“The Government believe that the ability of private sector operators to attract more passengers, grow the market, improve the service and receive revenue benefits of such actions is a key element in the current franchise model and one of the reasons for the significant growth delivered in recent years.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 February 2010; Vol. 717, c. WA122.]

It is certainly true that we are talking about a huge growth in rail traffic and rail transportation, with people relying on the railways. I could go on to quote—but I know you prefer shorter answers, Mr Speaker—the

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right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who occupied my position before the last general election, as he praised the role of franchising.

I believe that the east coast line should be the first under the new system. I pay tribute to the work done by Directly Operated Railways, which has operated it, but when the hon. Lady talks about figures, she should look at the track access charges paid in control period 3 by National Express when it ran the east coast line. It paid £210 million in track access charges, whereas DOR now has to pay its track access charges of £92 million. [Interruption.] I can tell the shadow Leader of the House that that was paid in the year to which I referred.

That explains why we have set out a very clear set of proposals about where we are going, notifying the industry about the future, which I think is a bright one, and setting out the huge investment that we—and, indeed, Network Rail—are putting into the rail industry.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. A great many hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that a further statement is to follow and then no fewer than three Back-Bench-inspired debates to which 48 Members wish to contribute. There is therefore a premium on brevity for Back and Front-Bench Members alike.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): It is evident from today’s announcements that the Secretary of State’s Department will be under a great deal of pressure to deliver a vast programme of infrastructure projects. That pressure has obviously been intensified by the west coast main line franchise failure and of course the recent judicial review failure on the consultation process for HS2. Given those failures, what reassurances can the Secretary of State give us that his Department is still not overstretched and under-resourced?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what I think was support at least for what I am doing on franchising. She talks about judicial reviews, but it is fair to say that of the 10 judicial reviews on HS2, the Department was found not to be wanting in nine cases. Only one judicial review went against us, and I am fully prepared to accept it. I wish the protesters, too, would accept the decisions made by the courts.

I can assure my right hon. Friend that my Department has the resources, and I am mindful of what Sam Laidlaw said in his report about what needed to be put into operation, and we have done that. I think that the Government’s setting up of the franchising advisory board was important—I am sorry that I failed to respond to the hon. Lady’s point about it earlier. It will report directly to the Government and to my advisory board on how the franchises are doing. I am sorry that a mistake was put out in one of the earlier press notices.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I am disappointed that there has been no mention of the word “fares” in any of the statements so far. Will the Secretary of State clarify what he will do to bring down fares, and what he will do about staffed ticket offices?

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Mr McLoughlin: I think the hon. Gentleman will know that we are undertaking a full review of fares. That will report later this year, probably in June; the date may move a bit, but I hope it will report in June. He will make his points on fares during that review. However, I would point out that, on a number of routes, cheap fares are available if people book in advance.

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): By deciding to refranchise the east coast main line, we risk not being able to assess whether the public sector or the private sector is best for the passenger, the taxpayer and the railways in general. Surely as a minimum, therefore, we should allow Directly Operated Railways to bid for the franchise.

Mr McLoughlin: That is not the case—Directly Operated Railways is not a company in its own right; it is a company owned by the Department for Transport. We will certainly be able to see how the companies are doing. The process will be open. I have already seen reports, although I have not had it confirmed, that Virgin will put in a bid for the east coast main line, and a lot of people were very happy with the service they received on the west coast main line.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): On that very point, given that Directly Operated Railways is owned by the Department for Transport, surely the Secretary of State could instruct Directly Operated Railways to put in a public sector comparative bid so that we can judge who will provide best value for money and best value for the customers.

Mr McLoughlin: I would just point out to the hon. Gentleman, who has been in the House some time, that he was very happy to support a Government whose Secretary of State said:

“I do not believe that it would be in the public interest for us to have a nationalised train operating company indefinitely”. —[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 July 2009; Vol. 712, c. 232.]

I agree.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): The east coast main line is integral to the economy of Peterborough, and my constituents are concerned about value for money, punctuality and cleanliness. The Secretary of State rightly mentions the PAC report, which found that this Government inherited systemic lack of leadership and of oversight, miscalculation of risk capital and failure to heed legal advice. Is he absolutely convinced that, in respect of the east coast main line, we have learnt those lessons and that mistakes will not be made again?

Mr McLoughlin: I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that we have learnt a number of lessons as a result of what happened with the west coast franchise. I well understand the importance to his constituents of the service that is provided on the east coast main line. It will be one of the first lines to get the new intercity express programme trains, which are due to come into service in 2018-19.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): As a north-east MP, I have been approached by a number of the companies that hope to bid for the east coast line, all of which are backed by foreign countries. Why does the Secretary of

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State think that it is not okay for the Government to run British railways, but it is okay for the French, German and Dutch to run them?

Mr McLoughlin: I think I pointed out clearly in the statement the vast growth we have seen in the railways. I do not think that that would have happened without privatisation. We have seen levels of investment that were not seen beforehand. I point out to the hon. lady the simple fact that I inherited the system of franchising that operated under the previous Government.

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. Can he give a bit more detail on how he will increase competition and improve efficiency on the railways?

Mr McLoughlin: Reading station, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, has seen a major refurbishment. That will make a huge difference. There will be closures over Easter, but more platforms will open and the work at the station will conclude in two years. About £800 million has been invested. We would not be investing that kind of money if we were not getting a good return for the passenger, his constituents and those who are served further along that line by First Great Western.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): Passengers on the east coast main line have twice suffered the catastrophic collapse of a private franchise. What guarantee can the Secretary of State give that whichever company gets the new franchise will not collapse, and will the railway headquarters remain in York?

Mr McLoughlin: As for where the headquarters will be, that will depend on the case that is put forward by the various companies that I hope will compete for the franchise. The hon. Gentleman is right: two franchises collapsed under the previous Government, so that and this Government have both had some problems with franchising. I hope we have learnt our lessons. The rail industry has become a lot better at competing for these franchises.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): The Secretary of State rightly spoke of the innovation and ambition that he expects from the new franchise companies. Can he assure me that that innovation and ambition will extend to providing services off the east coast main line, most notably to Cleethorpes?

Mr McLoughlin: I am certainly willing to discuss in greater detail with my hon. Friend the services to his constituency, which I know have been very badly disrupted because of earth movements, which must be put right; the work is taking longer than we would have hoped.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): The Secretary of State says that success on the railways has been achieved because of privatisation. The rolling stock in east Lancashire must be among the worst in the UK—it is absolutely dreadful. Privatisation has certainly not worked. The northern franchise is coming up, so what will he do to ensure that my constituents and others in east Lancashire benefit from that success?

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Mr McLoughlin: A lot of rolling stock has been and is being ordered. I hope to see a roll-out to all areas, including the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I very much welcome the statement as a sensible way forward for franchising, but may I urge my right hon. Friend to use the temporary extension of the west coast franchise to urge Virgin and London Midland to work together temporarily to ease overcrowding on services from Euston, in the evening peak at least, until the full franchise is let and London Midland’s new train order comes through?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who follows this subject particularly closely, not just for his constituents but as a member of the Select Committee on Transport. I know that he sent me and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Transport a fairly comprehensive letter, which I hope to respond to shortly, and I will see what can be done.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): This morning, a statement by the Secretary of State’s own company, Directly Operated Railways, on the east coast main line said:

“Since 2009, the East Coast business has been transformed. The Company has returned more than £640 million in cash to the taxpayer”.

That is not because of privatisation, but because the public sector bailed out the private sector. There is huge support for continued public ownership. The private sector has already let down the travelling public on this route twice. Why risk it again when we are returning so much money to the taxpayer?

Mr McLoughlin: I was simply referring to what was said by the Secretary of State in the previous Government. It was a short-term measure. By putting out the franchise to the private sector, there will be better services. That is what I am interested in. I am not particularly interested in who owns it. I am interested in getting better services to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, who want to take advantage of them.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Although I welcome the new station for Derbyshire, can the Secretary of State assure me that it will not be serviced at the expense of two other stations on that line, namely Alfreton and Langley Mill?

Mr McLoughlin: I think that that was a welcome for the new station and for the greater investment. Of course one always has to strike a balance when these cases are put forward, but I think that Ilkeston, Derbyshire county council and my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee) made a strong case for why Ilkeston should be successful. The case was judged by a panel that did not include me, and I am very pleased that Ilkeston has been successful.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): So much for the Government’s grand promises to radically change franchising—only three franchises will be let before the next election. Some of the extension periods are enormous, following the extensions that operators have already had. What guarantees has the Secretary of State had that there will be investment by those companies during the extension periods?

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Mr McLoughlin: I can assure the hon. Lady that there will be investment during those periods. In anything where I negotiate directly in awarding contracts, I look at the way services can be improved, and I hope to be able to make a statement shortly on some of those particular services.

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware that Southeastern is consistently one of the worst performing and most expensive train operating companies in the country. Can he therefore explain why it has been given the longest extension—50 months? Can he assure my constituents that the extension is not a reward for failure? What opportunity will passengers have to engage in the process of direct awards as it is finalised?

Mr McLoughlin: None of these direct awards will be made without getting the maximum we can out of the companies, talking to them and getting improvements in services. Where there have been let-downs, I will certainly want the companies concerned to address those problems.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): May I suggest to the Secretary of State that there is indeed a public sector comparator for Britain’s railways: the nationalised railway systems on the continent of Europe? McNulty found that they are up to 40% cheaper to run than ours. We have the highest fares in Europe and a ballooning public subsidy. Is not keeping the railways in the private sector just driven by ideology and a desire to put public money into private pockets?

Mr McLoughlin: I am somewhat surprised—I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was expressing support for the McNulty recommendation that we should take costs out of the railways. I did not expect such support from the hon. Gentleman, but any help I can get, I am always happy to bag.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): The First Great Western franchise runs old trains with no wi-fi, and often no food, through run-down stations. Commuters in Cornwall and Devon would welcome average-speed rail, let alone high-speed rail. What can the Secretary of State do to push investment in this route before July 2016?

Mr McLoughlin: I know the hon. Gentleman was unable to attend my meeting with First Great Western because of other engagements. I am very keen to improve services, particularly in his part of the country. I am going there in a little while to look at those services first hand, and I will certainly pass on the representations he has made when I have discussions with First Great Western—and Network Rail, as both are involved.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Can the Secretary of State give a cast-iron guarantee that any east coast main line franchisee will at the very least be obliged to retain the existing level of service north of Edinburgh through my constituency to Aberdeen?

Mr McLoughlin: That is something I need to talk to the Scottish Government about.

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Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I welcome the certainty today’s statement brings and the opening of the east coast main line franchise. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that passenger gain will be at the forefront of the franchising process?

Mr McLoughlin: I assure my hon. Friend that we are going to take passengers’ views very much into account in this system. That has not happened before, and today Passenger Focus has welcomed that development. It is part of the judgement that we must make when considering whether franchises are achieving their targets.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Is the Secretary of State aware that tomorrow, to mark the 50th anniversary of Beeching, passenger groups and trade unions will demonstrate outside 80 railway stations against privatisation and job losses? Will he protect passenger safety and rule out job losses on the railways?

Mr McLoughlin: I am not sure the hon. Lady was listening to my statement. I pointed out that we have had a better safety record on our railways in the past few years than for a number of years, and we are one of the safest rail operators in Europe. Jobs have been created as a result of more people using the railways. Privatisation has doubled the number of people using the railways. I would have expected the hon. Lady to welcome that, and unions to be out welcoming it too.

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): In the light of the 27-month extension that has been given to the Greater Anglia franchise, what improvements to services will be appended to the existing franchise as a condition, so that local commuters see improvements to the service before the next franchise comes up?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, along with colleagues from the Greater Anglia area, have given me a pamphlet setting out the changes being made. The Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), does not lose an opportunity to tell us how we must improve the services used by not only my hon. Friend’s constituents, but his.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): The Secretary of State’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) was disturbing. He said that he was not bothered who would run the franchise or where they came from, and could not confirm where such a company would be headquartered. Can he not use the tendering process to ensure that these details are nailed down and that the headquarters are in the United Kingdom?

Mr McLoughlin: I fear that the hon. Gentleman is taking me out of context. What I said was that my main concern is the service to the passenger, which I care very much about and want to see improve. The location of the headquarters will be up to the individual franchisees when they put their case forward, and they may make strong representations.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The Secretary of State and I, and our constituents, use the midland main line. Will he confirm when the franchise is up for

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renewal, and will he allow prospective bidders to come forward with proposals for new electric trains, instead of the Department insisting that they use recycled trains from other lines?

Mr McLoughlin: The date of the new contract for East Midlands will be mid-way through 2017, and a direct-operated tender deal will come to fruition in 2015. I hope my hon. Friend accepts that the fact that electrification of that line is included in next set of Network Rail works shows our commitment to it. I know how important—

Maria Eagle: In the next Parliament.

Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Lady says that, but the process starts in 2014, which is in this Parliament. I can assure her that 2014 will be in this Parliament, not the next Parliament, in which case we will be electrifying that line.

Mr Speaker: Before she attends to her next pressing commitment, let us hear from Catherine McKinnell.

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I agree with the Secretary of State that if our country is to compete on jobs and growth, we need a transport infrastructure that is second to none. Can he therefore reassure me that today’s announcement is in no way driven by the view expressed by the chief executive of the North Eastern local enterprise partnership that there is no need to invest in north-east transport, and that he does not share that view?

Mr McLoughlin: There is every need to invest in transport across the United Kingdom, and LEPs have a very important role to play. I have not seen the exact quote, and I should like to see it in context.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on today’s statement, particularly the great news about Ilkeston station, which will immediately transform and regenerate the area by providing connectivity. Is this the new dawn for the National Forest line—the old Ivanhoe line; can we look forward to that, too?

Mr McLoughlin: I am sure I will hear a lot more about the Ivanhoe line from my hon. Friend. I am pleased that she welcomes the opening of the station at Ilkeston, along with the other two stations I have announced today. There will be further work on that, but she is right: the fact that I, as Transport Secretary, have appeared at the Dispatch Box today is a reflection of Members wanting more services. That is why it is so important that we get the investment levels right and the train companies operating the kind of services passengers want.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Can the Secretary of State confirm that the open access slot on the east coast main line will still be available to services such as Hull Trains and will not be rolled up in any franchise tender document?

Mr McLoughlin: Yes.

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Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Wiltshire’s passenger rail offer stands to benefit from a multi-million pound grant from the coalition Government’s local sustainable transport fund. Now that the future of the franchise is clear, what is the Secretary of State’s advice to the promoter, Wiltshire council, and to First Great Western? Is it more “wait and see”, or that they should now get on with it?

Mr McLoughlin: I think I would need a bit more notice before answering that question. If my hon. Friend writes to me, I will look at the issues in more detail. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), says, “Just get on with it.”

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Thameslink and Southern Railway recently announced new rolling stock to operate from the four stations within my constituency. Can he assure me that the changes to rail franchising announced today will not affect the delivery of that rolling stock?

Mr McLoughlin: It certainly should not affect the delivery of the new trains. I know of no reason why it should and if I am wrong, I will obviously write to my hon. Friend.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): Portsmouth’s experience of franchises awarded under the last Government was that the rolling stock was downgraded from the agreement. When will passenger comfort and service standards be written into the agreements, to ensure that passengers have access to a toilet and that commuters are not crippled by suburban rolling stock being used on main line routes?

Mr McLoughlin: I am very disturbed to hear what my hon. Friend says, and I will certainly look into her points and get back to her in more detail in the very near future.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): There have been massive improvements on the west coast main line since privatisation and Virgin, but one way to improve things in the future—to continue improving competition and to keep down costs—would be by encouraging more operators to enter the market. Is there anything in my right hon. Friend’s statement that would encourage open access operators to come in on more existing services?

Mr McLoughlin: There are some open access services, to which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) referred, on the east coast main line. I believe that applications for other open access services are with the Office of the Rail Regulator at the moment. I am happy to look at those and act on advice when I get it from the rail regulator.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Rail users in Rugby will welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement about the Virgin franchise being extended on the west coast main line. Will he reassure my constituents that an extra 29 months will be enough to encourage Virgin to continue to invest in the railway?

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Mr McLoughlin: I know that Virgin is keen to continue with investments on that line and is happy to receive representations, both from my hon. Friend and from me, if good cases are made for investment that has a positive return.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. May I also thank him for reducing train fares in the south-east by reducing the retail prices index plus 3% provision to RPI plus 1%? Under the previous Government, Southeastern had RPI plus 3% whereas the rest of the country had RPI plus 1%, and that was exceptionally unfair.

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. The truth is that we are putting massive further investment into the railways. That has to be paid for by both the fare payer and the taxpayer, but it is right that we try to get that balance right. I am pleased that the Chancellor was able to take the increases down to RPI plus 1%, not only for this year, but for next year.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his intent to put the interests of passengers at the heart of rail franchising. The best interests of rail passengers in my constituency would be served by the reinstatement of fast off-peak services to Nuneaton, which were taken away by the previous Labour Government in 2008. Will he come to Nuneaton and meet me to discuss this vital issue at greater length?

Mr McLoughlin: I am certainly more than happy to meet my hon. Friend at Nuneaton station. I believe that a date is going in my diary this afternoon—if it was not already, it will be now.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Suffolk commuters will be disappointed by the delay, although they are used to it as passengers, even though things have improved under Abellio. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that this will not deter or delay the needed investment in the freight line from Felixstowe to Nuneaton?

Mr McLoughlin: The announcements I have made today will have nothing to do with the freight line. Again, I make the point to my hon. Friend that we are seeing not only an increase in passenger numbers, but a huge increase in the amount of freight using our railways—I believe that the figure is about 60%. I know that most colleagues and the general public welcome that very much.

Mr Speaker: Order. Questions from 34 Back Benchers were answered by the Secretary of State in 25 minutes of exclusively Back-Bench time, which is an impressive record. Might I suggest that rather than sending his ministerial colleagues an Easter egg, the Secretary of State should send a DVD of the statement and the exchanges on it, which will be a great example for them to follow in the future?

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): On a point of order—

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Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman wants to raise a point of order, but I am afraid that he will have to be patient. There is another statement, and statements come before points of order, as the hon. Gentleman, having been here 11 years, should know.

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UK Border Agency

2.3 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I think the words “follow that one” come to mind, Mr Speaker.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the future of the UK Border Agency. Since 2010, the Government have been getting to grips with the chaotic immigration system we inherited. We have introduced a limit on economic migration from outside the EU, cut out abuse of student visas and reformed family visas—as a result, net migration is down by a third. We have also started to get to grips with the performance of the organisations that enforce our immigration laws: through the Crime and Courts Bill, we are setting up a National Crime Agency with a border policing command; the UK Passport Service continues to operate to a high standard; and since we split the Border Force from UKBA last year, 98% of passengers go through passport control within target times and Border Force meets all its passenger service targets.

However, the performance of what remains of UKBA is still not good enough. The agency struggles with the volume of its casework, which has led to historical backlogs running into the hundreds of thousands; the number of illegal immigrants removed does not keep up with the number of people who are here illegally; and while the visa operation is internationally competitive, it could and should get better still. The Select Committee on Home Affairs has published many critical reports about UKBA’s performance. As I have said to the House before, the agency has been a troubled organisation since it was formed in 2008, and its performance is not good enough.

In truth, the agency was not set up to absorb the level of mass immigration that we saw under the last Government. That meant that it has never had the space to modernise its structures and systems, and get on top of its work load. I believe that the agency’s problems boil down to four main issues: the first is the sheer size of the agency, which means that it has conflicting cultures and all too often focuses on the crisis in hand at the expense of other important work; the second is its lack of transparency and accountability; the third is its inadequate IT systems; and the fourth is the policy and legal framework within which it has to operate. I want to update the House on the ways in which I propose to address each of those difficulties.

In keeping with the changes we made last year to the UK Border Force, the Government are splitting up the UK Border Agency. In its place will be an immigration and visa service, and an immigration law enforcement organisation. By creating two entities instead of one, we will be able to create distinct cultures. The first will be a high-volume service that makes high-quality decisions about who comes here, with a culture of customer satisfaction for business men and visitors who want to come here legally. The second will be an organisation that has law enforcement at its heart and gets tough on those who break our immigration laws.

Two smaller entities will also mean greater transparency and accountability, and that brings me to the second change I intend to make. UKBA was given agency status in order to keep its work at an arm’s length from

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Ministers—that was wrong. It created a closed, secretive and defensive culture. So I can tell the House that the new entities will not have agency status and will sit in the Home Office, reporting to Ministers. In making these changes it is important that we do not create new silos. That is why we are creating a strategic oversight board for all the constituent parts of the immigration system—immigration policy, the UK Passport Service, the UK Border Force and the two new entities we are creating. That oversight board will be chaired by the Home Office permanent secretary.

We will also work to make sure that each of the organisations in the immigration system shares services, including IT, because the third of the agency’s problems is its IT. UKBA’s IT systems are often incompatible and are not reliable enough. They require manual data entry instead of automated data collection, and they often involve paper files instead of modem electronic case management. So I have asked the permanent secretary and Home Office board to produce a new plan, building on the work done by Rob Whiteman, UKBA’s chief executive, to modernise IT across the whole immigration system.

The final problem I raised is the policy and legal framework within which UKBA has operated. The agency is often caught up in a vicious cycle of complex law and poor enforcement of its own policies, which makes it harder to remove people who are here illegally. That is why I intend to bring forward an immigration Bill in the next Session of Parliament that will address some of these problems.

The changes I have announced today are in keeping with the successes of this Government’s reforms so far. We are reducing net migration and we are improving the performance of the organisations that enforce our laws, but UKBA has been a troubled organisation for so many years. It has poor IT systems, and it operates within a complicated legal framework that often works against it. All those things mean that it will take many years to clear the backlogs and fix the system, but I believe the changes I have announced today will put us in a much stronger position to do so. I commend this statement to the House.

2.9 pm

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): Today we have had a statement made rather in haste by the Home Secretary after yesterday’s major speech from the Prime Minister barely mentioned these reforms. Only after the Prime Minister’s speech was dismissed in the media as “smoke and mirrors”, as “unravelling” and as allowing “politics to trump policy” and only after yesterday’s damning report from the Home Affairs Committee on the effectiveness of the UK Border Agency has the Home Secretary suddenly decided to rush this statement out before the Easter recess.

The Home Secretary is right that action is needed to sort out problems at UKBA, which has had a series of problems over many years. We would have some sympathy with her proposals, but the problem is that she refuses to recognise that problems with enforcement and effectiveness at UKBA have got worse, not better on her watch. Enforcement has got worse, visa delays have got worse and 50% fewer people are being refused entry at ports and borders. She says that the number of illegal immigrants removed does not keep up with the number

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who are here illegally, but that is because she is letting rather more of them in. The number of people absconding through Heathrow passport control has trebled and the number being caught afterwards has halved on her watch.

We have had a 16% drop in the number of foreign prisoners deported, we have had a big drop in the number of employers being fined for employing illegal workers, and what is her remedy today? She plans to split UKBA into two different organisations. We have been here before. She has already split UKBA once: just 12 months ago she split it into the Border Agency and the Border Force and made a lot of promises. The Minister for Immigration would like us to believe that it has all gone hunky dory and that things are much better since then, but what has happened since last year’s split? Queues at the borders went up and the Border Force presided over some of the longest queues our airports have seen, with people waiting more than two hours to get their passports checked.

Things got worse at the Border Agency, too. The Select Committee’s report showed a 20% increase in the backlog of asylum cases in three months, a 53% increase in number of asylum cases waiting more than six months compared with the previous year, an increase in delays for tier 1 and tier 4 in-country visa applications compared with the previous three months and 59,000 cases not even entered on the database. As the Committee said, 28,000 visa applications were not processed on time in one three-month period—that is two thirds of visa applications not processed on time. In the words of the Committee:

“The Agency must explain to Parliament what has gone wrong throughout 2012”.

The Home Secretary’s reforms and her cuts are what have gone wrong throughout 2012, so why should we believe that the latest round of reforms will do any better?

The Home Secretary has cut UKBA’s budget by 34% since the election, so little wonder it is struggling to keep up. Will she answer the following questions? When will the reforms be completed and how much they will cost? Her last reforms to split the Border Force and the Border Agency cost money rather than saving money. How many more illegal migrants will be deported as a result of the reforms? The figure has dropped by 20% since the election. How much will it increase by as a result of the reforms? How long will legitimate migrants have to wait for their visas? Will those delays be cut or will they increase? How long will the waits on asylum claims be? There was a 50% increase in long waits last year. What will she get that down to? These are the practical questions to which we want answers.

So far under this Home Secretary, the only strategy we have had for border control has been cuts and cuts, splits and splits. But performance has got worse. When she was in opposition, she said to a former Immigration Minister:

“I’m sick and tired of government ministers…who simply blame other people when things go wrong.”

So, will she recognise the things that have gone wrong since the election on her watch and give us practical information about and targets for putting them right and tell us what the improvements in performance will be?

We have had a lot of rhetoric on immigration from the Home Secretary but—this is really important—we need her to get the basics right and to do it now.

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Mrs May: I am afraid to say that, yet again, we received a characteristic response from the shadow Home Secretary. We still have not had an apology for Labour’s mass uncontrolled immigration, and we have had no apology today for the state in which the previous Labour Government created and then left the Border Agency.

I can reveal to the House today, however, that the shadow Home Secretary now has an immigration policy. In a recent article for PoliticsHome, she said:

“We need much stronger action against illegal immigration to be a priority.”

I am sure that everyone in the House would agree, but how does the shadow Home Secretary propose to get there? We need, she said, a “taskforce”. So, that is it. That is how the Opposition think that we will get control of our immigration system: the classic new Labour solution of a taskforce.

After all the comments the right hon. Lady made, let us remember who we have to thank for the structure that is being dealt with today. The plans to create UKBA were set out in a paper published by the Cabinet Office in November 2007. Who was the Minister for the Cabinet Office at the time? None other than her boss, the Leader of the Opposition.

The right hon. Lady cited a number of figures and raised a range of issues. She referred to the fact that, to use her terms, two thirds of visas were not processed on time. I have news for her: more than 90% of visas are processed within the performance target time. She referred to clearing up the backlogs, which originated with the Government of whom she was a member. I will respond to the point, nevertheless. The structural changes that we are making today will make for better-run organisations with greater clarity and greater focus, with more transparency, more accountability and stronger management. That, as we have seen with the Border Force, will deliver better performance; but it is not the only answer, which is why I have also referred to the need for us to change the law, deal with the IT systems and improve the processes in the organisation. It will take time, but today’s announcements are an important start.

The right hon. Lady made a number of references to the Border Force and its performance. Until I took the Border Force out of UKBA last year, it was not possible to tell what its performance was. The Vine report, published last year, showed that checks were being suspended routinely and without permission for many years. That is no longer the case, thanks to the changes that I made.

The right hon. Lady cited numerous statistics about the performance of the Border Agency, but I suggest that she should have listened to my statement. I know that the performance of the Border Agency is not good enough. It never has been. That is why we are making the changes that I have announced today. The question for the right hon. Lady is whether or not she supports those changes.

The right hon. Lady asked when the changes will be made. The agency status will be removed at the beginning of April, and I shall return to the House with a further statement on the detail of the structural changes in due course. She said that there had been no reference until today to the possibility of changes to UKBA, but that is not right. If she had paid attention during Home Office questions yesterday, she would have heard my hon.

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Friend the Minister for Immigration refer to the fact that I would bring forward proposals. The Prime Minister also referred to that fact in his excellent speech on immigration yesterday.

The right hon. Lady suggested that I have made this statement only in response to the report from the Home Affairs Committee that was published yesterday, but the decision has been taken after many hours of serious work over many months. If I restructured UKBA every time the Select Committee criticised it, I would have restructured it on more than one occasion. [Hon. Members: “Quarterly.”] My hon. Friends are suggesting that we would have done so quarterly, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who is a member of that Committee and knows that the restructurings would have been rather more numerous than the one that I am suggesting today.

We must remember why the Border Agency got into this situation. After the mess that the previous Government made of the immigration system, John Reid turned up at the Home Office, called the immigration system not fit for purpose and, instead of fixing it, turned it into an agency at arm’s length to keep all the trouble away from Ministers. That was a soundbite with no substance; but under the right hon. Lady, the Labour party is regressing, as she does not even have a soundbite. The Government have a very clear plan to get net migration down to the tens of thousands and to sort out the enforcement of our immigration laws. The Opposition have nothing. She is not serious; they are not serious; and the British people know that they cannot trust Labour with immigration.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I remind the House that, notwithstanding the notable interest in this statement, it is to be followed by three debates, to which no fewer than 48 hon. and right hon. Members wish to contribute, so there is a premium on brevity.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I hope that my right hon. Friend will take absolutely no advice from the Labour party, which delivered massive net immigration and an asylum backlog of 450,000 and put in no transitional arrangements for eastern Europeans when it was in office. I congratulate her on applying common sense by taking back responsibility at ministerial level for the security of this country’s borders. Can she confirm that placing the new bodies that she has announced today under the direct supervision of Ministers will ensure the maximum scrutiny of the work that they do?

Mrs May: I thank my right hon. Friend for her remarks. I can indeed confirm that we will be increasing scrutiny of the work that is done in relation to the immigration and visa system and immigration enforcement by bringing it into the Home Office, under a board chaired by the permanent secretary and reporting to Ministers. It is common sense and the right approach to deal with the problem caused by the creation of the agency under the previous Government.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): May I congratulate the Home Secretary on putting the United Kingdom backlogs agency out of its misery by delivering this lethal injection today? May I join her in paying tribute to colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee, especially

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my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), for their work over the years in exposing the agency’s shortcomings? I put this option to the Minister for Immigration yesterday and he said that he would reflect on it, so coming back in 24 hours is quite an achievement. Will the Home Secretary give the House an assurance that uppermost in her mind will be the clearing of backlogs, strong and effective leadership and strong parliamentary scrutiny? Only then will we have an immigration system in which the British people can have confidence.

Mrs May: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. As I said, the Home Affairs Committee has been assiduous in its consideration of matters relating to UKBA over the years and has had a consistent message about the need to deal with some of the problems. It is obviously important that we deal with backlogs. It is also important that we ensure that the agency makes the right decisions on an ongoing, day-to-day basis, that those decisions are made not just appropriately but fairly and that people are dealt with properly when they interact with the agency. That will take some time. I think that we share an aim about the quality of system provided, but it will take some time to ensure that we fix all the problems UKBA is having to deal with.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Will she say something about the staff, from Mr Whiteman, whom the Home Affairs Committee will see at 3 o’clock to discuss his terms and role, to staff across the agency? We have recently returned from Abu Dhabi, where they seem to have turned around the visa processing unit. I think that there are really good people in UKBA who just need to be better led.

Mrs May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue, because it gives me an opportunity to say that many people working for UKBA are dedicated officers who do an excellent job. Certainly, in some of the examples that he and other members of the Home Affairs Committee will have seen, such as the overseas operations, real change has been brought about. The work of the vast majority of staff in the areas of enforcement or the immigration and visa system will not change, but there will of course be change for the directors general heading up those two operations. Obviously, those are personnel matters on which the permanent secretary will make announcements in due course.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I welcome the Home Secretary’s decision to take the agency back into the Home Office, which I think is the right one. Which of the new units will inherit responsibility for dealing with the backlogs, and how will she ensure that this does not become yet another opportunity to loose case files, passports and other documents in the ritual buck passing with which we have all become too familiar?

Mrs May: The differentiation between the two units will be clear: the immigration and visa section will deal with decisions on whether people should be entitled to enter or remain in the UK; and at the point at which those cases are closed and people need to be removed, cases pass to the enforcement part of the operation. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments on bringing

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the agency back into the Home Office—I suggest that he has more of a policy on the issue than Labour Front Benchers. We are very conscious that it is important to work out that separation, which is why I think that this clear-cut separation will help us to ensure that we do not see the sort of losses of files, passports and so forth that we have seen previously, so we have to look at the processes, too.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): It will be a pleasure for the Home Affairs Committee no longer to have to report quarterly on ongoing problems within UKBA. I congratulate the Home Secretary on her decisive action. For too long the agency has stood in the way of a coherent, fair and credible immigration policy. My concern is that in 2006 the immigration and nationality directorate was spun out of the Home Office because it was not fit for purpose, had a vast backlog and was poorly led. We now have an agency that is still not fit for purpose, still has a vast backlog and still has leadership problems. How can she be so sure that it will work this time?

Mrs May: We have spent considerable time looking at what the right structure is for the agency. We have had the experience of working with the Border Force. If we look at its operation today, we see that it is in a different place from where it was previously. That experience has shown that if we can create a smaller entity that has a clearer management and focus on its activities, we can make progress, and that is exactly what we are doing by splitting the agency in this way.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): Is it not true that part of the problem is that ministerial attention has been diverted to policy stunts prepared for prime ministerial statements and speeches? Can the Home Secretary confirm that ministerial attention has recently been focused on discussions in the inter-ministerial group on barring migrant children from compulsory education? The Department for Education then intervened and the children’s rights adviser said:

“If we were to withdraw the right of education from any children in the UK, regardless of their status, we would be hugely criticised for it by the UN. With the periodic review report due to be submitted in January 2014, this would be very controversial.”

Can the Home Secretary confirm that statement?

Mrs May: We have been looking at public services across the board in relation to what we describe as the pull factors. We have focused on housing, health and the benefits system. We do not propose not having the provision of education for individual children, but the hon. Gentleman’s opening remark, which was that policy changes were about publicity stunts, is far from the truth. We have been sorting out a chaotic immigration system and immigration policy introduced by the previous Government that led to net migration in this country reaching hundreds of thousands a year. We aim to bring it down to tens of thousands. We have already seen net migration cut by a third. That is not a publicity stunt; it is a real benefit and a policy that the people of this country want to see.

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): I very much welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Does she agree that one of UKBA’s main problems,

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apart from the inability to manage its data or communicate it correctly to the Home Affairs Committee, has been an identity crisis? It has tried to be an enforcement agency that pursues criminal investigations, but it has also tried to convey the message that Britain is open for business by offering a friendly customer service. Can she assure us that the new structure will fix that problem?

Mrs May: The aim of the new structure is that the two parts of the Home Office that will be dealing with these two areas of immigration policy will be focused more clearly on the roles within each part. The immigration and visa section will be focused clearly on giving an efficient and effective service on immigration and visa decisions, making the right decisions about who should be able to enter the country, but doing so in a way that gives individuals good customer service. The enforcement section will be able to focus clearly on the enforcement part. We are doing that precisely to get the focus my hon. Friend wants.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): From time to time, high-tech employers in my constituency ask for help with getting visas or work permits for highly skilled workers whom they desperately need for their businesses. If, in future, such workers do not have access to NHS care, there will be an increased cost either on the employer or the employee. Will the Government be reducing national insurance contributions for employers and employees in respect of those workers?

Mr Speaker: It is very hard to see the link with UKBA —[Interruption.] Well, it is a slightly strained connection, but we shall see, if the Home Secretary wants to give a brief reply.

Mrs May: It is a very strained connection. I understand that a similar point was raised in the urgent question yesterday and was responded to.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the immigration Bill that the Government will introduce in the next Session will seek to ensure that those who have no right to be within the jurisdiction are removed from it? Does she not think it a pity that the shadow Home Secretary does not have the same perspicacity as the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee?

Mrs May: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend’s latter point. Yes, the immigration Bill that I intend to introduce will look at a range of problems to do with deportation to ensure that we can remove from this country people who have no right to be here.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The Home Secretary alluded to the setting up of the National Crime Agency with the border police command. Will she reassure the House that there will be ongoing discussions to try to ensure that the entirety of the United Kingdom is safeguarded, particularly the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic?

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Mrs May: I recognise, Mr Speaker, that my referring to the National Crime Agency opened up the possibility for the hon. Gentleman’s question. I am well aware of the operation of the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that the agency is able to do the job that it needs to do across the United Kingdom, and we are happy to continue discussions with those who share the same aim.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): I congratulate the Home Secretary on her statement. Should not UKBA now join the long list of Labour’s immigration failures, including the Human Rights Act 1998, an immigration backlog of 450,000, out-of-control and increasing net immigration and a total lack of control of eastern European immigration?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend makes very good points. It is precisely because of the difficulty that Opposition Front Benchers have in defending their poor record on immigration that we hear them trying to go on the party political attack rather than accepting the necessary decisions to deal with our immigration system.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Home Secretary confirm her estimates of the cost of her reorganisation and whether it will be met from existing budgets?

Mrs May: I can assure the hon. Lady that any costs incurred in reorganisation will be met from existing budgets.

Mr Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that until the shadow Home Secretary apologises for Labour’s shambolic immigration policy when in government, anything that she or her party says on immigration lacks any credibility whatsoever?

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is always a most courteous Member, but his question suffers from the notable disadvantage that the Home Secretary has absolutely no responsibility for the matter in question. She is responsible for the Government’s policy but does not have any responsibility for the policy of the Opposition.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): As the Home Secretary’s colleague, the Minister for Immigration, knows, I have been dealing with the case of Gordon Murray, a local councillor and college lecturer from Stornoway, who is trying to get his pregnant Chinese wife and unborn child from China to the Hebrides before she is unable to fly. The Minister has been very helpful—Gordon Murray and I are grateful for that—but he was bequeathed a system that is excessively bureaucratic and intimidatory and, in this case, is still cruelly dividing this family. Can we have, as Mr Murray has asked, a system that puts people’s needs at the centre rather than numbers and quotas?

Mrs May: I understand that, as the hon. Gentleman said, my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration has been dealing with this case. I want the immigration and visa part of the Home Office, as it will now become,

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to focus on customer service, but, of course, against the background of making the right decisions for individuals who apply to come to the UK.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): Many of my constituents work at the UK Border Agency in Leeds, as do many other people across Leeds. Will the Home Secretary reiterate what these changes mean to the people who work there? Will she comment on how they will be able to do their job more effectively and get the results that they strive to achieve?

Mrs May: We do not intend that as a result of these changes there will be changes to any of the UKBA’s current sites. Most people will continue to do the job that they have been doing. As I have said, many staff are doing that assiduously and with the right commitment. It should be easier for them to do their job in the future because that part of the organisation, when within the Home Office, will have a much clearer focus but will also be making decisions that will enable us to improve the IT system and the processes within the organisation.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): The Home Affairs Committee discovered a backlog of some 33,000 legacy asylum cases and found that 59,000 cases have not even been entered on to the computer system. Is not one of the major reasons for that the loss of staff and resources presided over by the Home Secretary since mid-2010? Will she pledge not to be so comprehensively out-manoeuvred by the Chancellor in the next spending review as she so clearly was in the previous one?

Mrs May: When the hon. Gentleman is thinking about figures he should remember that the Government inherited a backlog of half a million asylum cases. The Government have cleared that backlog.

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Although we always find that we get great personal service from individual members of UKBA, she knows, because I have raised it with her before, that many people in my central London constituency find themselves frustrated by some of the current arrangements. Can she assure me that the new arrangements will make it easier for some high-performing people to get their visas more quickly and thus send a keen pro-business message?

Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for raising that in the House, as she has done with me directly. We certainly intend to ensure that the service provides a premium service for business people and others who may need to come here on a faster basis. Indeed, we are setting up in India the first super-premium service, which will provide a 24-hour visa service for individuals who need it.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. One of the biggest complaints in my office about the UK Border Agency is the processing of visas and passports, which often takes up to 12 months.

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Staff are always helpful, and we appreciate that, but what assurance can she give to my constituents, who are totally frustrated with the delays that they face?

Mrs May: I am very conscious that this is one of the issues that we have needed to address in relation to the processing of applications. Particular concerns have been raised with us about the length of time that it has been taking to process business applications for tier 2 workers to come to the UK. That is currently being dealt with inside UKBA. I believe that having a clearer focus on that part of the business, but also working overtime to improve the IT systems and processes within it, will lead to the sort of outcome to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Given that most asylum seekers come to our shores via other nations, what happened to the previous convention of returning these people to the last safe country from which they came? If that has lapsed, can we bring it back through the immigration Bill that the Home Secretary has promised?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend refers to the Dublin regulation, which does indeed enable a country to return an asylum seeker to the first country in the European Union that they entered. We are still able to do that, with the exception of one country—Greece—and we do.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): We all see in our surgeries lots of cases—sometimes dozens or hundreds of cases—of bona fide applicants who are waiting months and months, sometimes years and years, beyond the guidelines to get their applications dealt with. Can the Home Secretary assure us that the changes will lead to improvements in the near future for these people? We do not want this reorganisation merely to lead to more interim delay while it is put into effect.

Mrs May: I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point about ensuring that the reorganisation does not lead to further problems in the short term. Like the longer-term changes to IT systems and processes, it is intended to try to deal with precisely some of the problems that he identified regarding the length of time taken to make decisions.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the new system will quickly implement judicial decisions to deport foreign criminals back to their countries?

Mrs May: A number of problems are encountered when trying to deport foreign national prisoners back to their country of origin. The new enforcement command in the Home Office will be able to put greater focus and emphasis on the removal of those who no longer have a right to be here and the deportation of foreign national offenders who should be removed. There are other issues in such cases and those will be dealt with in the immigration Bill that I intend to bring forward.

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Points of Order

2.39 pm

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for standing pre-emptively earlier on. I was so excited by the number of statements and was wondering where the missing one was. Ash dieback is the biggest tree disease to hit this country since Dutch elm, and it has spread to 427 sites around the UK. We welcome today’s publication of the Chalara management plan, but it is available only on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website. The Government have briefed the press about the publication of the plan but have not informed the House about it, despite undertaking to present it to the House. I ask for your advice once again, Mr Speaker, on how the House can hold the Executive to account when they fail to deliver on what they have promised, which on this occasion was to bring the Chalara management plan that deals with ash dieback to the House for its consideration? Instead, it is only out there for the press and on the DEFRA website.

Mr Speaker: I am sorry to learn of what the hon. Gentleman has described in his point of order. What I would say to him is twofold. First, the Deputy Leader of the House is present on the Treasury Bench and will have heard the point that he has made. Secondly, there will be an opportunity in the upcoming general debate before the Adjournment for Members to raise this matter if they so wish. No other obvious remedies are available today, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to have recourse to the Order Paper via the Table Office, I feel sure that he will do so.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I tabled a round robin question on 4 December last year asking how many computers, mobile telephones, BlackBerrys and other pieces of IT equipment had been lost or stolen in 2010-11 and 2011-12. I have received answers from every Department apart from the Cabinet Office. It was due to answer on 6 December. I chased an answer on 16 January and expected an answer on 21 January. I raised the matter at business questions on 7 February and the Leader of the House very kindly promised to endeavour to get me an answer. I still have not received an answer. What other options are available to me to try to hold this overbearing Executive to account?

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Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has just deployed one of the options, which is to air the matter on the Floor of the House in the presence and earshot of the Deputy Leader of the House. He has described a regrettable sequence of events. He and other Members know that, from the Chair, I attach great importance to timely and substantive replies to questions to Ministers. In this case, such a reply has clearly not been forthcoming. I hope that that point will speedily be communicated to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr Maude). He or a member of his team should furnish the hon. Gentleman with the information that is required sooner rather than later.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the third point of order about Members trying to bring the Executive to account. There were stories in this morning’s paper that, contrary to the coalition agreement, large subsidies will be paid to the nuclear industry. There is a motion after the ten-minute rule Bill entitled “Financial Assistance to Industry” on which there can be no debate. On making inquiries, I found out that the matter was discussed upstairs. The information available to me is only that the sum is up to £20 million. I can find no details on whether that money will go to the nuclear industry. Is it appropriate that this matter should come before us if it is not possible for Members to discover what precisely it is about or to air our objection that it is anti-democratic and contrary to the coalition agreement?

Mr Speaker: During the next 10 minutes while the ten-minute rule motion is discussed, the hon. Gentleman may wish to avail himself of the opportunity to read the verbatim text of the debate on that matter in Standing Committee. If that does not satisfy him—I am not an optimist in these matters so far as the hon. Gentleman is concerned—he may wish to return to the matter. Whether it was a Standing Committee of which one needed to be a member to contribute, I do not know. If he was not a member of the Committee, I am saddened for him. I cannot offer any compensation for him today, but knowing the hon. Gentleman, he will return to this matter just as predictably as a dog to his bone. We will hear from him on these matters ere long. I know that that is not satisfactory, but that is the best that I can offer him on this, the last day before the Easter recess. If there are no further points of order, we come now to the ten-minute rule motion. This is the hon. Gentleman’s opportunity to do his reading.

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UK Elected Representatives (Disclosure of Party Membership)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

2.44 pm

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require individuals standing for elected office in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to declare any political party of which they are a member when registering to stand; and for connected purposes.

The purpose of the Bill is simple. If enacted, it would mean that citizens who stand for elected office in the United Kingdom, whether in the European Parliament, the House of Commons, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament or a county, district, town or community council, would have to declare any registered political party membership that they hold at the time that they submit their nomination papers.

The Bill would apply to all of us. Those like myself and the many hon. Members in the Chamber today who are open about their political party membership will have no problem with the Bill. It will confirm to electors what they already know about us as candidates. Those who are genuinely independent of party membership, such as yourself, Mr Speaker, will equally have no problem with the Bill, because they too will be declaring what the public already know. The Bill is aimed at greater transparency for those who stand under the banner of an independent, but who are allied to a political party to the extent that they are a member of it.

The genesis of the Bill goes back some time. When I was first elected to my local council—amazingly, it was 30 years ago in May—I noticed that a genial independent councillor who was elected in a very Tory ward always voted and spoke with Labour. When I asked him about it, he confessed that he was a member of the Labour party, but that he stood as an independent as he would

“never have been elected as Labour”.

I did not think that that was fair then and I do not think that it is fair now. Democracy is surely about people knowing what they are voting for, as far as is practicable.

My interest in this issue was rekindled last year during the police and crime commissioner elections, particularly in my area of north Wales. A number of candidates stood for the post, including Labour, Conservative, UK Independence party and independent candidates. One of the independent candidates for the post was Winston Roddick QC. He was the successful candidate and is now operating as the police commissioner for north Wales. May I say at this point that I wish him well in that post and hope that he does a good job? My concerns are solely about transparency in the election.

I knew of Mr Roddick before he became an independent candidate. He was a well respected senior civil servant in the Welsh Assembly and had twice been a Liberal parliamentary candidate. He was and still is a member of the Liberal Democrats, and yet he put himself forward under the banner of an independent before 500,000 voters in north Wales. That point was raised during the election, but it did not receive a high profile—nor, dare I say it, did the election itself. He received 25,175 votes on the first ballot on a turnout of less than 15% and 36,688 votes on the second and final ballot, and was elected.

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Interestingly, by comparison, the Liberal Democrats have never received more than 18,000 votes for the north Wales region in the four Assembly elections, which have had much bigger turnouts. Indeed, in 2011, they got just 11,000 votes on a 40% turnout, compared with Mr Roddick’s 25,000 votes when he stood as an independent. I contend, therefore, that not having a party label helped his cause. The feedback afterwards included a tweet from a constituent of mine, which said:

“I voted for Winston Roddick thinking he was independent and it now turns out he’s a liberal.”

In that case, the winner has said that he will not take the whip. However, my contention is that it is very strange and a little unnerving that a fully paid-up party member can stand as an independent without resigning their membership and not be open about the values that they hold. Mr Roddick says that he was open about his candidature. In that case, I hope that he will support the aims of the Bill.

What happened in north Wales is not unique. In the police and crime commissioner election in Devon and Cornwall, a former chairman of the Devon and Cornwall police authority and head of the Liberal Democrat group on the Association of Police Authorities stood as an independent. Again, there might be good reasons for that—dare I say it, but the public might not want to vote for a Liberal Democrat—but the point is that the individual was a member of the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, I checked the website today, and he is still the leader of the Liberal Democrats on his local council, having not stood as an independent in that election.

The situation in the City of London corporation is the same, with most current councillors sitting as independents, despite being members of political parties. Only last week, an election was held for it, and although some candidates stood with party labels, many stood as independents, even though they had party cards in their back pockets. One independent winner is an officeholder of the City of London Conservative association.

It could be worse. I do not think any of us would be comfortable with the idea of members of parties such as the British National party and others being able to stand as independents and have people vote for them as independents in good faith. In my own constituency in 2004, an individual was elected as an independent, but two years later, when the BNP’s membership was leaked, it turned out that he was a member. I am sure that the voters who put faith in him then might not have done so had they known his party allegiance. Across the country there will very shortly be elections where people will be standing as party members, but also as independents, and it is important that we have clarity and transparency on those issues.

For those who worry about the potential infringement of civil liberties, let me be clear about what the Bill does not do. It does not prevent anyone from standing for election or from calling themselves an independent. It does not even prevent people from standing as independent despite being party members. It will, however, inject transparency into the system, so that no one can ever stand again as an independent, be in a party and not declare it. There is nothing wrong with being an independent councillor or MP. It is not my choice, but there is nothing wrong with it. It is deeply worrying, however, that people can stand as independent, despite having a party membership card in their back pocket. It presents

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a real problem for our democracy, because the values that influence parties might well influence the electorate, and if those values are hidden, the electorate might vote blind on those issues.

I have raised this issue with the Government and had hoped for a positive response. Sadly, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith),has confirmed:

“The Government has no plans to require those wishing to stand as independent candidates to disclose any political party membership they might hold at the time of nomination. It is for prospective candidates to decide whether they wish to stand independently or on behalf of a registered political party.”—[Official Report, 21 November 2012; Vol. 553, c. 498W.]

That is a shame, but I hope that the Bill will be the start of a process that will shed light on this issue and allow the Government to come to a conclusion whereby independents will have to declare party membership if they hold it.

My proposal would add transparency to our democracy and help ensure the public have the information they need to make an informed choice. It will not add undue stress or expense to the election procedure and could be done simply, without the need for a particularly big shake-up of electoral procedures. This small bit of information could go someway to ensuring that voters get what they think they are voting for, rather than for what they are actually voting for without realising it. My proposal would add one small, but important, dimension to the system. It would require that if someone stands as an independent, or under any label, without declaring a party membership, action would need to be taken. I propose that the election be declared void, the member disqualified and a by-election called. I ask for no further penalty than that. I simply ask that those individuals have the opportunity to face the electorate under their true colours.

I believe that people should be public and proud about being members of the Labour party, and should not hide behind the banner of independence, if they hold a party membership. The Bill will provide some transparency. I am sure, as I have said, that there are examples across all parties, so I hope that this is not a party political point. I want transparency for all members. We should be proud of our democracy and how our elections operate. The suppression of such information is not good for our democratic system. I hope and believe that the House will share that view. I am pleased to have secured cross-party support from Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour Members, and I hope that nobody has anything to fear by it. I commend the motion to the House.

2.54 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I had not intended to participate in this debate, but having heard the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), I am driven to speak against the motion. I seek not to divide the House, but to put down a marker that the Bill would not have unanimous support. It would be a regulatory Bill cutting across the tradition of independence, particularly in parish and town councils, where people should not have to declare their party allegiance. It is perfectly legitimate that somebody stands for election

26 Mar 2013 : Column 1516

to a parish or town council on the basis that they are independent, even if they are a member of a political party.

The Bill implies that people who belong to political parties belong only to one political party. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s argument, which he put forward strongly, about the Liberal Democrats being duplicitous—I have no quarrel with him on that—but let us think of students. You, Mr Speaker, were once a student. Many of them join three or more political parties at the freshers fare in order to see which has the most attractive membership. That is a perfectly legitimate objective for many people who join political parties. It would be very confusing to the electorate if one of those students was to declare that they were a member of four political parties. Where would that leave the electorate?

Having heard what the right hon. Gentleman said and having not intended to participate in the debate, all I can say is that I wish him well with the Bill, but I shall be opposing it in due course.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr David Hanson, Ian Lucas, John Cryer, Rosie Cooper, Wayne David, Angela Smith, Sir Bob Russell, Mr Philip Hollobone, Craig Whittaker, Mr Virendra Sharma, Andrew Gwynne and Karl Turner present the Bill.

Mr David Hanson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 3 May, and to be printed (Bill 155).

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order 118(6) and Order of 4 March),

Financial Assistance to Industry

That this House authorises the Secretary of State to undertake to pay, and to pay by way of financial assistance under section 8 of the Industrial Development Act 1982, in respect of the Start-Up Loans scheme, sums exceeding £10 million and up to a cumulative total of £15.5 million.—(Mr Swayne.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order 118(6),

Terms and Conditions of Employment

That the draft Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (Amendment) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 24 January, be approved.—(Mr Swayne.)

The House divided:

Ayes 224, Noes 128.

Division No. 200]


2.58 pm


Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Baron, Mr John

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Bruce, Fiona

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burstow, rh Paul

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Philip

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Hinds, Damian

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Leadsom, Andrea

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lord, Jonathan

Luff, Peter

Macleod, Mary

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newton, Sarah

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thornton, Mike

Tomlinson, Justin

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Robin

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wright, Jeremy

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Anne Milton


Mark Hunter


Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, Heidi

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bain, Mr William

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Dakin, Nic

Davidson, Mr Ian

Docherty, Thomas

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Doyle, Gemma

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Elliott, Julie

Engel, Natascha

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Jamieson, Cathy

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Keeley, Barbara

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Long, Naomi

Lucas, Caroline

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Malhotra, Seema

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Morris, Grahame M.


O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Roy, Mr Frank

Ruane, Chris

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Nick

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Twigg, Derek

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williamson, Chris

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wright, David

Tellers for the Noes:

Tom Blenkinsop


Alison McGovern

Question accordingly agreed to.

26 Mar 2013 : Column 1517

26 Mar 2013 : Column 1518

26 Mar 2013 : Column 1519

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Public Bodies

That the draft Public Bodies (The Office of Fair Trading Transfer of Consumer Advice Scheme Function and Modification on Enforcement Functions) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 12 December 2012, be approved.—(Mr Swayne.)

Question agreed to.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Has a Home Office Minister notified you that they intend to make a statement to the House this afternoon? It is being reported in the media that the Home Office has announced plans to change the rules on disclosure of criminal convictions, including removing the need to disclose adult cautions after six years and convictions after 11 years if the person has not been imprisoned. Given that this is an important matter, the House should be consulted on it, so could a Minister clarify the situation?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I thank the hon. Lady for that point of order. I have not been notified that a Home Office Minister or, indeed, any other Minister intends to make a statement to the House today. Should that alter, the House will be informed in the usual way.

26 Mar 2013 : Column 1520

Backbench Business

Flood Insurance

[Relevant document: Oral evidence from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, on Flood Funding, HC 970 i-iv.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Before I call Mr Dominic Raab to move the motion, I inform the House that he will be able to speak for up to 10 minutes with up to two interventions, and there will be a five-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions, with the usual two interventions.

3.12 pm

Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House notes the Environment Agency’s estimate that 570,000 properties in England and Wales are at significant risk of flooding; recognises the efforts of the insurance industry and past and present governments to reach agreement to ensure flood insurance will be made available to all homes and small businesses beyond June 2013; calls on the insurance industry to negotiate in good faith to conclude those arrangements; and further calls on the Government to acknowledge the need to provide some support for those arrangements and ensure that resilience and adaptation to flood risks and other natural hazards are amongst its highest environmental priorities.

May I first thank the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate and the sponsors of the motion, who represent four parties across the House?

Today’s debate comes just three months before the expiry of the statement of principles agreed by the previous Government with the Association of British Insurers. The statement governs the provision of insurance to properties that are at “significant risk” of flooding—that is, properties that have a one in 75 or greater chance of being flooded in any given year. With the deadline for agreement looming, Ministers and the ABI remain deadlocked in negotiations. The House will be only too aware that the consequences of failing to broker a deal would be devastating.

If we were to move to an entirely free market model it is estimated that 1,113 businesses and homes in my constituency alone would face dramatic hikes in their premiums or even a refusal to insure. Nationwide, 215,000 more homes would face annual insurance premiums of more than £750. For owners who could not obtain affordable insurance, the risks are worse still. With a typical flood causing between £20,000 and £40,000 of damage per property, many small businesses and families would face crushing costs. Meanwhile, the Council of Mortgage Lenders warns:

“Uncertainty about the future cost and availability of insurance may affect the ability to sell or obtain a mortgage on a property,”

affecting up to 83,000 homes. Home insurance premiums are already rising as insurers prepare for a worst-case scenario. Constituents in Thames Ditton in my constituency are already reporting steep rises.

We urgently need a new, sustainable, long-term agreement. As far as I am aware, the only proposal on the table is that from the ABI, namely its “Flood Re” insurance scheme.

26 Mar 2013 : Column 1521

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this very important subject. Does he agree that another factor to consider is the level of excesses that insurance companies charge? If they set the excess at £20,000, the family affected are, in effect, not insured.

Mr Raab: I thank my hon. Friend for his timely intervention and I think that he is on point. We need a comprehensive deal covering all aspects of the insurance premium.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Raab: I will not, because I need to make progress and, under the strictures of Mr Deputy Speaker, I will need to give way later.

The “Flood Re” insurance scheme would create a non-profit fund to ensure that cover is available for the 2% of homes that are at significant risk of flooding. Like the current system, the model would be based on cross-subsidisation. High-risk home owners would pay higher premiums, subject to a cap, and benefit from a subsidy levied on lower risk properties. Today that subsidy costs the average property owner about £8 a year—that is the proportion of the insurance premium that they pay. Under “Flood Re” that would rise by an estimated £1. Those owning a band A property at significant risk of flooding would see a 15% increase in their premium, rising to 43% for more expensive homes. The point of the scheme, therefore, is to cushion the most vulnerable. In return, the insurance industry wants the Government to strengthen flood defences, provide access to flood risk assessments and enforce planning regulation on floodplains more rigorously.

The parameters of a balanced deal are emerging. Ministers have, understandably, refused to sign any blank cheques, including for bankrolling “Flood Re” or for providing a temporary overdraft facility underwritten by the taxpayer. That would be difficult to justify at any time, but especially with our public finances under such acute strain.

Mr Smith: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I strongly support the motion and congratulate him on securing the debate. Is it not important to bear it in mind that the insurance companies do not have a completely free hand in this, because they are required by state regulators to secure reinsurance on the risk that they take on? Unless there is some Government participation to cap that risk, it will be impossible to get it at an affordable price and the disaster that our constituents are threatened with will happen.

Mr Raab: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He has touched on some of the technical aspects, to which I am sure the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), will respond. It is clear that the state needs to be involved in this. This cannot be left solely to a free market. Even a free-market MP like me would accept that.

It would be useful if Ministers could today explain their position on the gist of the “Flood Re” proposal, and any concerns they have now that the taxpayer is not

26 Mar 2013 : Column 1522

being asked to underwrite the overdraft facility. One key issue is the balance of contributions by those owning properties at higher risk and ordinary insurance holders. Have Ministers considered the composition of the board of governors of the fund, and in particular the number and character of members who are independent of both the Government and the industry? How will the Government retain control and accountability over future increases in either the levy or ordinary premiums? Both aspects are important; it is a question of balance.

The “Flood Re” scheme inevitably invites comparison with models used elsewhere. In the United States, the national flood insurance programme is not funded on the basis of cross-subsidisation, but as a result was left $17 billion in the red after Hurricane Katrina. “Flood Re” as a model would avoid a situation in which the British taxpayer covers all losses the market will not insure—the Dutch Government have such a commitment. The “Flood Re” model is somewhere between the US and Dutch models.

Alternative models have been proposed but are not in the negotiating mix between the ABI and the Government at this stage. One alternative presented by Marsh, the insurance broker, would involve mutualisation of 50% of flood claims among all home owners. That would pass back to home owners or the Government the risk of paying the remaining 50% of flood claims. What view have Ministers taken on that alternative?

More broadly, the negotiations on flood insurance shed broader light on the UK’s wider environmental policy. The risks of flooding, which is effectively what we are debating, prompt a simple question: have we got our environmental priorities right? Met Office data show that four of the five wettest years on record have occurred since 2000. The Government’s chief scientist has warned that

“in quite a short time scale…we are going to have more floods, we are going to have more sea surges and we are going to have more storms”.

Strengthening flood defences should therefore be a top priority—both in its own right as a matter of sound policy, but also to contain the rising insurance premiums that have prompted today’s debate—and yet environmental resilience has been relatively low down the pecking order of UK environmental policy for more than a decade. By way of illustration, the cost to businesses and consumers of the inefficient green subsidies to solar and onshore wind through the renewables obligation will be £2.6 billion this financial year. That is almost as much as DEFRA will spend on flooding and coastal defences over the entire five-year period of this Parliament. Those are skewed priorities. The Government ought to place greater emphasis on adapting to the reality of climate change—the environmental here and now—and spend less time speculating on technological winners that hike energy bills, particularly for the squeezed middle, without substantially decarbonising the UK economy.

That points to a more systemic, bureaucratic problem, namely the lack of policy coherence between the Department of Energy and Climate Change and DEFRA since they were separated in 2008 by the previous Government. Too often, DEFRA feels like DECC’s more realistic but poorer cousin, and yet DEFRA is left to pick up the pieces when an environmental crisis strikes. Have Ministers considered re-merging the two Departments? That would integrate policy and realise

26 Mar 2013 : Column 1523

at least £1 billion from cutting bureaucracy, which could be used to invest in flood defences as well as to pay off the deficit more quickly.

The state has a role to play in managing acute and severe risks such as flooding. We need the Government to provide the right framework to meet UK energy demands, especially through nuclear power and shale gas; to invest in flood and coastal defences; and to strike the right deal with industry, and soon, to protect small businesses and vulnerable homes from soaring insurance premiums. I commend the motion to the House.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I call Rosie Cooper and remind the House that there is a five-minute speech limit.

3.22 pm

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): I commend the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) and agree with most of his comments.

On 7 November 2012 at Prime Minister’s questions, I asked when West Lancashire constituents could expect the Government to introduce plans for a new deal on flood insurance—they had already missed the self-imposed July deadline. The Deputy Prime Minister replied:

“We are devoting a lot of attention to it, and I hope we will be able to make an announcement in the not-too-distant future.”—[Official Report, 7 November 2012; Vol. 552, c. 859.]

Four months have passed, yet there is no deal and no sign of one.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): As I understand it, we will need primary legislation to introduce the new scheme. It is very late in the day—it is already nearly April—and I wonder whether the scheme will be ready in July and whether something will be in place this summer to replace the statement of principles.

Rosie Cooper: I hope the Minister can give us reassurances on that towards the end of the debate.

As 30 June fast approaches, the people of West Lancashire are less and less assured of the Government’s ability to protect their homes and businesses. From the insurance companies’ point of view, it is not surprising that a deal is yet to be reached. They are faced with an increasing incidence of extreme weather conditions, a greater frequency of flooding, and more homes and businesses being hit. Residents are looking to a future of potentially massively increased insurance premiums that many will be unable to afford, assuming they can get insurance policy cover in the first place. In any case, they will be left at the mercy of mother nature, waiting in fear of the next time devastation is wrought on their home.

Securing what will be a short-term deal on flood insurance is not a solution to all our problems. Fixing the insurance problem is inextricably linked to fixing the underlying flooding issue. For that to happen, we need to have a change in culture in tackling flooding issues.

At the local level, the flooding response co-ordination is shambolic. There is no single agency responsible for actually tackling flooding when it hits. There is no

26 Mar 2013 : Column 1524

leadership. In my area, Lancashire county council does not even attend meetings when it is asked to attend, abdicating all responsibility for what is going on. When West Lancashire was hit by flooding on several occasions at the end of last year, I met people who had been forced out of their homes. They were angry and upset. Who do they call when the watercourse is overflowing on to the land, and the water is running off the land through their back garden and down on to the highway where the drains cannot cope with the volume? Many were passed from pillar to post, with the message from different agencies as they asked for help as the flood water headed towards their homes, “We can’t do anything until your home is flooded.” That is the very point at which it was too late to save their homes or give them meaningful help. Local farmers were forced to stand by and watch as the flood waters destroyed millions of pounds of food crops. They were ready, willing and able to take the necessary action to clear the ditches and watercourses to protect their land and to protect the crops, but inadequate land management because of budget cuts, a lack of communication and the need to undertake an environmental impact assessment before they could act all but tied their hands.

Across West Lancashire and Sefton, agriculture and horticulture provide employment for more than 2,500 people and generate more than £230 million in gross value added to the regional economy. We cannot afford for flooding not to be addressed. We cannot afford the prices of food in the shops going up because it has been destroyed in the fields.

We need to be more proactive than reactive. The people of West Lancashire do not want to hear from Ministers about the past. The people need to know that there is a real partnership and that money will not be taken from the Environment Agency’s coffers—from one budget to another—leaving depleted budgets. This is happening on Ministers’ watch, and they have responsibility. They have their ministerial jobs, and now homeowners and business owners are looking to them, calling on them to act and to act now.

3.28 pm

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing this timely and important debate. I have 1,627 homes and businesses in my constituency that are at significant risk of flooding. I have visited streets in Abingdon, Kidlington and Oxford where ripped-out carpets, kitchen units and discarded furniture were all piled up and abandoned on pavements in 2007, and that sight is branded on my memory. I guarantee that not a single one of those home owners has forgotten that summer, and since then we have had any number of flood warnings that serve, like tremors after an earthquake, to reawaken the anxiety of that week of flooding and the reconstruction that followed. It cost the county £3 million and the country £3 billion.

For those who live at flood risk, there is no respite. Instead, they live in a constant state of uncertainty, never knowing what our delightful British climate will bring. Uncertainty driven by weather is one thing, but uncertainty that is driven by our response to flood risk is another. Other than by inventing a weather machine we are not going to eliminate flood risk, but we have

26 Mar 2013 : Column 1525

three, interdependent levers to mitigate flood risk and limit the stress that it brings. Those are flood insurance, flood defences and individual property and community resilience.

Whether people are rampant climate sceptics or paid-up members of the Green party, most studies show clearly that changing weather patterns mean that flooding is on the increase, while population increases and poor planning have exacerbated the problem dramatically. We will have to get better at using those levers to mitigate that risk. In particular, overloaded infrastructure, such as drainage capacity, is leaving increasing numbers of constituents at the mercy of not only notoriously hard-to- respond-to surface water, but revolting episodes of effluent flooding. I am aghast that in this day and age I have constituents who have to cope with sewage coming into their homes simply because it is raining. We are supposed to be living in a highly developed country. The worst thing is that the insurance situation means that they feel gagged because they do not want to put their local property market at risk.

Mr Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): My hon. Friend’s description of seeing homes in her constituency flooded reminds me of the problems I saw in Bognor Regis and Littlehampton on 10 and 11 June, when more than 300 homes were flooded. Does she share my view that in addition to the flood insurance issue, we need to spend sufficient capital to ensure that the surface drainage system is sufficient to mitigate such problems when heavy rainfall occurs?

Nicola Blackwood: I agree that infrastructure is vital. I believe deeply that many of the problems we face today stem from an inherited legacy of bad planning.

Mr Andrew Smith rose—

Nicola Blackwood: My right hon. Friend—ish—the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) knows how difficult it can be to get accountability and solutions for constituents when responsibility falls between the Environment Agency, local authorities and Thames Water, and he might want to comment on that point.

Mr Smith: I am grateful to my hon. Friend-ish for giving way.

Flood waters are no respecters of constituency boundaries and we work closely on these issues. On planning, does the hon. Lady agree that, given that successive Governments and councils of all complexions have allowed so much development on the floodplain, it is perfectly proper for the state to pick up some of the responsibility by participating in insurance schemes, such as “Flood Re”, which are the only way to protect our constituents from unaffordable premiums?

Nicola Blackwood: Clearly, it is vital that flood insurance continues to be widely available and affordable, a point I will come to in a moment. Although there is frustration about the responsibility of different agencies working together to respond to constituents, the emergency response to flood events locally since 2007 has improved dramatically, and there have been positive developments on flood defences in Kidlington and Oxford.

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However, none of that addresses the long-term strategic challenges we face, and insurance has to be at the top of that list. That is why, with all the other urgent flooding priorities that we have heard about, we have to focus on the 30 June deadline. That date dominates the lives of far too many of my constituents. They fear that they will suddenly become uninsurable, breach their mortgage conditions and have unsellable properties. While I appreciate that negotiations with the Association of British Insurers have been complex and that there is no easy solution, especially with the current fiscal situation, it is not as if we did not see this coming—it has been coming since the statement of principles was agreed in 2002.

If we are not going to hit the deadline, we need to be clear and transparent with constituents about what will happen between then and any future deal. Until now, the line has been not to undermine negotiations by giving a running commentary on them. That is not unreasonable and had an agreement been reached in time, I think that all would have been forgiven, but people need to know now how to protect themselves. Ministers have been clear about their priorities, which are to ensure that flood insurance remains widely available, affordable and fiscally sustainable. Nobody is going to argue with any of those principles, but they will not help householders to work out how to plan for their financial future.

I therefore ask the Minister the following questions. On the stroke of midnight on 30 June, will we have a free market or will we have some kind of interim extension of the statement of principles? If it is the latter, have there been any discussions about what form it will take? If the Government are going to let the free market emerge in the interim, will Ministers let it be genuinely uncontrolled, with all the pricing risks that holds, or are they considering regulation? If so, what kind of regulation, and how and when? On “Flood Re”, the current cross-subsidy is £8. Yesterday the ABI told me that the proposed levy would also come to £8, but it would have to be formalised as a tax. However, the National Flood Forum brief estimates the levy at £13. What assessment have the Government made of the levy and what mechanism would they need to regulate it? Finally, what measures are being considered to incentivise flood defence investment on a personal, local and national level? That is the only responsible way to manage flood risk on an ongoing basis.

I accept that it takes two to tango. I met the ABI yesterday and I made those points, but I am afraid that today it is the Minister’s turn. My constituents deserve to know whether their homes will be insured in July and on what terms. They deserve at least that measure of certainty, even though they live in a flood-risk zone.

3.35 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): In 2007 my constituency in Hull was badly flooded. Ninety-five per cent. of the city is below sea level, so we have always been prone to flooding, but in 2007 we had surface water flooding, a phenomenon that is now becoming more widespread around the country.

Since 2007, I have on several occasions raised in the House the question of what will happen with flood insurance come the end of June. Last summer, when I asked the then Secretary of State for Environment,

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Food and Rural Affairs what was happening, I was told on the Floor of the House that an agreement was close, that it would be a much better deal, that premiums would be affordable and that there would be no unaffordable excesses either, so I was quite optimistic. That was last summer. Since then I have written to the new Secretary of State and asked him what is happening. I have to say that it is completely unacceptable that the Government have dragged their feet on this issue, which is so important to so many householders up and down the country.

I have a great deal of respect for the Minister on the Front Bench, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). I know he works hard to ensure that flooding is on the Government’s agenda. My understanding is that the Treasury is now stopping any agreement being reached. I understand that the Treasury has to look carefully at whatever public money has to be set aside or underwritten for any scheme, but time is running out. This is about people’s lives. People in Hull who were flooded in 2007 feel upset that they could be left high and dry come this summer. They have found it difficult to get flood insurance over the last few years. Premiums have gone up considerably and excesses are now very high. I say to the Minister that action needs to be taken.

I was disappointed that there was nothing in the Budget last week to deal with this issue. There were measures to deal with house building and sort out the housing situation, but if the Minister cannot ensure that householders up and down this country can have flood insurance, that will be a considerable blight on the housing market. People will not be able to get mortgages or sell their homes. I feel strongly that the Minister now needs to express to the highest echelons of the Government the view that this has to be a priority. We are now just three months off the statement of principles ending. I do not want to have to tell my constituents that insurance will no longer be available in the city of Hull, so I ask the Government to get on and sort this out, please.

3.38 pm

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on bringing this motion before the House so that we can focus on the urgency of the situation before us, as we contemplate the ending of the statement of principles and the need to find a new way forward for flood insurance.

I cannot think of many things worse than coming home and finding one’s house inundated with water or being there when it happens. As hon. Members know who have experienced this issue from their constituents’ point of view, it is not just water; it is mud and sewage. It is devastating to have that in the house. However, one thing that is worse is for that to happen three years after the last time, as was the case in Stonehaven in my constituency. The safety net of insurance is one of the long-term securities to which people look to recover from the situation. Obviously we thank the emergency services for all they did and could do on the night to rescue people and mitigate the situation. Indeed, I want to place on record the resilience of the local community in Stonehaven, which rallied round. It was the weekend before Christmas and people were turning up with

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replacement food for Christmas lunches and replacement gifts for those that the children had lost in the floods. In that sense, it was great to see the community spirit, but the insurance response is the issue of long-term importance.

As hon. Members have mentioned, the issue is going to be of wider interest, as the traditional flood areas are going to grow and the randomness of flooding events is going to increase with climate change, the warming of the atmosphere and its ability to hold more moisture, making more rain-intensive events. It is thus in our collective interest to come up with a solution that deals with flooding, as it is going to be a wider risk, which needs to be shared. Planning and flood defences, which are devolved in Scotland, and individual property protection all make a difference and will help to reduce the risk in the long term. It is impressive to see how individual property flood protection can limit the damage on the night.

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): Before entering politics, I spent a lot of time designing sewerage and drainage systems. One thing that needs to be looked at for long-term protection is the design standards that are used. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we could collaborate with the civil engineering sector and look to how we could design our standards differently in order to respond to the changes in rainfall patterns that we are seeing?

Sir Robert Smith: It is important for the standards to reflect the reality of what is to come in the future rather than to cope with what was learned in the past. The hon. Lady makes a very important point. The maintenance and clearing of the drains is also important so that they can take the surge when it comes. We need to be able to deal with the debris that goes through the system and causes blockages, which often mean that the design specifications have not been met effectively.

Let me reinforce the point that insurance is a collective risk. As insurance companies have become more sophisticated with their computers and marketing, the risk base on which individual premiums are based becomes narrower and narrower. Coming up with the solution where we all as a society bear some of the risk of flooding because we do not know where it will strike next seems to provide an important way forward. June 2013 is not far away, so I hope the Minister will go away from this debate recognising the urgency of the situation: we must provide a solution and people must know how and when it is going to be taken forward. As has been said, if people want to continue to mortgage their houses, they must have insurance, and if new people are to move into a house, they need to able to insure it and to avoid any blight on the property.

Mr Gibb: Is my hon. Friend beginning to receive, as I am, some letters from constituents who are already encountering difficulties in renewing their building insurance and particularly the flooding element of it?

Sir Robert Smith: Yes, and the much higher excesses are difficult for a lot of people to carry or cover. This is a problem for businesses as well as for domestic properties.

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): Last summer, some of my Calder Valley constituents were flooded three times over the course of a month, and they experienced exactly the same problem—that under the statement of priorities they are still struggling to get

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affordable insurance and sometimes to get any insurance at all. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in that case, the 30 June deadline is perhaps not the highest priority? The highest priority should be getting the right deal for constituents so that they can go forward into the future.

Sir Robert Smith: Both are important. The right deal for those not getting a good enough service out of the statement of principles is extremely important, as is knowing what it is going to happen after the deadline. That is important for everyone affected, as they are going to have to renew their insurance and will have to find an affordable way of doing that. I commend the motion as a way of keeping up the pressure and highlighting our constituents’ perspective that there has to be a serious solution to this problem.

3.44 pm

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on initiating this timely debate on the Floor of the House. By way of background, I remind Members that on 5 and 6 September 2008 Morpeth—a market town in my constituency—found itself at the centre of the most intensive rainfall in living memory. Some 950 properties in the town, including dozens of businesses, were directly affected. Surrounding villages were hit very hard, too, including Hepscott, which was affected by flash flooding. A number of other properties were badly flooded. The devastation suffered by individuals, families, businesses and the community at large cannot be overstated in any way, shape or form. It was an experience that will haunt their memories for many years.

As we debate the issue today, I am delighted that progress is finally being made in Morpeth. I thank and congratulate Northumberland county council, which has allocated £12 million towards the cost of new flood defences. That money is being delivered with the support and agreement of the three main political parties. It is important to recognise the role that the emergency services have played across the UK, but particularly in Morpeth in my constituency, and the way that they operated to help others during those difficult times. The local community in my constituency, the Morpeth Flood Action Group and many others pulled together, as has happened in the constituencies of many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, in the most difficult of circumstances. It would be remiss of me not to mention the Environment Agency and Ian Hodge, who works at the agency in Newcastle, who has played a huge role in Morpeth.

The problem has been described as immense, but the pooling system—an important component of insurance—will be an integral part of any agreement and, I hope, positive resolution that is reached. The pooling system has been proposed under the “Flood Re” model and the Morpeth model. That system formalises the existing cross-subsidy. It redistributes the risk to keep affordability in place for high-risk properties. It represents the only fair way forward in a changing situation where climate change is giving rise to an increasing number of extreme weather events. The ABI model, the “Flood Re” system and the Morpeth system combine availability with affordability. The “Flood Mu”, or Noah model, does not guarantee that because it does not put a cap on flood premiums.

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Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that the insurance industry take into account investment in new flood defence schemes, including the one that he has talked about and the new sea wall at Dymchurch in my constituency? Often insurers base their quotes on generic information that does not take into account investment in new defences.

Ian Lavery: That is a powerful comment, with which I totally agree.

As has been discussed, the ABI has been in discussion with the Government for several months, perhaps years, on the ending of the statement of principles in June 2013. The clock is ticking. The deadline is fast approaching. People want answers. People in Morpeth have been flooded time and again; hon. Members on both sides of the House have described the experiences of people in their constituencies who have suffered greatly time and again. They cannot get affordable insurance. The excesses are higher than what the properties are worth, so it is meaningless.

Time and again, Members on both sides of the House have mentioned the importance of ensuring that we have a statement that will ensure something affordable and accessible is in place when the statement of principles runs out. We have been told time and again that the discussions with the ABI are at a critical point, that the statement is nearly ready and that things are in place. However, The Times this morning said something completely different. It suggested that there are huge difficulties between the ABI and the Government. Perhaps the Minister, for whom I have a lot of time and who has been very helpful, can explain from the Dispatch Box this afternoon where we are with the ABI and what is likely to happen in the next three months. It is absolutely imperative that we get something in place for the people who have been suffering for some time.

I am sure that the Minister will have much more to say, and it is important that we deal with this issue and that measures are put in place. I hope that we will not hear, “We are still in discussions and we cannot really give any more details, because the matter is confidential and that wouldn’t be right.” We want an answer today for everyone who lives in a property on a floodplain. We do not want to hear, “Something will happen.” Give us the answers, so we can tell our constituents what the situation is and they can feel safe.

3.50 pm

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short contribution to this very important debate on flood insurance, which I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing.

As the Member of Parliament for a constituency that contains two major river courses and surrounds one of the most historic, flood-hit cities in the country, I naturally have constituents who express a great deal of concern about flooding, its impact on the local community and on the availability and affordability of flood insurance. Flood insurance is an issue not only for those who have sadly been flooded, but for those who have not and may never be but are deemed to be in a flood-risk area.