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Also, although the generalised flood warnings put out by the Environment Agency were excellent, timely and accurate, we now have the know-how, particularly in the national flood forecast centre, to give specific targeted warnings to homes and businesses well in advance to allow them to take the necessary precautions,
move furniture upstairs, evacuate if need be or sandbag themselves in to ensure that they do not get flooded at all.
I am also concerned that the warnings are given only when homes or businesses are at risk of flooding because of rivers bursting their banks, because the majority of the homes flooded in my constituency were flooded because of surface water and ground water. All those things are just as predictable-or potentially predictable, using different models-but at the moment they are not in the Environment Agency's remit. That is wrong. I want to ensure that the Bill makes provision to put that in law, although they are things that can also be fixed without legislation. I would like the Secretary of State to take steps towards addressing that right away, because we have the know-how to sort it out.
As other right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned this evening, we also need to be able to strengthen the hand of local authorities to say no to development on flood plains and in other flood-risk areas. I am absolutely committed to developing new, affordable homes for local families, particularly in my area. It is a tragedy that we have a waiting list of 5,000 people for council homes in social rented properties, but only 4,000 social rented homes available. I will not go into why that might be, but we all know the reasons why-the failed policies of the past, shall we say? That is a tragedy, so I want more social rented and other affordable homes built as an urgent priority. However, I do not want the families who get those homes to be subject to almost instant misery because the houses have been built in areas where we will be dealing with flood risk year after year. We surely have the capacity to deal with that in this day and age.
The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) talked about the names of places where such developments have been built, perhaps giving away the fact that they should not have been built. My previous home in Milnthorpe, before we moved to our current house, was built in a place called Grisleymire lane, which once won a prize on "Nationwide" in the '70s for having the quirkiest name in the north-west. We were never flooded, but perhaps that is another story-it was probably because the Kent silted up.
I have two more quick points to make arising from my experience these past few days. My great concern is that residents and businesses will have their insurance premiums hiked up or their excesses increased to the extent that, in reality, they will become uninsurable. We need to put pressure on the insurance companies, now and in future, to ensure that that does not happen and we do not allow people to become effectively uninsurable. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) rightly pointed out earlier that there is a principle of shared risk, and that must continue. If it does not, the whole principle of insurance is blown away.
I am also experiencing problems with residents, particularly in Burneside, where private landlords are refusing to take the action that they need to take, on the electrics and so on, to make homes habitable. Where homes belong to local social landlords, for example, it is much easier to take action. I want there to be provision for private landlords to be forced to take action to make homes habitable and to take reasonable steps to prevent future flooding.
I mentioned earlier that those areas in my constituency that have been under most pressure, at least in the past couple of days, are, as it were, the business centres of the south lakes area, particularly in Bowness, Windermere and Ambleside. It is worth pointing out that the tourism economy in Cumbria is worth £1.5 billion a year. To the Exchequer, therefore, it is worth some £500 million a year. I spoke to a businessman friend of mine in Grange-over-Sands last night who told me that his takings in the past week had gone down by 90 per cent.-and that is in a town that has not flooded-because the general message being put about out there was that the Lake district and Cumbria are closed for business. I want to take this opportunity to say that we are not.
If the Government are coming up with money-I would encourage them to come up with yet more funds to support us in this endeavour-they could spend that money successfully and profitably by investing it in the marketing and development of the Lake district and Cumbria brand over the next few weeks. Cumbria Tourism has an annual budget of just £1 million per year-annual budgets tend to be per year. That is clearly inadequate, full stop, but it is absolutely inadequate for trying to rebuild the reputation of a part of our country whose economy has been enormously damaged by the devastation of the past few days. We need to be able to sell our communities and our tourism product, especially in the run-up to Christmas, and we would appreciate some financial support in order to do that. The Exchequer would get more than its money's worth if it were to invest £10 million or £20 million in marketing for Cumbria, because of the benefit to the Exchequer of tourism.
I also want to emphasise the importance of the uplands. One of the reasons that Kendal did not flood more seriously than it did was the work of the upland farmers in the Kentmere valley. We need to look at the role of the uplands in the retention and storage of flood waters. We have the fastest falling water in the country. The source of the river Kent is only about 15 miles away from the sea, and it can fall extremely rapidly, as we have seen in the past few days. It falls rapidly at the best of times.
We need to invest in the work that upland farmers do to disperse and contain the waters in the uplands. They have done more than almost anyone else to protect our towns and villages in Cumbria from flooding, yet they are an endangered species. Only two weeks ago, Natural England released a report entitled "Vital uplands: Natural England's vision for the upland environment in 2060". The reality is, however, that hill farming could be dead by 2020 if we do not act soon. The average income for a hill farm is £5,000 a year, and the average age of a hill farmer is 59. You do not need to be a genius to work out that that income base makes it unlikely that the profession will continue for much longer, yet the economic, environmental and social value of those people in Cumbria is immense, and we need to support them and pay them for the work that they do.
I pay tribute to the emergency services-the police, the fire and ambulance services, the bay search and rescue and mountain rescue teams, the coastguards, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and all the others who have made such immense efforts over the past few days. It is important to point out that many of those agencies are voluntary in nature. In particular, the equipment and vehicles that the mountain rescue service has been
using to save lives and protect and rescue people over the past few days will have been paid for by voluntary donations. The service also has to pay VAT on those donations, and pays vehicle excise duty. Across England and Wales, however, the cost to those volunteer mountain rescue teams is less than £200,000 a year. If I could ask the Secretary of State for one additional thing-it would not require any legislation-it would be to reimburse the mountain rescue teams that relative pittance of £200,000. So far, the Treasury has refused to do that, but it would represent an immense vote of confidence and be seen as a thank you to the communities of Cumbria that are struggling so manfully at this time.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, may I inform the House that six other hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. We have just over an hour left, so if everyone is going to get in, hon. Members will have to think about the timing of their speeches.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate on energy and climate change. These subjects are particularly important as we approach the Copenhagen summit. If we needed any reminder that Governments must act to tackle climate change, surely witnessing the events of the past week in Cumbria will confirm that. I want to join other hon. Members in expressing my sympathy for the constituents of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) and the other people of Cumbria for what they have suffered in the past week. I also want to pay tribute to them for the fortitude with which they are tackling the clean-up operation.
I am fortunate in having a number of projects in Durham that are seeking to remind people not only about climate change but about the ways in which all communities can begin to take action to tackle it. Last Friday, I attended an event in Durham organised by Professors Lena Dominelli and Phil Gilmartin and other staff from the energy institute at Durham university. That is an important institute, which receives funding from the Government and other bodies to develop new green technology and to seek ways in which that technology can be applied in the energy sector. The institute is therefore very important for the future development of green jobs in the north-east region and in the country as a whole. It also does significant work to transfer technology overseas.
We are extremely lucky to have the institute in Durham. I am particularly pleased that its academic staff are taking time out of their busy schedules to work with local businesses and community groups to make them aware of the measures that are readily available to be used in homes to reduce energy use and to save money. The response from members of the local community to the measures described and made available to them was really positive.
That backs up the recent poll that was carried out for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which found that, once the issues had been explained carefully,
74 per cent. of people would take immediate action to change their lifestyles if they knew that that action would affect their children's or grandchildren's lives. We have not always made the case for bringing climate change down to the individual level or for making it absolutely clear to individuals and communities what action can be taken in the home to help the Government and others to tackle climate change. I also want to pay tribute to Climate Durham, an umbrella organisation in my constituency that seeks to raise public awareness about climate change, and to make the link between the global issue and local and individual actions.
I am also pleased that Government projects are supporting technological development, and we need to do much more of that. If we are to have the necessary energy and renewable energy sources for the future, we must keep investing in the technology. I am pleased that the north-east has recently received public investment not only to develop wind turbines and, critically, wind turbine manufacturing, but to extend the use of solar energy and further to develop photovoltaic cells.
The Government, as well as other bodies, have also supported an interesting project in Teesside involving a feasibility study to see whether household waste could be converted into an energy source. Just now, we are awaiting news about whether the expansion of carbon capture and storage will be extended to the north-east. Of course, I make a special plea for that to happen. Several Members have spoken today of the need for CCS. We know that we are going to continue to use coal as an energy source in this country and elsewhere for some time into the future, and it is therefore important that we have carbon capture and storage measures in place to make coal a much greener energy source.
I particularly welcome the Energy Bill in the Gracious Speech and it is important for it to get through the parliamentary process in time. I am also pleased that there are measures in the Energy Bill further to tackle fuel poverty. The Government have done much-they have gained little credit for it today-to reduce energy use through better insulation, which has been achieved through a number of measures. The obligation on energy suppliers, CERT-the carbon emissions reduction target-has helped insulate about 6 million homes already, and the scheme is being extended until 2012.
Warm Front, which has received some criticism in the Chamber today, has carried out extensive work in my constituency. The number of households that have already been assisted is 4,691, with a further 991 households receiving help with heating. The total value of that work is almost £4 million, which in the main has been money well spent. A number of my constituents have been very pleased to receive extra insulation as well as, in some cases, a replacement boiler.
Warm Front is also carrying out a project on income maximisation, ensuring that people on low incomes get all the benefits to which they are entitled. I am pleased that the scheme operates in my constituency. Nationally, 2 million homes have been helped through Warm Front. A number of homes have also been updated with insulation and new boilers through the implementation of the Government's decent homes standard-again, not much mentioned today. In total, a very large number of homes have already been helped to reduce their energy costs through better insulation. I accept, however, that a lot more needs to be done.
I hope that the Government will achieve the goal of carbon-neutral buildings very much in advance of their 2016 target for homes and their 2019 target for commercial premises. What we know about global warming and climate change presses us to take action to bring about carbon-neutral or carbon-zero homes and premises much in advance of those dates.
I am pleased that £10 million has been set aside for the low-carbon communities programme and the low-carbon communities challenge. I am certainly pressing my local authority to put in a bid in partnership with our local communities for a slice of that fund. It is important to seek ways whereby local communities can really look at what works best in the local area in producing more sustainable communities. Although he is not in his place at the moment, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) for saying that sustainability is the key issue for this century. I hope that the Government will continue to press forward on all issues relating to sustainable communities.
It is really important that the public sector takes the lead in promoting and adopting measures to reduce climate change, but in fairness, the private sector has a huge role to play, too. I would like the private sector to do much more to bring about a reduction in energy costs for my constituents and to produce exemplars of carbon-neutral buildings. We just have not seen enough of them. In that regard, we should press the private sector as well as the public sector.
I want to say a few brief words about Copenhagen. The press reports about it have been quite pessimistic, but I hope that other countries will follow the Prime Minister's lead not only in attending Copenhagen, but in actively pursuing a new global deal on reducing carbon emissions. This really is the key issue of our time.
While I am on my feet, let me briefly speak about a few other measures in the Gracious Speech that I believe are worthy of mention. I am very pleased that the Government are at last considering the difficult issue of social care and are seeking to bring forward the Personal Care at Home Bill. That will mean that, from October, more than 275,000 of those with the greatest needs will be protected from charges and top-up fees for care in their own homes. I hope that everyone will get behind that measure.
I am also pleased that we are getting to the final stages of the Equality Bill and it looks as though it might manage to get through the parliamentary process. It will introduce a new public sector duty to narrow the gap between rich and poor. It is a radical measure, and I find it disappointing that the policy that it represents has received so little attention from the media. It is critically important, because it makes it clear that we will be serious about reducing inequality. It will also ban age discrimination outside the work force, and will introduce reporting on gender pay in the case of large employers.
The agency workers regulations will ensure that agency workers are given treatment equal to that given to permanent staff when they have been employed for 12 weeks. The Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill will implement in United Kingdom law the convention on cluster munitions, which bans the use, development, production, stockpiling, retention and transfer of cluster munitions.
I could go on, but what I am trying to make clear is that the Gracious Speech contains a number of measures that are genuinely necessary. I find it very disappointing that Opposition Members have described a number of those measures as a waste of time. I cannot see how legislation to fund care for the elderly, tackle fuel poverty, deal with child poverty and ban cluster munitions-let alone further measures to regulate the banks-can be a waste of time, and it is truly astonishing that it should be described as such.
I am also dismayed by the fact that some Opposition Members could do anything but accept that the Flood and Water Management Bill is absolutely necessary. Last Wednesday my Durham constituency was almost flooded following a very serious series of floods in July. I believe that my constituents would be astonished that so many Members have said-possibly outside the Chamber-that the Bill is not necessary. I know that Northumbrian Water has done a huge amount to reduce the incidence of flooding in my constituency, but more needs to be done, particularly in co-ordinating measures to prevent and deal with floods. I am therefore very pleased that the Bill was included in the Gracious Speech.
I was-again-astonished to hear some Opposition Members say that they hoped that some of the Bills would be blocked in the House of Lords. I think that that is absolutely dreadful: apart from anything else, it undermines our democratic mandate. I hope that all Members will back the important measures in the Gracious Speech.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): I shall be astonished if some of these rehashed announcements and Bills go anywhere in the time left to the Government. In fact, I share the astonishment expressed by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods), but it is not astonishment about the cynicism of the Opposition; it is astonishment about what was not in the Queen's Speech.
I find myself-unusually-slightly agreeing with the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg). I am not at all sure that there was need for a Queen's Speech at this stage. From where I am standing, and from the viewpoint of the part of south-west England that I represent, there seems to be little in the speech that relates to us. It is not surprising that, in responding to a recent ICM poll, a sizeable majority-66 per cent.-said that the Government cared more about issues affecting urban people than about those affecting people in the countryside. Everything that I have seen in the Queen's Speech only goes to support that. Given the number of vegans on the Government Front Bench, I suppose I should be grateful that Devon's cow population did not come in for an attack on carbon emissions.
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