My hon. Friend, not surprisingly, raised the issue of Pickering and is right to do so. That is an important issue for her and her constituents. I can assure her that we understand the urgency of her constituents’ concerns. We are working extremely closely to make sure that we meet local concerns about the shelving of the scheme, understand the impact of the Reservoirs Act 1975, and

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discover whether we can find alternatives that are cost-effective and which can be brought forward as quickly as possible.

My hon. Friend talked about the problem of over-engineered projects. The Environment Agency’s schemes meet the highest industry standards. They are designed to ensure optimum levels of protection and give an average return on investment of seven to one. There are occasions when we can sit and work out whether we need a Rolls-Royce solution, or whether we can actually make do with a reasonably priced family car solution. I can assure her that we are open to all suggestions and that her concerns are being taken forward.

My hon. Friend made a point about local authorities’ finance for flood and coastal erosion risk management. I can reassure her that the money we have put in has ensured good flood and coastal erosion risk management strategies from the local authorities. All have submitted strategies except one—I will not say which one, but it is not represented by anyone present in the Chamber. We provided the funding, and it is important for the work to be carried forward.

I shall come on to insurance in a minute, but in the five minutes I have left I must also deal with the points made by other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) raised the issue of planning and building on floodplains. The Environment Agency—in England, obviously—takes the matter absolutely seriously and gives strict advice on planning applications as they are made, and I will ensure that that continues. The Pitt review is unequivocal on that and we must follow its important recommendations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud raised the issue of the Severn estuary shoreline management plan. I recognise that that is an area where things were not got right, and we want to ensure that we do get them right. I am working closely with him, other colleagues from that area and the Environment Agency. I had a meeting with them this week and I want to make sure that we share information with local farmers on a consultative basis. We are talking about something not for tomorrow but for 20, 30, 40 or 50 years’ time. We must have a plan in place that is understood and that people are consulted on—I assure him that I will ensure that we do that. He eloquently set out the challenges that face us as we tackle the problems, and we will carry that forward.

The hon. Member for Brent North talked about funding, as did the hon. Member for Copeland. I do not want to enter a sterile debate. They know that, if we compare the previous period of the Labour Administration with the current four years, the reduction is 8%. They also know that massive cuts were announced by the then Chancellor just before the election. We could get into that debate about where we are and where we are going. However, I can assure them and the House that we have fought and protected our budget in a way that was out of all proportion to the spending restraint that we have achieved throughout the Department and the Government. The priority goes right to the top of this Government, and we will ensure that it works. With the efficiencies that we are getting out of the Environment Agency, we will be able to achieve our aims of protecting 145,000 homes, and I remain optimistic that we can do better.

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Barry Gardiner: Will the Minister give way?

Richard Benyon: I apologise, but I really cannot, because I do not have much time left.

The statement of principles was mentioned by a great many hon. Members. We are working hard with the insurance industry and all relevant parties. A number of hon. Members, including the Chair of the Select Committee, came to our flood summit, out of which came three working parties, which will look at the financial risks from flooding, data provision, transparency and sharing, and the customer experience of resilience to flooding. We had a meeting with the Secretary of State to follow up that work, which we are progressing, and we will come forward with the solutions in the early part of next year—that is a real priority for the Department.

It is important to recognise that some houses that have insurance in name barely do so if we take the excess charges into account. We face a great many difficulties, but our understanding of flooding—in particular we have a greater understanding of surface water flooding—is starting to pay dividends. We can now get a picture, almost house by house, of where risk starts and finishes, and of what we can do. Sometimes the risk can be alleviated merely by putting a row of bricks on top of a wall or by blocking an entrance or configuring it differently, but we must make certain that all our plans are joined up. Our desire to protect the natural environment, which is strong, does not mean that we are flooding homes because we are not thinking of things in an holistic and joined-up way. All agencies are seized of that, and I will continue to drive it.

I am rather concerned by the eponymous nature of some of the proposals and the optimistic view that people might have of my abilities. I hesitate to take credit for so much that has been thrown at me, because it has been a team effort. I pay tribute to how the Environment Agency is approaching this important issue, although I can assure hon. Members that I work closely with it.

DEFRA has spent a lot of money on equipping emergency services and other organisations with training and equipment to deal with flood. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) raised the issue of a statutory duty, but that is one of the few areas of the Pitt review that we have not taken forward. We have an open mind about it but, having said that, I cannot see why it makes a difference for a fire and rescue service to have a statutory duty. Every fire and rescue service that I have spoken to, and I have spoken to a lot, has done wonderful work when dealing with flood. We are equipping them and we are training. I am happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman with an open mind about whether a statutory duty would make a difference—the wording in the Pitt review is “as necessary”. Sir Ken Knight, the chief fire officer, has come forward with some proposals, and I would not mind discussing them with the hon. Gentleman in a less formal way, to see whether we can find a solution that satisfies everyone.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) and other hon. Members made important comments and gave moving descriptions of flooding in their areas—descriptions I recognise from flooding in my own constituency. I hope that hon. Members from the south-west were pleased with the Chancellor’s words in the Budget, which showed a real commitment to deal

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with the unfairness that they so accurately feel on behalf of their constituents. I assure them that we are following through on that.

The hon. Member for Copeland made many important points. He talked about whether we were taking an holistic enough view and dealing with the problems upstream. He was absolutely right to say that. It is important that water companies, farmers, landowners, local authorities and the Environment Agency ensure that we use the natural environment where we can to prevent flooding further down.

We will not spook the investor when we come to reform of the water industry. We recognise that around £100 billion has been spent by investors in the water industry in the past 20 years, and we want to see much more of that.

With those remarks, I would like to leave some time for the Chair of the Select Committee.

5.27 pm

Miss McIntosh: I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs Main.

The report was very much a team effort on the part of the Committee, and it was a very good choice to allow us to debate it. The debate has shown the breadth of support geographically and among the many hon. Members present. The conclusion is that much has been done but there is still much to do.

I hope that the Minister will extend the “yes, if” to the gross inconsistency at the heart of Government policy on reservoirs and reservoir safety. That absolute inconsistency must be addressed, in particular if farmers

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want to use reservoirs for storage, instead of abstraction, which a number of hon. Members might wish to explore. I hope that that will be reviewed.

I welcome the positive comments from the Minister on the role of internal drainage boards in maintenance. If we want an example of the big society, we need look no further.

I am minded to support the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) about the lack of a statutory duty. I have tracked the issue for some time, and we must remember that a young man was killed in Hull because all the emergency services that came, in succession, simply did not have the equipment. In sorrow more than anger, everyone turned to the fire crew to cut that young man to safety, but he died of hypothermia. The reason why the statutory duty is so important is that the money will follow the duty. If we cannot provide that, there will be further deaths, which would be most regrettable.

The insurance issues are time-framed. On planning, we need clear guidance as to how building on floodplains lies with the new national policy framework, but there are many challenges ahead. The Minister singularly failed to give us a date for the water Bill, but we look forward to the water White Paper. On a positive note, I add that we have had a good discussion this afternoon. The Minister is aware of the work that needs to be done, and we are there to support him in any way possible.

Question put and agreed to.

5.29 pm

Sitting adjourned.