Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington). We can all join in thanking him for his work as a trustee of the Holocaust Educational Trust. I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on introducing the debate. It is entirely appropriate that we consider this matter on a regular basis. When he summed up last year’s debate, which was led by my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans), he said that

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these debates show the House at its best. Today’s has been no exception, and we should all be proud of that. Last year, I explained that my interest in understanding more about the holocaust had arisen from visits I had made to Rwanda.

In 2012, I went to Auschwitz with students from Rugby high school. Last year, the editor of the local newspaper visited with another school party. In his account, he wrote of the massive impact on the young people who go there. They start off chatty, as teenagers often are, but as they see the horrors of Auschwitz the magnitude of what happened there dawns on them, and they become much more thoughtful and reflective. In addition to having seen what happened in Rwanda and Auschwitz, next month I will be joining a delegation visiting Cambodia, which it is impossible to visit without having regard to the killings that occurred there in the 1970s.

We have heard many emotional and moving speeches. Earlier today, I re-read last year’s debate in Hansard to remind myself of the comments Members made. I vividly remember the remarks of the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), who spoke about his meetings with holocaust survivors—some of whom were members of his family—what they had seen and gone through, and the fact that it had never left them, not least because of the numbers tattooed on their arms. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) gave an account of what he had seen in Bosnia in 1992. He concluded by saying that we must prevent an event such as the holocaust from ever happening again, which is, of course, one of the reasons for holding this debate and for the programme of events run by the HET. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott) reminded us, when we read about the horrors of Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur and Rwanda, we sometimes wonder whether we have learned the lessons of the holocaust. When I visited memorials in Rwanda and spoke to people who wanted to talk about the genocide, one question I was regularly asked was, “Why did the international community stand by and let it happen?” We might ask ourselves whether we are doing enough to bring conflict and bloodshed to an end across the world today.

On Monday, as part of raising awareness for Holocaust memorial day, I will join students from across Rugby at a study day at the art gallery and museum, which has an exhibition exploring the life of Anne Frank. She hid for several years in her father’s business premises in Amsterdam before being found and taken to her death at Belsen. The exhibition consists of paintings by artist Anne Berger, who has visited the Anne Frank house and created a number of images of her life. Using those images, students from schools across the town will take part in workshop groups and explore themes of discrimination, refugees and the journeys they made. I am very much looking forward to joining those students to talk about the issues and understand their perspective of what happened during the holocaust and elsewhere in the world.

I am also looking forward to sharing my thoughts on what I have learned not only from my visits, but from the two debates in which I have taken part in the House. I have learned as much from the speeches of other Members as I have from seeing things. I look forward to celebrating the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust in ensuring that the world never forgets.

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4.36 pm

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): It is an absolute privilege to participate in this debate. I wholeheartedly congratulate the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) not only on securing the debate, but on his deeply moving contribution.

Members on both sides of the Chamber have made some incredibly powerful contributions reflecting on the events of decades ago and pondering their relevance today—and I certainly believe that they are relevant today. We said then that never again would the world stand by while a state killed its own citizens in such a planned and systematic way. Today, and even then, it was unimaginable—completely and utterly incomprehensible —that a state could inflict such suffering and despair by exterminating its own people and those of other countries simply on the basis of a perceived difference.

Yet, as we reflect on the holocaust, how can we not also consider, as has been said, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, where we have seen communities systematically dehumanised and killed because of a perceived difference, whether it be one of race, religion, ethnicity or belief?

Bob Stewart: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lyn Brown: Can I not?

Bob Stewart: Of course.

Lyn Brown: With the help of the Commons Library, I have looked at some of this place’s wartime debates about the holocaust. They make it absolutely clear that there was a high level of awareness of the situation. In a debate on refugees on 19 May 1943, a Home Office Minister said that since the outbreak of the war, 8 million people in Poland had suffered barbarous punishment or death, and many others spoke knowingly of the Nazis’ intention to exterminate the Jewish people.

There is also a palpable sense in these pages of powerlessness with regard to tackling the problems, which were known about, and saving lives. Perhaps that sense of powerlessness has been echoed in this Chamber throughout the decades since. Indeed, I remember the debate on Syria.

In 1939 the merchant ship St Louis set sail from Hamburg with 937 German-Jewish refugees on board, seeking asylum from Nazi persecution. Despite setting off with visas to allow them into Cuba, they were denied access. They set sail for the US and Canada, where access was also denied to them. The St Louis returned to Europe, and at that point the UK agreed to take 288 of the passengers. Others went to Belgium, France and the Netherlands, but following the German invasion of those territories, they were again at risk, and historians estimate that 227 of the asylum seekers on that boat subsequently perished in the holocaust.

What makes the holocaust stand out is not only the sheer number of victims, but the concrete evidence of how the killing was organised and implemented on such a scale. Of great significance is the fact that every Jew was defined not by their religion or their own definition, but by the perpetrators’ definition. Jews were singled out and registered on a central database—its purpose was to expedite their murder—before being publicly marked, stripped of their citizenship, forced to hand over their possessions, dehumanised and, ultimately,

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deported to their death. I am astonished that the Nazis intended to expand the final solution beyond their borders: they drew up lists of Jews in the USA, Great Britain, Israel and so on. There has never before been such an event in history.

Our political forebears in this place did something, but we have to admit that it was not enough. Debates at that time referred to quotas or the numbers that should come here or go elsewhere in our empire. I am sure the Government of the day thought they were acting for the best, but it simply was not enough. Edmund Burke is attributed with saying that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men—and, indeed, women—to do nothing. We said, “Never again,” and we set up the United Nations to promote world peace, but we have still seen enormous inhumanities unfold in front of our eyes. Even today, we see credible evidence of the organised murder on a horrendous scale of the people of Syria by the state.

In preparing for this speech, I was reminded of one by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) in 2008. In it, he reflected on a visit to a museum in Rwanda that commemorates the millions who lost their lives as the world looked the other way. There is a picture of a young boy called David, a 10-year-old who was tortured to death. His last words were, “Don’t worry—the United Nations will come for us”. But, as my right hon. Friend said, we never did. That child believed the best of us, only to discover that the pieties repeated so often, over and over, in reality meant nothing at all. The words “Never again” became a slogan, rather than what they should be—the crucible in which all our values sit and are tested.

My mother, like many of her generation, watched the liberation of the camps on newsreel footage. She was so profoundly moved by what she saw that she ensured that I was educated about it, and she gave me a copy of Anne Frank’s diary when I was about 10 years old. I devoured that book—trying to imagine myself in Anne Frank’s shoes—and I gained a tiny insight into the injustice and inhumanity to which she and her family were subjected. It was a lesson that I hope I have not forgotten. Years later, my mother and I visited Prague. We went to the ghetto, and saw the walls with the names of the 80,000 Jewish victims and the piteous paintings by the children.

I hope that hon. Members will allow me to say that I am neither a moral nor a political coward, but I know myself: I know how that visit, and the ones to Anne Frank’s house and to Dachau, affected me. I have therefore baulked at making the trip referred to by many hon. Members today, but in the light of this debate, I will face up to the challenge and visit Auschwitz-Birkenau before the end of this Parliament with, I hope, the support of the Holocaust Educational Trust.

This year, we mark the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war—the great war, as it was labelled at the time—and we should use the tone of this debate, which I commend, to fend off the revisionism that such occasions sometimes engender. It is widely believed that the treaty of Versailles created the conditions in which fascism emerged into the 1930s, and from which the horrors of the holocaust unfolded. Let us bear that in mind when we assess the events of 100 years ago and let us apply the lessons to our foreign policy when we encounter inhumanity in today’s world.

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We know so much about the holocaust. We should be immensely grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust for providing the resource that we all need. I join others in commending its work and that of Karen Pollock in particular. I am sure that the trust will rise to the challenge of keeping alive and accessible the stories and lessons of the holocaust as the number of survivors sadly dwindles over time. I commend the Government’s continuing commitment to ensuring that the holocaust is never forgotten, including through their funding for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust under the admirable leadership of Olivia Marks-Woldman. Both trusts play their part in humanising the holocaust. In my view, that is the only way in which we can begin to comprehend such a vast and enduring tragedy.

In the Chamber today, we have heard how Members have comprehended the horror through seeing the piles of shoes or treading the steps into death chambers. For me, it is those paintings by the children in the Prague ghetto. We know so much, and yet we seem to learn so little. As we pause in the week before we mark Holocaust memorial day on 27 January, with its theme of journeys, we should take time to reflect on our global shortcomings and on our tendency to recognise the absolute horror of the holocaust, and yet to allow subsequent genocides to happen with such depressing frequency.

4.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Stephen Williams): I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) for leading us in this debate. Many of his remarks had a profound effect on me. To summarise, he said that although the holocaust is in many ways a story of hopelessness and humiliation, it also provides many examples of courage, stoicism and, ultimately, the triumph of the human spirit.

I echo my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown)—she is my hon. Friend—in saying that it has been a privilege to listen to all the speeches that have been made in this debate. That is not always our experience in this Chamber, but everyone has listened intently to every word that has been said today. I have been moved by many of the remarks that colleagues have made. We have shared our different experiences, the ways in which we have encountered the holocaust and how we have responded individually. Perhaps more importantly, we have resolved to act together.

The British mainland escaped the horrors of Nazi occupation. Although some European Jews were able to flee here, most notably through the Kindertransport, for most of us the holocaust is not a family experience. I note that it is for some Members who have spoken, but for most of us, our witness and understanding has come through history, literature and perhaps film.

My first knowledge of the holocaust was as a 13-year-old watching the TV series “Holocaust” in the late 1970s. That spurred me to read the only book about the holocaust that I could find at the time, which was “Scourge of the Swastika” by Lord Russell of Liverpool, who was involved in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. I have never forgotten the table of categorisation in that book for the Nazis’ targets for imprisonment and murder. We are all familiar with the yellow star and the armband, but less often mentioned are the colours and symbols that were used for Gypsies, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses

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and the disabled. I was most alarmed by the pink triangle for homosexuals, because at that age I was just coming to terms with what I was.

The first reason to remember the holocaust is to understand that minorities are our friends, our neighbours and our work colleagues. In the twisted minds of those who hold a prejudice, the minority could be ourselves. That is why we should be thankful that we live in a society in which human rights are upheld and in which minorities are our fellow citizens, not outsiders who are confined to legal or physical ghettos.

In recent years, mass knowledge of the holocaust has come through the films with which we are all familiar, but literature and celluloid are no substitutes for real-life experience and testimony. We have all mentioned speeches and visits to museums and monuments. I first went to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1992, when frankly it was not usual to do so, during a visit to Poland while inter-railing. I will never forget it. There were very few visitors at that time, and when we followed the line to Birkenau, I climbed the gatehouse tower and looked at the scale of the camp. To those who have not yet been there I say that that is the memory that will live with them; the scale and the industrialisation of mass murder. I was there entirely on my own—no one else—visiting on a hot summer’s day in 1992, and it gave me my own time of quiet contemplation. It is not a visit I have ever wanted to repeat, but like the shadow Minister, I think it is perhaps something I should now do.

I have since been to Amsterdam and the Anne Frank House, and I have also seen the pink triangle memorial in that city—the only known monument to gay people who were murdered by the Nazis. In 2012, I went to Yad Vashem with the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, and I was familiar with many of the historical displays there. My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire said that he was profoundly affected by the children’s memorial, and no one could not be. What most affected me was the hall of names, where one looks up at a cone of photographs—hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photographs of people who were wiped out by the Nazis, reflected in a dark pit below. I really could not hold it together on that occasion.

The holocaust is a unique event and must be remembered and understood, particularly by young people for whom it is an historical event that took place long before they were born. It is right for the Government to support that, and many hon. Members have mentioned that they work with the Holocaust Educational Trust, led by Karen Pollock. It facilitates school visits to Auschwitz, as well as talks in schools, such as those that took place in my constituency, to give young people a vivid account and an unforgettable memory. Of course the most powerful testimony comes from holocaust survivors, such as Auschwitz survivor Freddie Knoller, who is still speaking in schools at the age of 92.

Last Monday I joined several other people now in the Chamber—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) mentioned this—at the Holocaust Educational Trust annual Merlyn Rees memorial lecture, to listen to Thomas Harding tell the fascinating story of his Uncle Hanns and the arrest of the Auschwitz commandant, Rudolf Höss. Thomas Harding discussed how people can turn from being loving fathers to murderous monsters. We are all familiar with the phrase from that time and the excuse that was often used about

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following orders, but he said that that was perhaps better described as people surrendering their capacity to think to others.

In more recent massacres and genocides we have seen how easy it can still be for people in advanced societies to slip from civilised values into thoughtless barbarity, whether in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, or the current horrific scenes in Syria, where reporters are using the holocaust as a context in which to explain a tragedy unfolding before our eyes. People can still all too easily be led into acts of cruelty and murder.

That is why it is right that this Government—as did the previous Government—support the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, led by Olivia Marks-Woldman. Its annual act of remembrance on 27 January, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz, will be marked around the country on Monday. This year’s theme is journeys, and those of us who have seen at Auschwitz the pile of leather suitcases will certainly appreciate the resonance. Next year will be the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The Prime Minister has set up the Holocaust Commission, chaired by Mick Davis, president of the Jewish Leadership Council. That is because real-life memories are fading as people who remember the holocaust or who were told stories by their parents die. The work of the commission will be to consider how we can keep that testimony live and real, and ensure that those of the next generation comprehend the history, and also learn how to shape their future.

Next year will also be the 20th anniversary of another horrific episode in the history of Europe: the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. I was particularly struck by the two interventions from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who served with NATO in Bosnia. Last year, my Department supported Ummah Help’s Remembering Srebrenica project. We will continue that support in the next year.

History is not just a moment in time studied for curiosity or even for leisure; it also gives us lessons we should learn. Not learning those lessons is a warning about the future. I will end my remarks by quoting a survivor of Buchenwald and Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel, who went on to win the Nobel peace prize:

“To forget a holocaust is to kill twice.”

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Before I call Alistair Burt for the closing remarks it would be remiss of me if I did not welcome the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown). I believe it is the first time she has spoken at the Dispatch Box as a shadow Minister. I am sure all Members look forward to future speeches, given the power and commitment with which she delivered her speech today.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

4.55 pm

Alistair Burt: I am sure all of us echo your remarks, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will comment on the speech by the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) in a moment. I am probably more proud to be winding up the debate, having heard it, than I was when I started. I will make five brief points.

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First, I commend this debate to any of those who watch our proceedings, whether those in schools thinking about Holocaust memorial day, or young people who want to watch something not just on this issue but on how Parliament works. The debate has been exceptional. We have had personal experiences, family experiences, difficult experiences of some horrors and a collective knowledge of the subject that has been brought about by those who work so hard for us outside, including the Holocaust Educational Trust. The debate has been a model of its kind. I am proud to have led it, but even prouder of the speeches we have heard this afternoon.

Secondly, I would say, “Do fix on the hope.” “Schindler’s List” does not conclude with the death of the little girl in the red dress; it concludes with the generations who were saved by Oscar Schindler and the generations still to come. The personal experiences and journeys referred to by colleagues are a reflection of hope. As the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) said, the survivors won, not the Nazis. In all our reading on the holocaust, we should fix upon the hope.

Thirdly, we must not believe that it cannot happen again. Above all, we should keep in our minds that it could happen again. It is the evil in human hearts, which is reflected the moment one begins, unjustifiably, to separate someone as the “other”, that provides the opportunity: so long as somebody can be “Untermensch”, so long as someone is not like you, so long as someone is not human, they can be disposed of. As colleagues have said, the world is full of examples, even today, of where that is true, so do not believe that it cannot happen again.

Fourthly, reflect on this: we know about the holocaust for a number of reasons, but two are primary. First, people survived. That is how we know about it: people have their stories. Memorial day and everything we have spoken about today depends on the fact that people survive and can tell their stories. The second, and more difficult thing that people have to remember, is that we know about it because it was stopped. The holocaust did not come to a natural end. People did not suddenly wake up and say, “This is wrong and we must stop doing it.” It was physically stopped. It would be wonderful if we lived in a world where there was no physical need to intervene and stop people doing wrong. I do not believe that we do. That is why an international security system exists to protect people. This is something to debate: at what stage do people say, “Enough is enough” and do something about it?

Fifthly, I say. “Do go.” So many of the speeches we have heard today have been influenced and coloured by the fact that we have been to places: the Anne Frank house, Yad Vashem, museums around the world and, above all, Auschwitz. Go and get the sense of what this was about from the physical presence in various places.

It would be the greatest honour for me if I could make my first journey to Auschwitz with the hon. Member for West Ham. Perhaps we could support each other as we go. I would love to take that journey with her.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I thank the House for giving us time for this important debate.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day.

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Rural Fair Share Campaign

5 pm

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I rise to present a Rural Fair Share petition on behalf of hundreds of my constituents and supported also by a further 590 online signatures gathered through my website. The East Riding of Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire contain not only the finest people, but two very well-performing councils that are sadly underfunded. Before I read out the petition, I want to thank Hatty’s teashop in Epworth and Rob McArthur at Snaith chippy, who, while people were buying their pattie and chips, encouraged them to sign the petition.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Brigg and Goole constituency,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the Local Government Finance Settlement is unfair to rural communities; notes that the Rural Penalty sees urban areas receive 50% more support per head than rural areas despite higher costs in rural service delivery; and opposes the planned freezing of this inequity in the 2013–14 settlement for six years until 2020.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to reduce the Rural Penalty in staged steps by at least 10% by 2020.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


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Flooding (North Lincolnshire)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Evennett.)

5.2 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I would like to thank Mr Speaker for granting me this debate, which is of great significance to my constituents, many of whom have seen their homes and businesses flooded for the second time in six years. This time, it was a result of a tidal surge; previously it was a result of heavy rain—but if a person’s home is flooded, the source is of little consequence. With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall conclude my remarks in time to give my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy a couple of minutes to highlight similar issues a little further along the estuary. The Minister has already kindly agreed to that.

The tidal surge that affected the Humber estuary on the night of 5 and 6 December was greater than that of the disastrous floods of February 1953, but thankfully the impact was much less, thanks to the extensive work undertaken in the years since. Clearly, investment in flood defences has been effective, but with severe weather apparently becoming more common, yet more needs to be done—we must not be complacent. The recent surge resulted in major damage to the port of Immingham. Measured by tonnage, the Immingham-Grimsby port complex is the largest in the UK, with about a quarter of all freight moved by rail starting or ending in Immingham. Much of this freight—coal for power stations, oil and other essential products—is of vital strategic importance.

The port was left without electricity, and extensive areas were flooded. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for his visit to Immingham on the afternoon of Saturday 7 December. He heard at first hand from Associated British Ports and Environment Agency staff, and the visit enabled me to brief him about other incidents of flooding in the Barrow Haven and New Holland areas. We heard from the dock master for Immingham and Grimsby, and it is clear that he made the right decision by opening the Grimsby lock gates at exactly the right time, so preventing a large area of Grimsby and the north end of Cleethorpes, where thousands of terraced houses are situated, from being overcome. I lived in one of those terraced houses at the time of the 1953 floods, but I am not old enough to have more than a hazy memory of that terrible time. However, there are many who do recall the devastation and deaths at that time.

The 60th anniversary of the 1953 floods occurred this time last year, and was marked by a special conference held at the Reeds hotel in Barton-upon-Humber and attended by the then Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). The conference was attended by representatives of all the agencies involved, and we went away thankful for what had been achieved and hopeful that we would never witness anything like that again.

On the night of 5 December, the hotel was flooded and has since gone into liquidation, leaving a trail of lost jobs, lost deposits and wedding plans thrown into jeopardy. One cannot but reflect on the irony of that situation. The forced closure of the hotel is a loss for

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another reason; it was a social enterprise, owned by Odyssey (Tendercare), a local charity that helps and supports cancer victims. A couple of miles from the hotel is the village of Barrow Haven, which is a small community whose focal point is the pub, The Haven Inn, which also finds itself closed for business as a result of flooding.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this very important debate. Does he share with me concerns about the availability of flood insurance to businesses, particularly small businesses, which are vital to economic growth in our local area? Under the new Government scheme, the Flood Re scheme, small businesses are excluded.

Martin Vickers: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I recognise those problems. I have spoken to a number of businesses that have experienced difficulties with insurance. I agree that we need to look further at this problem.

It is not just businesses that have been affected. Having visited the village on a number of occasions since the floods, I can vouch for many sad stories among the local Barrow Haven residents. It is a miserable experience to visit people in their water-ravaged homes, but how much more miserable for those whose homes have been affected.

Local residents such as Mark and Sarah Kilbee described their particular experience as follows:

“We had no knowledge of the flood, no prior warning. That alone put my husband and me, and our animals, at risk. We lost a large amount of personal possessions we had worked for over the last 15 years. With a warning we could have been better prepared. After the water had arrived we managed to save our cats and dogs by getting them upstairs. We sat on stools in the water all night with no heating or electricity. No one came to help us that night and we watched our possessions float away.”

The council pumped 33,000 gallons of water away from that one property alone, and it is now costing the Kilbees £100 a week to run dryers and humidifiers, which is causing considerable hardship.

I hope that the Minister can assure me that he will instruct the Environment Agency to install sirens in Barrow Haven and other villages along the Humber bank. Text and e-mail alerts are important, but can often be missed until it is too late. If someone’s home or business has been flooded, what they want is an immediate response by the various agencies.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. The timing is particularly opportune, as seven weeks after the east coast storm surge, we now have a full picture of the extent of the damage and how well the clear-up and repair costs are going. In Lowestoft in my constituency, a small geographical area was hit very hard. Although the community rallied superbly, it will take many people and many businesses a long time to recover. A concern that I raised for debate before Christmas was that the Bellwin scheme could constrain councils such as North Lincolnshire and Waveney district council in my own area in their work to get communities back on their feet as quickly as possible. Does my hon. Friend agree that

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to achieve this goal, the tight time scales for carrying out the work should be extended and the bar on capital expenditure should be relaxed? Does he also accept that there may well be a case for increasing the percentage of costs that local councils, such as North Lincolnshire council, can recover?

Martin Vickers: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am certainly aware that North Lincolnshire council will be assessing the impact of the Bellwin scheme and suggesting possible changes to the Minister. The Minister may wish to comment on that.

North Lincolnshire council responded well in the days immediately after the event, and it was difficult to find a critical word about it. It is appropriate at this point to place on record my thanks to the local community and my appreciation of all who worked very long hours in atrocious conditions—the council, the Environment Agency, the fire and rescue service, the voluntary sector, those working for the utility companies and many more. They all did everything possible to restore services and make people feel as comfortable as possible.

On 23 December I met John Orr, the area manager of the Environment Agency. It was a very helpful meeting, and Mr Orr and his team are currently preparing both a short-term and a long-term strategy to avoid a repeat of last month’s floods. We have agreed that if I arrange a public meeting when the full details are available, in the near future, representatives of the agency will attend the meeting and explain their plans to local people. That is very welcome.

We cannot leave people with the fear that the same thing could happen again for a moment longer than is necessary. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that he will liaise with the agency and ensure that the meeting happens as quickly as possible, because it is at that point that we shall know the full extent and the costs of the work that is required. I realise that he will not want to do the equivalent of signing a blank cheque by saying that he will ensure that everything that is beyond the agency’s existing budget will be funded, but my constituents, quite reasonably, want the Government to recognise that this is a priority.

In the immediate aftermath of the floods, there was a widespread feeling among my constituents that they had been forgotten. That was partly due to the inevitable media focus on the death of Nelson Mandela. BBC local radio, in the shape of Radio Humberside, was first-rate, but my constituents felt that, nationally, the BBC seemed to forget that anything else was happening in the world. Their feeling of neglect was reinforced when the floods that hit many parts of the country during the Christmas period became headline news for days on end.

It is also regrettable that no statement was made to the House in the immediate aftermath of the 5 December floods. I understand that the Environment Secretary wanted to make a statement, but that, for whatever reason, that was not possible. I know that the Government were taking action and making help available where it was necessary, but the lack of an official statement was regrettable. Of course actions speak louder than words, but the feeling of being ignored could so easily have been avoided. I know that the Minister will want to do all that he can to correct that impression, and to give an absolute reassurance that all that is necessary will be done.

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The Environment Agency has told me that it has already committed £650,000 to repairs along the south bank of the Humber, including repairs to the stretch of defences between New Holland and Goxhill Haven and between Barrow upon Humber and New Holland. Repairs are now being carried out between Barton-upon-Humber and Barrow upon Humber. Those repairs are due to be completed by March, with further repair work continuing through the year. Repairs are being prioritised, and a risk-based approach is being used in line with the Humber flood risk management strategy.

When I met representatives of the Environment Agency, I found it extremely helpful to do so along with one of the farmers who owned land in the vicinity, because his experience was invaluable. It is often said that the Environment Agency does not make the best possible use of local knowledge, and last Friday, when I met local representatives of the National Farmers Union, that opinion was repeated. A Humber flood forum exists, but there is a feeling that it meets irregularly, and that its collective expertise is not used to best advantage. As the Minister knows, many farmers and local councillors serve on drainage boards. May I urge him to ensure that their collective knowledge is put to the best possible use? Not only businesses and homes but farmers suffered as a result of the floods, losing livestock and grazing land. Perhaps a greater involvement of the farming community would be helpful in future.

Those whose homes or businesses have been flooded do not want to hear politicians debate which Government spent, are spending or will spend more than the other; nor do they want to hear endless arguments about whether the cause is climate change. Whether it is or not, the fact remains that we are experiencing more severe weather events, and my constituents want positive action. Let me take this opportunity to thank the Secretary of State for meeting me and other local Members of Parliament, and to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), for his help and support.

What my constituents want to hear from the Minister in his reply is a reassurance that everything possible will be done. They want to hear that if additional resources are required, they will be made available; that better use will be made of local knowledge— there is no price tag on that one—and that better warnings will be provided by way of sirens; that if further help is needed to see those affected through the period when they are having to live in temporary accommodation, it will be forthcoming; and that if help is needed to smooth the passage of insurance claims, it will be available.

Actions speak louder than words. I urge the Minister to ensure that those actions happen, and that they do not take too long.

5.14 pm

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) for giving me an opportunity to speak for a couple of minutes about the experiences in Brigg and Goole. Whatever the reasons for the flooding, I think we can all agree it was nothing to do with the passage of the same-sex marriage Bill in this place. Whatever the reasons, however, as my hon. Friend said, residents simply want action now. I agree with a great deal of what he said,

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and congratulate him on securing the debate. The Minister is a very competent Minister. We did not necessarily agree with everything in the Water Bill Committee, but I know he is incredibly competent on this matter and I reiterate to him our invitation to our constituencies to see the clear-up work going on.

My constituency was particularly badly affected when the tidal river Ouse overtopped the banks at Reedness and devastated many homes there. The Dutch river as we call it, but the River Don to others, overtopped at Old Goole. The Trent overtopped and flooded many properties in Burringham, Gunness, Amcotts and Keadby, and the tidal Humber estuary overtopped and devastated about a third of South Ferriby as well as houses in the communities of Winteringham and Burton-upon-Stather. We suffered particularly badly, therefore.

Since then the council has responded very well. I should pay tribute to Councillor Liz Redfern, the leader, who very quickly, having been approached by me, my hon. Friend and ward councillors, agreed to issue £300 to everybody regardless of whether they were insured, to help with the clear-up costs. Those cheques were out and delivered by the end of the following week. The council has also established a £1,000 interest-free loan for anybody who was flooded which they can pay back over a period of five years with no interest at all. The council has done everything it can, therefore, and the parish councils, too, have been incredible in my constituency. It was a privilege to see them in action both on that evening and the day after and the weekend after as I went around visiting flooded properties.

I concur with my hon. Friend about sirens. A lot of people did get warnings, but a lot of constituents either missed them or did not feel they came at the right time. In the community of Reedness, for example, people received flood warnings when the water was already up to their ankles or deeper. The Environment Agency is pursuing those issues.

There are two particular issues I want to raise with the Minister, but before doing so I should say that another issue I will be writing to him about is to do with the CEMEX plant at South Ferriby. I have not given him prior notice of that, but it was truly devastated when the Humber came over. Some £30 million-worth of damage was caused to that big local employer. Although it has said absolutely that it is committed to bringing that plant back into action, it will struggle, and it may require and seek some assistance. It has approached the council but the council simply does not have the resources, so I will be pursuing that separately.

The first of the major issues is where we go now with the Humber flood risk management strategy, a document I have been involved with since its inception some years ago when I was a local councillor. It identifies particular locations in my constituency, especially the bank at Reedness, which is significantly lower in part than in other communities, and there is a feeling that that dip in the bank of about 9 or 10 inches was the reason why it was flooded and other communities were not. There is the same situation at South Ferriby and the South Ferriby to Winteringham stretch. The Humber strategy is a good strategy because it talks about maintaining and improving defences over the next 15 to 20 years. The policies adopted for those two sections are welcome, but they were adopted in 2008 and we have not yet seen a clear timetable of when the funding is going to come forward.

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Sir Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): I accept the importance of flood defences and in some respects flood resilience measures, which the hon. Gentleman is talking about, but does he agree that just as important is ongoing maintenance? We have to have that ongoing maintenance from the EA week in, week out.

Andrew Percy: In my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes—and particularly in mine, which is very susceptible to flooding—that maintenance has gone on. With the exception of a concrete culvert at Keadby, we saw no breaches of our defences. They did the job they were designed to do, and they are designed to a very high standard. They have been damaged since, which is important, but from a maintenance point of view the banks did the job they were designed to do. With rising sea levels, the issue is that they might not be sufficient and we want to see this investment brought forward.

My final point is on internal drainage board assets. I met representatives of the drainage board at Reedness two weeks ago. The board suffered significant damage to its assets when the embankment was breached there, and it is not clear yet how it will fund the recovery works. I would like a bit more clarity on that and have tabled a parliamentary question on the matter. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

5.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Rogerson): I congratulate the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) on securing this important debate and on the way in which, as the local Member of Parliament, he has been there for his constituents and raised issues here and with local agencies and helped in any way he could. I thank hon. Members across the House for all that they have done to support their local communities and for passing to me and my colleagues and officials any information that needed to be passed back.

The coastal surge that struck the eastern coast of England on the night of 5 to 6 December was a significant flood event in terms of scale and was highly significant to those who bore the brunt of it and the economic, societal and emotional cost of flooding. My thoughts and those of hon. Members across the House are with those people who experienced that, and with people across the country who experienced other events in the weeks that followed, which we also heard about from my hon. Friend.

The coastal surge is estimated to have caused flooding of around 2,600 properties, although this figure is subject to change as the recovery effort progresses. Our thoughts are with all those who have been affected by high winds and whose homes and businesses were damaged during the powerful storms. However, through investment by Government and improvements to the way we manage this type of flooding, we were able to protect up to 800,000 properties countrywide that would otherwise have been flooded. It was reassuring to hear that, in many cases the defences functioned as they should have done and the agencies were there for people, although of course where things could have been better I reassure hon. Members that they will be better in the future. I thank them for raising issues with me.

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There was a multi-agency response to this event, with all relevant authorities pulling together to protect people and their property. I am grateful for the excellent response from our front-line emergency services, including the police and fire services, the Environment Agency, and local authorities. I would like to praise the work of the flood forecasting centre, which is run jointly by the Met Office and the Environment Agency. Over 160,000 homes and businesses received a flood warning and advice in advance to enable them to put their flood plans into action. The combination of accurate forecasting and extensive planning and preparation allowed us to co-ordinate the response to ensure the focus was on protecting communities at risk and on the key infrastructure that supports them.

The flooding on 5 December 2013 caused overtopping of defences around the Humber estuary and the tidal Trent, flooding land and properties behind. However, the defences performed well and no breaches occurred, limiting the extent of the flooding. Initial reports from the local recovery co-ordinating group indicate that 347 properties and 47 businesses were flooded in North Lincolnshire. However, the full impacts are still being assessed. Particularly affected communities included South Ferriby, Burringham, Keadby, Gunness, Reedness and Barrow Haven. Hon. Members will correct my pronunciation if I have got it wrong. As a Cornishman, I find some of these things a little difficult, but I am sure they will forgive me if I have mispronounced.

A number of roads, including the A1077, and the railway line to Barton-upon-Humber were also affected and closed for a period of time. Flooding events have economic and other impacts that cause annoyance for those who may not have been immediately flooded, and we have to consider those impacts as well. My thoughts go out to all those who were affected, especially given the timing of the event just before Christmas.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met the hon. Member for Cleethorpes at Immingham docks on 7 December to see first hand how local communities and businesses along the south Humber bank were affected by the flooding. At Immingham port, the Environment Agency, the local authority and Associated British Ports are working to assess the damage and work out a reinstatement programme.

The Environment Agency issued flood warnings along the entire stretch of the south Humber bank and the tidal Trent on the morning of 5 December. Three severe flood warnings were issued to nearly 4,000 properties in parts of Grimsby, Cleethorpes and Humberston. A further seven severe flood warnings were issued to over 4,000 properties along the tidal Trent. Although parts of the south Humber bank experienced significant flooding from the overtopping of defences, no severe flood warnings were issued in those areas. That was because the Environment Agency issues a severe flood warning only if there is a danger to life. The forecast received on 5 December did not warrant a severe flood warning as only overtopping of the defences was predicted. Had a breach been forecast which would have posed a danger to life severe flood warnings would have been issued.

The Minister with responsibility for flood recovery, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), chaired a meeting of

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key Ministers on Tuesday 7 January this year to ensure that a co-ordinated approach was being taken to assist communities recovering from recent flood events. The Bellwin scheme has been opened to enable local authorities to submit claims for costs incurred in the emergency response phase to protect lives and properties. So far, 41 local authorities—including North Lincolnshire—have registered their intention to submit a claim under the Bellwin scheme. A number of local Members have asked questions in this place and elsewhere about the operation of that scheme, about what triggers it and about what it does and does not cover. My hon. Friend the Minister is taking those questions into account, and the Local Government Association is also raising some of those issues with the Government. We will of course want to work with people on that.

Last Friday, 17 January, an additional funding package of £6.7 million was made available for local authorities affected by recent flooding and severe weather. This new money builds on financial assistance already made available to councils under the Bellwin scheme, and will top up support to cover the costs of clearing up after severe weather and flooding. Further details of how local authorities can apply to the £6.7 million severe weather recovery fund will be issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government shortly. Additionally, my hon. Friend the Minister is inviting leaders of local authorities affected by the severe weather to meetings over the coming weeks to discuss the challenges and the support that I have outlined.

As well as providing updates to communities and local farmers, Environment Agency staff have been attending parish council meetings and holding drop-in events to keep communities updated on local defence repairs. An immediate programme of repair work has been developed for the south Humber bank. Before Christmas, repairs were carried out by the Environment Agency where they were most needed. The rate of repair has accelerated as resources, materials and, importantly, access have become available in the subsequent weeks. The repairs are being prioritised using a risk-based approach, in line with the Humber flood risk management strategy. Repairs to the stretch of defences between New Holland and Goxhill Haven, and between Barrow upon Humber and New Holland, are progressing well. I am pleased to hear from the Environment Agency that it is continuing to receive support from local landowners, which is allowing it to carry out those works more quickly.

The agency is updating its Humber flood risk management strategy, which deals with the long-term justification, funding and solutions for the management of flood risk to communities along the Humber. The agency will ensure that all data and learning from the recent flooding is collected, evaluated and used in the development of the updated strategy. It is important to say that, in government, a lessons-learned exercise is

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being carried out, led by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy, to look at issues related to this incident of coastal flooding and the other incidents that we have had in the past couple of months.

I understand that the hon. Member for Cleethorpes has had a number of meetings and progress updates with the local Environment Agency area manager, as he has mentioned, to discuss the flooding and a way forward in more detail. If the hon. Gentleman or his constituents identify any further needs, I will ensure that the Environment Agency takes them into account, as part of its Humber flood risk management strategy update. He particularly referred to warning sirens, and I will take the opportunity to raise that issue with the agency, so that it can be taken into account as those discussions proceed.

The Environment Agency continues to assess the damage to flood defences across the country, and we look at the resources that will be necessary to fund that work, but it is crucial that, as we have invested money in these assets over decades, we ensure that they are functioning. I was pleased to hear from hon. Members that those defences were in a good state of repair and performed the task for which they were designed.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) referred to insurance for businesses. I understand the concern, but the Flood Re scheme is focused on residential property. Indeed, it is funded by a levy on the residential insurance market, so we must be careful about saying that we would use that mechanism to support small businesses, as the money comes from residential customers. Many specialist brokers out there are working to help to find solutions for the commercial market. Obviously, I would be happy to do anything to help in discussions with the insurance industry, but the Flood Re scheme is focused on residential properties.

With the little bit of time available, I will focus on some of the specific issues raised by the hon. Member for Cleethorpes. On making better use of local knowledge, as I have said, the Environment Agency is out there, meeting parish councils and local groups. It also has regular contact with internal drainage boards. If any issue is raised there that people do not feel is taken into account, we will, of course, make use of that in future.

My impression, having visited some of the areas that have been flooded around the country in various events in recent weeks, is that people feel that the information provided by the Environment Agency was very good and the warnings were timely and that the understanding of those catchments and coastal areas is very good, but of course we take that point away.

On funding, I have said that we want to ensure that we have the money to make sure that the defences are brought up to—

5.31 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).