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20 Feb 2008 : Column 117WH—continued

The hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire has raised the issue of trafficking. He was kind enough
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to congratulate me on my work in that respect, and I know that he is involved, as are a number of other hon. Members here today. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are looking at what more we should do to support the work of police forces in tackling trafficking—Cambridgeshire will have issues in that respect. I know of the force’s good practice, and others forces wish to learn from it. The hon. Gentleman will also know that Pentameter 2 is ongoing, and forces throughout the United Kingdom are involved in that work.

The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire made an extremely important point about cross-border collaboration, which is collaboration between Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire in the case of his area. I am not sure about the geography of the areas represented by other hon. Members, but this is an issue that affects everyone, and we have allocated £35 million over the next three years for cross-border collaboration and cross-border work. Either Bedfordshire or Cambridgeshire could bid for some of that money to help with their cross-border work. Again, I hope that is helpful to the hon. Member.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) have both raised the issue of the British trust fund, which was announced today by the Home Secretary. Of course, it could well be that money raised from that fund, irrespective of the charges for it and how much they will be, is used by the police force in Cambridgeshire and by other forces across the country to pay for certain services.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington also mentioned the community infrastructure levy, which, as he knows, will replace section 106. The details of that levy are still being worked on. However, the levy is the type of new development that one would expect to contribute to public services in a particular area.

Mr. Stewart Jackson: First, the Minister will be aware that section 106 money is being used in parts of Cambridgeshire to build police stations, although there is no revenue public funding to put police officers in them. Secondly, we are in a situation where, two days ago, the budget was set but, because of Government policy, the authority had no option but to recruit police community support officers on a standstill budget. That is a crazy situation, too. Will the Minister address those two key issues?

Mr. Coaker: I will come on to revenue funding. Section 106 funding, which may be replaced by funding from the community infrastructure levy, has been used not only in Cambridgeshire but across the country to support the provision of public services. I will come on to the revenue implications in a moment.

I would just like to mention the migration impacts forum, which the hon. Member for Hornchurch has referred to. The July meeting of that forum will be dedicated to crime and policing. Other hon. Members asked what effect the forum will have. As I have said, the July meeting will consider crime and policing. The ACPO representative in that forum is the chief constable of North Yorkshire police, Grahame Maxwell. Of course, as hon. Members will appreciate, North Yorkshire police is a rural force and no doubt the chief constable will be able to bring some of his knowledge to the work of the
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forum. Indeed, the Home Secretary has recently asked all the chief constables, including the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence, to contribute to the work of that forum in July.

Tom Brake: Will the Minister confirm that when that forum examines crime, it will also examine the crimes that migrant communities are often the victims of? I have personal experience of Kent and the farming communities there that rely very heavily on migrant workers, who themselves are either victims or at risk of becoming victims of trafficking within the UK, for example.

Mr. Coaker: It seems to be a perfectly reasonable suggestion to ask that forum meeting in July to look at that issue. What may be appropriate is for each hon. Member here today to talk to the chief constable in their area—in particular, Cambridgeshire Members should talk to the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence—and ask them whether they feel that it is appropriate to make particular contributions to the forum. I suggest that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington makes a suggestion to his chief constable to see whether they will take that issue to the forum.

I want to go through a few other issues. First, I want to discuss funding for Cambridgeshire. Total Government grants to Cambridgeshire increased by more than £30 million between 1997-98 and 2007-08, which is a cash rise of 52 per cent. or a rise of 19 per cent. in real terms. Having said that, I know that the hon. Members here will be keen to look to the future. Under the terms of the provisional funding settlement, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced on 6 December last year, Cambridgeshire’s general grant will increase, as hon. Members will know, by 3 per cent. next year and for each of the next two years.

I know that Cambridgeshire still has concerns about the fact that the funding formula is still not fully implemented. Of course, in an ideal world we would make all payments strictly in accordance with the needs-based formula, but that would leave some forces in dire financial straits. In the most extreme case, one force would lose 10 per cent. of its budget. Although hon. Members are keen to secure additional resources for their own forces, including Cambridgeshire, we would not want to be in a position where other parts of the country experienced dramatic cuts in policing provision. If that happened, we would be in a situation where other hon. Members would be arguing against changes that were having an adverse effect on their own forces. Indeed, I understand this argument very well, since Nottinghamshire, which is the force for my local area, suffers from exactly the same problem as Cambridgeshire with regard to the application of the funding formula.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I apologise for my late arrival, but I was in the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is producing an important report. Otherwise, I would have liked to have spoken in this debate.

The key issue is that the Government seem to be making some allowance for migrant workers and the growth in population by giving additional moneys to
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local authorities with problems associated with migration, and yet on the police side there is not the same recognition of the problem. As Cambridgeshire Members, we cannot understand why the same kind of approach cannot be made towards policing, so that additional money could be provided both for local authorities and for the policing of what are real problems on the ground.

Mr. Coaker: The chief constable of Cambridgeshire pointed out in her letter that the Department for Communities and Local Government is making certain funds available for policing. Certainly, that is another issue that the migration impacts forum will need to examine. Again, I suggest that that is the type of point that needs to be made at the forum, which will consider how best to address it.

I would like to say something about the strength of Cambridgeshire’s performance. It is clear that the increased investment in Cambridgeshire has been put to good use. There are now more police officers in Cambridgeshire than there were in 1997. There are 288 more support staff who, of course, help to release uniformed staff for front-line duties, and there are also 180 community support officers. If one adds all those extra staff together, 500 more people are working in the police family in Cambridgeshire compared with 1997.

I know that hon. Members have made points similar to this, but it is important to recognise when we congratulate the police that overall recorded crime in Cambridgeshire fell by more than 18 per cent. from 2002-03 to 2006-07. Burglary was down by 31 per cent., and violent crime was down by 6 per cent. In the authority of the hon. Member for Peterborough, crime fell in the same period by 24 per cent., and crime was also down in other basic command units. Of course, there are challenges for police forces. However, in the same way that we have tried to put this debate into a wider context, it is also important to recognise the falls in crime in the past few years.

I would like to say a little more about migration. A number of chief constables, including the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence, have expressed concern. As was said at the beginning, they have generally been at pains to say that migrants have not caused a crime wave. Instead, they having been trying to make the point that when people whose first language is not English come into contact with the police, perhaps as victims—as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington has said is sometimes the case—or as witnesses, there may be extra costs involved for services such as interpretation.

I want to make three more points. First, the Government recognise that there is an issue here, and Ministers have made that clear in our meetings with Cambridgeshire constabulary and other forces that have been affected. When I return to the Department, I will relay the points made in this debate to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing.

Secondly, population is a key factor in the police funding formula. In calculating the comprehensive spending review funding settlement for the police, we used the best available ONS data from September 2007. The data incorporate recent methodological improvements, principally an improved estimation of international migration nationally and of the distribution of migrant numbers to local areas.

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Finally, as I have already said, the Government have set up the migration impacts forum and we hope that people everywhere will contribute to that forum.

In the short time that I have left—less than a minute—I want to say that this has been an important debate. Hon. Members have been very measured in the way in which they have made their points. I also reiterate my belief that such debates are important and worthwhile only if we try to learn from them. As I have said, I will take back to the Department the points that have been made by hon. Members today, particularly those made by the hon. Member for Peterborough. Hon. Members have raised what they feel is a real issue in Cambridgeshire, and they have represented their constituents’ concerns. I hope that some of my earlier points in response to specific questions about collaboration and other issues have helped hon. Members. I will write to the hon. Member for Peterborough in due course, once I have discussed those points with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing.

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Flooding (Rochdale)

4 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (in the Chair): I indicated to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and to the Minister that there is likely to be a Division on the Floor of the House at 4.28 pm. I suspect that neither hon. Member will wish to return for two minutes, so they may wish to pace their remarks accordingly.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Thank you very much, Mr. Gale. I am sure that we can manage that between us. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise issues surrounding the heavy rainfall and flooding that occurred in Rochdale on 21 January and it is good to see my near neighbour, the Minister responsible for flood policy, responding to the debate.

Having just returned from Bangladesh, I appreciate that the problems in Rochdale and the UK pale into insignificance when compared with the flooding that occurs on a regular basis in Bangladesh. Nevertheless, the flooding in Rochdale in January, and the other floods that occurred during the summer of 2007, offer us valuable lessons, locally and nationally, that we need to learn. That was illustrated by Sir Michael Pitt, in his interim report, when he stated that

I have had discussions with the Environment Agency, Rochdale council and some of the local people affected by the flooding, and all were positive and indicated that important lessons both locally and nationally can be learned from this and similar incidents. Flooding in Rochdale occurred in the following areas: first, at the bottom of Bury road and on the Mellor street junction, due to a non-main river culverted under the road. That drains into the River Spodden, but because of the volume it gushed up through a manhole cover. I was told by businesses at the bottom of Bury road that that area has flooded eight times this year. Clearly there is an urgent need to resolve that problem.

Secondly, in the Littleborough area, seven houses in the Whalley avenue and Calder avenue areas were flooded. The cause of that problem is well known. Houses built higher up on land that formerly had a mill lodge have caused a culvert to collapse. Up to 50,000 gallons a minute were gushing down the remaining sewer, which cannot cope with such volume and regularly floods. Again, I have had discussions with Rochdale council, which has proposed a solution, although in my view building additional pipes just moves the problem further down river. The company that built the original houses ought to be tackled for causing the additional flooding. The third instance of flooding occurred when the River Roch burst its banks around Keller street and Heybrook, flooding cellars and allotments. Several horses had to be rescued from the allotments by the fire service, but regrettably other livestock on the allotments were drowned.

There are clear implications for the location of future house building and for whether insurance will still be available for houses built on river flood plains. Indeed, there are plans to build more houses in the areas of Rochdale that I have just mentioned. The Association of British Insurers said that a third of the 3 million new homes that the Government plan to build will be on flood plains. If that remains the case, there is a real
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concern that flood insurance might not remain available, which would have severe implications for home owners.

In the town centre, the college car park was flooded, threatening an electricity sub-station, which could have lost electricity supply for a large part of the town. Staff in town centre offices and the town hall, and students at the college, were evacuated as a precaution. I have with me a photograph of the Lviv bridge, taken from the Rochdale Observer that shows how the River Roch came dangerously close to flooding the whole town centre. I am sure that the Minister is aware of a further incident of flooding in the Milnrow area.

That incident, and those from last summer, were considered by the Environment Agency’s report and the interim report by Sir Michael Pitt. They illustrate the following points that need to be looked at. The first is the lack of co-ordination between the Environment Agency, the council, the Highways Agency and United Utilities about who is doing what. For example, people ringing the council were given three different phone numbers for officers to deal with the flooding problems. Secondly, the Mellor street and Bury road junction has been flooding for years with both the council and United Utilities saying that it was not their responsibility. A recent letter from United Utilities to me stated:

I am not bothered who is responsible, but I wish to see a solution. That sort of attitude illustrates the lack of co-ordination and the fact that no one is ultimately responsible for ensuring that work is carried out.

Thirdly, there is the lack of a flood disaster plan detailing who does what. For example, shopkeepers in the town centre were questioning why they were not warned when the council decided to close its offices. Fourthly, flood levels forecasted for Rochdale and Littleborough were below the flood warning trigger level. If the Minister looks at the photograph that I have with me, he will see that Rochdale town centre would have been dangerously close to flooding, if the River Roch had breached its banks at that point. Clearly there is a need to review the trigger level and therefore the warnings given to people about the possibility of flooding.

The majority of flooding was the result of surface water flooding, for which no warning is in place despite drainage systems being overwhelmed. As a result of such incidents, I am pleased to say that the council has agreed that over the next 12 months every gully in the borough will be cleared. That is to be welcomed. However, there remains an urgent need to consider better co-ordination between United Utilities and the council, particularly on the capacity of the drainage system to cope with rainfall that, as a result of climate change, is becoming the norm.

Rochdale suffered a near miss. Unless we act now, we might not be so lucky again. What happened there was nearly as bad as what happened in Doncaster and Hull. If the town centre had flooded, the cost might not have been as great as in the latter places, but it could have run into many millions of pounds. We were very lucky. I do not want to see a repeat of the situation, which is why I
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believe that urgent action is necessary. The River Roch was inches from bursting its banks and flooding our town centre.

In light of that, I would like to ask the Minister to consider introducing the following so that we learn the lessons both locally and nationally: first, a new floods Act giving the Environment Agency strategic overview of all forms of flooding, including surface water flooding, and setting out clear responsibilities for emergency planning, clear long-term planning, warnings and so on to be taken by councils, highways authorities, water companies and house builders when going about their business. Secondly, will he consider requiring providers of critical services, including electricity and water, to consider steps that they should take to protect vital power and water supplies? We know what happened in Gloucestershire where a whole power station was nearly engulfed. Had the sub-station in the centre of Rochdale been inundated when the Roch broke its banks, that could have caused a similarly severe loss of power.

Thirdly, the Minister should consider requiring house builders and infrastructure providers to take action to reduce flood risk. Such measures could be included in the current Planning Bill and in the forthcoming climate change Bill. Houses built on flood plains must have adequate flood defences, and if they are not built into the plans, the Department should have the power to require the builder to do so. If we do not do so, as the ABI has warned, many people who have flood risk insurance will no longer have it. If the Government are to meet their house building target and more than 1 million homes are to be on the flood plain, we need to see action on that issue. We also need to ensure that infrastructure organisations provide adequate defences for rail and roads, so that they are not cut off, if and when flooding occurs.

Fourthly, there is a need to make more information available. The Environment Agency’s floodwatch text messages provide valuable warnings, and many people at risk know about them, but they are not known by everyone. For example, in Rochdale town centre, the council and the college decided to close, but there was no mechanism in place to warn others of possible danger, which shows that not only locally, but nationally, we must review our system for issuing flood warnings.

Fifthly, we need to continue with short and long-term investment to strengthen our flood defences. Over the past five years and earlier this year, the Environment Agency has spent a considerable amount of money strengthening the River Roch’s flood defences, which has helped in Littleborough, where flooding is nowhere near as great as it has been. However, in view of what happened in Rochdale town centre, we must examine the issue.

The issue is not unique to Rochdale. Its implications in an era of global climate change affect us all and have important implications for public policy. I strongly believe that we can develop the policies to resolve those problems, and that the good will exists on all sides to make it happen. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

4.12 pm

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