farmers in getting water for their animals. While many farmers have access to alternative sources of water, some do not. Officials are working closely with the RSPCA, NFU, and other farming organisations in assisting farmers to source water. I chaired a further meeting of COBR on Tuesday evening and official level COBR meetings are taking place regularly, reporting to me.

This morning the Environment Agency still had six severe flood warnings in place, three on the Severn from Gloucester upstream to Tewkesbury, one on the River Ock (a tributary of the River Thames at Abingdon) and two on the River Thames between Oxford and Wallingford.
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Elsewhere things are improving, including on the Great Ouse in Bedfordshire and in Hull where severe warnings had been in place since June.

River levels on tributaries in and around Oxford rose yesterday and further properties flooded in the Osney area of the city. The Environment Agency advises that the levels on the River Severn continue to fall and should not reach the levels of earlier in the week over the next few days.

On the River Thames the first peak flow is still making its way down the lower reaches of the river with a second peak following around two days later. This is currently going through Reading. The Environment Agency advises today that further flooding to properties is probably still unavoidable from Caversham down river to Shepperton—including parts of Henley, Marlow and other areas. The Environment Agency continues to monitor the situation closely, and, where possible measures are being put in place to protect people and property. Key installations are being protected on a precautionary basis.

The Government are still collecting information on the overall numbers of properties flooded from rivers and surface waters and sewers. I advised the House that up to 10,000 properties may have been flooded. This is still our best estimate but as better information comes in the number may be revised upwards but is unlikely to exceed 15,000.

The Prime Minister visited Gloucester and Tewkesbury yesterday and I have seen the situation in Oxford today. Ministerial colleagues have visited Reading, Purley-on-Thames in West Berkshire, Pangbourne, Tewkesbury and Gloucester in the last two days. There will be further visits to affected areas in the days ahead.

On funding, as I have announced previously, the revised Bellwin Rules to assist local authorities with 100 per cent. of their eligible emergency costs over the standard 0.2 per cent. threshold and the £20 million flood recovery grant fund will apply in all areas flooded since the middle of June.

The Department of Children, Schools and Families will increase its support to schools and children's services which have been disrupted by the flooding by up to a further £4 million. This funding will be made available to those local authorities affected by the floods in recent days to help them ensure that schools and early years services are, as far as possible, able to re-open in September; and to support wider children's services, including the provision of additional summer activities and family support.

Many businesses have been badly affected by the flooding. In total almost £8 million of RDA support has been announced, both in response to the initial flooding in Yorkshire and Humberside and the current flooding. The five RDAs with affected businesses all have in place a Flood Recovery Scheme offering small business up to £2,500 to aid their recovery effort.

The RDAs are also considering whether to increase the amount available to small businesses and other means of support are available for business. Yorkshire Forward has launched a scheme offering between £10,000 and £100,000 per company for larger businesses.

In total, £46 million of help is available. In addition, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has today issued
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a statement on the assistance that HM Revenue and Customs can provide for those affected by flooding.

Current estimates from the ABI show that 7,000 businesses were affected by the June flooding and around 1500 more will have been affected by the July flooding although many businesses are still underwater. The Minister for Floods Recovery has discussed the latest flooding with the head of the ABI and the Government will continue to work with the Insurance industry and others to ensure that the needs of householders and businesses are dealt with rapidly.

The Department for Transport will continue to work very closely with affected local authorities on capital funding support needed to repair local roads, bridges and other transport infrastructure damaged by the floods. At this stage, when much of the infrastructure is still flooded, it is not possible to make good estimates of the total damage, but all reasonable claims will be considered by the Department.

Department for Transport are appointing consultants who will work with authorities and advise on the remedial work which is needed and the claims they are putting forward. The Department is also taking steps to ensure that emergency work can take place as soon as possible without waiting for claims to be settled.

For farmers, the restrictions on using machinery on waterlogged soil have been lifted and the Rural Payments Agency have been authorised to allow farmers to use set-aside land for grazing of animals and harvesting of hay and silage. The lifting of these restrictions will now be extended until the end of August 2007.

These floods have had a significant and distressing effect on families and individuals. The Department for Work and Pensions is helping people on income related benefits or the lowest of incomes affected by the flooding with essential costs through Community Care Grants and repayable interest-free Crisis Loans. A contingency reserve of £1 millions can be drawn on as needed to meet the extra call on grants to help with the replacement of essential household items.

As at 20 July, the Department for Work and Pensions had already paid Community Care Grants totalling £396,000 to people on qualifying benefits to meet the cost of replacing essential household items. In addition, Jobcentre Plus has put in place special measures locally to ensure that this assistance is easily accessible to people in need who have been affected by the flooding. Total payment is of course, rising every day.

As these latest floods recede, the recovery co-ordination, led by the Floods Recovery Minister, the Member for Wentworth (John Healey), will add to the existing remit of Yorkshire and the Midlands, the areas affected by the most recent flooding.

I am determined that we will learn the lessons from what has happened and our conclusions must be robust and followed through. As I have already announced, we will ask an independent person to oversee this exercise.

I know that Members have requested that arrangements be put in place during the recess to enable them to raise points and be briefed on issues affecting their constituents. This is particularly important given that the emergency is still far from over both for those still facing the risk of flooding and for those who are still out of their houses or businesses.

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I will therefore write to all Members by the end of the week setting out the arrangements we will put in place.

Finally, I would like to extend my profound thanks to all those who are working so hard to deal with this situation and to offer our sympathy and understanding to all those whose lives continue to be severely disrupted.

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